Social Customer Service in the Enterprise

17 Sep 2014

In this Industry Buzz podcast, the UCStrategies Experts are joined by Karina Howell, Solutions Marketing Manager, Interactive Intelligence. The topic is Social Customer Care, using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter as a channel for customer service. Blair Pleasant moderates the podcast, and is joined by Experts Phil Edholm, Steve Leaden, Dave Michels, Roberta J. Fox, Jon Arnold, Melissa Swartz, Art Rosenberg, and Dr. Joseph Williams.

Blair Pleasant: Hi, this is Blair Pleasant and I am here with the UCStrategies UC experts, as well as a special guest today, Karina Howell of Interactive Intelligence. And today's podcast is on one of my favorite topics, social customer care, using public social media sites like Facebook and Twitter as a channel for customer service. Now some of you know I have been a proponent of social customer care for quite some time, really ever since I went on Twitter to contact my cable company, Comcast, to find out if the cable service was out in my area or if it was just my particular TV. So instead of searching for the 800 number, going through the IVR menu and then waiting on hold for an agent, I got an immediate response from Comcast, from a Comcast social customer service agent on Twitter. And I knew then that this was going to be the future of customer care. But, as usual, as an analyst, I was overly optimistic about the speed at which things would change in the contact center. And social customer care hasn't taken off the way I had expected or hoped. I think one of the main reasons for this, and we will all be talking about this, is that social is still usually under the auspices of a company's marketing department and not their contact center. And while we see lots of companies that do provide customer care over such social media channels like Twitter and Facebook, it's still separate from the contact center and it doesn't take advantage of many of the traditional contact center tools like reporting, staffing, workforce optimization and things like that. So to kick this off, I would like to ask Karina if this is what she is seeing at Interactive Intelligence, and then we will ask some more questions. So Karina, what are you seeing?

Karina Howell: Yes, Blair, I am seeing something similar. It's that, while yes, inevitably social media will come under the domain of the contact center as the part of the enterprise that is best equipped to manage, to track, and report high volumes of interactions, the nature of this type of channel being so public, the propensity of comments to go viral, marketing has taken the reins first and they are still learning how to collaborate with the contact center in order to ensure that these contacts are handled in a manner that is satisfactory. So it's a slow transition, is what's happening. There are the early adopter large companies that we know from the Telcos and cable providers, for example. And then there is the mass market that is still just putting toes in the water of this social media interaction.

Blair Pleasant: Thank you. Phil, what are you seeing out there? Are you seeing something similar or different?

Phil Edholm: Well, I think I am seeing something actually very similar. Essentially today, what we are seeing is the use of social adds this kind of open social. What you see, for example, in Twitter where I post to a hashtag and it is very open. But I think the thing that we need to be very cognizant of is that all the social networks are beginning to build paths to enable their users to do direct communication under the auspices or the representation of their user identity. We look, for example, on Facebook. This has been implemented with Skype. So I think there is another side to this that we need to be very aware of, which is being ready to have your company as a participant in the social network, interact with individuals as individuals, not in the socially open environment, but rather directly. And I think this is, when we looked at technologies that are coming out, whether it's WebRTC or some of the other integrations in mobile technologies, I think really changes things. So I think as companies look at their strategy for the next not just two or three months but 12, 24, 36 months, having methodologies to integrate your company in as an individual interaction with social identities is going to be as or potentially even more important than being able to interact on that open kind of public social side.

Blair Pleasant: Okay, thanks. You brought up some interesting points. Karina, what kind of demand are you seeing for social? Are people knocking down the doors or is it still pretty small and isolated?

Karina Howell: It is a standard RFP item at this point, but in terms of adoption and being a real primary driver, it's still pretty small, something that has been coming down in the future. They want to have it in their sights, but not the top priority to implement within the next year for the vast majority.

Blair Pleasant: Steve, are you seeing this also with your customers or are you seeing more demand?

