Unless you have been on a long vacation somewhere without newspapers, mobile phones or the Internet, you must have noticed all the buzz about social media – some of it factual and lots of it hype. Over a billion people use Facebook. There are many millions of tweets on Twitter every day, and YouTube has become the place to share videos, whether for a laugh, for a company’s brand awareness or for training courses. The key question for business is how much of this is useful for commerce and how much is just socializing. I started researching this movement and its intersection some time back and last year spoke about Customer Service in the Social Media Age.
Companies should be looking at social media as another channel of communications with their customers and prospects. My research into the state of technology in contact centers shows that companies on average now support four channels of communications but that as yet social media is the least used. This is due to some extent to its newness, but I believe other factors also come into play. Social media is different than other channels. It is much more open-ended, and it is impossible to control who (and how many people) might see an entry. Therefore, companies and customers should be careful about what they post (or allow employees to post in their name). Social media generates high volumes of communications and thus can consume lots of time and effort both to keep up with and respond to entries. And like it or not, it is open to abuse, such as with disgruntled consumers running negative campaigns against companies, companies manipulating entries to sway consumers’ views and both sides reacting badly to provocative entries.
Another significant difference is that use of social media transcends business units; this might be the hardest thing for companies to reconcile. As a speaker pointed out at the recent IQPC Executive Customer Contact Exchange (ECCE) conference, business can use social media for four activities – brand management (marketing), sales, customer service and product development. Of these it seems that the most use is for brand management, with marketing departments using it as a “cheap” channel to place advertising and also to monitor consumer comments about the company or brand. The next widest use is in the largely negative side of customer service, as customers post negative comments about companies, products and the quality of service they receive, and some companies respond. At the very least companies should be monitoring these comments using one of the many social media analytics tools; doing so they can extract a wealth of insights into what they and others are doing right and wrong (most often the latter).
At the present time other uses are less common. A few companies have extended the use of social media into their end-to-end customer service processes, such as in picking up entries requesting information on how to get a product working. This typically involves capturing social media entries using one of the engines now available, routing service entries to the contact center or customer service group, and then having someone post a response through the same channel or if appropriate a different channel. In a similar way some companies are picking up potential sales opportunities, as in the form of entries requesting information about a product, and routing these into their sales process. Finally some innovative companies are using social media forums to solicit feedback on potential product developments or enhancements.
It is still uncertain which of these uses will deliver real business value, but as companies experiment with social media, I advise them to take into account that typically each of these four uses is the responsibility of a different business unit. My research on the use of technology shows that one of the most important things for companies and customer alike is consistency – of information and experience. Inconsistency in either means increased costs (providing multiple channels to get an answer), increased customer frustration and loss of potential business. To avoid these, companies should regard social media as a cross-business-unit responsibility and ensure that all use a single source of customer information and synchronize their processes across unit boundaries.
There was also a lot of discussion at the ECCE event as to how companies should put together their social media strategy. It seems to me that the first thing companies should do is “listen” to how their customers are using social media and what they are saying on different sites. Several vendors are doing this that I have been assessing including Attensity, Clarabridge, Genesys, ResponseTek, RightNow, salesforce.com and SAS These products, some of which are deployed in the cloud, can extract relevant entries from different sites and use text analytics to assess the content. Once you have this ability to listen you’ll be in a position to decide strategy and how best to benefit from social media going forward. Where does your company stand with regard to social media? What uses are you making of it? Do you have a product in place to monitor what is happening? Drop me a line and tell me about your experience.
Richard Snow – VP & Research Director