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Building Social Into the Customer Service and Support Infrastructure

Building Social Into the Customer Service and Support Infrastructure

Integrating social data into the customer support infrastructure won't necessarily revolutionize the customer service organization, but it certainly holds enormous promise for improving the customer experience. It lets companies deliver consistent brand experiences across all touchpoints, while allowing customers to interact with brands according to their own preferences.

Surprisingly, many customer service organizations have yet to put their toes in the water when it comes to social media engagement. In fact, fewer than half of them actively respond to consumer complaints via Twitter and other social media channels, according to Gleanster research.

For companies that do actively engage in social media for customer support purposes, the average response time to a consumer complaint is estimated to be more than 24 hours. For many customers, that wait time is 22 or 23 hours too long. Tellingly, an estimated 25 percent of companies have a closed wall on Facebook, preventing consumers from posting direct messages to those brands on their pages.

Which raises the question: Why aren't more companies participating in social media to address customer requests and complaints in a proactive manner? The reasons for wanting to join the party would seem to be sufficiently compelling, if only from a cost-savings perspective.

In truth, there are at least three reasons for the persistent apprehension on the part of many companies to utilize social media for customer service purposes.

Fear of Engagement

Some companies are apprehensive about engaging with consumers in social media because of the reasonable worry of making a bad situation worse. For example, there is always the risk of making an affirmative but ultimately inappropriate -- or blatantly false -- statement that will subsequently echo through the vast chambers of social media and ultimately haunt the brand for some time to come.

Consider the network carrier that responds "w/in a couple weeks" to an irate customer's tweet about the whereabouts of an over-the-air cellphone upgrade, only to retract this statement a month later -- after the erroneous promise has been retweeted hundreds of times.

Insufficient Resources

Social media does not sleep. Brands that commit to using these channels for customer support purposes may incur the wrath of customers if they close shop at 5:00 p.m. or aren't staffed on weekends.

The cost of this commitment is not inconsequential in terms of resources, and the possibility of disappointing customer expectations always needs to be factored into the equation when adopting new channels and technologies for customer interaction.

Siloed Systems

Often, the disparate systems used for capturing and storing customer complaints, incident reports, and other customer support-related data fail to communicate with each other. It is relatively easy to implement a social media monitoring and analysis capability for keeping close tabs on online conversations, engaging directly with consumers when appropriate, and generating basic reports.

Integrating social data with other sources of voice-of-the customer data, however, and linking the system to CRM, customer experience management software and customer support knowledge bases tends to be a whole different matter.

Unified View

Virtually all companies understand the benefits of enhancing their cross-channel customer service capabilities.

In fact, 96 percent of all companies believe that making customer knowledge/case management information available across all channels is one of the best ways to improve customer service quality, according to Gleanster research.

Eighty-two percent of Top Performers ranked cross-channel data integration for customer service purposes as a "high priority" or "very high priority" business initiative.

Increasingly, Top Performers are integrating social data along with mountains of data derived from direct customer communication channels -- including online feedback, email, surveys, chat and other touchpoints -- into a centralized repository.

The goal is to create a unified view of customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and brand advocacy, and to be able to accurately pinpoint opportunities for improvement across multiple facets of the business.

On the next rung of the evolutionary ladder is the integration of voice-of-the-customer data into business process management and customer experience management solutions, enabling customer service organizations to handle consumer complaints on social media at an operational level.

The idea is that support tickets that originate via social media should be prioritized, addressed and resolved in a systematic and measurable fashion -- just like support tickets that originate via the call center.

This means having intelligent rules-based work-flow systems in place to rank and route each individual post or discussion thread to the most appropriate responder within the organization, minimizing hand-offs and delays.

As interactions occur, the system would automatically populate the existing knowledge-based solutions.

Kana's Agent Desktop

One technology solution provider bringing this vision to life is Kana Software, with its unified Agent Desktop solution. The power of the social media is realized when it becomes integrated with a support agent's customer experience management infrastructure and reporting dashboard.

In the cellphone customer example, the system would detect the customer's social media post, attempt to determine its topic (e.g., a specific problem with the handset or an issue with a billing statement or a disruption in wireless coverage), and then attempt to merge it with an existing customer record.

That customer record would contain a vast array of information about that individual, including past purchase behavior, a list of related products the customer owns, and usage behavior.

The record could indicate the customer's lifetime value to the company, a calculation that could be used to help determine whether a particular complaint should be elevated to a higher-priority level.

What's more, social media monitoring and analysis could indicate the customer's level of influence in social media, and this information could serve as another factor in how a case gets handled.

How often does the customer tweet? How prolific is the customer on Facebook? How many friends and followers does the customer have? To what extent does this individual influence other consumers' purchase decisions? What is the customer's current level of satisfaction with the brand?

Having this information, the brand could then engage with the customer in a more contextualized fashion.

Once identified, the complaint or inquiry could spark a contextual work flow related to the topic of the post and the profile of the consumer. Again, incoming posts could be sorted by the number of Twitter followers or the individual's Klout score, if those metrics are deemed important to the company.

Closing the loop, the work flow could automatically email the customer to acknowledge a post that has been noticed by the company; the verbatim and related information could then be routed to the most appropriate customer care agent.

In even more sophisticated versions of this work flow, the agent's dashboard could be loaded with potential solutions culled from a knowledge base based on a textual analysis of the post.

Social: Just Another Channel

Will the integration of social data into the customer support infrastructure revolutionize the customer service organization?

Not necessarily -- but it certainly holds enormous promise in terms of improving the customer experience, by enhancing a company's ability to deliver consistent brand experiences across all touchpoints, and allowing customers to interact with the brand according to their own preferences.

The result should be higher levels of customer satisfaction and, presumably, engagement with the brand.

On that note, the work flow that automatically seeks solutions to the customer's issue clearly shifts costs from expensive (call center) to inexpensive (social media) channels, where an action may be to simply direct the customer to a relevant support page.

The future of multichannel customer service, in which social data is treated as merely another input, is fast arriving. Today, customer questions and complaints via social media are still typically handled by the owners of the company's social media accounts (the marketing or PR department), not the customer support organization, where these interactions properly belong.

By implementing next-generation customer experience management systems like Kana's unified Agent Desktop solution, companies can finally integrate social media as a critical channel for addressing customers' questions and complaints. Only then can the potential of social in the context of the customer service and support function finally be realized.

For more information on this topic, please see the Deep Dive analyst report How Top Performers Use Social Data to Improve Customer Service and Support.


Jeff Zabin, research director at Gleanster, is an industry analyst and best-selling business author. He can be reached at jeff.zabin@gleanster.com.


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