The Real Reason Social Media Has Changed Customer Service

imagesI may as well fire this shot over the bow right from the starting gate: Customer service as an enterprise business function hasn’t changed all that much in the 30 years since the introduction of ACD (automated call distribution) technology. This is when it became practical and cost effective to deliver customer service at massive scale.

For the ensuing three decades or so, the overall focus of customer service has been centered on responding to customer issues with greater efficiency, greater scale, and greater speed at lower and lower cost.

There’s no doubt there has been noticeable innovation in technology and in the introduction of expanding communications channels through which to deliver the service. That includes social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, community forums, and other peer-to-peer networking sites.  And there have certainly been shining examples of companies that do customer service better than the rest.

But the point is that it’s the same service, the same function, driven by the same mission and measured by the same performance metrics as a generation ago.

The Tipping Point

Customer service is at a tipping point. Real change is needed. Real change is possible. Real change is being demanded.  And social media is the catalyst for this change. And, trust me when I say, I’m not a hype advocate, zealot, nor pushing any social media agenda. For as knee deep as I am in social media, I’m probably more pragmatic than most when it comes to adoption and business value, particularly in huge, risk-averse enterprises.

That said, social media is driving profound change in social consciousness, political debate, medicine, government oversight, and virtually every other aspect of human endeavor. The reasons why social media is so able to affect change differ in all these scenarios. But one thing they all have in common is this; the veil of secrecy has been obliterated. And information, accurate or not, now proliferates at the speed of light.

So what does change look like for customer service? While the tactical components are many, and those are probably worth exploring in followup posts, they can all be summed up this way.

Social media is the catalyst to move customer service from efficient reaction to value-creating proactivity

I’ve tried to test this overarching paradigm shift against every conceivable example. Every element of customer service as we generally know it today fits: enterprise strategic mission, engagement strategy, operational KPIs, interaction flows, knowledge management, financial measures, talent & skill development, data management, analytics, channel mix, workforce management. And, that’s just a partial list.

Is there anything I missed? Is there some element of customer service as we know it today that doesn’t fit this paradigm? Or am I truly in denial about my zealotry? Tell us about it below.

Contact Us However You Please…I think

Every once in a while, a question pops into my head that appears to need an answer.  Not often.  But, occasionally.  A few weeks back was one of those times.

Over the past year, in several different venues, in conversations with clients and colleagues, this topic of “socializing” a brand’s contact us page has been percolating.  The “contact us” page, for those that have never experienced it, is typically the page on a company or brand’s website that provides all the various methods for…well…contacting the company.  Traditional information has included store locations, headquarters mailing address, hours of operation, phone number and a form that allows the visitor to enter their information and question to generate an email.  In my business, this email ends up in a queue in the contact center where an associates responds and replies with the requested information.

Pretty straight forward.

But, those of us that are more “social-leaning” think there is a better use of this real estate.  In a time when everyone is longing to, and often struggling to, create compelling, value-generating engagement with their customers, this contact us page provides a golden opportunity to do just that.

The thing I always have to challenge myself with however is this.  Is my point of view as one of those social-leaners, in line with or wildly out of touch from others?  So, I posed a quick two question survey to see if I could get a sense of where the prevailing winds were blowing on this topic.

Question 1


Question 2


While the sample size here is small (n=14), I was struck by a two observations.

First, to question #1, in isolation, the desire to de-emphasize email as a channel of communication was promising, while not unexpected.  The motivations, while I didn’t dive into those, are fairly easy to infer.  Email is still a human capital-based communication channel.  Or, at least it should be.  Because if you’re sending out auto-generated canned emails in response to a customer that took the time to write you with their live fingers skipping across the keyboard, we need to talk.  Every contact center continues to face ever-increasing pressure to reduce the cost of service.  The pendulum may be shifting to better balance cost and the customer experience.  But cost is, and will continue to be a variable in the service deliver equation.  So, the desire to leverage other, lower cost options is no surprise.  Also, as a socialite, my thought was that the other channels that would be promoted are more of the social variety, indicating a strong desire and emphasis to create more compelling customer engagement, between customer and brand, and among the entire customer community.

Second, I was not at all surprise to see that few would choose to totally eliminate email.  In an omni-channel world, there continues to be customer demand for this channel.

When I looked at the two questions together, this is where I was a bit confounded.  In question 1, the majority of respondents (57%) indicated a desire to minimize the prominence of email and promote other channels.  While, in question 2, 21% of respondents indicated they would promote email most predominantly on their new contact us page.  The identical number that indicated they would feature social channels as the predominant methods of communication.  And in this instance, live chat was the channel that would be promoted most.  Interesting that, while live chat can have some cost benefits from skilled agents handling multiple simultaneous interactions, it is still a one to one communication.  And, while an email can actually be shared among customers, in a quasi-social manner, chat logs do not lend themselves to this.

