Make social media part of customer support ops: Expert

With the onset of social media as a channel through which companies want to communicate with customers, one analyst warns these new avenues have yet to be properly integrated into the business to ensure a consistency of experience.

When a customer comment or complaint comes in via a social media site, such as Twitter or Facebook, it gets routed to a “separate group of people sitting somewhere” who may not even be using the same customer relationship management system as the call centre, said Elizabeth Herrell, contributing analyst with Constellation Research, and founder and president of consulting firm Communication Initiatives.

“There aren’t really business roles or processes … this group is disconnected,” said Herrell, who recently, through Constellation Research, published a research paper entitled Social and Mobile Growth Challenge Customer Support Operations.

Currently, the infrastructure is just not built to accommodate social media, which leads to inconsistent information being dispensed to customers about a product or service. But, Herrell said that doesn’t mean business leaders are unaware of the value social media can play in improving customer relations because there is definitely an awareness out there.

It’s just an issue of applying analytics, said Herrell, to capture all the information from different sources—social media or traditional phone and e-mail—and make that snapshot available to the call centre agent.

One social CRM analyst with Beagle Research Group LLC calls analytics the “killer app” for social media because it lets organizations really hear what is being said by customers and prospects. “What’s hard about direct mail and other older technologies out there is that they’re no-good, inexpensive ways to capture the voice of the customer in the past,” said Denis Pombriant. “But with social media tools, if you listen, you can learn a lot about customer demand, biases and more.”

Yet, it’s a big mistake that social media channels, said Pombriant, continue to be thought of as an “outbound-only tool.”

A related piece of research in the customer experience space, by the Temkin Group Research, looks at the influence of social media on purchasing decisions for various products and age groups. Buying a PC or cell phone ranks the highest in a survey of 6,000 U.S. respondents for getting product information via a social media site.

The Constellation Research paper by Herrell also looks at the degree to which customer queries related to mobile commerce (or m-commerce) has become an integrated part of call centre operations. That’s particularly relevant today given the ubiquity of mobile apps, through which customers can make transactions, and the sheer number of apps being developed and offered by businesses, said Herrell.

As Herrell has observed with badly integrated social media communication channels, the same exists for mobile commerce. “You ask a company, how are you supporting these mobile apps? They say, ‘Well, they can always pick up the phone and call.’ Well, not necessarily,” said Herrell.

A customer may not know how, or who, to contact regarding a query, which could be technical in nature, or not. The query could also be about the software or the actual device. There is a broad range of information a customer could be looking to get, but support “is often an afterthought to these apps going public,” said Herrell.

“Mobile apps are the future … and when you’re dealing with the future, you build it in,” said Herrell.

While there is a “big rush” to adopt social media and mobile commerce, Herrell said the move makes sense because they are a bona fide part of the business. Yet, with the degree of investment being funneled into these new channels, organizations must know these platforms will grow and change at a much faster pace than traditional ones.

–with files from Todd Weiss

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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