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Cautiously Optimistic on Social Media

An article I wrote recently for No Jitter about social media and the contact center triggered a number of emails--some pro and other con--and so I'd like to expand on the topic and my outlook for the future.

Here’s my main thesis: While great new technologies are being introduced from many of the contact center and social software vendors, unless an enterprise’s "people and processes" are taken into account, the technology will not be implemented and utilized properly.

Case in point: CTI has been around since the late 1990s, but in many cases it wasn’t properly integrated into the contact center processes, the people (agents) weren't given the tools and training needed to utilize the technology properly, and the result was that the CTI market did not take off as expected.

One email I received about my article came from a contact center outsourcing manager who noted: "Most companies think technology will solve all their customer care problems, yet most have not learned about the basics of customer care."

He went on to describe a large, well-known company with a team of over 10 social media agents who are responsible for fixing customer issues, giving credits, etc. via Twitter and Facebook. However, the company's 4,000 traditional/outsourced contact center agents don't have the authority to give customers a $25 credit or the ability to actually solve a customer's problem without layers of approval. With the social media agents having capabilities that the call center agents lack, the result is uneven service levels and quality of support.

In many cases, the social media agents don't have the same capabilities as the call center agents. I recently communicated with a company via Twitter about a problem I was having, and the "Twitter agent" ("Twagent"?) obviously had more limited tools available compared to her contact center counterparts. She was not able to review my records or see the previous attempts at solving my problem, and I ended up having to call the contact center and explain my problem over again from the beginning. This type of situation, where a call center agent doesn't have visibility into interactions that took place in a different media, such as email or a company's web page, is all too common, and adding social media to the mix will only add yet another service silo that needs to be integrated.

The point is that it takes more than simply having some agents dedicated to social media--again, people and processes. A well thought-out process would enable the Twitter agent to have access to the contact center agent's activities and vice versa. Reporting, recording, and service analytics for all the various channels also need to be integrated providing managers a unified view of all customer contact interactions.

In terms of people, at a minimum social media agents require, appropriate training, compensation, and access to the right resources. Regardless of which media they handle, all customer representatives need to be empowered to make decisions, and have access to the tools and resources needed to identify the customer, understand their history and value to the company, the context of the interaction, and so on. Only in this way will they be in a position to best resolve customer issues and provide the type of responsive service that leads to long-term relationships.

The companies that crack the code will not be those that have the greatest technology, but rather, those that provide all of the tools needed to ensure that the three elements--technology, people, and processes--work together to provide the optimal results.