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CALL CENTRES: How Can Contact Centres Leverage Social Media


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We are in the midst of a communications revolution. New social media platforms have become a familiar home to millions of people who interact daily. Communication is no longer one-to-one, its one-to-many and many-to-one. And it's viral. People would rather hear from their peers and they would like to have information - and a response -- conveniently at hand wherever they happen to be. For contact centres and the companies they serve, this means listening and gearing to communicate on these platforms and at these levels.

Explains Paul Fick, MD of Spescom DataFusion: "Facebook alone has 250 million users that spend an average of five billion minutes a month on this platform. But there are millions more uploading photos, videos and music, registering events and making new status entries on all kinds of new media platforms, from social networking sites to microblogs like Twitter and publishing platforms like Flickr and Youtube.

"These are real people with individual email addresses expressing their thoughts, commenting on services, products and events. It's a live, real-time, dynamic environment and it has the ability to redefine how customers buy products and get support. For contact centres whose core functions include sales and servicing and supporting these customers, these platforms cannot be ignored."

Consider, for example, that customers will chat freely about the failure of a product to perform as expected, comment on good or bad service, about functionality or features they wish their product included. "It's important to know these conversations are going on and to address these issues directly and openly - where they happen. Not only does it do wonders for brand management and customer satisfaction, but it can avert crises, cut support cost significantly and provide the company with the real-time feedback and insight it needs to improve its products and gain competitive advantage."

But to gain these advantages, the company needs to have an active presence on these platforms. It's important, for example, to make it easy for customers to support each other by launching a forum. Dell and Quickbooks have, for instance, cut support costs by using social media platforms. Says
Fick: "A leader in this field, Dell launched an online support forum in 1999 with 30 moderators. It now has only five moderators because the community supports itself. Quickbooks offers a more recent example, with 70% of all its customer service questions answered by other Quickbooks users.

"Rather than hold on interminably to talk to a support consultant who may or may not have the skill to answer a specific or complex query, users simply search a help forum or dedicated user forum frequented by similarly skilled individuals."

But where do organisations - and contact centres for that matter - start in terms of establishing an effective presence on these new platforms?

Leveraging new media
Forrester puts it rather succinctly, posing the most pertinent question: who do you want to reach? The researcher suggests that organisations start with the 'people' part of the equation and assess their customers' social activities. This will enable them to define their objectives, strategise in terms of how the organisation's relationships with customers will change, and then select the technology and platforms to use.

"The theory makes it sound easy," says Fick. "In practice this is harder to do. Finding people or audiences cannot be done by applying traditional segmentation principles. Instead, organisations need to apply tools to search for the right conversations or 'mentions'. They need to learn to 'listen' to what is being said. These conversations can then be segmented, responses to them strategised (e.g., listen only, enter into a dialogue or provide support) and a relevant corporate presence built."

The presence a company creates on these platforms will differ in character from the traditional corporate website presence as the nature of communication on each 'new media' platform differs, as does the likely objectives of the communicators.

Avaya, a leading provider of contact centre solutions, offers an interesting example of how to build a new media presence. Spescom DataFusion, an Avaya Platinum Partner, believes Avaya's practical experience in this sector is what will continue to ensure the product remains relevant. Avaya has introduced a number of tools into its arsenal to access new media platforms and introduce them into the contact centre context. The company began its exploration of this new territory by simply listening.

Says Fick: "Avaya initially just shared content, and then began to extend its reach. A final step was to begin to slowly participate on these platforms."

Avaya differentiates the various platforms, and its activities on each in the following ways:

. Blogging creates a company voice, showcasing the company's
perspective, culture and personality.
. Forums serve a help desk function, providing product support for
customers, as well as a forum for customers to help one another.
. Twitter fills a "teaser" role, sharing bits of information on
current events and topics, as well as monitoring brand and competitive
developments and finding new conversations.
. Facebook serves as the social media hub, providing company news,
event announcements, tutorial offerings, videos, polls and community discussions.

Avaya does make a single key point however, says Fick: "Every conversation arising through these positions should be responded to, even if it's extending a simple 'thank you' for making a positive comment."

Avaya also learnt some lessons along the way. For instance, it becomes a burden to attempt to track every mention of the company or product.
Segmentation of mentions is thus important and strategic listening posts have to be identified. And until analytical tools become stronger, each mention has to be manually assessed and routed. In addition, key point people need to be appointed to respond to customers.

Avaya's response has been to ask for company volunteers. And with its 50 virtual team members it handles 1000 to 2500 social media mentions a week.
It has a Facebook presence with 42 groups; a single external Avaya blog and
14 internal blogs; 10 global Twitter accounts; 12 groups on LinkedIn; 3000 employees on Yammer; and has recently launched an Avaya Socialcast presence.

An important understanding is that it will be difficult for the company to scale to support all these interactions. Says Fick: "Internal social media teams can't scale. You can't expect an internal team to handle several thousands of mentions a week, let alone drive engagement on the conversations you want to take part in. Addressing the volume will require a full organisational commitment to having people on your staff handle social media on an ongoing basis. Establishing the operation will require close cooperation between the contact centre and the social media team."

The role of the contact centre
Enabling the contact centre (whether outsourced or internal) to handle social media mentions as and when they happen will thus become increasingly important.

Says Fick: "Numerous tools exist to identify the brand mentions as they happen. These include TweetDeck to track tweets and Radian6 which monitors blogs, forums and some social networks. The challenge will be to integrate social media interactions (formats and channels) to current contact centre operations, which still largely focus on voice and, to a lesser extent, email and SMS - and ensure satisfactory responses.

"The ideal is to enable customers to reach the contact centre via the company website or from select social media platforms and have the contact centre respond immediately to mentions of the company on social media platforms, when required.

Some of these challenges are being resolved. Avaya's Facephone, for example, allows customer support representatives to engage with a contact centre by initiating a phone, IM or video session directly from within Facebook. It has also recently integrated Twitter to the Avaya Interaction Centre.
However, just as no two telephone conversations are alike, no two social interactions are likely to be the same.

"Automated responses need to be avoided initially," says Fick. "Instead, a knowledge sharing and collaboration space should be created that includes good examples of conversations around recurring issues, such as billing, as well as highly technical questions. This resource can provide information on how issues were handled, including the tone and language used in responding.
Weekly meetings or discussions can highlight leading practices to instil in the contact centre.

"This is a new arena for contact centres and they need to begin to gain experience right now. In two to five years, social media interaction with companies will be the norm. This is a large niche area ideally suited to contact centres to handle. Gaining early experience will allow them to remain competitive."

Concludes Fick: "There is an exciting future before us. Social media is dramatically changing the landscape for companies in every industry. And it's reshaping the role of contact centres. You can be better prepared for this monumental shift by understanding the available tools, identifying the conversations relevant to your organisation, and setting a sound social media strategy."

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