Off Center
If you take the CRM craze of the mid to late 1990s, multiply it by 1,000, write a couple hundred white papers on it, sponsor a couple hundred more webcasts about it, then multiply it by 1,000 again, you will get close to the level of hype regarding how social media is “revolutionizing” customer care in the call center.

Should call center professionals be paying attention to how social media relates to customer service and support? Absolutely.

Should they start listening to and engaging customers via social media sites if they haven’t already done so? Yes, probably.

Does anybody really know how best to do that? Nah, not really.

Is that going to stop me from pretending like I do and miss out on the opportunity of being labeled a thought leader on the scorching hot issue of social customer care?

Not a chance.

Maybe Not “Best” but “Pretty Good” Practices

Social media as it pertains to customer care and the call center is simply too new, too rapidly evolving and too short of common success stories for anybody to start labeling any tactic or thought-provoking theory a “best practice”.

That being said, here are some pretty good practices based on what we’ve seen so far:

Develop a formal social customer care strategy. While everybody is talking about social media’s big impact on the call center, few organizations have actually sat down and mapped out how they will incorporate social media into their center’s customer care strategy.

When developing a customer service-based social media initiative, call center professionals need to answer such questions as:

·      How will social media improve the customer experience?

·      What will agents look for when monitoring the social media landscape?

·      How will agents respond to/interact with customers via social media?

·      How can social media help the call center/enterprise build its knowledgebase?

·      How will you keep agents from spending all day watching Lady Gaga videos on YouTube?

Train your “Tweeters”. Unless you’re in the habit of illegally hiring small children or staffing your call center with octogenarians, most of your existing agents will already be well versed on the ins and outs of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as well as have intimate knowledge of the ubiquitous activity of blogging. Thus, you shouldn’t have much difficulty finding staff to serve as your center’s social media specialists. What you may have difficulty in is – after announcing that there are openings for social media specialists in your call center – keeping agents from poisoning one another in the spirit of competition.   

Just keep in mind that even the most proficient “Tweeters”, Facebookers and bloggers among your agents still need to be trained on the company’s specific social media strategy as well as the call center’s specific policies and practices with regard to customer service-based social media interaction. Smart call centers don’t insult their staff’s intelligence when training them on social media; in fact, they tap their agents’ ample social media knowledge and expertise to improve processes, tools and training. In doing so, the center not only continues to get better at the social customer care game, it increases agent empowerment and engagement, which often results in expanding average agent employment length from three months to five.      

Invest in a reputable social media monitoring solution. Just as with traditional customer support channels in the call center, effective social media-based customer care hinges on listening to customer needs. The catch with social media – as compared to the phone, email, chat, et. al. – is that there is a world of noise to filter out, and the customer you are listening to is most likely not even talking to you directly. Rather they are sharing their elation, frustration, accolades and fury with the entire social media universe.

But it’s your organization that needs to be listening to these customers most carefully. Fortunately for you, that’s not so hard to do, thanks to a host of advanced social media monitoring tools available. Today’s more potent social media monitoring solutions feature advanced text analytics that can detect key words and phrases that are relevant to your specific organization – even one of your specific agents – and make sense out of unstructured, unfiltered information. The most advanced solutions enable centers to not only “hear” what customers are saying on popular social media sites and in blogs, but also to easily interact with those customers – providing proactive service/support as well as damage control before an enraged customer decides to create an online hate group starring your company.

While many vendors now offer some type of social media solution specifically for customer care, a few that stand out include Salesforce, Cisco and RightNow – all of whom I expect to receive a substantial financial kickback from soon for mentioning them here. (I’m kidding, of course. I’ll accept non-cash gifts, as well.) 

Launch your own social networking community for customers. This is where social customer care  gets really interesting – and adds the most value for customers and organizations alike. Rather than merely monitoring and occasionally participating in discussions on social sites that are each owned by a billionaire geek not old enough to shave, progressive businesses have created their own company-hosted social networking communities.

Such social business platforms are specifically designed for customer-to-customer interaction and experience-sharing, and often serve as a source of valuable customer feedback for the call center and enterprise – the kind of feedback that’s tough to capture via more traditional methods like post-contact C-Sat surveys. When completing a C-Sat survey, customers are asked a brief set of questions that they may or may not be in the mood to answer. But when interacting with fellow customers in an online social setting, customers tend to be more forthcoming and expressive – often revealing what it is about the service they recently received that makes them want to learn to box.

A company-hosted customer community can also help call centers reduce the number of routine customer calls, emails and chats that agents have to handle. When customers interact with one another online, they often answer each others' questions. Some companies have seen the emergence of customer “experts” – users who have no real social lives or hobbies who possess a wealth of company product/service knowledge and who take pride in assisting peers with their problems. It’s important that the call center monitor such interactions to ensure that customer experts provide accurate information and answers, and to see if there are any customers worth kidnapping and bringing in to the center to work as an agent.

