Taking Charge of Social Customer Service

When it comes to social customer service, who should be at the helm? For most organizations, social media channels are handled by marketing, but is this appropriate for the contact center?

Suddenly… a notification appears. Someone – a valued customer -- has commented on your company’s Facebook page. You read it and, oh boy, it’s not a happy one. What happens next? Do you feel confidant taking immediate action or are you scrambling to forward it to the appropriate department?

As the contact center progresses toward fully integrating social media, many organizations are struggling to find the perfect balance for social media in their current operations.

Who's at the Helm?

Earlier this month we reviewed the reasons why the role of social media in the call center is key to maintaining customer relationships. But, who should take the helm?

In a ICMI Quick Poll on ownership of social customer service, 52% of those who responded said their social media channels are currently handled by the marketing department. This result is not surprising. But, customer service requests that come in through social media are unpredictable - even more unpredictable than our typical channels because they can come in at any time, with any level of urgency. And today's connected customer expects a quick (and valuable) response time.

Take a minute and ask the following questions about your organization's current plan for handling social customer service requests:

  • Who is regularly monitoring your organization's social media channels?
  • Is this department equipped to answer the questions as they come in?
  • How are requests currently filtered to the appropriate departments for resolution?
  • Are you able to maintain a realistic response time or service level through this process?

If the answer to any of those questions makes you break a sweat, it may be time to think about overhauling your customer access strategy and handing over social customers service responsibilities exclusively to the contact center.

Take Charge of Your Social Customer Service!

NECCF-board member Michael Pace recently blogged that the number one reason customer service is avoiding social media is because it should be owned by marketing. Or so most companies think. Pace states that the notion of social media being a "marketing job" is a myth and that in reality, social media is just one of the many tools of social business interactions (like customer service!).

Pace emphasizes that the best team for the job is the customer service team. He says, "Your customer service team is best equipped to handle service inquiries and provide content that helps educate your customers."

Even if the contact center team may be the obvious choice to handle social customer service requests, the reality is that the transition won't happen overnight. Building a socially-savvy customer service team takes time, effort and patience. 

Sarah Stealey, senior vice president of customer support for iContact Corp., spoke with ICMI's Brad Cleveland and Layne Holley about social customer service at Dreamforce 2011. At that time, iContact was in the process of transitioning its social customer service process from marketing to a Tier 3 contact center support team.

Stealey notes that most agents will require further training when it comes to honing in on social customer service skills. "Some agents just aren't as adept as others at interacting in this channel environment, and not all agents want that level of accountability."

So, who is in charge of social customer service in your contact center? Share your thoughts – or plans for change - with us here, email me, or feel free to connect with us on your favorite social network!, and ICMI on LinkedIn.

Christina Hammarberg is the former associate editor at ICMI.

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MIchael Bitter — 9:06AM on Mar 9, 2012

You pose an excellent opening question - does the contact center have a valid role in handling social media? My response: It depends on your customer base and the way they use social media.

As you point out, social media has been primarily a marketing phenomenom for most of it's relatively short life. But, that is changing. More and more, customers are not just posting about the companies they do business with, they're posting AT them ---with requests for service, information, support, etc.

If a business is seeing an increase in that type of social media usage, and they are concerned about being able to effectively or efficiently manage the volumes, response time SLA's, responder productivity, and/or response quality, then moving response oriented social media handling to the contact center makes sense.

The key is to recognize that social media is just another type of customer interaction channel. While it has it's own unique challenges---and opportunities---the basic requirements are the same: the need to effectively and efficiently meet customer expectations:

- Respond when needed---with a quality, results oriented response that drives resolution
- Respond in a reasonable time (as dictated by your customers)
- Manage productivity and handling costs

Contact centers and the industry have a long and successful history of handling this type of activity. They did it with phone calls in the 1980's, emails in the 1990's, chat in the early 2000's. In each case, they developed management techniques, workflow processes, technology, and metrics to effectively and efficiently handle these "new" customer interaction channels.

If given the responsibility and the tools, there is little doubt in my mind that the same will be true for social media---and any other channel that comes along.

BTW, we have developed a tool---specifically for contact centers---for effectively and efficiently handling social media interactions. It's called SocialResponder. Google or Bing it and check it out. Might be something you can use.