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Answer Customers' Calls - Even When the Phone's Not Ringing

By Christopher J. Bucholtz CRM Buyer ECT News Network
Jan 10, 2013 5:00 AM PT

By now, common sense, the business media and practical experience have taught the lessons of multi-channel engagement for service. Businesses have come to realize that they need to provide service in whatever way their customers wish to receive it, whether it's through the phone, via chat or text, over email or through social media.

Answer Customers' Calls - Even When the Phone's Not Ringing

This is a reflection of two things: the changing nature of the customer and the increasing realization that service equals retention. Retaining those customers is the easy route to increased revenues.

For most businesses, however, the idea of multi-channel engagement comes to a halt with service. When customer retention is not clearly at stake, there's little drive to maintain a consistent strategy for interacting with customers -- it ends up being an ad-hoc process, splintered within the organization and carried out by different employees in different ways.

Channels of Communication

Here's what I mean by this: if a business gets a phone call, it knows how to handle it. There's someone designated to answer the phone, and that person has a greeting that's followed either by routing to the right person within the company, or by a response (usually to an often-asked question) based on that person's knowledge.

The phone works, but does your company do as well when an inquiry is made via Twitter, or Facebook, or Google +? How about when a customer DM's someone in engineering? Or when a blog somewhere calls something about your company into question?

Probably not -- these are indirect ways of interaction, so you can't stick a receptionist in front of them as easily. You should, at the very least, have an idea of how these interactions should be brought into your organization, and a visualization of the way those interactions will find their ways to the right people.

This is something most businesses lack -- including many who say they're in the social CRM and social analytics business. So, welcome to the club.

Knowing Who Should Talk

These interactions may not be about service; they can be about anything customers care to talk about. That means details of your products and service, payment terms, complaints, subject matter you may have expert knowledge of in-house, or any of a number of things. The key is to think about what us valuable for your business to talk to your customers about -- and who should do the talking.

To create a proactive strategy, first start by thinking about what kinds of conversations you should pursue. Customer questions are an obvious starting place, as are customer complaints. From there, try to understand which conversations afford you an opportunity to use your in-house expertise to build affinity with customers. For example, an outdoor equipment vendor could make a valuable contribution to a conversation by giving advice about gear for a winter hike.

Before that advice can be proffered, however, the conversation must be brought to the attention of the right person within the company. This is where a social media gatekeeper -- or, in the words of esteemed software developer John Mertic, "an air-traffic controller" -- can be important. This person knows what to look for and actively finds conversations in social media -- or fields requests, when they're sent directly to a company -- and then routes them to the proper person for response.

Map the Knowledge

To do this, the "air-traffic controller" needs a few things. First, he or she needs the tools to find the conversations, and an up-to-date understanding of the topics that are priorities. Next, the ATC needs something few companies have: a document that maps the key responders in the company to their specialized knowledge. This knowledge map is not terribly hard to create; it simply requires some thought and an understanding of your employees' talents, and a bit of time to document it. It should be a little like a football depth chart, too; if someone's out of the office, the second on the chart should be steered to the conversation.

The other thing needed for this to succeed is an organization-wide commitment to engagement. Most people have phones on their desks, and they know that when it rings, you need to answer it. Ignoring it is not an option. The same goes for these social media channels; if you want real engagement on the customers' terms, you have to be ready for that ring, regardless of where it comes.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at the CRM Outsiders. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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