As with past conferences, SOCAP (The Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals) annual 2011 opened with a bang. The Blues Brothers had the over 500 attendees clapping and rocking before the first speaker reached the stage. However, the gathering had much more to offer and the attendees enjoyed a conference packed with interesting keynote speakers, breakout sessions and plenty of opportunity for networking. As with the last conferences social media was one of the central topics for this conference, however the sector is now more mature today and it was great to hear more and more results and best practices rather than just reminders of how important a social media presence is. It is still unclear how much social media will eventually substitute the traditional customer contact channels such as phone/email and most companies do not see a rapid decline in usage of such channels yet. Companies like Orbitz demonstrate that social media management so far has been incremental. Aside from social media the really big topic is mobile. Most of us agree that mobile platforms are changing everything. What is so amazing though is the speed of how the rapid growth of this sector is affecting consumer behavior. Following are a few highlights of the conference:
Wayne Peacock, EVP Member Experience, USAA started with the first Keynote. USAA which combines over 8.4 million members combines some of the most passionate and loyal employees and customers. His recipe for success is straight forward: Know your customer really well, organize your business around their needs and make it about a Bigger Mission. By providing a relationship based customer service culture which is about anticipating needs and proactively work with its members, he creates measurable value for his customers. With respect to social media he warns the audience that there is no more hiding from what you do bad. The age of social media provides a forum for every customer and that you will hear right away if something is not working right. Luckily USAA is a company with excellent products which enjoys mostly positive feedback from their very loyal customer base.
The second speaker Mitch Joel is well known to SOCAP and its members due to his past contributions to the organization and his bestselling book “Six Pixels of Separation”. He reminded the audience that in today’s world the consumer is normally further ahead than the brand which raises the question of how a brand can catch up. He suggested that organizations need to stop doing what they were doing in the past and find ways to better connect with their customers. The effectiveness of traditional media channels is changing rapidly even in the Internet space. Click-through rates on banner ads for example have declined by over 50% between 2007 and 2009. On the other hand the rate of consumers accessing content from retailer via mobile devices has increased by 74% year over year and today 84% of consumers check reviews before conducting a purchase. Today’s customer is fundamentally different and most organizations are not prepared. Mitch suggests that companies need to invest in proactive customer care to move ahead of the customer. The well received presentation provided lots of discussion material for the following sessions.
Interesting also was the presentation from Maribel Sierra, Director of global social media management for Dell. We all remember “Dell Hell” and how Dell became a victim of the social media revolution. However Dell has successfully turned this around by listening to what their consumers were saying and improving their products and services accordingly. Today Dell has over 80 people in their global social media group, monitoring and responding to blog posts, tweets and Facebook mentions.
The final keynote of the day was delivered by award winning branding expert, author and influential blogger Simon Mainwaring. His book, “We First” outlines a marketing vision of why Social Good is great for brands and society. In a world were customer are (i) hurting, (ii) distrustful of corporate and (iii) more connected than ever before companies must rethink their brand strategies and company purpose. Simon explained how companies like Nike, Walmart and Pepsi are shifting their Marketing towards Social Good (directing certain profits to charities, implementing sustainability programs and rewarding consumers for their involvement in such programs). In this environment, excellent and meaningful customer care becomes absolutely critical. Customers want a better world! His key takeaways were: 1.) The future of profit is purpose, 2.) Brands must become community celebrants not celebrities and 3.) Marketers must become day traders in social emotions.
Tomi Ahonen, bestselling author and international speaker on the mobile industry provided another fascinating and very relevant keynote. He outlined not only how rapidly the mobile phones industry is growing (today users are holding over 5.8 billion mobile phone subscriptions, compared with 1.3 billion computers) – but also how marketers can take advantage of the new opportunities which come with a fully connected consumer. Most companies today are optimizing their websites, creating mobile sites and launching apps, but few are taking advantage of SMS and MMS capabilities. MMS is by far the most preferred communication channel especially for the younger generations. On average 30% of all consumers prefer SMS as a communication channel however over 60% of the younger generations prefer SMS over any other channel. For the customer service and marketing industry, this is a new channel which every company should take advantage of. Tomi presented the mind blowing results of MMS campaigns launched by BMW, Finnair, MCD and Tesco. The secret sauce for all Marketing campaigns these days is the combination of social, local and mobile.
SOCAP again delivered on its promise to bring together Brands with Vendors in a social and trusted forum. There is no other organization in the Customer Service industry which can deliver on this promise. Most attendees will get home with a book full of new ideas and contacts with vendors who can make it happen. As with all conferences the final highlight is the Social Finale where customer care executives of Americas most famous brands can be found chatting, laughing and dancing till the very early morning hours, when the SOCAP conference finally ends.
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