Social Service in the Contact Center – is this a good thing?

There is much talk about corporations getting onto the social bandwagon. Marketing often or usually leads the quest with customer services in tow. While the possibilities of engaging customers, potential customer in the social web and spreading your marketing story may seem like a good idea and may even work, can a “social service” actually be delivered on current platforms by the current contact centers?

Can social service actually be delivered on the current platforms?

Meeting, greeting customers on Twitter or Facebook may be simple enough but most of the clients I meet do not want to have their dirty laundry hung out for all to see. The drive to take conversations “off line” is so strong that the point of delivering a social service is challenged. Corporations have yet to understand that this “dirty laundry” is already there and that customers know it, it just has not been placed on such a platform for all to see.

So here comes the contact center to the rescue. Given enough resource, the general feeling is, those unpleasant postings can quickly and easily be taken care of before too many neighbors see it. But is the contact center ready for this and is the contact center the right place for it? Surely, contact centers have been handling a plethora of customer or potential customers queries for decades and are an ideal first place for social mentions, but they even they cannot be the only player in the game. The point of social service is to provide an high quality and efficient response to a customers need. By bundling the skills of a company and cooking it into the porridge fed into contact centers this has become an effective tool. But similar to voice calls, social is fast. Social is near-real-time. Unlike email, where we all have in-boxes full of unread items, social mentions move at the speed of light and are seen by many. The challenges contact centers have today with “first contact resolution” in the voice domain will replicate itself in the social space.

Social is near-real-time and social mentions move at the speed of light and are seen by many.

Postings on the corporate Facebook page will range from praise for the new product line to comments about the opening hours of the local branch. Complaints about the size of buttons to questions asking whether they are hiring will be in the mix. All of these require the similar level of attention. Not necessarily the same “speed” but the same quality of response. The old, ” we have forwarded your comment to department xxx” will just not cut it.

So, if contact centers are going to be the front line of providing the social service what do they need to have in place to make this work?

  • What processes need to be defined for clear escalation paths?
  • Should the contact center really be the front line?
  • Will this just be a slow motion train wreck?

Post me your thoughts. Let’s stop this train before it’s too late.

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11 Responses to Social Service in the Contact Center – is this a good thing?

  1. Wendy Soucie June 23, 2011 at 01:03 #

    Andrew, I have two recent examples where customer service failed due to lack of a cross functional internal team.

    Case 1 – airline was doing ecommerce ticket promotion on Twitter – complaints on airline came back in via Twitter. Customer Care center wanted to handle issues as the speed of 48-72 hour turn around like calls and email. The Customer Care Team didn’t want to “waste time” with social media. Result was increase in criticism due to time lag. Departments need to discuss what is happening and agree to support complaints in realtime matched with contextual space.

    Case 2 – company using customized / personalized and technographed email for marketing effort – forgot to tell customer service team that all 16,000 were going out. They got so many calls on multiple topics it almost shut the lines down, and they started getting complaints hitting Twitter (they weren’t on Twitter) and angry emails on response time. A cross functional stakeholders group would have given everyone a heads up and maybe changed the schedule so CS was prepared.

    I haven’t found any negative only positives in pushing hard for cross functional and broad stakeholders group (including customers) when moving forward with any customer facing effort!


    • Andrew June 25, 2011 at 19:06 #

      Wendy your examples are so true and the real deal. Thanks. I find getting that senior leader sponsor pretty tough. They all are there and “on board” at the beginning, but once it comes to accepting responsibilities there is still much resistance.

  2. Nancy Leonard June 23, 2011 at 03:27 #

    Andrew, interesting blog. Thank you.

    It seems folks are hedging their bets as to whether or not SM will take off in a big way. They are betting on the train NOT coming into town over the long haul. What I’ve learned is that without question, the train is already at the station. And that train is headed for its next destination, its already on autopilot. Right now, right this minute, passengers can still get first class tickets; in the near future, it will be standing room only. First come, first-served.

