Business Standard

Blogging for the customer

Book extract

Strategist Team  |  New Delhi 

blogs are gaining in importance.

The internet will help achieve “friction free capitalism” by putting buyer and seller in direct contact and providing more information to both about each other.

— Bill Gates

Relationship between blogs and customer relationship blogs and customer relationship (CRM)! You are probably wondering how this could ever be possible. Well companies are trying to figure out how. Blogs are establishing more linkages across customer contacts by encouraging dialogue and enabling personalized communication. Connecting with customers has always been a key area of concern for organizations and blogs are complementing the existing channels.

The world over, companies are attempting to increase customer loyalty by creating relationship equity amongst their existing and prospective customer base through knowledge and community building initiatives. Blogs have been very important both from the point of view of customer feedback and relationship management. Jeremy Wright observes, “Customers are your best product managers, your best evangelists, and perhaps the only people in the world who will tell you the truth about your company. listen to them.”1

CRM in the post blogging era has acquired a greater seriousness because customers are deservingly empowered. However, the brighter side is that CRM blogs can go a long way in leading to improved standards of customer service. Through their timely feedback system, they can act as a stimulus for the R&D (Research and Development) and marketing departments to take the necessary steps for product improvisation and innovation leading to higher standards of customer loyalty and retention.

Maintaining interesting and consistent communication with customers has been established by research conducted on word of mouth and viral marketing. Findings show that customers have a tendency to spread negative word of mouth publicity much more quickly than positive feedback. This is further compounded by the fact that customers are now better connected to each other, in fact more so than ever before. Therefore the age-old channels of communication and feedback have undergone a complete overhaul.

Feedback is not a linear process circumscribed to companies and individual customers. Customers are engaging with each other more than ever before and are interacting directly with each other to create highly dynamic response mechanisms. Emanuel Rosen, in his much acclaimed The Anatomy of Buzz: How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing makes an interesting point. “In order to compete, Companies must understand that they are selling not to individual customers but rather to networks of customers.”2

In both B2C and B2B services environments, communication channels like CRM blogs are becoming extremely valuable. Businesses are becoming increasingly sensitive to the fact that if they don’t provide a platform for customers to communicate, they will find avenues elsewhere; avenues where feedback and responses will be difficult to monitor and influence. Blogs, centered around the concept of CRM, have a greater possibility of creating customer evangelists. A CRM blog builds blog-centric communities and amplifies them.

As blogs empower customers, companies are beginning to view themselves from the point of view of their clients and customers. Balancing the perspective of the company with that of the customers is critical as customers have now become much smarter about product prices and brand identities.

Metcalfe’s law, that states that the value of a network is in proportion to the square of its size, is all the more relevant in this era of social networking where information is prone to being used, reused and misused. The time of “in your face advertising” seems to be passé. The world over, the impact of traditional media is on the decline.

There is a clear movement towards informal dissemination through non-linear channels like viral, word of mouth and buzz. Coupled with this, the basic human tendency of aligning oneself with individuals who share similar interests or belong to the same social strata further amplifies the power and influence of word of mouth and peer opinion. This necessitates the need for creating and maintaining goodwill in one’s target market.

The case of the CRM blog of NG Vysya
The cost of acquiring a new customer has been established as being anywhere between four to a hundred times that of retaining an old one. In the face of such despairing facts, the importance of understanding the changing cultural orientation of one’s existent as well as potential customers cannot be overemphasized. ING Vysya, for instance, has taken the concept of customer satisfaction to the next level through its blog — ww.pickuradvisor.com. The blog is an interesting exercise in customer involvement that starts from the origination of insurance advisory services.

The Indian retail banking and insurance sectors are undergoing tremendous modernization with New Age technologies and the entry of foreign players; branding has assumed an importance like never before. The challenge is compounded by the fact that older Indian establishments like LIC and SBI continue to dominate customer loyalty. LIC has a far higher industry average than most private and foreign players in terms of customer loyalty. Blogging can do its bit in creating the much needed differentiation in customer interactivity and involvement.

The CRM blog of ING Vysya is designed to empower its customers through direct interaction with advisors. Launching the service, Frank Koster, MD and CEO, ING Vysya, said, “This is portent of the future [sic]; we have brought together advisors and customers in a fresh new way using cutting edge technology. The service empowers potential customers to view various featured advisor profiles on the site and then choose the advisor they would like to interact with and later meet. Our top advisors get a chance to leverage their knowledge and advisory capabilities to a larger group of potential customers.” This is basically a pilot project launched in the Indian market before it gets implemented in fifty other countries.

Pallavi Chopra, Manager, E-business, ING Asia Pacific in Hong Kong, believes that the project gives customers a greater say in the advisory process, making them the architects of their product as opposed to being merely its recipients, “The key consumer insight behind the idea is that in the normal course a customer never gets to choose their advisor, but gets one that the company sends [sic]. This is using technology to empower New Age insurance customers, just in the same way that Internet banking or online shopping is doing [sic]. We have also built the technology locally in India, using the considerable IT skills available in Bangalore and Mumbai....”

Service industries have been at the forefront of instituting CRM blogs because of their sensitivity to high customer retention rates. The new platform for blogs, like pickuradvisor.com and Monster.com, has helped these companies in getting a competitive advantage through differentiation. In the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) category, Sunsilk has come up with the highly creative concept of Gang of Girls. Aimed at establishing an online community of its target customers, this CRM initiative is an exemplary exercise in brand differentiation.

Indian companies are deploying blogs for a variety of CRM objectives, ranging from product information and greater interactivity with the representatives of the company to providing customers with the ultimate brand experience. The online recruitment industry has intelligently aligned blogging with its CRM strategy.

Dhruvkant Shenoy gave his freewheeling inputs on the state of corporate blogging in India: “While blogging has been around for a while in the US and Europe, its growth is a recent phenomenon in India, especially in the case of ‘blogging in business’. As a company, Monster India recognized that there was a need to provide a platform to the job seekers to have a peer-to-peer communication in their quest for a better career. It’s also a first in the space of vertical job search. Blogs build communities and communities create blogs — it’s a virtuous cycle that has the potential to grow on its own.”

In an attempt to provide an explanation of sorts for why corporate blogging was not picking up in India, he further added, “To grow, every new idea needs investment of time — from all constituents. Blogging has not picked up momentum on account of diverse reasons. One, the power of blogging has not sunk in yet in the corporate minds. Two, even if blogging power is understood by some, right now, one is not investing enough time to really get deep into it.”.

Monster.com, in a bid to provide value addition to its clients, has given its users the opportunity to communicate in as innovative a fashion as possible with their prospective employers through the channel of blogs. This initiative has gone a long way in providing the employers with easy access to candidate curriculum vitae profiles — a method that saves both time and money.

A research report by AC Nielsen, ‘Tomorrow is a new consumer! Who is the future Asian consumer?’ presents interesting insights into relationship marketing, particularly in Asia. The study draws upon facts like Asia’s very large young population, its rising economic power and rapicj consumerism. These factual developments are accompanied by the genesis of a different set of values like individualism, independence and self-expression. In the wake of this economic and social evolution, marketers are becoming sensitive to the use of technology for managing relationships with existing customers, while acquiring new ones.

Organizations like Naukri.com are partnering with their clients and helping them create a conversation with their prospective employees through ‘Recruiter Blogs’. The idea is to help employers individualize their identities in the online marketplace for recruitment. More than 150 companies have started using the blogging platform provided by Naukri.com to reach out to employees to make hiring a two-way process.

The initiative is commendable but at the moment most companies are using it only as an extension of their job boards and listings. Hence losing out on an opportunity for a more creative conversation with candidates, who could well have provided them with an insight into the insider’s view of an organization’s culture. Naukri.com has also started its own ‘Product Blogs’ to keep its clients better informed and updated about its product offerings.

Sumeet Singh, National Head of Marketing, Corporate Communications and Strategic Alliances, Naukri.com believes in the power of blogging as a potent tool for CRM. For a company like Naukri.com, where the website itself is a product in a way, going that extra mile to establish a technological platform to connect with both ends of the client spectrum makes sense.

“We realize that social media, because of its time and energy saving attributes, may help the employers to hire, employ the right kind of talent and create a brand through the voice of their own employees. That’s why we have come up with a recruiter’s blog where recruiters can host their blogs and interact with prospective candidates, hold discussions about their company and provide information on the jobs available.

The effort is aimed at facilitating communication for our clients and marketing the organization’s brand to prospective employees. In a recent survey, PR Company — Edelman — found that bloggers were twice as likely to present their job in a positive light than denigrate it. In a competitive economy, such a positive PR step could create competitive advantage and enhance the brand image in specific networks. The ability to make and break brands would ensure that the web 2.0 communication tools go a long way and emerge as the most powerful media in the future.”

Notes
1 Wright, Jeremy, BlogMarketing, Page 17, McGraw-Hill Professional, 2006 2 Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz: How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing, Page 13-14, Double Day Business, 2002


CORPORATE BLOGGING IN INDIA

Authors: Rajeev Karwal and Preeti Chaturvedi
Publisher: Wisdom Tree
Price: Rs 345
ISBN: 9788183281317
Reprinted with permission

First Published: Tue, January 06 2009. 00:00 IST
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