Customer Relationship Management: A Social Network in a Box

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There’s way more to strong, effective branding than designing a memorable logo, and then advertising it everywhere.

Developing a relationship with the public, and then carefully building that relationship over time, is the most essential part of any successful brand management strategy. As the manager of the Silverleaf brand, I’m always looking for creative ways to reach out to the public in a positive manner: so I set out to build my own “customer relationship management” (CRM) system!

In this blog post, I’ll explore some of the success (and failures) I’ve experienced in my quest to develop the perfect CRM solution.

My New Favorite Buzzword

First, a little background:

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a model for managing a company‚Äôs interactions with current and future customers. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize sales, marketing, customer service, and technical support.” -Wikipedia.org

While this encyclopedic definition may invoke bad feelings associated with automated voice prompts and telemarketer phone calls, it does a good job of explaining the basic goal of CRM: fully integrating the customer-business relationship and experience.

For my part, providing *fantastic* customer service and tech support was the easy part – but integrating sales and marketing has proven more challenging…

Reviews

In the computer service business, earning the trust of total strangers and convincing them to allow me to service their expensive machines isn’t easy. One way earn people’s trust is through reviews: Yelp.com, for example, has been a great source of new business for me: it’s a popular site where people seek out highly-reviewed services, and it provides “word-of-mouth” value for businesses.

The trouble with Yelp is that once you begin to rely on it for new customers, the Yelp Ad Team starts filtering out your reviews if you refuse to buy ads (as I’ve begrudgingly blogged about in the past)

The other problem is that reliance on a 3rd party site for valuable content (such as reviews): if I’m directing MY customers to “sign up” on on a 3rd-party site (rather than on my site), I’m diluting my relationships with my customers.

Social Media

Another effective way to engage customers is through social media. Billions of people are already active on sites like Facebook and Google+: this huge built-in audience, combined with the “viral” nature of shared content (“Likes”, “+1”, and other methods of re-posting) make social media a powerful tool for any business looking to reach customers.

However, many potential (and existing) customers are NOT active on social media sites. This is especially true for my business, because a majority of my clients are older people: compared to younger people, they are LESS likely to use social media, but MORE likely to require computer service and support.

Therefore, I can’t rely on social media alone to expand the reach of my brand, and to engage my customers.

E-mail

An important part of any customer relationship management system is an effective e-mail marketing program. While e-mail is a simple way to send a company’s message to a large audience (hey, even your grandma probably has an e-mail address), earning new subscribers AND getting a message across is no easy feat.

The problem with e-mail campaigns is that the return on them is very low. According to statistics from top e-mail marketing firm MailChimp.com, around 21% of recipients actually open an e-mail, and only about 4.5% click on a link (not including, of course, the often-hidden “unsubscribe” link!). This is also assuming the message has made it past spam filters, and number of other barriers to delivery.

Even so, the mere existence of regular e-mail campaigns can have a positive effect on my brand, because it reminds my customers (from time to time) that Silverleaf is alive and well.

The Second Conversion

After putting considerable effort into assembling a good-size e-mail list, a wider social media presence, and a positive review count, I was starting to get more traffic to my website. Even better, more of that traffic was turning into customers (in webmaster-speak, “conversions”). However, I still felt like there was something missing.

Sure, more people were visiting my site, and more visitors were becoming conversions – but what about the others? I started to wonder: how can I build and maintain a relationship with those visitors, even if they’re not currently interested in purchasing my service?

Continuing from the webmaster’s perspective, the question becomes: “how do I maximize those second conversion opportunities?”

This is a really tricky part of CRM: keeping the relationship going, even when there’s no actual monetary transaction happening. If a business pushes too hard with intrusive advertising or follow-up calls, fails to follow up at all with poor support, or simply proves little additional value, their customer relationships are going to suffer for it. And then there won’t BE very many monetary transactions happening after that.

A Better User Experience

To discover new ways to add value to the Silverleaf brand, and to maximize all types of conversions (without making anyone upset), I started experimenting with offering membership discounts, free giveaways, promotional deals, etc. But I found that many of these approaches could seem, well, too “promotional”, and that giving people free stuff does not necessarily boost their opinion of a brand.

Then I realized that a better way to engage customers, rather than “selling” something to them constantly, might be to ask them to join me in a common cause instead.

This opened up a whole new world of opportunities, and radically change my thinking regarding the form and function of the Silverleaf brand. For example, I started to conceive a new direction for the “membership” program I’d been working on for months, one that could not only increase all types of conversions, but could also help to consolidate different CRM functions into a simpler, more elegant format.

But I needed a more comprehensive user experience on my site to make it work.

A Social Network in a Box

Once I found the proper tools (and a specific WordPress plugin) to make it happen, I began integrating a mini-social network into my site, which soon became the core of a new CRM solution: Silverleaf Members.

The new Members system is still in its preliminary stages of development, but the main ideas behind it are simple:

1. Offer visitors an enhanced experience on the site to maximize conversions (both sales and non-sales).
2. Integrate member rewards, contacts (e-mail list), reviews (Yelp), and content and sharing (social media) into one CRM system.
3. Begin building an online tech community consisting of fans, clients, contributors, and business affiliates.

Sure, I could have done something similar using our existing Facebook “fan page”, but Silverleaf Members allows me to reach non-Facebook users with a fully-integrated CRM solution, built right into our main website.

New Members can sign up for free (without submitting ALL of their personal data), receive discounts on service (as well as priority support), collaborate and share with us and other Members, and gain exclusive access to our professional affiliate network. (the Silverleaf Affiliate program, as it happens, is closely linked to the Members system – but more on that later)

Conclusion

If any of my readers have made it this far (congrats!), it’s probably clear by now that customer relationship management is a challenging, interesting, and constantly-evolving area of work for me. Hopefully, it’s also clear that this is a topic of great importance for me as well, and that my relationships with my customers are my top priority as a business owner.

As I continue to shape my little computer service brand into it’s next form, I do it with the highest level of commitment to the people I work with every day. And to show my appreciation, I want to offer something special to anyone who’s read this entire post: register using promo code “SILVBP41” before 4/30/13, and you’ll receive an exclusive Member benefit (I’ll e-mail you the details).

I invite everyone to Become a Silverleaf Member, and to help me continue to do what I do best: technology, and customer service!

Author: Kevin S.

Kevin Sanders is a Los Angeles native who has worked in tech support and customer service since 2000. He specializes in professional IT consulting, cloud technology, cyber security, networking and Wi-Fi, hardware/software diagnostics and repair, and custom systems building.