Off Center
Wanted: Agents with the inherent skill and agility to respond to social customers in 30 minutes or less, and dazzle them in 140 characters or less.

Up until relatively recently, social customer service reps were considered purely mythical beings – like Santa Claus, or home agents who bathe regularly. However, with customer demand for support and service via social media rapidly growing, social customer service agents (let’s call them SCSRs to save us all some time) have become a reality.

A necessity even – at least in organizations that aim to stay ahead of the competition and keep the number of viral tweets about their poor or non-existent social customer service down to around zero.

What this means is that contact centers that haven’t already done so need to start recruiting and hiring viable SCSRs, or at least to start thinking about doing so. Of course, they can’t do such things effectively until they learn the “anatomy” of an SCSR. What does an individual who deftly monitors and smoothly handles customer inquiries and tirades via Twitter, Facebook and other social sites “look” like? What skills and traits do they require to not only survive but also thrive in the social role?

Key Attributes of an Ideal SCSR   

Following are five things to look for in agents worthy of maintaining your contact center’s “social” life:   

Social savvy. You want reps who not only have active accounts across a broad range of social media, but who also communicate relevant information in a tactful manner via such media. Take a look at each SCSR candidate’s personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. If you see that they have a habit of posting inane or offensive updates, or if they appear to have had multiple infractions of “TWI” – Tweeting While Intoxicated – they’re probably better suited for your IT team than for your Social Customer Service team.

Built-in ‘analytics’. An important aspect of social customer service is being able to determine which customers (and potential customers) to engage with – and how. While some of this should be covered in SCSR training, you want reps who have the intuition and logic needed to make smart social decisions on their own. A good SCSR must be able to quickly analyze and assess customers’ social inquiries, comments and rants, and then provide customers with the answers, explanations and verbal sedatives they need.   

Excellent (and efficient) writing skills. Social savvy and keen analytical skills won’t mean much if your SCSRs write like somebody who failed fifth grade English composition. Don’t assume an agent knows how to write just because their job application and resume featured only minor spelling and grammatical gaffs. A good SCSR not only writes clearly and succinctly, but also conversationally. It’s called social media, not corporate media or academic media. Customers like and expect social responses that are casual yet professional, not rigid and robotic.

A customer service soul.  Even someone with exceptional writing skills will fail in an SCSR role if they don’t truly care about and eagerly want to assist the customers with whom they interact. It’s more important to be courteous and empathetic than captivating and clever in the social customer service sphere. Captivating and clever is nice in small doses, but it won’t get you far with customers who are on the brink of bringing your brand to its knees with a flaming Twitter campaign about how your service makes them want to a learn a deadly martial art.    

Multichannel agility. I know, I know, you thought we were talking only about agents who deal with social customer interactions. But the truth is, a good SCSR doesn’t deal in tweets and posts alone. Often, interactions that start off on Twitter or Facebook need to be quickly moved to chat or voice – particularly when the issue/inquiry in question is a complex one that requires the customer to provide detailed and private information, or when the customer is fuming and using language more fit for drunken sailors than for public consumption. Furthermore, it’s likely that the volume of social media contacts your center must handle won’t be large enough to keep SCSRs busy their entire shift, thus, it’s good to have ones who are able to hop on the phones or don their chat hat and rock the customer experience regardless of channel.    

Did I miss anything big? Please share your SCSR “anatomy” lessons in the comments section below.

With text-based communication fast becoming the norm in society today, anthropologists estimate that by next year humans will have no vocal cords to speak of. Spoken conversation will soon become as rare and as odd an occurrence as a good Samuel L. Jackson movie or the closing of a Starbucks.  

Thus, offering a web chat option in your call center is no longer merely recommended but totally essential if you hope to ever acquire and retain any customers born after 2012.

To assist you, here’s a quick list of the best practices in chat implementation and management:  

Invest in an advanced chat management solution.  Plenty of call centers are able to get by using basic chat tools, but getting by isn’t nearly enough in today’s text-obsessed world. To ensure that service level objectives and high customer satisfaction are achieved, progressive managers invest in advanced chat applications specially designed to make the call center seem customer-centric and fully literate. Today's chat solutions feature the following capabilities:

·      Intelligent routing, which ensures that smart customers are routed to smart agents, and that dumb customers are tricked into using self-service.

·      Access to complete customer history, which informs agents what level of profanity to expect during each chat session.

·      A knowledgebase of FAQs, response templates and web links so that agents needn’t try to formulate full thoughts while interacting with customers.

·      Web collaboration tools that enable agents to fill out forms for customers who lose the use of their hands after punching their computer.

·      Multilingual capabilities, thus allowing each customer to insult your company and your mother in their native tongue.

Incorporate chat into the call center’s WFM process. I went off on the importance of this in a previous post (“Forecasting and Scheduling Beyond the Phones”:, thus I won’t go into it much here. But I would like to point out that reporting, forecasting and scheduling for chat is further complicated in centers where agents handle multiple chat sessions concurrently to gain efficiencies. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to hire slow chat agents who are bad at multitasking, as this will make your WFM team's job much easier. Of course, the Millennial generation lives to text and multitask, thus you might consider revamping your recruiting practices to target people in their 70s and 80s, who tend to be less text-savvy yet still need to work because their nest egg rotted in 2008.   

Set up agents for chat success. Just because most of your existing agents have grown up on text doesn’t mean that they know how to communicate with people who are old enough to shave. Even your agents (actually, especially your agents) who have an iPhone as an appendage still need to be formally trained on chat-handling to ensure that they come off as customer care professionals and not as acronym-obsessed idiots. (LMAO! ROTFL!)

Among the chat-related topics and issues that leading call centers cover in training are: the center’s performance objectives for chat; the company’s preferred writing style; how to use web collaboration tools along with chat; how to fight through the severe pain of chronic hand cramping; and, most importantly, how to spell without ever using numbers (it’s never too L8 to start that last one.)

Put the right chat metrics in place. Centers that don’t suck at chat are careful to embrace metrics that promote a healthy balance between productivity and quality. These centers recognize that focusing solely on such traditional metrics as Average Chat Handle Time or Number of Chats Handled per Hour places the customer experience and agents’ stomach lining at risk. Instead, these centers embrace such customer-centric metrics as Chat Quality (measured via evaluation of chat session transcripts), Customer Satisfaction (measured via timely post-contact surveys), First-Chat Resolution Rate (measured by flipping a coin) and, last but not least, Number of LOLs per Hour.