Cover Story

Is it Time to Meet Your Customers on Social Media?

By Elaine Cascio, Vice President  |  May 22, 2012

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions magazine.

Studies of customer contact organizations I’ve been seeing lately show that only about half of the participants are actively involved in social media. Another 30 percent are waiting in the wings. And experts say that we’ve moved beyond the stage of early adoption for social media. What does this mean for your organization – especially if you’ve just been dipping your toe into social media?

It’s important to understand the role of social media in customer service as opposed to marketing – what I like to call social service. It becomes another channel to monitor and manage, and how well we incorporate it into our overall channel strategy is one key to success.


If you already have a multi-channel strategy, use it to define the role of social service. For example, if your strategy is to have a strong local presence, your social service toolbox will likely include Foursquare, local Facebook (News - Alert), Google+ or Twitter accounts, local forums where customers can meet and blogs that relate to the local community. 

If you don’t have a multi-channel strategy, I encourage you to develop one. Having a clear understanding of strategy and the customer experience you want to build – regardless of channel ­ makes adding new customer interactions a lot easier.

 Operations, Policies and Processes

It may seem overwhelming, but you probably already have many internal processes and policies in place that apply to social media.

Determine how to staff social service – you’ll want to use dedicated agents, but likely have them handle overflow on other channels. If you have agents currently handling chat, consider having them handle social service as well. Many of the same guidelines apply. 

Often guidelines are the same as the ones you already have in place. Most legal regulations (including HIPAA, FERPA, fair employment, etc.) are in effect. But where possible, give explicit examples of what types of behavior are not acceptable. One important thing is to make sure employees keep personal and professional use of social media separate.

Service levels have been going down and down as we add new channels, and there is immediacy to social media that we must accommodate within reason. See what your customer expectations are, as well as what you can reasonably provide. Service level should be less than three to four business hours, and preferably within an hour depending on the urgency of your business. Delta Airlines has a very effective Twitter (News - Alert) group, Delta Assist, which responds to tweets within minutes. Look at when you get the bulk of tweets and other social media contacts to determine whether you need to extend hours.

Scripts and processes won’t vary much from what you have in place today. But you’ll need to build clear escalation paths for social service that define when you move a conversation to another channel, and what channel you move it to – phone, direct message, which also means that you may need to move to a third channel. Beware of making the consumer work through multiple channels – there may be times when a phone call will resolve the issue quicker than any other way.

You’ll need tools for monitoring social agents, for tracking their resolutions, and for reporting. In many cases, you can use tools you already have for quality monitoring (if they capture agent screens), although you will need to develop new criteria for quality. Likewise, if you use CRM or any case based management tools, resolution can be captured there. Reporting on standard contact center measures like occupancy and handle time may be more problematic, but can be done with agent training and potentially with tools designed for chat and other web-based activities today.

Finally, define your measures of success. It’s important to note that metrics such as followers and likes don’t matter a bit in social service. What really matters are measures such as resolution rates; time to resolution; number of channels to resolution; service levels; and beginning and ending customer sentiment metrics. 

Also be sure to measure things that tie to strategic goals. Are we driving customer loyalty? Are we enabling self service for lower costs? Are we enhancing products?

So that’s a start to understanding the role of social media in customer service.Next month, we’ll dissect some of the social service opportunities and pros and cons of each.

Elaine Cascio is a vice president at Vanguard Communications Corp. (, a consulting firm specializing in customer experience, self service, contact center processes, operations and technology.

Elaine Cascio is a vice president at Vanguard Communications Corp. (, a consulting firm specializing in customer experience, self service, contact center processes, operations and technology.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi