In the last few years, “customer experience” (or CX) has become a buzzword that every business appears to be developing a strategy for, or changing a process to address. How many businesses are factoring social media into this equation? For so many companies, social media teams are still the last to know about high-level strategy changes. But when it comes to understanding your customers, they’re first in line.

Before businesses jump to revamp their CX, they should take a step back, think about the most important elements of CX today and how they see it evolving over the next few years. Social media is most likely the answer and should be at the core of those shifts. Otherwise, any changes your business makes may be antiquated in the near term. Because social is the customer experience—today and especially tomorrow.

Customers are in control of their experience with your business

At its core, customer experience is built on the various touchpoints that a customer has with your people, your products and your brand. Historically, businesses have had more control over how that experience happened and (for the most part) it was very linear and predictable.

Today, consumers are in control. They choose their own adventure. They select where they want to interact with your brand, research products and make purchases. As a result, your brand, people, products and services need to be available in an omnichannel way.

Consumers may dictate their experiences with your brand, but businesses can choose to invest in consistency, efficiency and quality across their physical and digital spaces. Think about the experiences you’d have in a brick-and-mortar retail shop. That business has a certain way they want store associates to present themselves and treat customers. There are intentions behind the way the business merchandises the store and designs its shelves. Businesses need to think about how their products, values, standards and culture show up on social media in the same way.

Customer experience starts with social media

We all recognize that the pandemic forced businesses to transform. Everyone had to evolve to maintain relationships with customers, market to them and sell products and services in a world where face-to-face interactions were no longer an option. Social became the go-to channel and a catalyst for keeping the customer journey moving.

As we emerge from the pandemic, that will remain true. Consumers have spoken and social is the most convenient and engaging place to connect with your brand. That’s why we’re seeing the exponential rise in social customer care and social commerce. We’re no longer limited to discovering and learning about products, we also have the ability to transact, moving through the entire customer journey on a single channel with ease.

More consumers on social yields more insights into your current and potential customers, but too many businesses are leaving that data on the table. Businesses have a responsibility to act on that intelligence—show your customers you’re listening, that you’re attuned to their preferences, that you give a damn about giving them the best experiences possible. Customer experience stops being a buzzword only if you do something about it.

At a basic human level, it’s encouraging when we feel heard, represented, seen and understood. Customer preferences will continue to change, it’s inevitable. But social data is the fastest, most unfiltered way to track those shifts as they emerge.

One Sprout customer, Lodge Cast Iron, used social listening to tap into conversations that potential customers were having about recipes and cooking products. The data revealed they actually had a large vegan contingency who were looking for meatless recipe ideas. The Lodge Cast Iron team took that insight, joined the conversations and tapped into a new market, while also giving the people what they wanted.

Social media managers hold the keys to the customer experience

When you receive a message on social, you don’t automatically know if it’s a customer lead, a support issue, product feedback or even the start of a crisis. Messages don’t come with a label, nor do they get automatically routed to the appropriate teams like customer support, for example.

This is just one of the reasons that our social media marketers play a critical role in CX and customer relationships. They are the ones triaging these interactions, so they need to be tied to all different parts of the organization to ensure that customers’ messages are getting to the right people.

We are starting to see a shift where most executives agree that social media will become the primary channel for their company to connect with their existing and prospective customers. Even so, many organizations still put social in a corner.

In the latest Sprout Social Index™, we found that 50% of marketers say they maintain only occasional communication and collaboration with other teams. If businesses are committed to using social to improve and inform the customer experience, they need to elevate social to the strategic, customer-facing function it should be. Break social teams out of the silos they’ve long been in. Give them a seat at the table and consistent opportunities to share their unique perspectives. The sooner businesses bring social into cross-team efforts, the better.

The best time to plant a tree is today

Even though we’ve seen social evolve rapidly in the last several years, we’re still early on in the adoption curve for businesses. There’s plenty to be learned, but we do know that providing a seamless, positive and complete CX on social gives companies a competitive advantage.

The businesses that invest early, harness the mountains of available social data and are committed to adjusting their strategy, are going to be the winners. Because if you don’t show up for your customers on social, another brand will. That’s the nature of the game, but the good news is it’s never too late.

The best time to plant a tree is today. So dig in, plant the seeds for a social-first customer experience, nurture it and watch it grow.

Download Sprout’s State of Social Media Report for more data and insights your business needs to determine the path forward in this increasingly social consumer environment.