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Employee social networks: How one call center made it work

Employee social networks: Improving collaboration and solving problems together? Or a giant waste of time? Read how one call center made it work.

It was easy for a call center agent at British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) to feel lost in the crowd. The London-based satellite television, broadband and telephone company has about 15,000 in-house and outsourced agents deployed globally across many contact centers. It could be an isolating experience for some, and many of them felt frustrated when no one on their team knew the answer to a difficult question.

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BSkyB knew it would have to connect its teams somehow, and one way to make this change happen was to use an employee social network with the goals of improving internal communication and increasing employee satisfaction -- which in turn made the company's customers happier.

Technology Project Manager Colin Griffith was at the heart of the change. Griffith had joined BSkyB in 2008, shortly after graduating from the University of Leicester with a degree in contemporary history. While some might not think a degree in history would be applicable to the tech world, he disagrees. "Studying history at university has helped in my IT career by equipping myself with an analytical mind-set and enhancing my written and verbal communication skills," he said.

Colin GriffithColin Griffith

Griffith was initially hired into a program for recent graduates that allowed them to rotate into four different roles over the course of two years. He spent six months in the roles of business analyst, working with telephony and networks; software developer, specializing in SQL and business intelligence; Web technology tester; and finally in procurement. Remembering his rotation, he definitely believes it made a difference and helped him to have an understanding of the organization that better equipped him to make this implementation because it taught him about the different phases of a deployment process and about the different needs of departments within BSkyB. After his rotation was completed, he assumed an analyst role within the organization, then became a project manager while working on the social media integration project.

Griffith began looking at social media for the consumer side of BSkyB in 2010, with the hope of using them for customer engagement. Later, reviewing the problem of isolated, non-engaged contact center employees made him think of social networks -- and ask why BSkyB wasn't using them as an organization to reach out to its employees. But Griffith knew that there was a right way to do this -- and a wrong way. "I asked, 'How can we bring this up in a way that makes it feel grass roots?'" Griffith said, adding that this project would certainly fail if employees felt it was forced upon them.

Not just idle chatter

Griffith and his fellow teammates began looking into social media in 2011. He was paired up with Nicola Band, a call-center manager whose goal was to improve customer satisfaction with the service they received. One of the greatest drivers of customer satisfaction is employee engagement, which motivated her to look into tools to improve employee satisfaction.

A 2011 study by The International Journal of Business and Social Science titled Work Environment, Service Climate, and Customer Satisfaction: Examining Theoretical and Empirical Connections hypothesized that employees who are engaged and satisfied in their jobs provide better service to customers. The study analyzed 369 questionnaires given to senior service employees at multiple retail service organizations in India, and found a positive correlation between a pleasant, upbeat work environment; employee engagement; and customer satisfaction. When employees feel empowered in their job and valued by their employer, it translates into better service for customers.

British Sky Broadcasting is not alone in its adoption of Chatter for internal communication purposes. While some in management might be skeptical about using a social network as an employee engagement tool, companies that have adopted Chatter or similar social platforms report the following:

31% say they have fewer meetings

31% say there's less email traffic between employees

34% say there's greater idea generation

36% say there's greater employee engagement

38% say there's more employee conversations

41% claim better access to information

The tool Griffith and Band selected, Chatter, a product that belongs to Salesforce, was not an obvious choice. For one thing, BSkyB does not use any other Salesforce products in their customer service contact centers. Multiple tools were considered, including both Yammer and Jive. It wasn't an easy decision.

When asked why BSkyB chose Chatter over its competitors, Griffith said that Chatter seemed to integrate the social experience from consumer social networks like Facebook and Twitter, while still providing security around mobile access.

The technical side of the implementation took two and a half months and was done at the same time as an Active Directory Federation Services project that allows for single sign-on for employees. They rolled it out to the first test group in December 2011.