Steve Leaden: Thanks Blair. We are seeing a couple of things. Number one, we are definitely including it either as a requirement or an option in each of the RFPs that we have been developing within the last 12 months. I think to Karina's exact point, we are definitely seeing traction in terms of interest, but not necessarily implementing day one. And part of the reason is that it is not easy, because it's culture changing. Like you were saying a little bit earlier, it has to do primarilywith the marketing department first and then eventually integrated into the contact center and other areas of the organization.

Karina, I did have a question or two for you from what you are seeing out there, and kind of chiming into what we are seeing, too. We are noticing that I think in order to implement social media into the contact center is one example, correctly, you have to have a social media expert who is basically going to: filter these types of queries; look for potential criticalities in terms of what is high priority versus a low priority; awareness using a tool, and then basically filtering those queries back into the contact center so that individuals who are versed in this particular area can respond. So what are your thoughts on that, Karina?

Karina Howell: Oh yeah, absolutely. That is why change is slow. You need that expertise to be able to filter -- more manual than automated at this point, right?

Steve Leaden: So what kinds of tools are you seeing that users have? I know some of those tools are free out there. Some of the tools can get fairly pricey, too. But we know that let's say that the major players, like an example, Delta Airlines or any of the airlines for that matter, are using the social media tools in order to become aware of any kinds of potential negative impact on marketing and image of the company. So what kinds of tools are you seeing out there and how do those contact center organizations use those tools effectively?

Karina Howell: Yeah, the monitoring tools, those are used by the real early adopter organizations. For the mass market we are seeing there is interest, but they don't yet have all of the internal expertise to use these monitoring tools, so it is not just a technology challenge. It is a culture challenge. So we all know some of these high profile companies that are very active in social media. There are others (for whom0 I have tried to get customer service for some software that I have purchased via Twitter, and was not responded to.

Steve Leaden: My last thought here is that we are definitely seeing again in the RFPs that we are building and in the queries that we are doing with our clients, we are involved actually in several contact center procurements right now. Everybody is definitely interested. And they are definitely interested in social media being one of the multiple channels that an individual can get into the call center, whether it be a web chat, or whether it be an email, which has a low priority in terms of response, or even a phone call. Anything along those lines. So any thoughts from you in terms of social media being either real time or how do we fit in social media into that larger venue of multichannel?

Karina Howell: This is the real challenge - the expectation is real time. And so it is still manual. Is a consumer satisfied with a 24-hour response to a Facebook posting? We don't really have that established yet. For Twitter, within a couple of hours you would expect a response. It has got that real time quality. That is why it is so challenging to do right. You can eventually respond to Facebook queries because they are public, right, but is that a contact center function the way that email is? It's not yet established.

Steve Leaden: Correct. Yes

Karina Howell: Is that what you are seeing? The metrics have not quite yet been honed.

Steve Leaden: Yes, we are definitely seeing that we are in this very early adopter stage and yet at the same time, social media has such an impact on any organization out there. Obviously it started with consumer, but it has expanded quickly into the business segment of the market. Yes, we are definitely seeing that it is in this early adopter stage and really needs to be honed in and escalated on the priority list for sure. And I think we are going to see within the next 24 to 36 months, Karina, some established best practices that will become de facto as social media evolves as another channel.

Karina Howell: Yeah, that makes sense. I can tell you when I didn't get a response from a particular software company for customer service, I did get responses from other Twitter users saying they wanted to know what happened.

Blair Pleasant: That brings up a really good point. What do you think are some of the biggest mistakes that companies are making when they are doing social customer care?

Karina Howell: It's easy to say the biggest mistake is ignoring social media, but I'm inclined to say that there's a reason why many companies are reticent to jump into the fray and that's because it is a particular type of medium with a particular voice, a spontaneity and requires an extreme degree of diplomacy. So it could be easy to make a mistake with the wrong kind of response. Having said that, I haven't heard of particular disaster stories from those that have jumped into the fray.

