Interactive Intelligence's Social Channel Buzz

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  September 01, 2010

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2010 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

There is always a buzz around Interactive Intelligence (News - Alert): Since day one, the firm has and continues to come out with (and its customers have successfully deployed) imaginative, feature-rich, easily-enabled-and-supported needs-anticipating-and-meeting communications solutions used in or via the contact centers. Perhaps not surprisingly, Frost and Sullivan recently bestowed Interactive Intelligence with its 2010 North American Technology (News - Alert) Company of the Year, Contact Centers award. The analyst firm reports that more and larger companies are discovering the value proposition Interactive Intelligence’s products provide and are employing more of them.

This year the buzz is literally just that. Interactive Intelligence is enabling firms via their contact centers to extract the rich customer service and sales value from social media a.k.a. the social channel without getting stung through a partnership with Buzzient announced in July that it provides an integrated social media monitoring, routing and reporting solution.

The agreement combines Buzzient’s social media analysis and integration capabilities with the Interactive Intelligence multichannel queuing, routing and reporting applications for more effective and efficient handling of online social media content. The combined offering enables enterprises and contact centers to monitor social media “chatter” on Facebook (News - Alert), LinkedIn, Twitter and other sites for customer-defined keywords. It then routes the content as e-mail messages to the most appropriate individual or department based on business rules and agent skill.

To get the buzz on Interactive Intelligence’s entry into social media/social channel, Customer Interaction Solutions recently interviewed Denise Meyer, product solutions manager, and Jennifer Wilson, product manager:

CIS: What are the key differences between the social channel and other interaction channels i.e. voice, chat, e-mail and IM?

DM, JW: The social channel allows for a great deal of visibility and transparency to messages (public posts, directed public posts, and private directed posts). This is different from IM, SMS, e-mail and voice, which are not publicly available and thus considered a point-to-point communication between individuals. Conversations held on these channels are not visible unless the person has been added to the address information (e-mail), text forwarded, conferenced in, or invited to a collaborative workspace in IM. The social channel is considered open communication and is monitored to the extent where one actually detects that a posting has been created, which may or may not be possible. Social channels are conversations held in near real-time and are generally unfiltered. Consider it “participatory surveillance” and “situational awareness.” By allowing greater visibility and transparency surrounding ones’ activities, people can be more aware of information and interactions happening in an ambient manner. The social channel also lacks presence awareness, whereas with IM, SMS, e-mail and voice one can typically detect the availability of someone from their status change.

CIS: Why should organizations pay attention to and tap the social channel?

DM, JW: Organizations must recognize that their customers have a variety of preferences related to how they interact and get information. It is the responsibility of the organization to provide customer service and opportunities that fit the needs of its constituents. Older generations tend to prefer face-to-face contact and phone conversations, while younger generations typically lean towards instant messaging, SMS, e-mail and now social media. Organizations should realize that people could be talking about their brand, services and products on social channels, whether they are present and listening or not. They need to be listening to what is being said about their organization via these channels and respond accordingly, whether the conversations are negative or positive. In addition, by regularly listening, other benefits may be realized such as opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling.

CIS: Are companies’ customers providing information or opportunities to engage with over the social channel that is not possible or less convenient via other channels? If so, what types?

DM, JW: Customers are providing open access to their opinions and thoughts about their occupation, brands, the industry, and buying habits via social channels. Sites like Twitter and Facebook give them the ability to develop a personal relationship with the companies they do business with by “following” or “liking” the organization. By doing this they expect to receive perks, which typically deepen the relationship with the company. Examples of perks include “fan only” coupons, advance notice of a deal, and opportunities to participate in surveys that help shape a product or service. By engaging socially, there is a chance for the customer’s voice to be heard and to be shared with others (e.g. word-of-mouth marketing). Customers can be brand advocates on their terms – but they can also revoke it just as fast. They become participants in a type of self-service channel where they can voice complaints freely and publicly in the hopes of expediting a service request. In today’s environment of time-poor and Internet-savvy customers, it’s important to be actively listening to and participating in the social channel.

CIS: What are the benefits of integrating the social channel with the other channels via the contact center?

DM, JW: The same benefits apply to integrating social media as those that apply to integrating other forms of multichannel interactions: simplified system management; a single point for monitoring and reporting resulting in improved quality assurance; more flexible queuing options; and generally more efficient and effective service by eliminating the “silo” effect of separate routing systems for separate channels. Because our customers are accustomed to having a truly unified platform to manage multichannel interactions, they now expect the same ability for routing, assigning, and reporting on social interactions. To give them this functionality we’ve combined our multichannel queuing, routing and reporting applications with Buzzient’s social media monitoring and analysis capabilities. While many organizations today understand the benefits of social media – from improved customer service and retention, to better products and services – they fail to recognize the risk of engaging in social media without integration to existing communications routing and reporting systems. Without this integration, organizations are far more likely to respond to social media with wrong, inappropriate, or inefficient responses, which can turn minor customer annoyances into major public crises.

CIS: What challenges are there in such integration, how can they be overcome and what are the best practices?

DM, JW: It’s important that customers have a plan in place for how interactions will be handled before they attempt integration. This should include a documented methodology for interaction-processing, setting specific goals for the integration project, and projecting a return on investment. Because social media integration projects are still an emerging trend, best practices are not yet well-formed. In addition, desired goals for these projects can vary quite a bit – from improving customer loyalty and increasing brand recognition, to decreasing business costs and improving collaboration. For these reasons, it’s critical that organizations look for vendors that can provide services to help them identify their unique social media objectives, put the appropriate measurements in place and then track performance against goals to determine the success of the project and make modifications where necessary.

CIS: What is happening with incorporating and tighter meshing of other channels with contact centers? What opportunities and issues do you see there and how have you been responding?

DM, JW: Although many organizations are recognizing social media as an additional communications channel, most have not formally incorporated it into the contact center. Many are hesitant to do so because of the additional expense associated with dedicated resources to keep up with social media monitoring and interaction. An integrated solution, however, enables organizations to use the same skills-based and availability-based applications to route and queue interactions from social media platforms, as they use to route and queue calls, faxes, and e-mail. In addition, this enables organizations to report holistically on all of these interactions so they can better determine ROI, thus further justify investment in social media technologies.

CIS: Discuss your partnership with Buzzient. What led you to selecting that firm and what unique capabilities does it bring?

DM, JW: We researched extensively to find a social media monitoring solution that met our customers’ needs. We wanted a partnership that reflected our customer base; a company that “got” customer service – a topic relevant to both the contact center and the enterprise. Buzzient had this experience and focus, along with extensive data warehousing capabilities; proven application programming interfaces for integrations to Oracle CRM On Demand,, and SugarCRM (News - Alert); support of mobile devices; and much more.

CIS: How do incorporation of social channel tools via Buzzient, and other channel integration improvements help Interactive Intelligence position itself in the marketplace?

DM, JW: Our partnership with Buzzient adds the increasingly important social media component to our current solutions for contact center automation, enterprise IP telephony, business process automation, and content management. It also further reinforces our “all-in-one” approach. In 1999 we became the first vendor to offer a standards-based “all-in-one” communications platform for skills-based routing of multichannel interactions. We remain committed to this heritage of helping customers most cost-effectively and simply manage all types of interactions and our Buzzient partnership is a perfect example of this. We look forward to learning from our joint customers about how they are deploying this integrated solution and how we can make improvements to further add value to the contact center and beyond.

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

Edited by Stefania Viscusi