Off Center
 
Social media, schmocial media.

Don’t believe the hype: Your company and contact center won’t disintegrate just because you haven't incorporated social media into your customer care strategy yet – despite what vendors and others who stand to earn a chunk of change from the social media hysteria have to say.

Is social media for real? Yes. Is it really a game-changing trend in customer contact? No, and won’t be for some time.

I recommend that managers work on mastering the essentials of contact center management before getting too tangled up in Twitter or fretting over how Facebook is going to revolutionize customer care. Most centers still don’t know how to effectively forecast and schedule, still don’t correctly measure the right performance metrics, still can’t find time to conduct quality monitoring and coaching, and still haven’t figured out how to hold on to agents for more than six months following training. Trust me, your customers would want you to get those parts of the basic customer care equation right before you try to move on to differential calculus.


And don’t panic if you haven’t mastered the fundamentals yet – neither have your competitors, thus they aren’t ready to dazzle customers via social networking, either.

This is not to suggest that you ignore social media and its potential impact on your contact center and organization entirely. However, walk – don’t run. Yes, it’s a good idea (and easy) to monitor what customers and others might be saying about your organization online, but just look for recurring negative sentiments that need to be addressed. Don’t hire a bunch of agents to scan the web for any mention of your company when you could be using those extra agents to raise your service level from 30/80 to 80/30, lower your call abandon rate from 9.2% to 2.9%, and help block the contact center door so that staff can’t escape.

So why is the so-called impact of social media on customer care getting so much attention in contact center media and at industry conferences? Because it sounds a lot sexier than workforce management, first-contact resolution, hiring/training, adherence to schedule, etc. Industry journalists and event organizers are bored of the same old topics – forgetting just how important those topics are, and how few centers have demonstrated best practices in each of these key areas. Of course, having social media solutions providers dangle wads of advertising dollars in front of publishers and conference convoys certainly doesn’t help extinguish the social media fire.

Yes, I know, it can be hard to ignore the hype. We all want to be a part of a game-changing movement, of an industry-altering trend. But it hasn’t arrived yet. So, with regard to your contact center, don’t try so hard to be social and sexy. First shoot for sufficient and solid – then you can go play on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all you’d like.

Don't let me have the last word on this. What's your take on social media as it pertains to customer care? How has it impacted your contact center specifically? I look forward to seeing your responses -- and maybe even starting some fights -- here: http://ccforumsonline.com/index.php/topic,146.0.html

Tom Brown
8/6/2010 01:14:17 am

Thanks, Greg, for rising above the hype and the hyperbole and vendor-speak and calling it like it is. It's a breath of fresh air that isn't often felt these days.

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Marcie Mitchell
8/6/2010 03:19:02 am

In total agreement with Tom. What's the use in messing with social media if you can't master the fundamentals.

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8/6/2010 05:36:44 am

Thanks for your support, Tom and Marcie. Even I've been guilty of jumping on the social media/customer care bandwagon in the past, but have recently given it some more thought and analysis -- and spoken to several contact center professionals who feel the same as I do.

Good luck to both of you!

Best,

Greg

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Roel Thielens
8/8/2010 11:35:28 pm

This is a interesting topic and an interesting article...
I think you can find the "truth" in the middle, like always.
It's true that social media won't change everything and it's true that you first have to master the fundamentels, but I also think that social media can give a company a lot of info about customer satisfaction AND it can motivate people to stay more than 6 months, because it's a bit like "branding" or completely like branding: social media has a fresh, hot, sexy,... image!
Grtz Roel: still mastering the essentials of contact center management!

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8/9/2010 12:08:54 am

Thanks for your feedback, Roel. I agree that social media is valuable to any organization, but I think it is something that -- for now -- should be the focus of the Marketing department. You are right -- it is all about branding, and customers like to know that companies are "listening" online. However, few customers actually reach out to companies via social media to receive support -- as they do with the contact center. That may change some day, but for now social media is much ado about nothing -- or much ado about little -- in terms of how it relates to customer contact management and the contact center.

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8/9/2010 12:38:51 am

Amen Greg!

So far social media has shown tremendous marketing potential, but little practical application as a service tool (with the mentioned exception of identifying new trends or issues). It is an amazing one stop shop for communication though, so watching it evolve (or devolve) is important for our industry.

Thanks for the great insight!

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8/11/2010 06:19:15 am

Greg,
It seems your position on this is to sit on the social sidelines to see what comes of all this social media hype. Yes, there is humor to be found in this hype, but I think it’s a mistake to sit on the sidelines. When email was introduced to the enterprise, many people resisted this change because it wasn’t personal enough. Now, you can’t survive in business without email, and the contact center included. When websites (think of hit counters and horrible MS FrontPage designs) grew in popularity, companies hesitated by saying “yeah, but we are just a B2B company. Do we really need a website?” Again, a website is an absolute must a mere 15 years later. I find a lot of similarities between these business transformations and the one happening now in Social Media as a support channel in the contact center, though not as grand. This business transformation is being supported by two main components (in my opinion):

1)Consumers are adopting it as a support channel whether we like it or not. According to Participatory Marketing Network, 38% of Gen Y’ers alredy have an iPhone or iPod Touch. Consumers are armed with cheap bandwidth, laptops, and smart phones that (for a large majority) make it easier to find solutions to common problems than calling the contact center. For some it’s become easier to throw it out on twitter or facebook to see what happens. Even a simple Google query will return support solutions from handfuls of community sites or blogs. The contact center has no control over those sites, but with social media monitoring and engagement tools, contact centers now have the option to listen and engage a customer in a unique way to better the overall customer experience. The phone channel still remains the most preferred channel for consumers (according to Ovum/Genesys Survey, the most preferred interaction channel (55%) is the telephone. March 2010). For the rest of the 45% who prefer other support channels, are we supposed to ignore them? I don’t think that would be a sustainable strategy.