So, what am I do conclude from this highly unscientific poll?  Is the conclusion that the pendulum hasn’t swung far enough?  Is cost containment still the overarching focus of customer service and contact centers in general?

What would you conclude?

The Big Data History Lesson

imagesI just got done listening to a keynote from McKinsey’s Matt Ariker on big data at the SOCAP Spring Symposium.  As I was listening I was struggling to find something more interesting to write than just reporting the highlights of his talk.  Then, about two thirds of the way through the hour long session, I got it.  Rather than ruining my own punch line.  Let’s see if you can figure it out.  See if you come to the same conclusion.

Matt started out challenging the audience with some good questions to ponder.  Like big data, what is it?  Why now? Why should you care?  One answer?  According to Tech Crunch, big data will drive $232 billion in spending by 2017.  So, yeah.  We should care.  Good so far.

Matt went on to share some other stats and also some of the key questions that his clients are asking on the subject.  Then, his presentation outlined what he believes, or is observing as some of the critical pains that organizations are currently experiencing with respect to big data.  In summary, they were as follows:

  • Lack of clarity on the vision and roadmap for big data.  Everyone wants all the data they can get there hands on without having the business questions identified first.
  •  Enterprise culture and mindset are not aligned.  There is not 100% buy-in and commitment from the C-Suite
  • Ineffective use of data and tools.  Data project scope creep is deadly.  Too many think “if I can get more data, why not?”  There ends up being too much time and resources spent on acquisition and aggregation at the expense of analysis and solving business problems
  • Ineffective integration of big data projects into business processes.  Internal stakeholders are not engaged in development nor accountable for delivery
  • Too much focus on technology and not business processes
  • Misalignment of required enterprise skills to execute on these projects. The focus is largely on technical skills, or in repurposing other skills and resources.

Did you figure it out?  This is history repeating itself.  Haven’t we seen this before?  Many, many times?  ERP.  CRM.  Virtually any big, enterprise technology initiative over the past 20 years has faced these same set of challenges.  You could take this post and do a find and replace.  Insert “ERP” or “CRM” in place of “Big Data”, date it 1995 or 2001 and the issues would be still relevant.

So, like back in 2000, there are companies that are doing it right.  So, perhaps the best place to start, the first mile of your roadmap, should be to find those examples and do what they are doing. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…and it just might save your career if you’re the one writing the big data checks in your organization.


The Social Customer Service Talent Show

talentMany of the most progressive companies are blazing a path forward with new business models and technology to support a shift from reactive customer service (solve my problem) to proactive customer engagement (insure I don’t have any problems…or at least anticipate and minimize them).

This shift to proactive customer engagement has far-reaching implications across the enterprise. Too many to explore with any meaning in one blog post. So, since I’m sitting here in a contact center, lets dive into what that means here. For one, just when some of us old-schoolers have started to get their arms around the shift in terminology from “call center” to “contact center”, we now need to focus on this transition to the customer engagement center.  Yes.  In this case, a name is not just a name.  It is a vital element in supporting the enterprise shift to proactive engagement.

Proactive, predictive, multi-channel, cross-channel, omin-channel. In this human-capital intensive function within the enterprise, I’m wondering how’s all this impacting your customer service human capital strategy? The skill profile of the omni-channel customer engagement center representative is certainly different from that of the single-channel phone or email agent. So too are the methods by which the customer engagement center will acquire these human capital assets. The days of recruiting, staffing and deciding whether or not to outsource this function based solely on cost are long past. Customer demands of the engagement center are rising at a steady rate.

The complexity of this environment is not the only contributor to the need for broader and deeper communication skills. The ever-increasing public exposure of both service successes and epic service failures leaves no place for poor service to hide.  No longer is it even minimally acceptable for customer service agents to mechanically read from a script, capture some call notes and insure that the 53 elements of the quality form have been adhered to.  Customer service representatives have to be effective communicators.  Be able to think on their feet.  And possess sound judgement in order to do the right thing for the customer AND the company.  Oh, and the organization needs to empower the front line troops to do this.  But that’s another story.

In addition, the customer engagement center, through my lens, is fast become one of the focal points in the organization for not only collecting, but aggregating and analyzing the exponential growth in customer data.  Customer engagement professionals will need the skills to deliver actionable insights to various data consumers across the enterprise.  No longer is it sufficient to produce a static report and blast it out in email.  Not if customer service is to realize the strategic importance of sales, marketing, product development or other more traditional “knowledge capital” functions.

So, where is this new breed of customer engagement professional going  come from?  What does that hiring profile look like in your organization?  How are you going to identify those current customer service reps with the potential to take on this new role?  What are the new training requirements?  Methods? What does this do to how you model the finances of customer service?  It is certainly a different justification process.

Perhaps THIS is how marking and customer service finally get engaged…and tie the knot.