Many consider the explosion in social networking to be a recent phenomenon but the truth is that social media is anything but a new concept. It spans back for almost a decade now with LinkedIn introduced in 2003, Facebook in 2004, and various blogs even earlier. The explosion in its growth and popularity in recent years however is something of notable interest. In the Arab world alone over 252 thousand tweets are sent out daily and over 20 million people are active Facebook users.
Another common misconception is that social media is almost exclusively a 'youth trend'. However, 37% of Facebook users are over 45 years old, 64% of Twitter users are over the age of 35, and 44% of all social networking users worldwide are between the ages of 35 and 54.
What these figures imply for businesses is that many people, young and old, are sharing and looking for information on social media sites. While the traditional use of social media was simply to keep in touch and to network, the technology has now transfigured into a credible communications channel used to disseminate information and opinions to the masses. It is therefore essential for businesses to have a plan in place for implementing a social media structure. For starters this plan must include how to use it, how to plan to manage it, and how to engage both the internal staff and the customer base. It is important to understand the basics of these popular media tools, and then determine how these affect the contact center.
Where to Start
Shaheen Haque, Territory Manager Middle East and Turkey at Interactive Intelligence says that the goal of an effective social media structure is to make the customer self-sufficient. Analysis of the different social media sites can help determine which would be the best platform to publicize the company. An organization should consider creating a Facebook page or if it is a B2B business, a LinkedIn discussion group. These outlets allow the customer to interact with other customers and get feedback, support and ratings for the products and services of their interest.
Keeping People 'Content'
Call centers which are accustomed to 'inbound communication' need to rethink their stance- an outbound social media campaign can go a long way in building superior customer service. Even Before establishing a social media presence, it is vital to identify what content would be appealing to the target audience. Having key contributors from the organization provide tips and tricks, helpful service reminders, educational news, or product workarounds gives the customer a chance to use and “like” that content which in turn generates immediate feedback. Those items which are liked the most can become self service tools for the customer. As with a website, social sites can be places to promote customer service channels and brand awareness. Forums, chat rooms, knowledge management tools and click to call utilities can be created from within the social site. This allows expansion of the social page which is consistent with the company website.
Insight for Delight
Companies should leverage their customer's social pages as a learning tool for employees to better understand the customer they are dealing with. Insights into the interests and personalities can be made through the information customers share and this can be used to create a more personalized approach to customer service.
Defining the Guidelines
There are two sets of people to work with when implementing a social presence- first, the customer and second, the internal staff maintaining that presence. This internal staff should be well educated on how to best respond to different types of people, and when to post to social sites, or when to escalate items to other channels. Therefore, writing and implementing a company social media policy is integral to smooth operation. Defining well-written guidelines that are proven and easy to follow can greatly simplify responding to blogs, tweets and posts. Additionally the guidelines should document how and when to respond to customers, when to escalate to a voice conversation, what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will be monitored and how to track them. The transparent nature of social media should be kept in mind while formulating guidelines. Too much frankness and transparency can go viral very quickly and possibly backfire.
Automation- Let Nothing Escape the 'Queue'
Automation of the follow up process can prove highly beneficial. Monitoring and routing social media interactions will ensure that useful content does not fall through the cracks. There are multiple social monitoring tools that crawl social pages and send notifications of keywords used, sentiment and source of the post and influence of the author. Integrating these social media tools with the call center infrastructure can lead to a more consistent response mechanism which alerts management to quality or service issues at an early stage thus averting potential public relations disasters. Metrics for tracking and reporting can be used to optimize the response mechanism.
Dealing with Feedback
Negative feedback from a credible customer can adversely affect a company's public image. In dealing with customer's negative comments about the brand it is critical to identify and develop the appropriate metrics. For example, the Average Speed to Answer (ASA) for social media should be faster than an email, but slower than a phone call or web chat.
While efficiently handling negative feedback, the potential impact positive feedback should not be overlooked. In many ways, just a retweet of a customer's positive post can serve as a great marketing tool. The company can even give customers feedback to let them know that their views are of importance and this goes a long way in building a brand image.
Where Does it go From Here
Creating social media strategies involves resources, planning and education. It is important to know both what to do and what will work well for both the company and the customer. Not every company needs a presence on every social outlet. The decision should be based on what the customers are asking for. Remember that social media is not just about social networking websites. It is about people becoming part of the media. Every customer has the potential to become a brand champion or a critic. It is the social media strategy and implementation that will determine which way they will sway.