Dave Michels: I have got a question on that, Karina. This is Dave Michels. Why would a company want to even encourage social interaction? I mean, it seems like if you have got a satisfaction issue that the company would want to have that as a private conversation to resolve to their satisfaction. What is the incentive? You just mentioned that there is risk involved. What is the incentive to do it?

Karina Howell: Sure. The incentive is, hey social media didn't start with the contact center as a great idea for serving customers, unlike some other channels. This one was a let's call it a mass market grass roots movement. Social media happened. It's where customers are. So that's why it was marketing that first took the reins. You need to respond so that things do not escalate. For the contact center, that's part of their reticence. How to measure success. Okay, social media happens but sometimes out of the contact center until we can figure out what constitutes success.

Roberta J. Fox: Blair, I would like to add on to that just very quickly that I think some of the legacy industries like publishing and legacy television, they have actually found that embracing social media to deal with customers has increased loyalty. It has also increased customer sat and in some cases it has driven programs, new programs and new ways of delivering media. So it has actually turned into a positive that they were afraid of at first.

Karina Howell: That's right. It is a marketing -

Blair Pleasant: That is a very good point, Roberta.

Karina Howell: It is measured with high level metrics, right? Business value metrics that merge with marketing.

Roberta J. Fox: I think Jon wanted to say something.

Jon Arnold: Yeah, thanks, Roberta. Hi, yes, Karina, this is Jon Arnold and just continuing the Canadian dialogue here, I would just ask the question for you, maybe the idea that well, who really owns it within the customer base that is deploying it right now? Because I think it has a lot to do with how agents are being trained or are being guided to use social media in terms of how they respond. And I would think that if it is more marketing driven then to what Roberta is saying, it's more about generating likes and positive feedback that reflect well in the public sphere on the company. But if the contact center is driving it, I think their expectations for social media would have more to do with speed of response. And as you say, speaking diplomatically without provoking customers or going down blind alleys. Do you have a sense at this point about who is kind of driving that to set those expectations for how agents engage.

Karina Howell: Yeah, I do, absolutely. Fortunately for the contact center, there are parallels to other newer channels. One customer that has deployed web chat, so different channel but same mentality, made very clear average speeds of answer and efficiency methods are still important, but a whole new range of customer experience metrics have been developed to gauge satisfaction with that particular channel. So it is not so much of a clear line between contact center and marketing anymore. They share certain goals.

Jon Arnold: But also compete, too, right?

Karina Howell: Well, there is the rub. The collaboration culture is actually part of social media. It helps us collaborate. We need to collaborate internally and externally to be successful.

Jon Arnold: Yeah, I mean are you still seeing there being kind of a silo mentality in these companies about marketing kind of protecting their kind of territory with customers and maybe not collaborating as much as you would like to think that they would with contact center needs? With CRM and that kind of thing?

Karina Howell: It's more lack of protocols and skills and metrics than some sort of turf war. You know, just gauging success. It is all about pleasing the customer in the end, so how do we do that best? How do we break down these silos?

Jon Arnold: One last thing and I will let others move on here but is it too early to be talking about a business case for social in the contact center?

Karina Howell: Well, the success stories that Roberta mentioned are the business case. The customer loyalty, customer experience, enhancement, net promoter score, that's the business case. It's that type of strategic role the contact center has come in to play, there is the business case.

Blair Pleasant: And I think it can also offload some of the phone agents, which can often cost a bit more, so there is also a cost element, but that is assuming that you are doing it right. If you are doing it right, then it will offload from some of the other channels. If you are doing it wrong, then it is actually going to lead to more people calling in after having a bad experience.

Karina Howell: Yeah, have any of you seen that offload metric? Because often when new channels are introduced into the contact center, reducing the workload for the phone is actually not what happens.

Blair Pleasant: Yeah. And that is the difference between doing it right and doing it wrong. Roberta, what are you seeing?

