Because some customers would rather rant on Twitter than call customer service with a complaint, call center agents must be armed with tools that can reach consumers via social networks. Social media integration with contact center products can help businesses offer social customer care, an important strategy for business-to-consumer communications.
"Contact center strategies that tap into social platforms can really get a good sense of the customer and [can provide] a lot of good insights into what preferences are, what is trending, and what is being discussed," said Brendan Read, industry analyst of information and communication technologies for San Antonio-based Frost & Sullivan Inc. "Social tools [within the contact center] also give business the opportunity to directly engage with their customers; it's a goldmine."
Social customer care must go beyond social media monitoring
Many vendors offer some form of social media tie-in with their contact center tools -- such as Cisco's SocialMiner software for its Unified Contact Center Express, or Avaya's Social Media Manager for its Aura Contact Center. Enterprises can buy these vendor-specific social media management products as standalone tools for brand monitoring. IT organizations can also integrate them into the vendor's contact center tools. Used together, the social management tools can discover selected keywords, hashtags or conversation threads on a social media site and tap into the contact center product's routing capabilities to send the information to the appropriate agent for follow-up purposes.
While the technology is out there, adoption isn't widespread yet, said Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst at Santa Rosa, Calif.-based COMMfusion LLC and UCStrategies.com. There are social contact center technologies on the market that can monitor and route calls to the appropriate agent based on expertise, or even customer sentiment, but enterprises have been slow to buy these tools, Pleasant said.
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"Many companies are saying that their volume just doesn't require these kinds of contact center tools yet … but we are starting to see more companies making social customer care a part of their overall customer service strategies," she said.
While many enterprises today may not need automated call routing capabilities based on social media interactions, many businesses are at least monitoring social media via their contact centers. By the time an issue hits social media, however, it could be too late, Frost & Sullivan's Read said. Businesses need to take social customer care further than just listening.
"Businesses don't want to find themselves in damage control mode," he said. "This is an opportunity for contact center agents to listen for early warning signs of a problem and handle it right there and then so it doesn't have a chance to go viral."
Enterprises that choose to stay one step ahead with call center and social media integrations will be able to direct customers to new products or services, or even offer help before it is requested, Pleasant said.
Social customer care: Knowing when to join the conversation
While vendors are building social tie-ins into contact center platforms, no product can instruct a call center agent on when to reach out to a griping customer or when it's appropriate to stay out of the conversation. Engaging with customers via social media can be useful in helping companies stay one step ahead of possible customer concerns, or can even be helpful in getting information out quickly, but call center agents have to remember social platforms are public platforms.
"Companies may not be able to start posing questions to their customers over social media -- like they might during a phone call -- because there are privacy and anonymity issues to consider," Read said.
"Enterprise call centers … will definitely need to have agents that are social-savvy that and understand the workings of Facebook and Twitter, in addition to the security issues associated with sharing on those channels," COMMfusion's Pleasant said.
Social media management not only requires a different level of skills from call center agents, but also different internal data management capabilities -- such as analytics -- so companies can separate valuable information about their customers from social platforms, said Paul Stockford president and chief analyst for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Saddletree Research.
"The call center has gone from 'how can I help you?' to having to understand the customer to a greater degree, and then being able to respond through whichever media the customer prefers," Stockford said.