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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.

 
Earlier this week I delivered a keynote presentation at a fun and informative user group event sponsored by Calabrio (www.calabrio.com). Prior to the event, Calabrio posed a handful of cogent questions and asked me to provide some insightful responses.

I provided these instead.

How have you seen contact centers change in the past 5 years?

For one, the contact center now receives much more respect from the rest of the company and the business world in general. What used to be viewed as a mere back-office operation is now highly valued for the critical customer data and insight it gathers daily (and shares with key departments) to greatly enhance customer loyalty and revenue. No longer do contact center managers and staff get beaten up and have their lunch money stolen by big mean bullies in Marketing, Sales or other departments. If you work in a contact center and still do endure such bullying, let me know and I’ll take care of it. I’m tough like that.

Another big and very positive change in our industry is the increased use of home agents. After years and years of contact centers just tinkering around and testing the home agent waters, many are finally fully embracing this powerful staffing model, which studies have shown to improve agent recruiting, retention and performance, as well as decrease facility costs and enhance staffing flexibility. Add in the obvious “green” benefits the home agent model affords, and it’s easy to see why more and more companies are kicking their agents out of the contact center. 

And of course, no conversation about big changes would be complete without mentioning the emergence of social media and its impact – both real and imagined – on customer care. Just when contact centers were starting to get a handle on the phones, email, chat and web self-service, social media comes barreling in and forces managers to return to therapy.  


What are a couple of the biggest challenges facing contact centers now?

One of the biggest challenges contact centers face now is one that they have always faced: Keeping agents in place and inspired. While with ICMI from 1994-2010, I was involved in several research studies and reader surveys in which we asked managers to list their biggest concerns and challenges. Agent turnover and burnout always topped the list. Fostering agent engagement and retention is especially critical in today’s crazy competitive business climate, where top-notch service and support is often the differentiating factor – the thing that determines what company a customer decides to mate with for life.

I’ve already alluded to what I see as the other major challenge in today’s contact center: Managing the multichannel madness. Have you ever tried accurately forecasting and scheduling for phone, email, chat and social media contacts – and ensuring that customers receive consistent, efficient and effective service regardless of which of those channels they choose? Scary. It’s why I merely analyze and write about contact centers rather than actually RUN one.


You’re a humorist in a unique industry. Can we use a little more comic relief in the world of customer service?

Absolutely. Just look at what we’ve got: An industry full of managers being pressed by execs to constantly do more with less; agents being measured on a multitude of performance metrics while sitting in a cubicle that’s the same square footage as their body; and the entire center having to handle a seemingly endless stream of calls and other contact types from highly demanding customers who are often abusive even though they know that you know where they live. If that’s not an industry begging for comic relief, I don’t know what is.

Managing a contact center is no laughing matter. But if you want to survive in this business, laughing matters. Humor defuses. Humor relieves. Humor inspires. And if we can’t laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at – besides the guys over in IT.