Altitude Software: engage customers through social media

Social media is a powerful customer experience tool, but it needs to be properly integrated in order to be fully exploited. Companies should follow consumers in expanding beyond traditional communication channels

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Social media has become one of the most effective tools to capture and engage customers - firms must fully integrate it into their processes to exploit its potential

In 2014, the average social media user spent two hours and 25 minutes per day using social networks. Social media continues to grow at a fast pace, with active user accounts equating to around 30 percent of the world’s population at the end of 2014. Active mobile social accounts have already reached 1.7 billion worldwide.

In 2014, active social media accounts grew 12 percent (adding 222 million more accounts), and mobile social accounts grew 23 percent. In a decade, social networking has gained the attention (and time) of internet users worldwide.

The effective integration of social media within the contact centre demands a systematic, intelligent and proactive approach to customer interactions

In this new business environment, defined by digital disruption, increased consumer power and continuous conversations, what are the changes in customer behaviour?

Accenture’s Global Consumer Pulse report highlights a steady erosion of customer loyalty worldwide. The tangible result is a growing ‘switching economy’ that accounted for an estimated $6.2trn in revenue opportunity for providers across 17 key markets in 2014 – up 26 percent from $4.9trn in 2010. In 2013, 66 percent of global consumers switched providers due to poor service, with 80 percent mentioning that switching could be avoided through better resolution of issues.

This new reality brings new challenges and opportunities to companies aiming to build customer relationships and manage customer interactions. This environment requires businesses to have a social media customer engagement strategy that can enable fast, relevant and appropriate responses to inquiries, complaints and other interactions on social networks.

Current research shows that most companies still use social media primarily as a marketing channel, with messages targeted for product promotion and deals, and limited customer interaction. Statistics released by Eurostat show that 73 percent of enterprises in 28 EU countries use social media for marketing purposes. Only 50 percent reported using social media to obtain or respond to customer interactions.

Engaging customers via social media should be perceived as a key opportunity for improved customer service (as it also enables knowledge sharing and peer service), both for the sake of sales and business development, and to gain an early warning on emerging issues and opportunities in the market.

Customer service organisations, normally housed in a contact centre, have always focused on developing a 360-degree view of the customer, and on providing a consistent experience across interaction channels – be it voice, web, chat or email. Social media, although it usually requires changes in technology, should be increasingly treated as another customer interaction channel, and integrated into existing technology platforms and business processes.

In fact, the contact centre is usually the only structure in the organisation capable of handling and managing large volumes of interactions on a timely basis. Social media interactions, although qualitatively different, share a great number of characteristics with interactions in other communication channels such as voice and email. The effective integration of social media within the contact centre demands a systematic, intelligent and proactive approach to customer interactions. From a best practices perspective, this approach can be distilled into seven elements that need to be in place.

Super seven
The first step is to monitor social media channels. The contact centre needs access to conversations across social media networks and channels in a way that enables the organisation to unify customer interaction history and allows it to search across channels. The company should not only be able to discern intent and sentiment, and sort through the noise, but must also be able to identify and act on the relevant conversations and interactions.

Businesses should also provide customers with a variety of options so that they can easily ask for support. Customers should be able to post and comment on the Facebook page, possibly with a selection of a service or type of response that they want to get. On Twitter, customers should also be able to ask and tag questions for support and customer service purposes. Organisations need to offer a set of interaction options to which customers are accustomed, including self-service, crowd (peer-to-peer) service, and live customer service representatives.

Second, businesses must unify service across their channels. The contact centre needs a unified, streamlined process for handling interactions in the social media channel, together with interactions from other channels. Because social media is another communication channel, brand value and business processes must be upheld. Additionally, interactions should be directed to qualified agents, matching the interaction to the person with the right skills and availability to provide a resolution in the most efficient manner.

The third step is to unify customer history. This means that customers should benefit from a single view of their interactions in the contact centre and should have consistent experiences, benefiting from seamless transitions as they use different interaction channels. The universal customer history must include all interactions – traditional and social. An agent that communicates with a customer needs to have that customer’s complete information and interaction history at their fingertips, as new issues often have some relation to old ones.

The next step is to unify knowledge and applications. The contact centre should leverage business and customer knowledge, and support workflow, escalation, reporting and analytics that include social media. Within a socially enabled contact centre, social interactions are seamlessly tied through agent applications, empowering agents with knowledge management tools.

Fifth, businesses must deliver a multichannel, proactive service. The contact centre should provide agents with the tools to engage customers with relevant knowledge and guidance at their fingertips. Agents also need the ability to seamlessly switch between channels, because in some situations traditional channels such as phone or chat lines might be more appropriate for following up or addressing issues. Businesses should also extend a traditional customer service offering with the use of online communities, tracking activity while intervening to solve issues.

Step six is to measure business performance. As with telephone and other channels, it is important to monitor and measure social media key performance indicators (KPIs) to improve service quality and performance. This can be as basic as simply tracking interactions or as sophisticated as using monitoring systems while establishing customer experience metrics that include social media-specific KPIs.

Finally, the last step is to tie social media into business processes. Social media is transforming customer service as we know it. Organisations need to leverage social channels to improve customer care, and customer care should extend beyond the contact centre. As customer service is a crucial part of a brand, companies need to strive to have in place processes that use all the expertise available in the company, while ensuring that the company has one voice, one brand, and one experience.

Moving forward
When businesses have these seven elements in place in the contact centre, they become able to leverage social media as an interaction channel that contributes to brand value and delivers measurable benefits within customer service, sales, and knowledge management processes.

As consumers increasingly turn to social media to seek information and service, and to express opinions, there is no question that organisations must engage in those channels to deliver appropriate customer care and to ensure positive experiences.