In February of 2009, local columnist Jenny Ortuoste, who also blogs at, wrote an impassioned blog entry about her web hosting company. "To all JENNYO.NET readers, my apologies for this site being 'down' for so long and so often," Ortuoste writes on her blog."

The problem was with her web hosting provider, a local company who failed to account that she paid for two years' worth of domain registration, and not just one, hence the downtime.

She went on to explain her predicament with the company's support team who appear to be inept and unresponsive to customer inquiries. A few days later, she got an email from the support team of the provider, in an angry, accusing tone, mad for the flak they received for giving poor customer service.

Ortuoste is just one of the many customers dissatisfied with the local company's customer service, that when one searches for the name in Google, a crop of blog posts from enraged customers pop up even on the first page. Worse, some users took it a bit further and made a Facebook fan page, indicating the company's failure in rendering rightful and paid-for service.

Globe's web

This is the scenario of the marketplace today: consumers aren't anymore lining up at service centres or calling customer hotlines for issue resolution. They are venting their concerns through the easily accessible world of the web, social media in particular.

And in the always-on, instantaneous delivery of modern information, customers are demanding swift action to their concerns or else. "Customers today are more demanding," relates Craig Sullivan, vice president and general manager, NetSuite. "They have higher and often times more sophisticated expectations. They want things done faster, in the way they want, at the time when they need it, in the medium or channel that they prefer."

Consumers are continually taking to the web to criticise brands, or worse, collectively call for boycotts of the product, thereby damaging brand reputations and bleeding customers out of small and even large companies.

Ortuoste's web hosting company, former to be exact, still stands today, boasting of a 3,000-client strong network despite the online buzz against them. The firm may still stand, but the reputation they have built online will surely affect decisions of potential customers in the future.

Protecting its online reputation, as well as engaging with its customers, is one of the reasons why in 2009, local telecommunications firm Globe Telecom established a digital marketing division, part of a strategy of creating an ecosystem for digital channels to thrive on.

"It was crystal clear to us that CRM integration was a necessary inclusion in our channel strategy," remarks Paul John Pena, the company's digital marketing head.

"The most important benefit [of social CRM] is the ability of the business to listen to its customers and to interact with them on a human, personal level, which was a little difficult before," narrates Pena.

Because of this level of engagement, trust and honesty is forged between a business entity and its clientele, something which enabled Globe to mine deeper insights from customers and use them to tailor solutions to their specific needs.

By the numbers

A recent study conducted by comScore, an online activity measuring firm, reveals that at least 22 million Filipinos visit Facebook every month, or a staggering 93% penetration amongst Internet users, the highest rate recorded by the firm.

The Yahoo!-Nielsen Net Index echoes this claim, saying in a 2010 study that Facebook users in the Philippines grew from a measly 4% in 2009 to as much as 83% this year.

Facebook statistics site, as of writing, translates that to more than 16 million users of the social networking site in the Philippines, second only to Indonesia in the Asia Pacific region.

And that is Facebook alone. The same comScore study found that Twitter users in the country grew from only 9% in February 2010 to 15% in May, six percentage points increase in just a matter of three months.

That places the country as the third largest market for Twitter in the Asia Pacific region, next to Japan and Indonesia, the region's powerhouses.

The social 'chatter'

The numbers can clearly speak for themselves, but it is safe to assume that social media has acquired a significant status, so to speak, among most Filipino consumers.

Thankfully, businesses such as Globe are keen on listening to the brewing online chatter. A survey by enterprise content management software vendor OpenText reveals that at least 50% of companies are using social media in the workplace, while 90% believe social media can improve communications between a company's internal and external audiences.

"We have listening and engagement outposts in all relevant channels: Facebook, Twitter, Email, Chat Assist on portal, YouTube, Friendster, Multiply and through our own brand blog (ie. Tattoo)," Pena enumerates. "We've also established location-based channels, ie. Gowalla and Foursquare."

Firms are trying their best to listen to customers and rightfully so, because the price of not paying attention to the online chatter may be more expensive than one would like to believe.

According to Right Now Technologies, a UK customer experience expert, at least 65% of consumers will tell others online of their negative experiences. It is therefore best to be caught at the listening end and offer a response when needed, the firm adds.

Changing sales landscape

The burgeoning and widespread use of social media, especially among consumers, is changing not only the way firms gather feedback from their market but the way they generate sales as well.

"Before, companies had direct control and influence over buyer behavior with their marketing tactics and sales strategies," recalls Edler Panlilio, sales country manager for applications, Oracle Philippines. This widespread use of social media is shifting the industry from a vendor-centric view to a customer-and-communitycentric perspective, Panlilio says, where peer information, more than seller claims, is becoming a more vital source of decision-making, especially when buying products.

