Call Center Times, Tom Christenson, November 14, 2013


The world is online. The majority of consumers now make their purchase decisions based on information they find online, from search, reviews, blogs or referrals. Social media channels have arisen as invaluable in keeping the customer engaged before, during and after the sale.

As people become more comfortable with technology, more and more customers are using social channels as a means to answer their questions and engage with communities to resolve issues before they become customer service issues.

Social channels are not only easier to use for the consumer, they can also be less expensive and more effective than a traditional call center.

How Social Media Works With Call Centers

Rather than supplanting traditional customer service call centers, social media can be used to enhance customer service by giving the consumer an additional medium of communication. Call centers can use social media to engage with customers in a new way that fits their lifestyles.

Emails work better for busy multitaskers who need to handle several projects at once and chat allows for customers to jump right in to solve simple problems and share images or error messages. Social media gives customers a chance to interact with companies and gain the latest information as part of a larger community. Positive interactions have a great potential to be shared widely and reach new prospects where they are most active.

Even negative feedback via social media has the potential to turn into a positive for companies who are proactive. For instance, the use of hashtags has enabled companies to monitor online reaction from consumers. By reaching out to the disgruntled customer, companies can remedy the situation and make them happy, promoting customer satisfaction and preserving brand reputation.

90 Percent By 2020

In contrast, today’s customers are actively seeking information via social networking prior to actually reaching out via traditional support channels. It remains somewhat of a mystery why customer support organizations have yet to fully embrace the social revolution. Today less than 25% of enterprise level companies use social media as their primary customer service tool according to Social Media Today1.

The report predicts that by the end of this decade, a full 90% of enterprises will adopt this more efficient and productive solution, and it’s not hard to see why. A mere one percent improvement in first call response equates to nearly $276,000 in annual operational savings for the average call center. Social media results have proven that they can help the bottom line of call centers by far better than one percent.1

In addition to reducing operating expenses, social media can become a primary tool for brand management through service reputation. That has been the case with the companies named in the 2012 Brandwatch Customer Service Index2. That report found a correlation between the brands that engaged frequently with customers through channels like Twitter and Facebook and those that ranked highest in perceived quality for their customer service.

Domino’s Pizza is perhaps one of the most recent examples of a company effectively utilizing social media to raise their brand. After a video went viral in 2009 depicting employees mishandling food, Domino’s leveraged social media to gauge public opinion. The feedback prompted the company to make massive changes that included reaching out to customers via social media and promising a better product. The work paid off as Domino’s experienced a 14% sales increase in the quarter following their efforts.

3 Steps to a Social Customer Service

1. Be Proactive
The best interaction is one where the customer can find the answers by themselves or from others in their community. Develop your knowledge base applications to be engaging and dynamic. When it becomes necessary for a customer to reach a live agent in a chat room, make sure the front line has the latest information and is empowered to make decisions in real-time.

2. Educate Your Staff
CMS Wire3 recently pointed out how social media can be instrumental at every stage” in the buying cycle. They explained: “For example, when making a purchase, many consumers start on the web, move to social media to further explore, go to web chat with specific questions, to the mobile web to make the purchase, then back to social media to share their purchase experience.” Make sure all the departments are on board with how the new customer wants to experience the buying process.

3. Echo Brand Values
What does your brand stand for in the long run? Efficiency? Warmth? Innovation? Go back to the drawing board and build a customer service department in accordance with those values. Customers that identify your brand with homespun advice expect a longer, more engaged interaction in social media.

Responding in Real-time

Perhaps the biggest challenge of deploying customer service through social media is responding in real- time. The key here is to leverage software that searches the web for social mentions of your brand or related keywords. If there is a conversation taking place about your brand, it is best if you can be part of it to discover what topics matter most to your best customers as well as to correct any erroneous information that is so common on the Internet.

Your customer service team can’t be everywhere at once, and they may not be the best qualified to respond to detailed questions. The more employees you can authorize to respond on your company’s behalf, the more responsive and responsible your brand will appear.

Don’t forget that resolutions frequently require cooperation between departments, so part of your customer service equation involves keeping the internal social media chatter effective and efficient. Invest in the right kind of software that makes it easy for diverse departments to communicate and collaborate.

Learning How to Be Social

Perhaps the most important and effective training your employees need is how to be social online. Communicating clearly in a friendly but professional manner is not at all intuitive. It takes both skill and practice. A great place to start is with How to Lose Followers and Alienate People on Social Media4. There are lessons and pitfalls identified here for employees and managers throughout your organization.

It is simply human nature that negative interactions are shared at least twice as much as positive ones, as people seem to think that they make better stories. This is even more true in the world of social media, where negative interactions can go viral in a matter of hours, often with screen shots and images. That’s why it is absolutely essential to make your customer service department understand how important it is to take ownership and stay positive on social media.

Many interactions that start negative end up with an enthusiastic customer who has been won over by good service. When that happens, publicize it, promote it and keep a file. These are the kind of stories that motivate employees and make for great press.

No matter what, always thank your customer for taking the time to make your company better. It is a stressful experience to contact customer service and it is always far better to know what customers think than to watch your customer base disappear without a clue.

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