Despite the proverbial “the customer is always right,” the relationship between the customer and the company has long been organized for the benefit of the latter. But the ability for companies to completely control this relationship has disappeared.

Social CRM: The New Rules of Relationship Management, a report from the Altimeter Group released earlier this month, serves to help companies and organizations understand the changing territory. The report offers a thorough framework with which companies can strategize their adoption of social CRM projects.

Based on research with companies who have pioneered an embrace of social technologies for relationship management, the report lists 18 use cases that serve as entry points for social CRM efforts. These include social customer insights (tracking customers’ preferences via social media sites like Facebook), rapid social marketing response (defending the brand in real-time), and crowdsourced R&D (eliciting real-time feedback to enhance innovation).

The report rates each use case by its market demand and tech maturity, indiced to help organizations see which might be the most expedient and appropriate entry points for their social CRM endeavors. It also lists vendors to watch, pointing out that there is currently no single tool to help organizations track customer data and customer conversations in a world of rapidly changing social technologies.

The report has six recommendations for organizations: Breathe social. Complement existing CRM processes. Measure social CRM projects on business goals rather than solely on engagement. Be prepared for rapid change. Find other social CRM pioneers.

The most important, perhaps: Act now. The report cautions companies against falling even further out of step with customers by not engaging with social technologies to expand their CRM processes. Well-researched and with clear definitions, the report could also help companies avoid undertaking social CRM projects merely for the buzz.

audrey watters