It is in this new ground where sales people, the Oracle executive relates, must now focus their energies. "A fundamentally customer-facing approach is about focusing on addressing the linkage between CRM systems and customer facing social networks and other collaboration sources," he adds.

In this regard, Oracle's social CRM offerings help sales agents "identify qualified leads, develop sales campaigns and collaborate with colleagues to close more deals."

Globe's Pena says they use a similar technique, where the overall CRM system is tightly integrated with social media and other web 2.0 applications. "We have a proprietary CRM tool that manages customer feedback received from various channels, not just online," he shares.

Feedback goes through the system and is logged as a formal ticket once the system is used. "However, not all issues are 'formal' cases. Some are ongoing conversational pieces that need not be managed through the system," Pena points out, underscoring the unstructured characteristic of data from social media.

This external-facing approach highlights one of two key trends involving social media in the enterprise today, according to Panlilio. The other aspect, which he calls "Outside In", leverages social networking tools in the enterprise to spark sales, such as in tapping internal subject matter experts to gather information to be delivered to users.

"These trends are helping drive the adoption of Social Networking in a business context and why many are looking for ways to use the concept to make the job of capturing, using and sharing customer intelligence productive for a sales executive," Panlilio elaborates.

Listening in

But how does one really "listen" to all that chatter and, more importantly, how does one sift through the blabber and identify which feedback are relevant to one's business?

Globe's Pena says they use a "variety of free to licensed [listening tools] available in the cloud." Business analytics vendor SAS, however, offers a solution. Their Social Media Analytics (SMA) platform helps companies monitor their brands online more effectively. "[It is] essentially a 'listening platform,' helping brands tune in on 'frequencies' of consumer chatter on social media," relates Luk Soon, practice lead for customer intelligence, SAS Asia Pacific.

Soon explains that SMA works by gathering data from various social media feeds, among them Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and linking, associating and subjecting them to taxonomies to help firms comprehend consumer sentiments. "This is what we call Sentiment Analysis," Soon adds.

Tapping the influencers

But SAS has a way to take mere sentiments up a notch, and help firms effectively convey and propagate their messages through social networks.

Contrary to common knowledge, "social networks" aren't born and constricted to the online world. As its name suggests, social networks are "links formed between consumers," Soon shares. "How recent or frequent some of these interactions are can be used to infer the 'strength' of the relationship, or the degree of the 'connectedness'," he adds.

The more connected a certain customer is, the better are the company's chances of targeting promotions at the "social leaders," and have him/her influence her family, friends and peers.

This is a valued insight Globe takes to heart, so they ensure that all product campaigns have a social media element to it. "All our social media initiatives are tied to our portal and online sales activities. That said, we ensure that our major campaigns, most especially, use social media for engagement and listening and our portal for conversion," Pena says.

In this area, SAS offers Customer Link Analytics which can effectively identify social leaders in a given network, not just on the Web.

Rationalising customer experience

At the core of all these chatter is the customer experience. Consumers vent their frustrations or offer positive feedback, about a product based on their personal experiences. The same goes with their individual experiences in interacting with the company itself, some may transfer to another provider after a bad experience with the technical support team or compliment a certain firm through a status update for generous and wellmeaning support.

"To effectively implement CRM, companies need systems that can span the multitude of touch points they have with the customer, be it from the seb, from emails, over the phone or via online channels such as the company's website, online store and community or social media channels," remarks NetSuite's Sullivan.

This essentially means getting a bird's eye view of the entire customer relationship and lifecycle. "Companies need visibility into what these customers, at any point in time, have ordered, what they bought, what they had trouble with, what can complement what they bought and any new opportunities which can lead them to repurchase or increased satisfaction," Sullivan explains.

Globe handles this through a dedicated customer engagement team, who manages feedback from all channels, along with a social media management team, who plan and implement online engagement strategies.

Since all feedback from all channels are entered through a single system and logged through a support ticket, the progress of each feedback is tracked down to the granular level. "Our proprietary and fully integrated CRM tool manages progress of tickets filed across different channels. Our customer engagement teams also ensure that a superior customer experience is maintained," Pena adds.

All of these are geared towards the intention of gaining loyal customers, or turning them into advocates of your company's product or service, NetSuite's Sullivan adds.

For this reason, collaboration plays a vital role in delivering a single, unified message to the customers. "For CRM to be effective, collaboration is of vital importance as it breaks down the silos that tend to develop within companies as they grow and often times become the source of frustration for customers when they interact with the company," the NetSuite executive says.

The world has surely gone more complex, thanks to the disparate nature of social media. The difficulty of gathering customer insights is higher than ever, but propagating messages to thousands of consumers has likewise become easier.

This is the true power of social media, especially in the realm of CRM. Wield it effectively and it will multiply positive feedback, thrust it the wrong way and you risk losing your company to a Facebook portest page, a negative Twitter status update or a host of bad reviews on Google's search pages.