2)Contact Centers (your competitors) are no longer treating the contact center as pure cost center. It’s a differentiator for companies to deliver superb experiences. DMG consulting predicts that 45% of organizations will have a Social Media Support strategy in place by 2014. So whatever your position on social media, half of your competitors will be doing it in a few years whether you like it or not. Can your organization afford to sit back and wait while the competition fine tunes their social media strategy? Maybe, maybe not. Social Media can turn poor experiences into positive experiences. A recent survey by American Express found that consumers are willing to pay 9% more for products/services in exchange for excellent customer service. Maybe this is why business executives are asking contact centers to improve customer retention rates. This is where competitors are looking to beat you. Can they deliver a better customer experience by listening and engaging their customers over social media? Or worse, can they engage your unhappy customers over social media with special offers and promotions to gain their business. (See #4 for car rental example - http://www.spinsucks.com/social-media/using-social-media-for-lead-generation/ ). If you’re not listening, you could be losing customers to your competitors.

You are right that it is very early on to fully understand what’s to come of social media in the contact center and few organizations have formally instituted some form of social media support (only 6.5% of contact centers currently have any type of support for social media according to DMG Consulting). I agree that contact centers have a number of other objectives tackle, such as synchronizing multiple support channels across the contact center (according to Gartner, only 15% of enterprises have fully synchronized multi-channels – IVR, Phone, Web). With that said I have still have to disagree with you that social media is not a game changer for the contact center.

Sorry for the long-winded response! Thanks for the post.

Brian
www.riverstar.com

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8/11/2010 10:46:56 pm

That a boy, Brian -- I have been waiting for somebody to take me to task on this post. You provide some compelling stats and points, but realize that I never said contact centers should ignore social media; rather I pointed out that all the vendors pushing its importance exaggerate it's current impact on customer care, and the impact they say it will have within the next year or two.

I also pointed out the importance of SM monitoring to an extent, but please realize that even when contact centers identify individual or group issues on social networking sites, it's advisable to contact those customers and direct them to an actual contact center channel (chat, email, phone) to provide them with customized care. Experts don't advise having a service/support interaction out in the open on a social site. Too risky.

And just so you know, I recently headed up a selection committee for a prestigious contact center of the year award, and not a single award candidate -- all very successful customer care organizations -- had an established contact center-specific social media strategy in place. One or two mentioned having an agent occasionally scan the blogosphere, but no real dynamic interaction takes place.

Where social media and customer care may get interesting is when companies start creating their own social sites where customers with common interests and issues can convene to share experiences and solutions. A few orgs have done so already. Such sites enable centers and the larger enterprise to gain invaluable customer insight and feedback, and help the company to stem any major product/service issues before the bloom.

Once again, I truly appreciate your passionate response to my contentious blog. We don't disagree as much as you think. Just enough to keep things interesting!

Best,

Greg Levin



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8/12/2010 02:49:28 am

Greg,
Ahhh, so it seems you are not as big of a social media ‘hater’ as I thought. ;-) Nothing like a healthy debate! Even if the so called “experts” call it risky, consumers are in fact saying “yes, it’s okay!” In a survey of over 400 consumers, Vovici found that 56% of respondents thought it was acceptable for the organization they were commenting on to contact them over social media. While not a large majority, still a majority. I think it’s safe to assume that people tweeting for a specific service issue would welcome a response back from the company. Either way, this percentage will certainly grow as consumers continue to adopt social media platforms. And there are numbers of businesses that have already been engaging customers over social media (Comcast, Dell, JetBlue, BestBuy, Ford, and the list grows larger each day). I don’t argue that only a minority (6.5% by DMG's estimation) of companies are CURRENTLY listening and engaging, but again we are only in the early adopter phase, so this number will also grow much larger.

My point (backed by research from several sources) is that consumers are adopting it as a service channel and companies (competitors) are too. There’s no avoiding this transformation in the next couple years.

I agree with you that community platforms will play a strong role as a place for consumers to share opinions with like minded individuals and garner help from customer support organizations. Lenovo did that with www.LenovoSocial.com, and reduced call center activity by 20%.

Good debate, let's see what happens...
Brian

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8/12/2010 02:57:27 am

Yes, Brian, only time will tell.

And if I end up being wrong, I'll just delete this entire exchange! I have that kind of power on this site. Buah ha ha ha ha!

Thanks for playing!

Regards,

Greg

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