Consumer Democracy Now! Hipcricket’s Hasen Talks Social Media CRM in the Smartphone Era

If social media is the customer relationship management tool of the early 21st century, then smartphones and mobile devices that connect to the Internet are its portable extensions. Imagine a vacuum cleaner with a hose add-on for those hard-to-reach spots, except this hose can be carried with you everywhere to pick up whatever dirt and debris you come across.

Except (to stretch this metaphor a little further) American consumers aren’t sucking up the dirt, or rather bad customer service or brand experiences, and sharing it on social media as much as they are spreading their positive experiences.

It may fly in the face with the common wisdom that humans harp on the negative, but a new survey commissioned by Jeff Hasen, CMO of mobile marketer Hipcricket, found that while 40% of consumers with smartphones or Internet-enabled mobile devices have used them to spread word to their social networks about an in-store experience, 46% of them reported a positive one versus 40% that cited a negative one.

“Perhaps we’ve become so used to crap customer service that a tale of excellent treatment is rare, even surprising — it’s actually news,” I comment to Hasen, who is in NYC to debut his figures at the 140 Characters conference. “I mean, that’s pretty cynical, but these are cynical times.”

According to Hasen’s findings, 18% used Facebook to report on consumer service experiences in real-time, while 8% used Twitter and 32% used text messaging. In addition, 34% of all survey respondents said they had seen a customer experience posted on their social networks and 48% said they would be influenced by such a post.

The smartphone revolution combined with the power of social media may strike fear in the hearts of people in retail and other service-oriented ventures. No longer does the consumer need to wait to get home to write a scathing blog post or email a brand’s  – by that time, the angry consumer may have cooled off. But mobile devices hooked up to the web offer real-time venting regarding customer service. Talk to the manager? Why don’t we talk to the Internet instead?

But the devices also provide opportunities for brands to shine in the customer service department. You could argue that mobile social media coerces better — or maybe appropriate — customer service, but consumer willingness (you could even say initiative) to spread positive experiences presents an earned marketing situation.

Hasen frames it this way — he was trying to sign up for an extras package from a certain cable company infamous for its lackluster customer service but had missed the cutoff date of a super deal by one day. Even though he’d been a loyal customer for years, the phone help refused to throw him a bone.

So Hasen took to Twitter and other social media outlets to complain, and what do you know — a short time later a major higher-up in the cable company’s marketing department actually gets him the subscription package at no charge.

One reason Hasen received such stellar service via social media is that with more than 1,700 followers on Twitter, he’s got some influence. He mentions he was recently on a conference panel where the social media manager of a major brand admitted that his company examines the number of followers a complainant has on Twitter before deciding whether to respond.

But that method is for the big brands, and he suggested that even they don’t think it’s the most effective.

“Can you imagine giving a hotel concierge your Twitter handle so he or she can decide what level of service to give you?” he asks rhetorically. “A help desk asking what your Klout score is?”

Consider this — around the same time, he patroned a fine dining establishment (no chain) near his Seattle home known for its Alaskan Halibut. In the region, the style is to undercook the fish, but Hasen wanted it medium well. When he received a medium rare filet, he expressed his displeasure — the restaurant did not put the fish back on the grill, but cooked him a new one and then comped him for the dish.

Sure, that’s a great way for a small business to get repeat business (and Hasen says he returned the next month), but in the age of social media and the instant sharing of experiences, it’s a smooth move for instant earned marketing. The restaurant had no idea how many followers Hasen on Twitter (strangely, they didn’t ask for his Twitter handle next to his signature on the check). The old adage that you never know who is going to walk in has never been truer, just add “you never know how much social media influence that person has” to the end.

“Customer service should be democratic,” Hasen says ”With social media-enabled mobile devices, the consumer has more of a voice in the service industry. The smartphone is a megaphone.”

At the same time, brands can’t be deaf to the social conversation — 35% of the consumers surveyed said they would want to hear from a brand after a negative incident. Only 10% of those who had posted about a customer service experience received feedback from the brand mentioned.

Founded in 2004, Hipcricket is a relative veteran in the field of mobile marketing, having recently powered its 100,000th brand campaign. Earlier this year the company released version 7.0 of its cloud-based mobile marketing and advertising platform HIP, with new features such as integration with Facebook Pages and the SmartXchange conversational SMS tool.

Trend-wise, Hasen notes that Hipcricket is seeing fewer one-off mobile campaigns and more long-term brand partnerships, which he sees as a signal that mobile has cemented its spot in the digital marketing arena.

“It’s not the year of mobile,” he explains. “This is the year brands choose their mobile partners.”

After years of ping-ponging around various industry publications, Gavin Dunaway finagled his way into the senior editor slot at Adotas, a depot for interactive advertising news and commentary. When not penning snarky articles about social media and behavioral targeting, the Washington, D.C. native and George Mason University graduate enjoys playing electric guitar so loud that the walls shake.

This piece originally appeared at Adotas June 22, 2011. It has been reprinted with permission.

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