Social media channels and contact centers can play together

Proper staffing, training and strategies can make social media channels work wonders in a contact center, according to industry observers.

Chances are contact center agents are not strangers to social media. Most probably use Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites in their personal lives.

Yet, regardless of how adeptly they navigate the terrain on their own, there is no shortage of hurdles to overcome once the company makes social media channels a touch point for customer service.

And, almost inevitably, it will. There is a universal consensus among contact center professionals  that social media has emerged as a viable, even necessary part of the customer service mix.

"[The contact center] needs to be there as an organization because their customers are there," said Brad Cleveland, a consultant and former president of the International Customer Management Institute.

"They can pick up on what customers are asking for, gather competitive intelligence and get input on products and services. They can learn a ton."

What organizations have to do first is deploy social media as a valuable customer support channel, not to mention seamlessly integrate it as part of a multichannel customer support strategy. With that in mind, here are five of the most treacherous pitfalls organizations encounter when unleashing social media on a contact center--along with practical tips on how to minimize risk, if not avoid it all together:

Social media channels in isolation. Whether it's giving contact center agents free rein with social media, not coordinating with other customer service channels or assigning a different department to interact with consumers on Twitter or Facebook, analysts contend the outcome is the same: Different sets of rules and interactions ultimately lead to inconsistent customer service.

"You want to have a seamless experience and deliver the kinds of services and answers that go out through the other channels," Cleveland said. "You want it to be a seamless, brand-building, high-value experience for customers."

For that, you need to put the right cross-functional structures in place so what customers are being promised on the phone and what they are told in social media exchanges is the same.

For example, if non-reimbursement of fees is a company policy, it needs to be upheld in both traditional contact center and social media exchanges.

Viewing social media as a panacea. The inherent limitation of Twitter’s 140-character string impedes the ability to solve complex problems in this venue, contact center pros caution.

Instead, they advise customer support teams to use Twitter as a vehicle for letting irate customers know their issues have been heard. It can then be used to advise customers of the proper protocols that take the subsequent problem solving offline.

"It's a way to say, 'I hear you,' but not for resolution typically," said Paul Greenberg, president of the consultancy, The 56 Group.

"It can help solve small issues when the level of anger of the customer isn't great, but for major issues, it should only be used in the onboarding process as a means of saying, 'Hey, follow me, but DM [direct message] me your phone number so I can call you for follow up.' "

Insufficient staffing and service-level planning. Many organizations move forward with social media without the same attention to planning and forecasting they give to other customer-facing channels, according to customer service observers.

This could mean they do not have a true sense of how many tweets the customer service organization will be handling on a daily basis or what volume of interaction will be required on Facebook.

The danger, Cleveland said, is implying you'll be online with service and then not being prepared to deliver, leaving tweets unanswered and Facebook posts languishing.

"You don’t open an airline and have the wrong number of people around the counter or on the plane itself," he said. "It's just like any other kind of service--you have to plan accordingly."

Having a clear picture of the appropriate service-level expectations for social media channel is also paramount to a program's success, said Donna Fluss, founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC.

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While responding to a traditional contact center inquiry within 24 hours is typically fine, it's not going to cut it in the real-time world of social media, Fluss said.

"When it comes to social media, you have to go channel by channel and establish an appropriate service-level response," she said. "You have to find the right balance between being responsive and managing costs."

Not investing in proper training. Part of maintaining responsive service levels with social media means teaching contact center agents how to best respond while putting processes in place to ensure quality service.

Just because a customer service representative uses Facebook in her personal life doesn’t mean she is up to speed on how the forum should be used on a corporate scale.

"You can’t just take a customer service rep who's been a phone person forever and assume they know how to properly use social channels," Greenberg said. You have to make the investment in training representatives how to do this while clearly establishing protocols for handling responses, he added.

Not closing the loop. How customers interact in social media, what they tweet and what they say on Facebook is all valuable information that can be leveraged to improve products and services, Cleveland said.

Capturing this information, drilling into the content and creating codes for clear identification and classification is a good first step to making sense of the social media noise, he said.

"Establish an internal approach that lets you go back to research and development and say, 'Here’s what we are hearing. Here’s how to make the product better, faster or better,'" he said.

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