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Jim Burton of UCStrategies is joined by Tim Passios, Senior Director of Solutions Marketing at Interactive Intelligence, for a discussion about Social Media in the contact center. Is it necessary for companies to add Social Media to their customer service channel mix? And if the answer is "yes," what steps are involved in the deployment?
Also on UCStrategies.com on this topic:
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From social media to Social CRM - What Customers Want (PDF)
Jim Burton: Welcome to UCStrategies Executive Insights. This is Jim Burton and I am joined today by Tim Passios, Senior Director of Solutions Marketing and Interactive Intelligence. Tim, it seems like it has been a while since you and I have had a podcast and I am really glad to get up-to-date with you on this one. Particularly about our subject today, which is Social Media. Again it appears that Interactive Intelligence is leading the charge in the contact center space in adopting products and services that address social media. So I really wanted to get into a series of questions to help our listeners understand what they need to be concerned about, where the issues are, and what they need to do to think about implementation. So let us get started. Is it really necessary for companies to worry about adding Social Media to their customer service channel mix?
Tim Passios: Thanks Jim, so let us dive right into that question. My flat answer is going to be no. Contrary to what you hear, what you read, there is a lot of hype surrounding Social Media, and adding it as part of your customer service strategy. And the reality is, it's just not being done and there are many, many reasons why that is the case. But probably the biggest reason is simply because there are a lot of companies that do not have the audience make up that would support Social Media in the first place. If you look at some of the key criteria that are necessary for a customer base to engage with you in Social Media, you will find that most of the companies do not fit it. So, are you a high profile consumer brand? It is probably one of the biggest pieces of advice I give to our customers. If you are out there selling Coke, Pepsi, if you were in a key vertical such as a travel industry, perhaps the tech sector, those are two key drivers, or two keys that you need to be jotting down to yourself and realizing, “oh yeah, my customer is probably already engaging in Social Media, and they are probably going to be looking for us to support them.”
A couple of other things that I give to customers to let them know whether they fit the right profile as a company that should be supporting their customers and Social Media is are they a B-to-C company? If they are, clearly they should really start looking at it. If they are B-to-B, I think you have several years before you are even going to worry about having to support existing social networks that are out there today. And then a couple of things I would say is, go out and find out from your customers, are they using Social Media? And if they do and they are asking you to support them in it, then by all means, do so.
Jim, if you do not mind, I am going to bring up a little bit of research that I did, that underscores this just a little bit further. I have given our listeners a bit of information of some criteria that you should go through to determine whether or not you should support Social Media as part of your customer service strategy. And there is some research out there that I thought was very valuable. IBM Institute For Business Value did a study of companies and customers, consumers, as to their uses of Social Media. And you can find this report, the report itself is titled “From Social Media to Social CRM, What Customers Want.” In this article there were several questions that were asked of their audience. One of the questions was, give me the reasons why you go to Social Media social networking sites? And the number one reason was connect with friends and family, 70% of them, top of the list. They want to engage with friends and family, access news, entertainment, things like that. Towards the bottom of the list, and only 23%, interact with brands. Only 23% of the respondents said that they actually want to engage with a business they do business with through Social Media. So that is one piece alone telling you that the perception out there, your customers are out in Social Media world, you have got to be there. Not according to this survey and not according to our customer base who is telling us their customers are not asking them to be supported in Social Media. That is one piece.
The second thing is, that whole perception gap. What do the businesses think and what do the customers think? So in the same survey, the study that IBM did, they looked at the survey results and said, “here is what the consumers rank for the reasons why they go to Social Media and here is what the businesses rank for why they think their customers go to Social Media.” Let us start with the customer side. On the customer side towards the top of the list, the reasons why they interact with companies via social sites, the top two items was for “discounts and for help with purchases.” That is it, more than anything else. There were several other items but those were the top of the list.
Let us flip the audience for a second and let’s go back to the business side. So the executives were asked, why do you think your consumers follow them on social sites? At the top of their list was “learn about new products,” 73%. At the bottom of their list was “discounts and purchases.” They completely flip-flop from what the consumer said. Where does customer service lie in all of these. Well on the business side, staying with them, they said right about the middle of the responses, about 63% of the execs said, “consumers come to us looking for us to provide them with customer service,” 63%. Again, going back over to the consumer side, only 37% of those who even engaged with the brands on social networking site, only 37% of those said they do so for customer service.
