Nearshore Americas

Engaging Customers with Social Media Still a Challenge for BPOs

By Tim WilsonTo engage fully in social media, many enterprises in Latin America are looking for help, and keen to leverage the BPO expertise that has already been established in the region.

But managing a wide range of real-time relationships requires the ability not only to hear, but also to comprehend and respond in a cost-effective manner. Unfortunately, not all outsourcers are up to speed.

“The risk in Latin America is that many call centers promote ‘non-voice services’, but they don’t really know how to do social media,” says Jesus Hoyos, a principal with Solvis Consulting.

Hoyos says that companies can become victims of their own success. If businesses and their outsourcing partners do not have a technological model that can scale, then they can find themselves paying through the nose for what should be a social media bonanza that can deliver measurable ROI.

“If a call center wants to sell you seats, and they are charging you $20 an hour per rep to manage your social media, then you could end up paying for more and more people,” says Hoyos. “That’s simply not scalable, which is why you need a technological solution. If you are a bank, for example, you can’t handle 30,000 or 50,000 conversations, with people suddenly jumping from social media and picking up a phone. This is why a workflow methodology is crucial to deflect traffic.”

This way, a successful social media campaign can become part of a larger, more effective strategy for customer engagement, as opposed to a crisis. Obviously, if a company balloons from 1,000 to 20,000 conversations, it has to find a more effective form of engagement than to have humans personally manning Twitter and Facebook accounts.

“The first level is basic volume, then you increase that, and the final step is a technologically enabled community,” says Hoyos. “Jive’s social business platform, and social marketing with Lithium, these are some of the technologies that can help.”

Knowing You Don’t Know

Management may not be in the best position to assess what outside help is best. Getting someone else to do this involves an ability to assess their capabilities in some very cutting-edge technologies and business processes. Fortunately for some, if an outsourcing engagement already exists, a degree of trust is likely built in.

“In the initial discussion there is usually a lot of pressure to keep things onshore,” says Peter Ryan, who leads BPO research within Ovum‘s IT Services practice. “But once the offshore model proves itself, then there can be a big push from outsourcers to gain more business. At the end of the day, they have to have the same level of sophistication – otherwise it won’t happen.”

The problem is that, to the extent that outsourcers have limited capabilities with BPO for social media, their potential clients won’t necessarily wait around. Instead, they may be inclined to leapfrog into development of in-house capabilities.

“Three years ago Movistar in Argentina was doing activations and inactivations via Twitter; it was all manual checks and balances,” says Hoyos. “Then I met with them a year ago and they had developed a complete social media team. This was not just a community manager. It included a social media director, a knowledge manager, a data analyst, and a person in charge of the call center that would have otherwise been outsourced.”

This is a daunting challenge that not everyone wants to take on, which means that the social media opportunity is there for outsourcers to exploit. Also, the technologies scale well, meaning that outsourcers can transfer significant value – particularly to the mid-market.

“This is where there is value in tools for workflow, for social media analysis, to integrate to platforms like Facebook and Twitter,” says Hoyos. “You need to be able to know what chatter can be deflected. It involves understanding the data that you are gathering; not just followers and fans, but actual historical data.”

Closing Opportunity Gap

Enterprises can do the math: if they can build a small technologically enabled team that delivers value, it makes far more sense than outsourcing dozens of seats to a call center that is behind the curve. A wait-and-see approach can last only so long, particularly as the market responds.

“There are a lot of tools out there on the market, and companies need to understand how to use them,” says Hoyos. “For example, Salesforce’s Radian6 allows us to deliver a lot of social media value for customer service. It closed a gap in the market, but organizations have to leverage the technology.”

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Whether coming in from the cold, or working incrementally, anyone considering outsourcing their social media has to develop an operational model supported by business logic, keeping in mind that ROI can mean different things to different organizations. Hoyos, for example, knows of a university in Mexico that converted eight of ten social media contacts into students. To get those kinds of results, Solvis Consulting has a 60-day service that tracks forums, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, blogs, etc., and then uses the data to match opportunities.

“We help organizations make decisions based on data,” says Hoyos. “They need a plan to tie their segment to a customer database. Then you can bring that conversation into a transaction.”

And if a customer wants to outsource those capabilities, Solvis can bring in outsourcing partners that have strong social media capabilities, such as Argentina’s Deelo.

“Deelo can provide all the BPO,” says Hoyos. “Sometimes it’s the technology, sometimes the services, sometimes we talk to an agency and it’s only branding. The important thing to keep in mind is that any social media engagement is complex: you need to know the culture, the metrics, the data.”


Narayan Ammachchi

News Editor for Nearshore Americas, Narayan Ammachchi is a career journalist with a decade of experience in politics and international business. He works out of his base in the Indian Silicon City of Bangalore.

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