Roberta J. Fox: I totally agree with what Steve Leaden said and Jon as well. We have seen actually the enterprise clients and the large government clients asking to do this stuff, but actually the people that are doing it, the firms that seem to be paying attention, maybe because they are not big enough to have the turf wars, is the mid and small markets, so the firms less than 750. The call volume or the activity volume increases, calls seem to go down, but the overall number of transactions overall to and from the company seem to go up. But I think my observation and analysis is that perhaps part of this turf war is because marketing is not used to doing scientific performance management tools and methods. It has usually been more artistic and more creative. And so that may be part of some of the reasons why there is this conflict. But all our clients are asking for them, like Steve said, but it is the ones that are deploying are the smaller mid-size and also they are more moving it in the Cloud space, so that is the trends I see.

Blair Pleasant: We talked before about the need for best practices and it's still pretty early and there are not too many best practices yet. So I would like to hear from any of you if you are seeing any best practices. Melissa, have you seen anything that you would like to share?

Melissa Swartz: I've seen a couple of things. One of the major things I have seen is separate agents for social versus contact center and I think at this point, again, based on the early adopter part of the discussion that we have already had, I think this is definitely a best practice at this point. I do think that eventually it can evolve into more of a scripted environment. Probably will not ever be totally scripted, but I think once people get the information in terms of the voice that needs to be used and the type of information that can be put out, I think it can become more standardized than it is. Right now every incident is treated individually, and I think at this point it has to be.

The other best practice that I am seeing is essentially what we also talked about in terms of response. Assuming that it needs to be immediate is at this point I consider to be a best practice. I do not think we can say, well, you can respond to a tweet in 24 hours. I do not think that is fast enough, so it has to be near real time. So those are the two factors that I have seen. Otherwise, it is kind of all over the map. And I am not seeing anything else that is coalescing as best practices. But I would love to hear from somebody else if they are seeing something else.

Blair Pleasant: Art, how about you? What are you seeing out there as far as best practices?

Art Rosenberg: Well, I don't see too much practice. I see a lot of talk about people offering different alternatives. But the way I look at it is from an end user and they have a problem. We are talking about customer service now, not telemarketing. They have the choice now, of different ways of getting assistance, whether it is click for assistance within a self-service app, whether they want to send an email, whether they want to talk to somebody directly or video, whatever. They can choose the way they want to interact and I think that one of the things that's going to happen is if these ways of making contact and getting assistance is not working for them, that's when they will jump on social and complain. It's not the other way around.

And one of the things that I just wrote something about is when people want assistance from whomever about whatever, they have an expectation of... they need to have better information about how easy is it going to be to get that information, because it is not always my house is on fire or anything else. But it has got to be reasonable. You pick your choice of well, within an hour, within a couple of hours, within a day, tomorrow, whatever. The point is that the customer has to have that kind of information about what the status is in terms of waiting for a response as opposed to, it is always going to be immediate. Because nobody can afford that. And there is some virtual hold and virtual queuing information. The process of virtual queuing might very well be upgraded, and I just wrote something about that the customer gets that kind of information so they can make a decision as to well, what do I want to do now that will work for me? And if nothing works (for me), then they will probably just complain and jump on social and say hey, anybody out there? What's going on?

Blair Pleasant: Yeah, you brought up some really good points, Art. I think a best practice for social is try to avoid having customers go to social to vent. So if you provide the kind of care that they need on traditional channels, then they won't have to go to social to vent and complain.

Art Rosenberg: Right. And most of the time people want to be personal about their problem, not public. And when do they go public? When they just lost patience and they want everybody to understand that.

Blair Pleasant: Yes. Absolutely. I think another best practice is to use your most experienced agents and to use the really good agents. What I have seen a lot of companies do and some of them have been in the headlines, is they might use an intern or they might use someone who is young and socially savvy, but maybe they do not know how to properly respond in such a public manner. So a company might think, well, because this person is in their 20s and they are really good at using Facebook or Twitter, we should have them handling the social channels. But really you need your most experienced people who can be the face of your company and know how to respond properly to customers.