Through these early adopting agents' discussions of daily frustrations on Chatter, BSkyB learned that rather than actually diagnosing network problems, some departments were sending out too many replacement routers to customers because it was the simplest course of action. As a result of this discussion, BSkyB changed its policy regarding these kinds of calls, requiring that the network actually be checked prior to sending a new router out.

BSkyB then integrated Chatter into its corporate intranet and went live with all contact center employees in December 2012. This integration included not only contact center agents but also engineers, the back-office team and corporate employees. BSkyB currently boasts 29,000 Chatter users, 33% of whom fall into the "heavy user" category, frequently posting, commenting on others' posts and actively checking their Chatter feeds.

Outsourced employees, surprisingly, were among the most eager. "Many of these posts were 'Hello, world' type posts -- because these people never had any means of reaching out to other agents before," said Band, who was promoted to Chatter community manager as a result of her work on this project. One of the best benefits of the Chatter integration is in giving management insight into what's actually going on in their contact centers -- and giving employees a place to voice concerns and pain points.

"Around New Years, someone in facilities management in our contact center in Stockport decided it was a good idea to leave some windows that were out of reach open, for some reason," Griffith remembered. The open windows caused the temperature in the contact center to be far too cold to be comfortable -- a concern everyone was feeling, but which would be awkward to mention directly to management.

This time, however, an employee brought it up on Chatter. When corporate management saw this on the Chatter feed, they arranged to have the windows closed immediately. "The agents were much happier," Griffith said, adding that agent discomfort leads directly to lower customer satisfaction scores. In addition to raising concerns like this, Chatter is also used for asking questions that aren't addressed in the employee knowledge base, general troubleshooting, forming teams around specific issues, and, of course, facilitating conversation between employees who have to be on the phone for eight hours a day and don't get much of a chance to socialize -- and some of whom work remotely and never meet many of their co-workers.

Chatter has also become a tool that management uses to become more accessible to employees: Some senior members of management are doing Reddit-style "ask me anything" sessions on Chatter, allowing employees to ask questions candidly or just get to know them better, discussing hobbies, interests and other things they might have in common.

Of course, there have been some issues. Griffith and Band had hoped the community would be self-moderating, but they quickly learned that wouldn't work. And while they only have to moderate a small amount of posts, they have found that some contributors don't think their posts through very well. In those situations, Band said, they remove the posts and send a message via Chatter, asking, "Do you really think you should be saying that about your co-worker?" or "Do you really think you should complain about how hot it is in Glasgow today when 100 other people have already done so?".

For more on employee social networks

Collaborative culture key to social network adoption

How do I get my employees to use employee social media?

They have good reason to do this: One of their greatest challenges has been senior stakeholder engagement at a very high level. They've had a hard time convincing some management members that it's valuable, "as with any tool that allows users to feed back into a management structure of an organization," Griffith said, adding that they're constantly being asked to demonstrate the value of this product.

"It takes up people's time, and it's not free," Griffith explained. While statistically only 10% of posts are irrelevant or off-topic, they seem to have "odd timing," he said. "It's always right when management pops on," he added, laughing and saying that many of the very useful, technical or important discussions are hidden within discussion groups. Also, it has been difficult to analyze the value of this new tool scientifically. "As with most metrics around employee social networks, the majority of feedback is qualitative instead of quantitative," he admitted.

There were a couple of technical issues as well. "There were some features, such as private messaging, we initially didn't want but had to accept," Band said, adding, "The dashboards initially impressed us, but actually don't tell us enough. We are exploring analytics apps and are really keen to see something like Radian6 become available."

Griffith indicates the integration was fairly favorable, however. "Many people have said Chatter gives them a voice in a very large organization," he said. While some employees tried it out and decided it wasn't for them, Griffith said he's heard very little truly negative feedback. "I've been in IT for a relatively long time, and usually somebody hates some part of any tool -- but that's not really the case with Chatter. I've not had anyone say they despise this tool."

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