In November 2010 a RightNow survey of IT and customer service professionals found that more than half of all Australian and New Zealand businesses plan to adopt social media as a customer service channel for the first time in 2011. Facebook will be investigated by 71%, 53% will look to Twitter, and a further 42% intend to launch a company-branded customer community as a way of driving engagement.In a similar vein a few months earlier, a Frost & Sullivan survey identified investment in social media monitoring tools as the number contact centre priority in the year ahead. After years of discussion and hesitancy, it’s apparent that social media’s time as a vehicle for customer relationship building has well and truly arrived. Power to the peopleOne effect of this move towards the social web is a fundamental change in the customer-company relationship. Currently most companies would consider that they own the relationships with their customers. They manage the customer, control their brand, typically inhibit transparency in the quest for control, and they conduct the relationship in the most efficient (for them) way possible. When social media comes onto the scene, the relationship changes i.e. the customer gains a new power.Capable of publishing their satisfactions and dissatisfactions to a global audience within moments, the customer voice is amplified. Off-the-cuff comments can shape the brand – intentionally, through invitation by the company, or unintentionally when the company has to react to criticisms.Public perception becomes reality, and keeping customers happy is more critical than ever because the quality of service can mean the survival or demise of the business.Why go there?It sounds threatening, but despite that, the social web and the online communities they foster offer too many opportunities for companies and contact centres to ignore. Much like other communications channels, social media provides the opportunity to create fulfilling interactions that delight customers, and so build loyalty and drive revenue. More specifically, tapping into consumer conversations allows organisations to:
- Connect to the growing number of customers using the social web
- Increase agent efficiency by blending social media into existing contact centre processes
- Assist customers proactively using the channels the customers prefer
- Grow information knowledge foundations with customer insights
- Enable agents to handle the most urgent issues first for quick resolution
Pay attentionSo how can an organisation successfully introduce the social web into its contact centre?Once you’ve determined why your organisation wants to engage in social media and what you want to achieve from it, the first step is to recognise the social web as part of the overall customer care initiative.Plan on integrating the social web channel with more traditional service channels like phone and email. This will then give you a complete, 360-degree view of customer interactions and, when trend and analysis reports are run against customer inquiries, it becomes possible to gain a full picture of customer incidents, questions and problems. Next, to develop interactions with customers that drive loyalty, you have to start listening to what’s being said about your brand. Listening is critical because it allows you to map what’s being said and where it’s being said so that you can begin to identify key channels and even who your important brand influencers might be. To know what’s being discussed in the wider world, there are tools available that can help you to monitor multiple sources across the social web, including Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and RSS-enabled sites such as blogs and news sources, from a single workspace. Don’t forget the rich source of information closer to home either. All the queries, support requests, opinions, criticisms and feedback coming in via the contact centre are important to building up that complete view of customer interactions. This is where that integrated approach comes into its own. Also, rather than using an interactive voice response (IVR) system to deflect calls, contact centres need to view all incoming communications as yet another opportunity to listen to and engage the customer. By all means use the IVR to its best effect – to speed up responses, direct calls, and to gather critical data regarding the nature of inbound communications – but don’t look at it as a way to cut down on agent-to-customer conversations. If you think back to the early ‘90s, when customers needed answers their choices were to ask friends or the call centre for help. Unfortunately, bad IVR strategies that tried to automate every customer interaction eventually led to customers looking elsewhere for help, so that today the trend is to Google, tweet, text or to visit websites and online company communities.The need to "socialise the customer experience” is an opportunity for contact centres to evolve and get back into the customer dialogue earlier – they must become "socially enabled” in their tools and processes. Just as email and the web have become standard customer care channels, so must the social web. A word about toolsOnce the contact centre starts to listen, plan and respond to the social web, it will assume an integral role in the cultivation of positive relationships for the brand. How far you decide take that – whether you simply monitor and participate in sales or service-related social web activities, or if you choose to initiate and build your own communities – will depend on your organisation’s needs and its expectations of social engagement. My advice is to see the social web as an opportunity to extend current customer care practices, and at least start any social projects from the perspective of using it to drive more fulfilling customer engagements that ultimately should lead to improved sales.To that end, it makes sense to tightly integrate social channels into existing call centre operations, making the social web integral to customer service. What this ideally means is that a contact centre has all of its customer communication channels – including phone, email, web self-service, chat and mobile devices – on one platform, so that every interaction becomes part of a seamless customer experience.