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Expert's Angle: Integrating Social Media Into Call Center Operations

Social media-based customer care is offering many non-traditional support scenarios, like crowd-sourcing / peer support and web-based self-help. These service models definitely help reduce the workload of a regular call center but cannot fully replace it. There would always be a need for someone with the tools, resources and authority to perform more sophisticated and sensitive support tasks – fix billing errors, authorize RMAs, merge accounts, issue refunds, etc.

Since your existing call center already has dozens, hundreds or maybe even thousands of such people, adding social media to your existing range of support channels is an obvious choice. Actually, most call centers have already walked this path before – when adding email and web-chat channels. But do not let that fool you into the ‘been there, done that’ attitude – social media is a very unique channel. A few wrong steps can do an irreparable damage to your brand.

Social media needs a different type of agent

Some requirements for call center agents assigned to social media-based interactions are quite obvious – candidate profiling should focus on their writing skills, as long as social media communication remains largely text based over the next couple of years. But some requirements are unique to this new media. Interacting through social media may require an ability to shift channels (e.g. from Twitter to forums on the company website to YouTube to an independent user community) within the course of one interaction. Picking the right tool for the right message requires a lot more discretion from the agent. The same happens when referring customers to the information sources outside of your brand’s domain. The skills to do that are somewhat hard to cultivate within your existing agent population and may often require younger agents from the online generation who really ‘get’ the spirit of social media.

Social media is about person-to-person interaction

Buttoned-up responses, canned answers and an overall dry communication style do not play well with the nature and spirit of social media. If you are used to dinging your agents’ QM scores in the ‘call control’ section for a little small talk, building a rapport in social media-based interactions may involve some extra chit-chat on sports, pets or hobbies. Cultivating this spirit instead of banning it may take either a long re-training or a totally fresh agent pool. Yet, I am not advocating completely unrestricted communication flow, as it brings us to the next point:

Social media may create bigger legal liabilities

In a traditional call center, most interactions are one-on-one, while a larger portion of what your agents say on social media is either fully public or is archived on third-party resources. There are no clear-cut guidelines here, except maybe one – make sure your legal team is on board with what you do, but still do not let them run the game for you.

KPIs are different

If you are used to running you call center by the numbers, you should normally be even more comfortable with the web-based customer interactions. With the right tools in place, you can achieve 100% logging of all communication sessions – something that is still a dream for many voice-based call centers. Yet, with all the raw data in place, turning it into meaningful management KPIs is a bigger challenge. You could still start adapting the main KPI groups: Quantity, Quality, Customer Feedback and Call Outcome and Call Economics, but making a direct match would not be possible.

The key challenge here is correctly determining the base unit – unlike a single phone call, interactions in social media may lack a clearly defined end. It would be fairly normal to see a customer responding to an agent a few hours later, or maybe a few days. Yet, it is still part of the same thread.

It is also normal to see multiple media shifts within the same interaction. Start on Twitter or Facebook, continue on company forums, do a direct VoIP call or Skype chat, refer to an instructional video on YouTube – all of these communication ‘bursts’ are still parts of the same communication. Measuring, say, AHT here would be a total nightmare.

Customers are different

Social media now is no longer just for the internet kids. With the older generations now more and more engaged, one would think that the customers connecting to your call center via social media would be the same as the ones who used to call your 800 number. Yet, these are the customers of the new breed: they have an active online life, they built their own small communities, they are focused on relationships and they want these relationships to be two-way and long-lasting. So it is your chance to make your brand a part of these relationships that no longer end when putting down the phone.

Vadim Anikanov is President of the new social media-based customer care outsourcer VOICIAL.COM. [email protected]