Art Rosenberg: Good point. And I just wrote something that there was a recent survey and the biggest complaint that customers had is waiting too long for getting a response. But the third biggest concern is they do not want to be switched around to different people. They want to talk to someone who can answer all their questions and your point about getting somebody experienced is right to that point rather than a body that knows how to tweet.

Roberta J. Fox: Blair, a quick example that might also show from some of our earlier adopter, one of our government clients, believe it or not, was that they are actually taking their experienced internal sales support staff that are taking early retirement, so actually their best quality people, and they are sticking them on the social media to answer and to manage. Because they have the organizational knowledge, they have the process, they have the subject matter, and then they are trying to flip them into sales opportunities. And this was actually for a government type of organization. I almost fell off my chair, but I have seen that type of internal sales role of people being used more and more now sort of behind the scenes. And it is just probably in about five or six cases, but these were early adopter people originally. So that's a neat way to take the best and help them flip it around into revenue.

Blair Pleasant: Good points.

Joseph Williams: Blair, this is Joseph. Quick question, because I live my life in the tech world is, to what extend do crowd source solutions play in the social media realm of customer support? Oftentimes a lot of the vendors will not really provide social media support. They will let their customers or fan boards or whoever provide that support and then they will mediate from time to time. So I do not know how deliberate that strategy is and I do not know how effective it is but it seems to have a social media chit to it. I find probably 60 percent of the technical solutions I am looking for in these crowdsourcing forums.

Karina Howell: Yeah, for that vertical, right, exactly. And for the technical vertical that is a great solution. What happens is it just doesn't work for consumer goods, for example. In fact, it could go the other way easily, so it's a factor but a little different in how it is managed. That can be managed with, once again, it needs to be managed with an expert who can really help and who can escalate matters if need be.

Joseph Williams: Okay. Thanks.

Roberta J. Fox: Some feedback I will give to Karina is, I like your approach where you make it where clients can add on the different tools that you have that can help manage social media. So if companies don't want to do it initially, that they can add it on over time. And I think that is, the clients that have looked at it, think that that is a plus. The only other advice I would give is you need to help your channels learn how to get there as well. Our clients are always worried about okay, it is not just the product. It is who is going to install and support it. So that is probably the next hurdle for everybody to get over in getting these things once they decide to install.

Karina Howell: Yeah, absolutely.

Blair Pleasant: I think one of the key things is really developing a strategy and not just saying okay, today we are going to do social care and start supporting people over Twitter and Facebook. I think having a strategy about who can respond, how they respond, when they respond and all that is so critical and it really takes time to do this. So working with consultants or resellers or the vendor to really help develop that strategy and spend a lot of time, because it is a public forum, and if you make a mistake, you can really get burned. So it is really important for companies that are investigating this to really have a well thought out strategy. And even though, as we said, it is still kind of early for best practices, hopefully more and more will be developed that other customers will learn from because it is early days and there is a lot of innovating going on. But there is also a lot of mistakes that are taking place so we have to be careful.

Steve Leaden: Blair, just to your exact point as a footnote. Just because we are in this early adopter stage of social media, connected into UC and into the enterprise and contact center at large, that doesn't mean that we should wait and watch how the rest of the industry is performing and then take a dive in. I think it's incumbent really on every organization to start to look at social media and its impact on your organization and on your business and how you can literally leverage it in a proactive way. I mean, we are at a point where we are not inventing social media from scratch. So we are kind of beyond that stage. But I think it's important that everybody start to look at it just because within the next 24 months, maybe 36 months, worst case, if you don't look at it, you are going to be behind.

Karina Howell: I second that. Excellent point.

Blair Pleasant: Alright, well thank you everyone, and thank you especially to our guest, Karina Howell of Interactive Intelligence. Stay tuned as best practices evolve and as more companies have experience with social media for customer care. We will certainly be adding to this discussion. So thanks everyone and see you next time.


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