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.

When it comes to social customer care (providing service and support via social media channels), there are two key practices that contact centers must embrace: 1) monitoring; and 2) monitoring.

No, I haven’t been drinking, and no, there isn’t an echo embedded in my blog. The truth is, I didn’t actually repeat myself in the statement above.

Now, before you recommend that I seek inpatient mental health/substance abuse treatment, allow me to explain.

Monitoring in social customer care takes two distinctly different though equally important forms. The first entails the contact center monitoring the social landscape to see what’s being said to and about the brand (and then deciding who to engage with). The second entails the contact center’s Quality Assurance team/specialist monitoring agents' 'social' interactions to make sure the agents are engaging with the right people and providing the right responses.

The first type of monitoring is essentially a radar screen; the second type of monitoring is essentially a safety net. The first type picks up on which customers (or anti-customers) require attention and assistance; the second type makes sure the attention and assistance provided doesn’t suck.

Having a powerful social media monitoring tool that enables agents to quickly spot and respond to customers via Twitter and Facebook is great, but it doesn’t mean much if those agents, when responding…
  • misspell every other word
  • misuse or ignore most punctuation
  • provide incomplete – or completely incorrect – information
  • show about as much tact and empathy as a Kardashian.
  • fail to invite the customer to continue his/her verbal evisceration of the company and the agent offline and out of public view.
All of those scary bullet items above can be avoided – or at least minimized – when there’s a formal QA process in place for social media customer contacts. Now, if you’re thinking your QA and supervisory staff are too busy to carefully monitor and evaluate agents’ Twitter/Facebook interactions with customers (and provide follow-up coaching), then what the Zuckerberg are you thinking even offering such channels as contact options? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again, and again): If your contact center isn’t ready to monitor a particular contact channel, then it isn’t ready to HANDLE that channel.

Customers don’t applaud organizations for merely being progressive. If Toyota came out with a new automobile that ran on garbage but that had a 20% chance of exploding when you put the key in the ignition, customers’ response wouldn’t be, “Deadly, yes, but I might make it across the country on just banana peels!”

Social customer care is still new enough where organizations offering it are considered progressive. If your contact center is one such organization, are your customers applauding the strong and consistent social service and support your agents are providing, or is your center overlooking the quality component and losing too many customers to explosions?  

For more insights (and some irreverence) on Social Customer Care, be sure to check out my blog post, “Beginner’s Guide to Social Customer Care”. Also, my book, Full Contact, contains a chapter in which best (or at least pretty good) practices in Social Customer Care are covered.

Most organizations strive to implement viable web self-service applications so that only customers with highly complex issues or who are extremely lonely require live agent assistance. Unfortunately, many companies get so excited about the potential cost savings offered by self-service that they forget about a very critical factor: the customer experience. In these companies, economics alone drive the self-service strategy and, consequently, the self-service strategy drives customers to more expensive channels – or into the arms of the competition.

The terms “customer-centric” and “automation” are not mutually exclusive – you can have one with the other. In fact, to succeed in today’s competitive customer care environment, you must. Many customers – particularly those who suffer panic attacks when interacting with people, or who simply despise humanity, or who are electrical engineers – actually prefer to self-serve rather than wait in a queue for a live person to help them.

To ensure that their call center is as cost-effective AND as customer-centric as possible, leading organizations fully embrace – or at least hold hands with – the following web self-service practices:

Keep FAQs fresh and diverse – and actively promote them. You should never hear your agents mutter, “If I had a dime for every time a caller asked me [fill in monotonous, routine question here].” If you do, it means that the FAQ section of your web site either blows, is non-existent, or is under-promoted.

Top call centers invest in dynamic applications that continuously scan the vast universe of customer contacts – previous calls, email/chat transactions, knowledgebase searches – and track common customer inquiries and issues. This invaluable data is then used to develop rich and relevant FAQs (and responses) that can be posted on the web site, thus saving the center thousands of live customer contacts… and agents millions of live brain cells.

To optimize use of their online FAQ feature, smart call centers go out of their way to promote its existence and strongly encourage customers to take advantage of this valuable resource. Such promotion is typically done via automated messages in the center’s IVR system while callers are in queue (e.g., “You can find answers to a wide variety of questions on our website at, or by having agents provide links to the FAQ portal during email and chat interactions with customers. On calls, agents can simply remind customers about the FAQ feature and, to truly inspire action, tell the caller that every time they access the FAQs, an angel gets its wings.    

Implement powerful search tools featuring natural language capabilities. Today’s search engines and knowledgebase solutions enable customers who visit your website to easily find exactly what they are looking for (assuming your knowledgebase is filled with expansive content) without having to type in broken English like Tarzan or a UFC fighter. Instead, thanks to natural language technology, customers can enter complete phrases or sentences in the “search” box, and receive relevant content instantly.

Some centers aim to spice-up self-service via the use of avatars that can “converse” with online customers via basic text chat. These animated figures are able to analyze the words the customer types into the search or chat box and provide answers in natural sentence form. It’s important, however, not to get too “cute’ with your company's self-service avatar. When programmed to tell jokes or be overly chatty, avatars can annoy and alienate rather than engage and captivate the people with whom they interact – kind of like me after one too many vodka Red Bulls at a party or for breakfast.

Create CRM-powered customer accounts/portals.  Even customers who hate people and aim to avoid them like the plague or Adam Sandler movies still want their self-service experience to be humanized and personal.

The best customer care organizations satisfy such universal human desires by creating customized, CRM-powered portals for each existing/returning customer. These portals are, in essence, personalized web pages where customers can access their detailed account information (e.g., balances, past transactions; pending orders, etc.) as well as receive subliminal messages that compel them to buy additional products and services they don’t need.

Make it easy to reach a live agent. Giving online customers easy access to your call center agents isn’t the ultimate objective of your web self-service strategy, but it still must be a part of it. Not every customer who begins a self-service search or transaction is going to find exactly what they are looking for, either because their issue is complex or because they are not very bright. Also, some customers simply don’t feel comfortable completing purchases online. Hiding your email web form, chat/web call-back box, or phone number from online visitors – or, worse, not providing such contact options at all – is no way to foster customer loyalty, and could result in a lot of lost revenue.

Just keep in mind that there will always be those customers who don’t ever want to let go of your call center’s hand – even for the most routine transactions that could be done online. If you have a lot of customers like this, consider implementing a “Leave the Nest” strategy, where such callers are routed to a special pool of agents trained to provide abysmal service. Once these customers endure a few calls with an agent who incessantly stutters and lisps while babbling on about their love of model trains and kite building, the customers are likely to give web self-service another shot.