Social media is becoming an increasingly popular channel of communication for consumers wanting to lodge complaints about poor service or inferior products. Does this mark a change in preference over more traditional routes, such as telephone, fax, e-mail and the web?
According to Mark Edwards, Intuate Group director and CTO, this shift poses a significant challenge to the traditional call centre, where call handlers are accustomed to gauging the level of dissatisfaction of their customer, by listening during a call and responding accordingly.
He explains that these dynamics in consumer behaviour are forcing “call” centres further down the journey of becoming efficient “contact” centres. In truth, a different communication medium between an organisation and its customer should not be that foreign. Not too long ago, irate customers may have used the postal service to vent their anger. The company in question could then respond back in mail or call the customer. Theoretically then, call centres were already dealing with more than one communication medium and the associated challenges already existed. Then came fax, followed by SMS, e-mail, the web and chat.
“Due to technology limitations, contact centres were generally forced to deal with each of these media as separate channels, something that brought its own challenges, including more agents, additional space, extra managers, bigger payroll. At the same time, there was the overwhelming responsibility to respond to the customer quickly, efficiently and hopefully, in their preferred medium of communication. It is no secret that call centres still struggle with this.
“The evolution of contact centre technologies has sought to address these challenges by bringing multi-channel and unified communication platforms to market,” Edwards says. “And telcos have pitched in by driving convergence in telecommunications. Problem solved, right? Unfortunately not.”
He maintains that consumers’ hasty journey to social media represents a whole new world of challenges for the contact centre, even beyond multi-channel (media) management, with which organisations are still struggling.
“The good news is there are numerous cost effective tools, utilities and services available to assist organisations to listen to the social media ‘buzz’ regarding your company. Regrettably, due to the different nature of the social media, it’s difficult to find a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Some are more focused on the blogosphere, others more appropriate for Twitter and still others are great for Facebook and LinkedIn. The principle is that they exist and they work.”
The obvious challenge, he explains, is the management of this new stream of data as opposed to just the monitoring. “We have seen many organisations trying to solve this problem by adopting and deploying complex CRM systems and attempting to integrate the media channel into these tools. This is extremely complicated and inevitably costly to achieve. A slight adjustment in the approach towards a customer interaction management strategy, as opposed to trying to achieve this in CRM, is a viable and more feasible option.
“The view is that all the information about your customer remains within your CRM system, but the history and management of when and how you last interacted and when and how you need to interact again, is managed and recorded within your interaction engine. The relevant data can then be shared between the two reliably and as regularly as required. The trick is to ensure that the solution driving the agent – customer interaction – is able to provide a single pane view into the CRM; ostensibly, a unified desktop.
“If this all sound like pie-in-the-sky or bleeding edge technology, it’s not. True unified communications platforms for the contact centre do exactly that, efficiently, cost effectively and productively, avoiding the need to increase the workforce substantially. Multi-channel management within these platforms is pretty standard nowadays. For social media, simple gateways pass the data from the social media listeners and the interactions to call handlers as if they were any other medium.
“Clearly, organisations should handle social media interactions differently to more traditional communications, because of the their nature to potentially broadcast to a greater community. However, the principle in managing the interaction should be the same – quickly, efficiently and in the preferred medium of communication.”
Edwards believes that many companies shy away from even considering these solutions because of the preconceived idea that the technologies are way too costly. “While it is true that contact centre technologies represent a significant investment,” he says, “the advantage most contact centres have is access to data and statistics that can prove the business case. It is possible for organisations to gauge the cost of reputational and brand damage on social media. Performance and statistical assessments addressing abandoned interactions via other channels is also deterministic. Since up to 80 percent of contact centre operational costs pertain to human resource and associated infrastructure, the mere saving in extra workforce required to handle social media alone, can justify the expenditure.”
Edwards says that a further concern preventing organisations from exploring the above approach is that it will lead to a significant investment in existing systems being written off. “However, most modern contact centre solutions can interface with existing systems such as PBXs and ACDs, as well as CRM and call centre management systems. They live side by side but must take over the core management of the interaction with your customer and present a simple, single screen to the call handler and report to the CRM database.
“The reality is that social media challenge for contact centres is addressable, but needs to be approached with a sensible technology-centric strategy. It is extremely difficult to achieve the levels of service the consumer demands by managing the interactions with your customer in separate silos of communication channels,” he concludes.