The Web 2.0 world has prompted a relentless move from command and control organizational structures to more fluid, collaborative and connected organizations that can better serve today’s customer demands. The migration from a 360-degree view of the customer towards a high-definition perspective that makes organizations more customer-centric, is a trend well underway, and it will only accelerate as more companies discover that customer-centric software is enabling a better way to do business.

From Looking Around Your Customer to Looking at Your Customer

A 360-degree view of the customer is a single view of all customer interactions. While it’s one of the enduring tenets in the CRM market, that view of the customer is fundamentally flawed: having all the information at your fingertips about any given customer is of little value if you can’t do anything with it. The information needs to be actionable in order to better serve the customer every time you interact with him or her. According to industry research, only 10% of companies are delivering outstanding customer experiences, meaning that even with all the sophisticated tools and technologies at our disposal today, most companies have difficulty creating processes that connect people across disparate systems and converting customer data into useful information. They’re not able to use the 360-degree view of the customer to determine the right information in the right format for each customer interaction in the contact center—and yet still more information pours in, going unused or misunderstood. And as customers increasingly turn to social networking, it becomes easier to get a snapshot of who that person is. Much like a high-definition TV, taking a 1080p approach to customer service gives organizations newfound visibility to see what they never saw before. It’s 360 times x 3. This enables a high-definition perspective for our ever-connected world.

Social networking has empowered people with powerful tools to collaborate with their immediate friends and beyond, to influence and be influenced by people they never would have otherwise known. New communities have arisen and traditional communities have increasingly adapted to leverage social media tools such as forums, blogs, social networking sites, podcasts, RSS feeds, wikis, and others to exchange ideas, build affinities and interact. Social media has become a powerful mechanism for customers to share their product and service experiences. It’s impossible to ignore, and smart organizations have noticed that the escalating social voice—from product reviews to supportive customers and those who share great offers, or on the converse, negative sentiment—has an immediate impact on bottom lines. Literally within minutes, people’s experiences (good or bad) can be broadcast, through their extended social networks and beyond, to millions of other consumers.

The trick is to unify these individual social interactions with core customer service solutions, understanding and analyzing a customer’s needs in order to give that 1080, high-def view—and to respond to these needs in the same channel where the customer initially engaged us. It’s only by understanding everything about your customer—not just who they are and what they buy, but how they like to hear from you, where they like to use your product, understanding where they’ll take their praise rather than their grievances—that you can truly have a complete portrait of your customer base.

Social Listening and the Competitive Edge

Having a comprehensive understanding of your customers’ preferences changes the landscape of customer relations. As Forrester analyst Paul Hagen says in his study, “Empower Customers by Transforming Business Processes”:

We have moved beyond the point where companies can compete on product innovation alone. Now, most companies establishing centralized customer experience teams are looking at how to organize around the customer rather than around the product. Increasingly, companies are making it an imperative to not only understand expectations that customers have of their brand, but also deliver on those brand expectations through all of the different channels. They realize that company metrics don’t match customers’ perceptions of the firm, and are trying to fix this disconnect. As customers’ power and expectations rise, more companies will differentiate themselves based on this new reality.

But knowing that we need to do this and actually getting it done are two different things. You’d be hard-pressed to find a company that doesn’t understand the importance of monitoring what its customers say about it in order to deliver better customer service.. But it’s amazingly easy to take an old fashioned inside-out approach to implementing new pathways for customers to interact and engage with you, and it is so easy to get it wrong. Several companies have gone astray in this way—doing too much, too fast, or conversely, being overly analytical and slow to respond—only to find that their customers have deserted them, or at bare minimum called negative attention to their tactics. Think Groupon: in its haste to capitalize on location based e-coupons in advance of its public offering, there were countless examples of customer frustration as the company tried to localize its global product. The company forgot what Amazon learned several years before Groupon was even founded: customer trust must be earned over and over again, and that customers know when they are being used. While we now trust online purchases at Amazon; Groupon is still learning its lesson.

Erasing the Divide Between Marketing and Customer Service

With social media’s ubiquity and pervasiveness, customers are empowered to communicate their every experience, and unfortunately, negative experiences are more frequently broadcast, so it’s more critical than ever to keep your customers happy before they take to the Internet. Savvy companies understand that the world is communicating in ways it hadn’t five years ago. Facebook, for instance, has 750 million registered members, or approximately 12 percent of the world’s population. By breaking down the artificial and historic boundaries between marketing, sales and service, companies can create a service environment where in any conversation with the customer, they can make an offer, sell new or additional services, fix an outstanding issue, or proactively address a potential future issue—without the machinations required when these functions operate across organizational silos.