The Benefits and Pratfalls of
Social media – a.k.a. the social channel – is fast becoming a vital means by which customers are engaging with companies. It offers for businesses a key benefit in that it enables them to listen, track and follow up what buyers/prospects/users are saying about their firms. It is the electronic equivalent of a town hall meeting: airing and discussing comments, issues, complaints, recommendations and suggestions.
Time Warner Cable (TWC) has become one of the latest and one of the largest firms to use social media and for good reason: It is competing fiercely with landline and wireless telco firms and satellite providers in some of the U.S.’s hottest markets: New York City/New York State, southern California, Texas and the Carolinas.
TWC has created a specialized Online Customer Care Team that uses Twitter, other forms of social media plus e-mail to get customers help anytime, anywhere, and on any device. It has also launched a new blog titled Untangled. Managed and edited by TWC’s Public Affairs group it discusses both large and small initiatives such as policy issues, service alerts, product rollouts.
Yet there are pratfalls with the social media/channel the deepest of which is that whatever company employees or representatives say, to cite the Miranda warning “may be used against you…” in both the courts of law and public opinion.
That is because social media is just that, media. It is no different than radio, TV and print like this magazine. Media is mass and public-facing. That feature coupled with the deliberate anonymity of most commentators on social sites makes it unique as a channel; it is not one-to-one like calls, e-mails and chat sessions.
Using media requires exceptional communications skills including listening and reading and what to listen and read for, asking key questions and responding quickly and effectively with statements that accurately reflect the organizations’ branding, policies and positions. Corporate communications and public relations professionals have these skills along with journalists and lawyers.
In contrast, most contact center agents tend not to have the comparable training or skills. Their writing abilities may not be up to public communications standards.
There is a certain leeway granted by customers, employers and the courts when it comes to what is said in individual interactions. There is none in the media. You survive or hang by your words. Reputations can be made or blown with the slip of a tongue or finger. The one saving grace with social media is, like e-mail and SMS, text-based, which means there is a short window i.e. buffering to get the right answers, but those replies must be publicly defensible.
Is there a role for contact centers in social media? Yes, but under strictly controlled circumstances. Here are two scenarios worth investigating:
- General contact center agents can triage social channel comments i.e. move them from the public to the private spheres based on well-scripted protocols. If commentators have specific complaints or have suggestions agents can intervene and ask them to contact the companies directly or explain how to reach out to them to address these issues. This leaves the heavy duty brand management/responses to the PR experts. It also puts people in the put-up or shut-up I’d be happy to discuss this privately’ position
- Small, specialized (and presumably well-paid) and highly-trained teams like TWC’s to handle social interactions. It is worth noting though that TWC has only four people assigned to online: social and e-mail while serving over 14 million customers in hip, tech-savvy and social media-immersed markets such as New York City and Los Angeles
At the very least contact center agents should have ready access to what customers are saying about their companies on social media sites in case they get calls or e-mails about these issues. And be provided with heavily scripted responses to ensure consistent corporate messages.
TMC is offering a unique opportunity to learn about implementing the social channel in concert with the others at a new event, the Social Customer Summit that is taking place at ITEXPO West Oct. 4 to Oct. 6, 2010 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The Summit will be a great opportunity to find out more about and to discuss issues such as managing the media and what skills, training and tools are needed and have proven to enable successful use of this channel.