I think, Jim, with those two stats, it is pretty obvious that the customer base out there is not looking for their contact center to be able to support them via Social Media today. Unless of course you fit in those categories that I defined earlier such as the high-profile consumer brand, hearing certain key verticals, your target item fits that Social Media profile or your customers are asking you. And most likely if they are asking you, they are probably in a key vertical or a high profile consumer brand.
Jim: That is really interesting research. So that kind of begs the question, is this whole concept of Social Media driving the need for people to start improving their customer services through their channels so that they can deliver to at least their existing products and services. Or the way they are delivering information on the contact center, as well as adding additional Social Media capability.
Tim: Absolutely. If you look at any of those viral videos or viral news stories about customer service gone wrong, you immediately see a basic trend. And that is the people who responded through Social Media, first tried the traditional channels before they went Social Media. And the only reason most of those, the majority of them, went through Social Media was to complain about the service they got at the traditional channels. So let us just take the one that everybody knows about, and that is United (Airlines) breaks guitars. That guy tried for, if I am not mistaken, over a year to make phone calls and e-mails and to talk to people, before he went to Social Media by creating a video and then letting it go viral. If you look at several of the other key other ones, they either go back to the counter for help with their product or service, they pick up phone, call and dial, they send an e-mail, they try chatting, and they get nowhere. So my point here is that Social Media is making it painfully obvious just how poor a lot of customer service centers really provide support through channels that their customers want them to support them by in the first place. So our advice is for customers to start looking into what kind of channels their customers really want and are they meeting those need already. And if they are not, they have got to stop first and I would start clearly with e-mail, I would go with chat next, and I think there were several other channels that came on to play—SMS comes to mind—but several others, before they go down the route of Social Media. Because if you do not, you are just opening up another door for your customers to go and complain about how bad your service is. So have the channels ready, make sure your staff is in your contact center to be able to support those channels and providing the best customer service you can. Otherwise you are going to lock yourself into a bad rut.
Jim: Tim, this is really fascinating information because what you are really saying is that a lot of people are assuming that they need to rush towards the Social Media capabilities right away. And that there is a lot they can do with what they already have by just improving on services that they either have existing or services they probably should have. I mean e-mail and chat is an example as one that seems to me the level of the bar has been raised to that level for most of these companies. So you bring up then, I guess, the question of if you are a company that has recognized that you really need to add social media to your mix, what are the steps that you should follow for deploying Social Media in your contact center?
Tim: There are a lot of steps that I think have to be evaluated. And I think probably at the top of the list is to find out what social network sites your customers are using. It really does not make sense to go out and start looking at Facebook or Twitter or YouTube or some of the Blog sites where you think your customers are. Find out where they are. How do you do that? Survey them. Send out postcard satisfaction surveys at the end of each call. Send out e-mail surveys, and ask them during your conferences. What ever they might be, find out what your customers want. And then an internal struggle is probably going to ensue within your organization based off of ownership. Who is going to own Social Media? I will be the first to tell you that it is not the contact center. Marketing should own the Social Media ownership. They are probably already doing it within the organization. If they are looking at building brands, brand awareness, or if they are looking at increasing leads or even developing your brand ambassadors, marketing is leading the charge and they are the experts. Plus, as everyone knows, Social Media is a one-to-many messaging tool. Therefore, certain key messages need to be honed and refined so that when those messages go out to your customer in a customer service environment, they are not saying things that are contrary or negative to your existing brand. So marketing needs to really have ownership but it is a joint working relationship with customer service to make sure that the right messages are getting out through the right tools.
The next step probably is to look at your overall technology. Does the technology you own today help you to support Social Media? So can it queue it up and route it, can it be monitored, can it be escalated to the second level or third level around the organization? Can you report on it? Can you record it so that you can treat it just like you would treat an e-mail interaction, a voice interaction, a chat interaction, and SMS interaction, whatever? The technology is core to making Social Media success. If it is not there, then find the right technology that can provide you those capabilities.
