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Updating Your Customer Access Strategy for Social Media

The statistics are staggering (and so quickly out of date): Some 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) URLs, 110 million blogs, 350 million Facebook users, 27 million tweets sent per day – to name a few. It’s perhaps easier to relate to the stories in which social media has played a key role; i.e., protests in Iran, rescue efforts in Haiti, the elections of Barak Obama and Scott Brown, the groundswell of concern around Toyota’s recall – and so many others.

And as any organization actively listening to their customers will attest, social media is changing the face of customer service delivery. At one level, keeping contact center services strong is as important as ever – word of experiences, good and bad, gets around far and fast. But there’s far more to it. Your customers and prospects, along with many who have never directly interacted with your organization, are having a conversation about your products, services, and commitment to service. This dialog is shaping (for better or worse) your brand and identity. Are you part of the conversation?

While social media projects often begin as marketing initiatives or as the responsibility of newly established cross-functional teams, the contact center invariably assumes a more central role as resource requirements for listening and interacting become evident. (This shouldn’t be a surprise – call centers have spent years establishing the skills, know-how, tools and processes necessary to understand customer needs and deliver service in real-time environments.)

To put effective services in place, you need an updated plan – a customer access strategy that encompasses social media. Here’s a snapshot of how each of the nine components of a customer access strategy are evolving, in the context of social media:

CUSTOMERS: Beyond customers who interact through traditional channels (phone, email, chat, etc.), you’ll need listening tools for tuning in to the broader conversation – who is having discussions about your company through blogs, twitter, ratings sites, etc.? How to you best reach and reach out to them?

CONTACT TYPES: This step anticipates and identifies the major types of discussions that will occur — e.g., orders, inquiries, policies, customer support, complaints and compliments, company direction, etc.

ACCESS ALTERNATIVES: This step — where strategy really begins to hit home for call centers — identifies the sources through which service and dialog take place. Traditional communication channels – telephone, email, chat, self-service, postal mail, et al. – are being joined by peer-to-peer networks, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, user-feedback communities, and a plethora of other sources.

HOURS OF OPERATION: The conversation takes place 24 x 7, but whether that impacts the resource approach you take in listening and interacting depends on the nature and importance of the issues being discussed, and service and brand implications of providing timely input.

SERVICE LEVEL AND RESPONSE TIME OBJECTIVES: As with hours of operation, your service level objectives should be driven by the gravity of the issues at hand and the responsiveness appropriate to your brand and to your customers’ expectations.

ROUTING METHODOLOGY: This step defines the tools and processes necessary to listen to and filter conversations, and deliver issues that would benefit from interaction to agents who can then respond appropriately. Think of automatic call distribution (ACD) capability for social media interactions.

PERSON/TECHNOLOGY RESOURCES REQUIRED: This component addresses key questions: Who will handle interactions with the conversation, and what tools and systems will they need?

INFORMATION REQUIRED: What information on customers, products and services will need to be accessible to agents and customers? What information should be captured? How will the organization comply with applicable privacy or reporting requirements?

ANALYSIS AND BUSINESS UNIT COLLABORATION: This step defines how the information captured and produced during listening and interactions will be used to better understand those involved in the conversation, as well as to improve the organization’s products, services and processes. You may also want to summarize major performance objectives and how the contact center’s value and contributions will be measured.

GUIDELINES FOR DEPLOYING NEW SERVICES: The customer access strategy should outline a framework for deploying new services, including technology architecture (corporate standards and technology migration plans) and investment guidelines (priorities and plans for operational and capital expenditures). Social media will be an increasingly important consideration in these decisions.

Clearly, developing a sound strategy that encompasses the fast-evolving demands of social media takes leadership, participation from across the organization, and a lot of collaboration. But the payoff is compelling – you’ll be in a position to leverage and benefit from the conversation, and not be a victim of its whims. This is an exciting new era for contact center leaders!