    • Andrew June 25, 2011 at 19:07 #

      I really like the “train station” play. Thanks Nancy. ALL ABOARD!

  3. Sue Ann Fattorusso June 23, 2011 at 13:48 #

    Funny that you should use the age-.old Chinese saying: “Don’t air your dirty laundry in public.” It was one of the first thing that jumped out at me when I read your post; brilliant, by the way! Reminded me of what my mum used to say! :)

    While I tend to agree that most corporations well within their rights to want to take negative conversations offline and leave as much of the favorable ones online, it must be said that sometimes, the “bad” plays an important role in conveying the authenticity of comments.

    There was an incident that resonated deeply from conducting social media monitoring and reviews for our client. As with most organizations, our client engages external brand advocates to post their authentic testimonials to counter the negatives.

    However, it was observed that the more positive posts there are about our client, the skepticism increased. There were varied comments that wondered if these supposedly “authentic” posts were not conjured up by the organization itself; counter-effect!

    While I cannot ascertain if a contact center is the appropriate designation, however, I believe that filters can be designed and roadmap mapped out to clearly chart the escalation paths for the myriad of queries and complaints that one could receive online.

    Note: The cross-functional social media engagement team will be playing a huge role in this as dedicated members will be able to respond better to distinctive issues within their focused area of expertise.

    Perhaps the contact center should be tasked instead with real-time monitoring, flagging & forwarding the incidents to disciplinary experts for their action….

    • Andrew June 25, 2011 at 19:11 #

      Sue Ann thank you for your comments. What I really liked was the idea of having customer service as more of a monitoring, flagging service. Really novel.

      Whether or not the comments are all true, I think it is all about conversing with the customer. Over time that will shine through. Be it a few grey sheep in there along the way. The true customer will get their point heard. One way or another.

      And funny, “Chinese saying”…my Scottish grandma use the same philosophy. Keep your undies covered. Thx

  4. Nancy Leonard June 24, 2011 at 06:11 #

    One of the beautiful things about Social Media – it’s 100% transparent. Just makes us take our game up to a new level.

    • Andrew June 30, 2011 at 17:27 #

      Nancy, this is really a great opportunity but also a very real fear in many organizations. Yes, certainly experts can help in this but I find currently that most of my engagements are mostly with the C-level execs who are blinded by fear. Once that can be taken away then we can move onto the next steps.

  5. Walter Adamson June 27, 2011 at 05:56 #

    Nice post. “Will it be a slow motion train wreck?” Well it might be a much higher speed train wreck if there is no coordination. I think what you’re driving at is what Marc Benioff recently started referring to as the “Sccial Enterprise”, and he obviously has a view as to the tools that are necessary to implement coordination.

    The Contact Center is a valid front line, but it doesn’t mean that they “own” the customer relationship. It’s important that it is clear who does own the customer relationship, which by the way is very different to the old idea of owning the customer – which I wrote about here “Owning the customer relationship doesn’t mean owning the customer”

    Walter @adamson

  6. Des Walsh June 28, 2011 at 05:28 #

    A lateral consideration is how the people in the contact center (or support center?) see their role in practice and how it is seen by others in the company. If they see their role as dealing with complaints – and especially if their style of operation, as with so many such centers, suggests that they see their job as getting customers to go away and stop bothering them – then getting them to sign on to the whole cultural framework of social media as celebrating the empowerment of customers may take some doing.

    There just seems to be such a disconnect between so much of the theory about social media in the context of customer contact that I believe there is a huge cultural challenge facing many companies which may be otherwise quite well-intentioned about social media engagement.

    • Andrew June 30, 2011 at 17:30 #

      Des, you are spot on when there is a disconnect. There seems to be much thought or expectation that customer service will be “done” in the contact center. Just like email, web chat etc. The forgotten or perhaps at times ignored reality that it is not a media channel but a conversation happening is currently the norm. Getting those companies to realize that social is about people talking, times about companies, and that companies need to be at a minimum listening to those conversations is the challenge. Once we past that, we can then really move onto the real task of integrating social as a strategy.

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