Getting It Right on Social Media

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  May 01, 2011


This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

Contact centers are conservative organizations for good reason: they have to get it right on their tasks, whether customer service, support, sales, or billing and collections, as they are on the corporate front lines, interacting with customers. There is little room for error but when these occur–which are inevitable even in the best of outfits–they hear about it ASAP.

So it is understandable that contact centers have been cautious when it comes to handling customer comments and leads via social media. The wrong strategies, training and responses could have serious consequences for their organizations, or in the case of outsourcers, their clients’ brands and reputations, and their collective bottom lines.

Tim Passios (News - Alert), director of solutions marketing at Interactive Intelligence points to this reluctance in a Feb.17, 2011, blog entry titled “Contact Centers Today-Support for Social Media is practically nonexistent”. Tim wrote, “most contact centers just aren’t feeling the absolute need to support it as a channel for now.”

Instead, what contact centers appear to be doing, Tim reports–and rightly so–is undertaking due diligence on social media. Contact centers are “asking all the right questions”, such as whether they need to monitor all of social media or focus on just a few sites, how to respond and how quickly and how to queue and route these interactions.

And they are asking what is arguably the most important question of them all, which is how do they prepare their agents, supervisors and their customers for social media support?

Why is this last question critical? Because social media is media, just like TV, radio, online and print, where the speakers, in this instance comments posters who are working for organizations, are acting as corporate spokespeople.

The impacts of remarks made in media are deeper and more immediate than any words uttered in customer service. And with the realtime nature of social media, there is little leeway for buffering remarks as there is in e-mail or chat. You rarely get a second chance in media, and social media is no different.

This set of points was driven home by high-profile “misTweets” –and resulting firings–as reported in a New York Times story written by Stuart Elliott, “When the Marketing Reach of Social Media Backfires” posted March 15, 2011.

The piece cited an employee of an ad agency handling the Chrysler consumer brand’s Twitter account who was kicked to the curb after posting a comment that read, “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to drive.” Between “to” and “drive” was a vulgarity. And Gilbert Gottfried, the most-used voice behind the AFLAC duck got ‘plucked’ so to speak when he “started to post at least 10 jokes to his personal Twitter feed about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan — a market that accounts for 75 percent of Aflac’s revenue,” said the Times.

“Brands need to “establish a social media policy,” said Daniel Khabie, CEO of digital media ad agency Digitaria because without such precautions, “we’re giving people loaded guns to do incredible harm.”

To prevent that from happening, organizations should have corporate communications (corpcomm) create a policy in consultation with legal and act as the gatekeepers. Corpcomm should select and train staff for dedicated social media teams, approving those with media and PR experience as well as contact center skills. In smaller firms corpcomm would be the social media team, just as they do for other media. All companies need to collect social comments and try to match commenters’ social handles with names in customer/prospect databases and integrate these with their remarks from other channels. They can then obtain complete and close-to-realtime views of customers’, prospects’ and the public’s viewpoints, such as for followup.

In such a fashion, contact centers will get social media right. And the sooner they do, the better it will be for their organizations because social media is becoming one, if not the most critical interaction channels.

When combined with the rapid takeup of self-service coupled with stronger demands for higher quality service from customers it is not inconceivable then that the social media teams will become the contact center teams.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell