Social media in the call center

As a call center professional, you have come to expect, accept, and perhaps even thrive on the fact that this is an ever-changing business environment.  This is a world where getting to the end of your task list is something similar to reaching the end of the rainbow to find the pot-of-gold.  For many of us, it is the chase to successful execution and driving of results that keeps us awake at night and gets us up in the morning.  

While there are many drivers to this dynamic business, arguably the biggest is that communication technologies continue to change at a very rapid pace.  Just when you think you have your business operation right where it needs to be – a new technology surfaces that challenges the infrastructure, the organization, the financials, the consumer experience, and the results delivery of your call center.  A recent example of this is the adoption of social media.  An extremely powerful, global, and real-time communication reality is upon us. 

What are you doing about it?  What should you be doing about it?  Can you afford not to do anything about it?  In this article we’ll explore these questions and discuss how a company can evolve and leverage existing contact center capability to support social media communications to drive brand, consumer experience, and business ROI. 

Let’s start by reviewing a few ways organizations are being challenged with the onset of social media to validate the assumption that the traditional call center business operation needs to be involved in the solution(s). 

Consumer Expectations

In this new communication reality, long gone are the days of consumers (prospects, shoppers, and customers alike) accepting a 24-48 hour response times or longer.  Consumers expect “communication choice”, the ability to interact and engage in commerce through multiple communication channels.  Additionally, consumers are seeking information and the ability to conduct business 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.  Your competition is also driving the expectations of your consumers, so pay attention to what your competitors are doing!   

Lack of Distinction and Separation between Sales & Service Interactions

The addition of social media channels has further blurred the lines between sales, service, and other traditional work silos within the corporate enterprise.  The traditional model of having separate phone numbers or emails routed to separate call center work environments (and budgets) matching the nature of the inquiry to the skills of the individual within the contact center is significantly challenged by social media channels.  A consumer can be blogging, tweeting, posting, commenting, or video-messaging regarding anything.  How these passive inquiries are handled and where they are handled within the organization must be defined as part of a well constructed CRM strategy. 

Ready or Not – Social Media Technologies Are Here to Stay

The biggest challenge that social media channels pose to organizations is that they are here to stay, and growing by leaps and bounds.  Twitter launched 5 years ago, and today engages over 140 million users.  LinkedIn has become a social media powerhouse with over 100 million users.  There more than 500 million Facebook users that in total spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook!  With this much traction and use, individuals and organizations alike will be engaging through these social media channels.  And unique to other traditional channels, consumers can engage directly with other consumers real-time, 24 by 7 to share their experiences and recommendations – positive and negative.  This viral affect is a critical element that the best organizations will find a way to leverage positively.       

Organizations are being challenged by the existence of social media, but what are they doing to leverage traditional call center/contact center resources to not only manage, but to successfully monetize their additional efforts?  A lot can be learned from such marketplace innovators as Zappos or Gatorade (PepsiCo).  The manner by which Gatorade (PepsiCo) is approaching this opportunity is quite impressive, including the proprietary build of a “mission control room” and technology platform via a partnership between IBM and Radian-6 from which to capture, identify, and display real-time data elements specific to consumer communication in the blogosphere.  For more specifics you can visit http://mashable.com/2010/06/15/gatorade-social-media-mission-control/.   

The concept of a mission control room to support the real-time monitoring and tracking of social media performance is the same model that has long been used by traditional call center business operations to manage call volumes, agent availability/utilization performance, and caller abandon rates.  Where this approach becomes extremely valuable and allows the organization to monetize such extra efforts is in the actions they can take based on the real-time data visibility and access.  The members of the Gatorade (PepsiCo) social media marketing team that are positioned within the mission control room are trained to take the appropriate proactive actions with engaged consumers in the blogosphere to turn potentially negative, viral situations into positive outcomes (sales, service, retention, repeat-purchasing, promotion, etc).  This can include escalations and other forms of negative outcome obviation via social media channels or traditional call center interaction. 

At the end of the day, you and your organization have some decisions to make.  What should you be doing in terms of supporting traditional call center and now social media activities?  Below are some ideas regarding how to determine what you should be doing:

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

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.

It is clear that there is a logical connection and potential integration between the traditional call center operation and supporting social media communication channels.  While companies are clearly still trying to figure out how to best structure their organizations to support social media interaction, more and more are finding that integration within a well-designed and managed contact center operation can result in strong alignment between sales, service and marketing.  If done well, this effort can most certainly result in operational efficiencies, positive customer experience; valuable consumer insights, marketing lift via viral social media push and improved business ROI.   

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