Lessons in Integrating Social Media Into the Call Center

Contact centers must embrace social networks and communication channels to engage customers, in ways they want to be engaged, and achieve customer satisfaction goals.

Half hearted efforts such as just creating a Facebook page or opening a Twitter account will not enhance your customer relationships or make you successful. In fact, it can make you look really lame if you don't pursue the social support world with the same degree of thoroughness, strategy and investment as you do any other important business tool.

That means not only providing call center agent and supervisor training on these new social service technologies and integrating them fully into your contact center CRM platform, but adopting a new set of rules to make it all work — rules such as automated monitoring of each communication channel, along with near-real time response. Without this, your call center faces the risk of looking like an aging, stodgy company that is dabbling in social media because it has no other choice.

Here is how to do it wrong: Create a Facebook page and assign one employee to monitor it occasionally. The risk? Seeming not to care about responding to your customers. Or assign your customer service representatives more tasks, without more time allocation, to save money—both monitoring phone calls and Twitter, for example. Being pulled in multiple directions only makes the contact center agent want to take the path of least resistance, which may not be the right move for the company.

The call for contact centers to engage customers over social channels is clear, however, the results are too often poor. STELLA Service's did an interesting research study whereby mystery shoppers tweeted basic customer service questions to the official Twitter accounts of the Internet's top 25 retailers. Among those retailers, only 2, Zappos and L.L. Bean, replied to every single tweet within 24 hours. Rounding out the top 5 were Overstock.com (replying to 98% of all tweets within 24 hours), Dell (98%), and Best Buy (89%). However, among the top 25 retailers as a group, an average of only 44% of customer tweets were answered at all. These are discouraging results considering the test pool was the top 25 retailers who you would think have both the foresight and resources to do better.

Now, here's how to do it right: Most popular CRM systems have social tools that go unnoticed. Assess your CRM platform to determine what unused capabilities can be applied, or what capabilities are missing, and can acquired with integrated points solutions.

Then pursue this effort like any other business transformation. Get executive sponsorship, secure a budget, gain early and broad participation, and systemically implement the technology tools to support your overarching customer service strategy.

As social support doesn’t inherit the typical company business rules, thoroughly plan some business process redesign and staff training. Recognize the training is not just for software instruction, but how the company is applying social tools to improve the customer experience.

Social network engagement radically changes the company/customer communication from a brand initiated monologue to customer accepted dialogue and with that change are profound implications that call center agents must understand and become comfortable. Also, this will be an iterative evolution, so assign a senior staff member to be in charge of the social business strategy subsequent advancements. As with any new business strategy, monitor how it’s going on an ongoing basis and be prepared to make frequent, incremental adjustments.

Take the social service case of Best Buy. The company has been working hard on remaking its image, and social business is a major part of that overhaul. Traditionally, Best Buy has been thought of as a convenient but overpriced consumer retail option, with supremely unhelpful salespeople. But with customer engagement over social networks, the retail giant is slowly but surely changing that image. It has aggressively embraced social listening to monitor customer satisfaction and communicate technology information. It also incorporates video blogs and has an active Facebook community. It even has a lively Twitter stream selling returned products.

Smart brands are taking social customers' public grievances and turning them into new opportunities to both lower customer churn and sell more of their products and services. By integrating social service into the contact center, and backing it with enough human resources to respond to all customer issues timely, these brands are clearly satisfying customers at a critical time, and leaving an online customer support trail that can be reused by other customers experiencing similar issues. And those trails are being viewed many times over by prospects seeking out new vendors. Brands satisfying their customers in online channels for the world to see come across as transparent and trusted partners that care.

Avaya is another social call center success story. Because the telecommunications company dedicates the time and money necessary to embrace its social business strategy, one of its employees picked up on a Twitter message asking whether Avaya or Shoretel was the best IP phone system option. Avaya quickly contacted the sender and as a result, won a $250,000 sale. That single example has now been replicated dozens of times. This company has well done Facebook pages, blogs, wikis, LinkedIn groups, Yammer and Socialcast. And the company’s leaders vow that no messages will ever go unanswered.

That’s exactly the spirit necessary to make Web 2.0 technologies successful. These companies have done what more need to do—formalize the integration of social media tools with traditional contact center technologies. Really, if you think about it, it's not a choice—it's a necessity. Those call centers who best leverage social support will achieve the highest customer satisfaction, deliver the most rewarding customer experiences and earn competitive advantage over stalwarts that sit the sidelines.