Centers interested in developing their own social platform should check out such SBS (social business software) solutions providers as Jive, Mzinga, and Awareness. Certainly there are other reputable vendors, but I don’t wear a pocket protector nor have tape holding my eyeglasses together, thus I may not be entirely up to date on who the absolute latest/greatest SBS players are. Regardless of who the vendor is, the best SBS solutions enable companies to respond to customer comments and discussions (when appropriate), create collaborative documents and blogs, take user polls on key topics and track the most popular topics.  

Invite social customers to email or chat – or even call – when appropriate.  Interacting with social customers is like changing into your bathing suit – it isn’t wise to do it out in the open.

Providing customers with basic information and quick answers to routine issues on external and company-hosted social media sites is fine; however, when the customer issue is more complex or the customer is “flaming” about a problem they are having with the company, it’s best to take things inside by inviting the customer to interact privately with an agent via chat, email or phone. Naturally it’s more cost effective to move the conversation to the chat or email channel than it is to have the customer call, but there will be times when a meaningful phone conversation is required to get a disgruntled or confused customer to drop their virtual torch and pitchfork.

Walk… Don’t Run – Hurry!

Social customer care has too much potential to become huge for you to not learn how to at least fake it now. There is no need to panic if you haven’t already begun to do so; simply start to adopt the practices and approaches described above, and there is a chance your organization will survive through the coming summer.

3/3/2011 09:37:29 pm

Another great article. Social media is akin to email as the "next great revolution" in customer care. When will people learn to drop the "R" because this stuff is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Email came on strong in CCs 10 years ago, peaked at 12% of the contact volume and stayed there for 5 years until Mark Zuckerberg came along. Same with Social Media channels, unless the companies mandate a fast response to SM activity. It's all about speed (and not the little white pills that helped us study on college). The store visit brings instant gratification, the call center is second on the hit parade, followed by the web. But seriously, who wants to wait three days for an email or Twitter response to an issue?

On another note, has Michael Pace contacted you about keynoting the neccf conference in June?

7/24/2012 09:49:10 pm

Nice blog on the social media in the call center.I like the blog post to read.Thanks a lot.

3/3/2011 10:04:20 pm

Great input, JR!

Now get your own blog. ;)

Hmmm, your study pills were white? Mine were blue.

Michael and I will actually be hanging out next week (he's coming to Austin for the South x Southwest Festival). I'll buy him five tequila shots and THEN ask about the NECCF keynote. (Though I'm pretty sure they already have a speaker lined up.)

Have a great weekend!


3/4/2011 12:06:19 am

following you a while on Twitter, just found you here. This is a great post and full of experience as well.

3/4/2011 12:14:27 am

Thanks, Andrew. Yes, we've re-tweeted one another a few times, I believe.

Glad you enjoyed the above ramblings!

See you on the Social side soon.


Marina Magalnik
3/4/2011 05:09:39 am

absolutely following you , very actual issue.
yes, the today's thermins are already not actual. Virtualization and clouds instead of Multi-site, cross-channel instead of multi channel etc I am not sure that emails will in usuage too long. The questions are: for the new projects or for the upgrade of running call/ contact centers - what is the "pretty good" practice? do we have some ready technollogy for smooth cross between SM, web, video, chat, email, sms,inb/ outb calls etc incl security issues, unified reportng, business rules etc as it declared by all vendors. My practice said no, we do not have one technology, all what we could propose that several limited additions/ features + home made applications... And the requirement is very clear: to be transparent for all channels, with no 2/3 different desktops, 2/3 different reports systems, with clear business process management not related to the channel

3/16/2011 12:15:11 am

An article up to your usual high standards, but don't count on octogenarians not understanding social media - I have several senior family members that I keep up with on Facebook.
One item to consider is if social media should be monitored by the contact center. As Jim Rembach noted in a Focus Roundtable in December, social media is evolving as channel that customers that cannot get resolution through the contact center use for resolution (or venting).
The management of social media by another department, like marketing, allows for a alternate channel to the contact center, BUT the key is that like other information sources (like BI and Analytics) information from social media must be used to identify process improvement and agent development opportunities - not just populate a pretty spreadsheet that sits on an executive's desk.

3/16/2011 12:27:56 am

Point taken on the elderly embracing social media. It could just be that my grandmother doesn't want to accept my friend request.

Regarding your second point, I still think that the contact center should stay on top of and clean up its own issues to help foster loyalty, thus if a customer who didn't get what she needed via an agent during a call, email or chat goes and vents on Twitter or FB, then the contact center -- the organization's communication and service hub -- should show that it values the customer by making a sincere attempt to recover/rectify.

And "amen" to you final point. Yes, there is a wealth of customer insight that orgs can gather via social sites and use for continuous process improvement -- both inside and outside the contact center.

Thanks so much for your thought-provoking comments, Michelle!

8/8/2011 06:31:06 am

Customer service has changed. Social media is another form of communication and can really help build customer loyalty. It's another outlet for customers to ask questions and get additional information. Posting human interest stories related to the product, experience or day will really help tell the story of your business.

6/26/2012 07:57:04 pm

Over the past year, Network World has conducted quarterly Harvey Readership studies.Though in recent years IT marketers have not invested as heavily in print as they have in the past,


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