Then we have got to look at the basics of every contact center. You have got to train your agents. We have some customers that go through an extensive process of ensuring that the agents who are supporting Social Media, know exactly what they are doing. And so you have to make sure these agents know how to respond to your customer in 140 characters or less in some social networking sites. And at the same time they have got to make sure that they are supporting the right marketing message. They also need to know not to continue a negative conversation over the social networks. Of course, they want to learn how to escalate the conversation to a real time conversation: either voice, e-mail or chat. There is a lot of training that has to take place. Let me give you some guidelines. I started down that path, let me finish that up. One of our customers says that their agents go through a lengthy two- to four-week process. In the first week or two, every single response that that agent conducts is reviewed by a supervisor before it is allowed to be sent out to Twitter or Facebook or posted to whatever site that may be. For one or two weeks straight. And then once they feel pretty comfortable that that agent is understanding how to handle it, then they let them go for the next one or two weeks where every response is monitored or overseen after it has already been posted, to again ensure that they are doing the right job. Now this is a company that is an outsource contact center company that supports multiple high consumer brands – high profile consumer brands. So they have a lot at risk here to make sure that they are saying the right things.
Jim: Let me interrupt you here for a second and ask you a question. Just to make sure I understand. Because I am sure if someone is listening to this and they are saying putting somebody into a one, two, or three-week program, you start thinking about, oh productivity is not there. But if I understood you correctly, that the individuals, while it is part of a process, they are productive, and they are actually working during that period of time, it is just someone is monitoring how they are replying? So you have got an agent who is in a learning process but they are actually working on live calls.? It is not that they are out of pocket for that period of time...
Tim: That is exactly right. But, I will also add that we have customers that provide a different way to handle this, Jim. Where perhaps the concern of having an unproductive agent being off the phone and doing social media for a period of time and having so much monitoring and hand holding will be a problem. Because our technology allows the ability for Social Media to be treated like other interactions, inasmuch as that it can be re-queued, monitored, recorded, reported, and responded to, with the same tool sets that have provided for the other channels. We can allow our agents that are using our solution to get up and running even faster. So for example, another one of our customers supports Facebook posts. Those Facebook posts are sent directly into an e-mail inbox inside of the contact center. Our solution grabs that e-mail, within the e-mail server, and routes it to the next available agent. Now again, those are Facebook posts in the form of an e-mail routed using skills based routing based off of key words identified in the e-mail and prioritization. Once that e-mail or that Facebook post appears directly in front of that agent, they have tools within their fingertips such as canned responses that they can just drag and drop as a response to that Facebook post and then send it on its way. And it goes back to Facebook and it is posted on Facebook automatically. That methodology allows for any one of the agents who are already trained in how to handle those responses, either because they have handled e-mail and chats already and then allows them to just treat them just like any one of those other channels and they can respond back in the same method as rapidly as they could any other. So now anybody in the contact center can handle it at minimal effort.
Several of the different steps that we recommend: I have two others, Jim, that I think I want to point out that are just as important. The next step is to find your key performance indicators. In the contact center, some of the key ones are going to be average speed to answer, average talk time, first call resolution rates and on and on. You have to define those types KPI’s for Social Media, and in all honesty, because there is not as much uptake in the contact center of those supporting Social Media, I wish I could come to tell you what those KPI’s should be. I still think they are being defined. In general, I will say such things like your average speed to answer needs to be slower than a voice call of course but faster than an e-mail, probably similar to a chat. And again, know it all so it depends on how much influence that individual has in the social networking world. Do they have a million followers on Twitter or million likes in Facebook? That person needs to have a higher priority response time. Or is the content negative enough to warrant even a faster response time? So again, your KPI’s are going to vary a little bit.
And the last one I would say is, develop a strategy for leveraging Social Media to build your brand ambassadors. Now that is a little bit difficult because if you have your customers responding your customers on their own, they could be telling your customers the wrong things. And you do not want them to do that. However, if you develop the strategy correctly, and you build an incentive program for your customers to help your own customers, and that brand and bachelor program through Social Media can be very successful. And I think it should definitely be looked at as part of your Social Media strategy.
Jim: Well Tim, thank you very much for your insight as I am sure you and many of the listeners know, UCStrategies has been talking about Social Media for quite some time. And we have three of our UCStrategies experts Nancy Jamison (Social Media in the Contact Center: Hype or Strategy?), Blair Pleasant, and Jason Anderson working on articles on Social Media that in many respects will help support what we have been talking about here today. We will put links on those when they become available so that people can look at those and kind of tie this whole Social Media concept together. Really appreciate your time today. This is a very, very important topic and as I said before, it is very interesting to see how again interactive intelligence is helping lead the market in an important new area. Tim thanks a lot.
Tim: Thanks Jim, I have enjoyed it.
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