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Thought Leader Interview: Going Social in the Contact Center

Note from the editor:  In keeping with our February focus on social, we wanted to get some expert insight and opinions on going social in the contact center.  In this interview, Traci Moxson shares her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities that come with social customer service.

ICMI: What are the most significant challenges you hear from companies first launching their social media support program?

TM: The most significant challenge is ‘How to do it.’

Although customer service via social channels is still in its infancy, there has been notable progress over the last couple of years.  What was once a ‘barely there’ category of customer engagement managed outside of the contact center, is now becoming recognized as an integral component of multi-channel customer service. 

That said, there are still very few organizations that have a methodology for managing social media support systematically.   The few that do will likely have understood the importance of integrating social activity with mainstream customer management (i.e. developed sensible SLAs, linked it to other customer contact channels and considered transition from one to another) and also how to scale it.  And hopefully most of these few have turned their sights to the agent skills/knowledge and competency implications related to channel.

However, the vast majority seem to take a technology approach: “if we build it they will come” and/or feel nervous that they are ‘out there’ on the likes of Twitter and Facebook without really knowing what they are doing.

There is a very subtle difference between behavior-led change supported by technology and technology-led change trying to change customer behavior (or even deal with customer behavior).  However, the latter has been shown to drive an increase in aggregate contacts with little discernible business benefit, whereas Silver Lining Solutions’ approach is entirely outcome - and therefore benefit – focused, leveraging technology and the channel as enablers.  So, know what you want to achieve.

ICMI: Many brands fear social media because of the potential for negative comments.  How do you suggest addressing negative feedback from customers?

TM: Social media can spread positive sentiment remarkably quickly, but it can spread negative sentiment even more quickly. 

The key to dealing with negative comments is to react as quickly and as honestly as possible.  To do this, organizations need to monitor social channels and have a finger on the pulse.  Often, a negative can be turned to a positive and key, obviously, is to identify and resolve the root causes of negative comments and avoid future risk through proactive intervention.

Hiding from negative comments doesn’t mean they’re not happening, it just means that a) you are missing an opportunity to put them right, and b) you can most certainly expect detrimental brand perceptions to appear over time.

ICMI: What new technologies do contact centers need to invest in for successful social customer support?

TM: This really depends on what organizations are trying to achieve, the context and nature of their communication, their customers’ preferences, their digital appetite, capability and competence and how well they’re handling their current communication.   But my previous point about understanding the customer behavior changes you want to achieve before buying the latest gizmo is absolutely crucial.

ICMI: Should hiring and training be different for agents who offer social support? What are the qualities/skills needed to be a great social agent?

TM: Written skills are obviously important in non-voice channels, so make sure the agents have good stylistic and grammar skills.  Other than that, attributes of a good customer service agent are pretty comparable.   Of course, it is important to make sure they have the skills and knowledge to do a good job and it is important that they understand how to handle the social contacts.  For the ‘how’, I would advise the following:

  • Acknowledge the customer (Tweet, Facebook post, etc.)
  • Get in touch with commentators as quickly as possible and publicly acknowledge that you’re following up with them
  • Close the loop!  Once the issue has been resolved, consider returning to the channel (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to publicly thank them
  • Don’t fall into the trap of being pulled into a pointless altercation in a public space
  • Share the love and forward compliments to marketing/account management in case they want to reach out to the customer and/or re-tweet
  • For support requests, if it's a question you can answer, just respond via Twitter as quickly as you can
  • If someone reports an issue that requires troubleshooting, pull the conversation into a ticket and send them a link to it – much better than engaging in a back and forth on Twitter
  • Always keep customers up to date during the process and make sure they’re completely satisfied once the issue has been resolved

ICMI: Do you believe agents should be dedicated to social, or support multiple channels?

TM: There are two views on this:

  1. That specialization is good and giving autonomy and opportunity for mastery are two well documented sources of motivation.
  2. Social seats are relatively few in number and that rotating with similar channels such as chat keeps people fresh – and is probably more cost-effective.

ICMI: Can contact centers use social to decrease inbound call volume? How?

TM: The quick answer is Yes.  

This can be achieved by mapping and analyzing the content of social channels against the pattern of demand of inbound calls.  Typical things you need to understand include:

  • What kind of things customers are contacting you about; not just in terms of products, but also the types of queries/tasks relating to those products
  • How these contacts and customers vary across channel and situation
  • How demanding/complex is the average interaction for each of the different types of contact
  • What are the organization’s competency and resource requirements to deal with the customer demand
  • What demand is being generated by failures in other channels or by other upstream/downstream processes

This understanding allows organizations to push digital content in to the social channels to resolve the issue at source, increase the uptake of self-service and/or promote alternative channels such as chat.

Understanding the true nature of demand across all your channels, and the attributes of each channel, also allows you to redesign your customer communication, balancing the interdependent levers of revenue, quality, and cost, and mitigating risks to deliver the biggest returns in each area.

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