The Social Customer and the Call Center

Widely recognized CRM visionary Paul Greenberg just published a report titled Contact Center 2011 – Back to the Future. Mr. Greenberg has talked about Social CRM or CRM 2.0 for quite some time. In this report, he discusses the impact of the social customer on the contact center. Here is a summary along with my perspective. 

Companies are used to fielding customer complaints in environments that they control. But increasingly, they’re expressing themselves in channels beyond those provided by the company. I have long felt that we’ve become a peer-to-peer world. We rely on our peers; we trust them more than we do an advertisement or a customer service representative. If we can get an answer or a recommendation from a peer – we will. How many of us have been out to a forum looking for a resolution to one of our problems? Mr. Greenberg points out that customers complain to their peers in social network channels like Twitter, FaceBook or other external user communities or threaded forums. He indicates that 74% of all internet users are on social networks. 

Mr. Greenberg suggests that we need new thinking regarding the customer experience. The move towards peer interaction implies a lack of company trust and eliminates company control. He speaks to the need for improved service to accommodate the needs of the empowered, technology savvy customer that speaks to us through multiple channels. Mr. Greenberg proposes several strategies to drive customer service improvements. 

The first strategy leverages a knowledgebase to provide answers to questions, and support issue resolution. This knowledgebase is accessed by CSRs using search, or customers via web services. The accumulation of knowledge will increasingly include validated answers offered in various social channels. Mr. Greenberg provides a very good example of how to collect these answers. He describes the approach used by Microsoft – which he believes is a model deployment. Their MVPs – the certified technology people from outside the company – are active on user forums. They validate suggested approaches and provide alternatives in lieu of incorrect processes. Microsoft is engaged with their customers at the point of interaction, providing valuable and valid service information. Mr. Greenberg views this as a win-win-win for Microsoft, the MVPs and the social customer. 

The second strategy leverages software to determine what the customers are saying. Mr. Greenberg mentions several vendors that provide social media monitoring solutions (Radian6, Attensity, Lithium and dozens of others).  However, all software is not created equally. Some solutions provide basic monitoring capabilities that tell you when your brand or product is mentioned. While this is useful, it does not go far enough. Software must monitor all channels, identify action, and initiate that action. A new breed of products that enable each of these phases is emerging. Beyond that, Mr. Greenberg talks about the need for a protocol that defines how insight turns to action; a set of best practices that determine the triggers that automatically escalate something to the right person with the right answers. He goes a step further to describe what he means by a protocol: 

  • If problem X comes up, how should you respond?  If Y comes up, how then?
  • Who should respond to the problem? What kind of escalation hierarchy exists?
  • What tools help you spot the problem, report on it, send out the right alerts and route it to the chosen CSRs to deal with?
  • How are CSRs empowered to respond? What can they do at their level? What can’t they do?  

Mr. Greenberg sees the need for a methodology or set of guidelines for each channel. He distinguishes between unfavorable comments found in Blog posts and issues found on Twitter. The response or protocol could very well be different by channel. In my view, the application of these methodologies or guidelines must be automated where possible. A combination of language analysis, alerting and workflow should be used to automate much of this process. A great example of this type of approach is a new offering called Attensity Respond for Social Media.

 The report closes with an example. Intuit has deployed the following process: 

  • A specialized call center group reaches out to different external social networks such as FaceBook or LinkedIn to answer questions.
  • CSRs are moderators and facilitators in communities controlled by Intuit.
  • Protocols were established to define how they handle specific topics and issues.
  • Roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Employees know who is assigned to handle a specific post on Twitter, etc.

One last thought on customer service communities controlled by the company. Many social media pioneers have deployed these communities and provide incentives for customers to participate. The richness of dialog produces insight that creates business value if mined effectively. Customer service improvements, new innovative ideas, new and retained customers, and quality and safety improvements are just a few examples.

 Mr. Greenberg gives us a view into social customer service – I recommend the read.

2 thoughts on “The Social Customer and the Call Center

  1. Excellent post. I totally agree with your statement “Software must monitor all channels, identify action, and initiate that action.” At Collective Intellect our product suite is based on semantic technology to analyze social media conversations and unstructured data for customer intent, sentiment and preferences.

    Another trend we are seeing is that these types of tools (including the ones you mentioned) are increasingly being used beyond the marketing org. to achieve a more integrated approach to engaging with customers. Social intelligence is no longer the sole domain of marketing but a business tool that can be leverage with the workflow of a business.

    Thanks for your post!


  2. Jennifer – I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on the expanding role of social intelligence in business. I believe that products like Collective Intellect will be bundled into enterprise applications, workflows and processes. Thanks for your thoughts!


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