Nearshore Americas

Social Media Calling, Call Centers Answering

Social media is finding its way into the contact center ecosystem at a rapid rate. Operators are integrating social media methodologies into daily processes, and tech-savvy customers are indicating that they prefer alternate methods of contact to phone-based customer service.

In the report The Peril and Promise of Mobile Social Networks for Operators Pyramid Research analyst Jan ten Sythoff examines the influence social media has had on interpersonal communication. When Facebook introduced its e-mail services in November 2010, Sythoff determines, the site increased its potential to become “the central contact center.”

This potential will be further realized if Facebook adds voice and video communication for its 750 million active users. Another of the report’s key findings that different communication methods are beginning to converge, underscores the importance for contact centers to adopt an effective social media strategy.

The results of Capgemini’s third Executive Outsourcing Survey (conducted in February among 302 senior executives) showed that social media has become a critical tool for customer care across industries, with 52% of the respondents confirming that social media is currently a part of their company’s customer care operations. RightNow Technologies published the white paper Customer Service Meets Social Media: Best Practices for Engagement, wherein they specify “contact centers must acquire an organizational skill set to tap into and respond to this powerful new channel. Contact centers can embrace social media to get closer to customers, spot trends, identify influencers, and create customer advocates, but they must align with social media norms that reflect an understanding that their organization does not own these sites.”

For an effective social media campaign, the authors point out that we are “in a highly collaborative world: social media enables companies to literally co-create their products and services with customers, not just for them.”

• Used correctly and consistently, social media sites may offer a low-cost way to deliver service and to gather important data on market trends, product feedback, brand perception, and customers.

• Contact centers can find and engage super users in order to get feedback, tap into customer expertise, crowdsource incidents, and thereby reduce the contact center’s workload and create word of mouth marketing.

We recently spoke with Michael Widjaja, a Partner and Senior Executive with Accenture, who suggests that the social media manager is becoming a very important position. “What you do with social media is not a separate part, or an add-on – it needs to be aligned with the overall strategy, it needs to be solidified. The position should be formalized within the company, but executing the ideas, creating ideas can be done in offshore locations. A lot of companies underestimate this strategic position,” Widjaja says.

“In Mexico it is starting to heat up,” says Mexico City-based Rebeca Bey, owner of callBeyond, a provider of consulting and training services for contact centers, “We are becoming more open to this kind of customer contact alternative. For some clients it will take a while to integrate social media. New generations are more open to use social media, and new managers are more open to using it faster.”

Marife Zamora, Convergys Country Manager for the Philippines and Asia Pacific/EMEA, disclosed in a recent press briefing that starting in July the BPO firm’s local sites will offer social media services to foreign clients.

At the beginning of this month Avaya introduced new services and capabilities to help businesses more effectively incorporate social media into their customer sales and service strategy. Integrated solutions like the Avaya Social Media Manager allow businesses to scan social media content (such as tweets and Facebook updates) in an automated fashion and analyze the content for relevance, which enables customer service agents to act accordingly. The application includes a “suggested responses” feature that takes topic and customer history into account, while allowing agents to personalize interactions with customers over social media.

Tools to Manage at the Speed of Social

Other social media management applications attracting an impressive client base and that may be adapted by contact centers include:

CrowdFactory’s  Social Campaign Suite enables companies to run and optimize social marketing campaigns to increase new customer acquisition, drive loyalty and engagement and amplify brand awareness.

Jive Software makes “Facebook for the enterprise” that has already been adopted by companies like Nike, Cisco, and SwissRe. Chris Morace, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Jive, said, “Today, business is happening at the speed of social, and enterprises have to respond to this reality.”

Mzinga’s OmniSocial enables companies to “increase revenue, lower costs, and become more productive by delivering an engaging, interactive employee and customer experience.”

The Social Marketing Hub from Awareness Networks allows clients such as Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Sony, and McDonald’s to “publish, manage, measure and engage across social media channels.”

Executives on both the buy and sell sides need to assess how and why to create a useful and effective social media platform. Jodie Monger, the president of Customer Relationship Metrics, “an applied Business Intelligence Service Firm that fills the rapidly growing call center analytics skills gap,” and a pioneer in customer satisfaction research for the contact center industry, advises the following when creating a social media platform:

• Proactively seek out and listen to your consumers:  identify how they are communicating across all channels today, and how they want to tomorrow.

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• Continuously monitor how your competition supports communication channels.

• Have a CRM strategy inclusive of all current and future communication channels.

• Create the appropriate call center and social media infrastructure aligned to the defined CRM strategy.

• Don’t forget to invest in the information technologies and tools required to support your CRM strategy, including the proper database engine to meet the business requirements related to tracking, reporting, and analysis just like other multimedia channels.

• Put the right people on your team to execute the various aspects of your CRM strategy and tactics, including the contact center and social media support efforts.

Additionally, the experts at RightNow Technologies suggest asking these questions:

• Why are you participating in social media?

• What percent of your customer base uses which sites?

• How can social media improve the customer experience?

• Will social media help you build and reinforce your brand?

• How can you support agents in monitoring and responding to social media?

• How can social media help you build your knowledge base?

• What protocols are in place to help agents determine when and how they should respond?

• How can agents use the knowledge base to support conversations?

Those are important questions, and they should be part of any conversation about social media in a call-center enterprise. The indicators are all pointing toward the need for contact facilities to develop a robust and sophisticated social media strategy. Without one, the operation may as well “hang it up.”

Kirk Laughlin

Kirk Laughlin is an award-winning editor and subject expert in information technology and offshore BPO/ contact center strategies.