Are Contact Centers Supporting Customers Via Social Media?

| Contact Center/CRM Views and Analysis

Are Contact Centers Supporting Customers Via Social Media?

According to an excellent recent blog entry by Tim Passios, Director of Solutions Marketing, Interactive Intelligence, not as many as may well be warranted by well-publicized incidents e.g. “United Breaks Guitars” .

Tim lists some very impressive social media statistics:

* Almost 640 million users of Facebook (SocialBakers)
* Over 90 million tweets a day
* Over 156 million blog sites (BlogPulse)

Tim wrote: “most contact centers just aren't feeling the absolute need to support it as a channel for now. As one of the customers I spoke with told me, "The majority of people are going to call you long before they are going to tweet or blog about bad customer service. Our job is to take care of that customer at the time they call and not give them a reason to use Social Media."

They, and Tim, have a point. If a matter hits social media it is almost too late. It jibes with the point raised to me by Convergys in that the best most cost-effective customer service response and strategy is not to have product and service problems to begin with...which is now being driven home by the power of the social channel.

Tim goes on to write:"... after talking to several customers, I found they are more concerned about improving the support via their voice channel, as well as email and chat, than they are Social Media."

That may not be the wisest move. From what I've seen and heard, social media response via organizations and contact centers have been at both ends of the spectrum. While many firms do not have a social media strategy and service mechanisms in place, others such as Time Warner and Wells Fargo have dedicated teams. Wells Fargo’s presence is especially engaging, and personable.

Indeed some outfits often respond to issues raised in comments and posts far quicker than they do to those by phone or e-mail. Their rationale, with some justification, appears to be that the social channel has more immediate and larger impact than the others…though customers on eternity holds or twiddling their fingers waiting for e-mail replies can and will likely complain on social media…

At the same time some firms…their names have been left out to protect the identities of the guilty…have taken the same “who-else-are-they-going-to-do-business-with?-so-who-gives-a-rat’s-hindquarters” attitude to those who reach out or comment about them…that they have done with those who have complained by voice, e-mail, paper mail, fax and in-person.

“Does that mean they [contact centers] are behind the times?” asks Passios. “Not at all. It simply means they are responsive to the demands of their customer's needs to service them via the channels they wish to use.”

“Does it mean they are putting their company at risk by not rapidly deploying support for Social Media? Again, not at all. As a matter of fact, they are driving in the exact opposite direction. Every customer I talked to said that they are in the process of formulating a Social Media strategy and before rolling it out, want to be sure they know what they are doing. “

Tim says that contact centers are asking all the right questions such as:

* “Does my customer use Social Media? If so, which ones? And what are they saying? “

* “Do I need to monitor all of Social Media or can I focus on just a few?”
* “When I respond, how do I do it and how quickly do I need to respond?”

* “How do I prepare my agents, my supervisors and my customers?”

* “How do I queue and route Social Media?”

* “Can I run reports on it just like I can my other channels?"
* “Can I develop measurable KPIs?”

There is one other question--perhaps the biggest one of them all--and that is from me: who should vet social media comments, posts and responses?

Why is this issue critical? Because, as I’ve argued before, social media is media. No different than TV, radio, online and print. Whoever responds is acting as the corporate spokesperson.

The impacts of comments, and the needed skills and the discipline in hearing and replying in any public role are arguably far different and deeper and more immediate than any words uttered in customer service. And with the realtime nature of social media there is little leeway for buffering remarks as there is in e-mail or chat. You rarely get a second chance in media, and the social channel is no different.

The question then is this: “would you want your contact center agents to appear on CNN?” If not, then do not have them handle social media.

And yes I’ve been live on CNN…

There are increasingly sophisticated games that could well be playing in social media that companies need to be aware of. I fear that it will not be long until it will be used to tear down as well as build up firms just like this channel and others including face-to-face are used in politics. Check out talk radio, any political story article response whether posts or letters or an all-candidates’ meeting to hear and read for yourself.

My counsel on social media is this: have the corporate communications departments, in partnership with Legal serve as the gatekeepers and policymakers. Under their tutelage select staff for and train dedicated social media teams. Look for staffers with media, PR and paralegal experience as well as customer service skills. In smaller firms have corpcomm serve as the social media team: just as they do for other media. In both cases closely link corpcomm with customer service, sales and marketing, with comments collected from social media cleansed and housed and integrated with remarks from other channels to obtain a full, realtime view of customers’, prospects’ and the public’s viewpoints.

In that fashion then firms will get social media right. And with the rapid takeup of customer inquiries by self-service, and with the demand for higher quality service from well as the increasing popularity of social media as a customer service is only a matter of time when the social media response teams become the customer service teams.

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1 Comment

Great article. Thank you for posting. This raises very interesting questions regarding handling customer interactions via social media. As someone who works closely with organizations on their brand voice and customer experience, I would suggest that while launching into customer service via social media needs to be done with care, organizations who fail to do so may be risking losing customers to brands who are actively engaging customers on social media. I recently reviewed how and Delta Airlines uses Twitter to keep customers engaged, as well as to provide top notch service (I show the actual tweets). Feel free to take a look at it and provide comments!

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