A Realistic Look at Social Media and the Contact Center

This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

Twitter (News - Alert) and Facebook have given customers new ways to connect with businesses, get information, voice opinions — positive and negative — and generally assess and comment on companies and the products and service they provide. In enterprises wanting to make top-level service and support the standard for social consumers, integrating social media with the contact center is a practical way to do it.

In fact, contact center technology now makes it possible to manage social media as just another communication channel, allowing centers to route things like tweets and Facebook (News - Alert) posts to agents the same way as phone calls, e-mail, and web chat sessions. At the same time, tools for real-time monitoring and alerting allow enterprises to track social networks and promptly respond to relevant customer comments and issues. So from a technology standpoint, the ability to integrate social media in the contact center isn’t a question. Among CIOs, contact center managers and marketing managers, the bigger question now is: When integrating social media with customer care operations, what’s the best way to move forward? It’s a question that leads to still more questions.

For instance, what area of the business should own social media, customer service or marketing? Based on industry research and interviews with key stakeholders in businesses around the U.S., the consensus is that marketing should oversee social media initiatives. That then leads to another important question: Who should respond to customers on a social network when marketing doesn’t have the answers?

While marketing is the best candidate to manage social media-based product promotions, branding and the like, it isn’t always the best resource for handling all interactions with social media customers, especially responses to complaints. In the social media equation, most marketing departments actually respond to customers only after a customer already has engaged the company through a social network to ask a question or complete a transaction. And when marketing does respond, the responses are typically issued through the traditional channels of voice, e-mail and chat, not through the social media channel the interaction originated on.

But no worries. If an enterprise and its contact center implement their social media initiative in four distinct stages, they can strategically make top-level service the norm for consumers in social media circles.

Stage 1: Manually monitor and respond ad hoc

Owner: Marketing

Process: Starting with free or low-cost tools such as TweetDeck/HootSuite and a variety of Facebook utilities that look for key words and phrases, enterprises can monitor public social media sites to see what’s being said about their companies and products, as well as their competitors. This approach generates results by searching for keywords, company name and products, or by following hash tags on Twitter and entering in company or product-related names in Facebook. Marketing (or public relations) is typically responsible for responding to consumer comments. Responses can range from no response, to a simple acknowledgement of the comment, to an invitation to interact offline via the phone or e-mail.

Stage 2: Automated monitoring and manual routing

Owner: Marketing

Process: At this stage, implementing automated monitoring tools such as Radian6 (now part of (News - Alert)), SM2, Buzzient, or Social Mention enables a company to aggregate social feeds and receive notifications about when and how its brand is mentioned on social media sites. Alerts can be issued to deliver information on customer sentiment, such as “the customer is angry,” at which point the customer’s comments are manually triaged and sent (usually via e-mail) to the marketing department or appropriate individual for resolution. From there, depending on the specific inquiry or comments, interactions can be routed manually as required to associated departments such as accounting, customer support, etc.

Stage 3: Automated monitoring and automated routing

Owner: Marketing with Customer Service participation

Process: This stage involves automatically routing a social customer’s comments based on keywords and agent or employee skills required to respond to the customer. To make sure the appropriately skilled person handles the interaction, an enterprise must usually integrate social media monitoring tools with contact center technologies — in this case, skills-based routing. It’s at this stage that contact center agents become more central to the social media process, and that contact center technologies are extended to users in the marketing department and elsewhere in the enterprise for customer service. When integrated with the contact center platform, social media interactions can be treated just like phone calls, e-mail, or web chat. Contact center reports also can show how many interactions originate via social media, the response times for such interactions, whether the situation was resolved, and so on.

Stage 4: Full integration with contact center platform

Owner: Customer Service with Marketing involvement

Process: This ultimate step ties in automated monitoring and routing with other contact center tools such as workforce management, CRM, CTI (News - Alert), etc. By integrating with the CRM system, contact centers can push customer information from the CRM database to the agent handling the interaction, and can additionally provide the agent with the interaction history and context. Agents can then see, for example, whether the customer has already interacted with another agent, whether the customer received the information they needed, or whether the situation hasn’t yet been resolved and is ongoing. As more customers turn to social media for service and support, it’s imperative that individuals handling the interaction understand its context as much as possible.

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Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst at COMMfusion LLC, and Tim Passios (News - Alert), senior director of solutions marketing at Interactive Intelligence

Edited by Stefania Viscusi