If you’re only watching social media chatter, there are big customer support and marketing opportunities passing your business by.

As SVP and principal analyst at Hypatia Research Group, Leslie Ament and her team released a new report, entitled “Exploiting Social Intelligence for Customer Service and Support Excellence.” Of the 1,100 global organizations in the survey, only 246 were found to have social media software for customer service that enabled them to “actually utilize, recommend, influence, and/or hold budget or veto power over the purchase of social media software for customer service and support initiatives at their place of employment.” Primarily, the vendor offerings and enterprise implementations rested on social media customer monitoring, which has brought back little in the way of ROI or interaction with the increasingly active online customer market.

“Social and social monitoring has gotten a lot of hype over the last two years,” says Ament, who led marketing departments prior to her current research role. “But monitoring doesn’t really give you actionable insight. It’s giving you anecdotal information. While that may be interesting, if I were a CMO and I had to report to the board on why I spent six-figures on a social media monitoring system, I probably would not have my job for very long.”

Summarizing, Ament says, “You’re testing and praying, but you don’t have the next step where you can actually do something with the information.”

Approximately 44 percent of customer service and support executives expect these social tools to give them capabilities for responding to customer requests promptly.

Ament says that there is a pool of businesses taking on social customer interaction in a way that shows returns. She cites the ability of one cosmetics firm to not only reach out to customers tweeting about their products at a make-up counter, but also offer coupons to customers who bring up a rival brand in other social conversations. Of the 246 businesses in the Hypatia report who have more advanced social prowess, 17 percent tallied more than 5 percent ROI from their total annual marketing expenditures. Another one-fifth notched 3 to 5 percent ROI, and approximately 27 percent registered 2 to 3 percent ROI.

Although the overall number of businesses engaged in this advanced level of customer data interaction is in the minority, it remains a beacon of gains in the sometimes murky investment sphere of marketing, Ament says. The challenge is getting business to take social media beyond merely watching and tossing out a few “likes” or RTs, and Ament says more marketing departments and vendors should address advanced customer engagement features.

“The most tangible ROI that we are seeing is in social customer service and support. It’s one of the areas you can actually track social media ... how it tracks customer concerns before it becomes a reputation problem, or before there’s a problem because there was a problem quality issue,” she says.

This story originally appeared at Information Management.

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