Should you re-train or hire your social customer service team?


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Merging new and old methods to create a consistent service for customers is one of the primary challenges for contact centre employees and managers. The question is: how do you marry the two up with the same person in the same place, or the same team?

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In a recent White Paper from Our Social Times and Sentiment on Integrating Social Customer Service in the Contact Centre, Martin Hill-Wilson explains how service teams have been set up to date:

“The typical behavior is, you find a channel, you get a bespoke point solution, find a dedicated team, train them up for that channel and then you put that in place.”

“From a technical point of view you might see similarities between all of your agents that do text-based communication, for example. So is it possible to migrate them between channels?”

Social represents another career path opportunity within service that may be attractive to younger staff, so-called ‘digital natives’, but it may also offer a fulfilling career path for longer-serving and highly skilled staff. Social media can empower customer service staff in new ways, such as when they are involved in crisis management and brand protection situations. For all the stress involved, it can be exciting and even fun.

However, as Dominic Sparkes from Tempero points out, training existing staff to become ‘blended agents’ can be tricky:

“It’s obviously utopia to have one agent to do all things. When we started moving from pure moderation into insight and engagement my hope was that all of our moderation team could instantly become analysts and fantastic copywriters. It just didn’t happen.”

Dominic’s experience at Tempero is not uncommon. Katy Howell, CEO at social media agency Immediate Future echoes his sentiments, saying:

“Service teams have always conducted conversations on a one-to-one or private manner, yet suddenly their conversations can be happening in public. This is a whole new challenge. It requires a whole new skill-set and often, re-training”.

But, of course, some contact centre agents just won’t be comfortable engaging with customers on public channels. Others simply won’t have the written communication skills to respond effectively – especially within 140 characters – or the confidence to deliver, say, video support.

Dominic is quick to point out the risks of empowering unskilled writers on the front line of social customer care:

“There is a lot of copywriting involved in customer service messaging. If it’s not written well or spelt wrong, one message could go viral, spread like wildfire and cause a lot of grief.”

After a decade of recruitment within the sector, he’s developed a rule for hiring the right people for the right role:

“It’s easier to train a good writer on social than the other way round”.

As might be expected, the contact centre’s broadening role within organisations and its increasing diversification – in terms of skills, channels and outputs – is also making contact centre staff see themselves differently. Social customer service staff don’t tend to refer to themselves as ‘Agents’, preferring to be known as ‘Community Managers’ or perhaps a role more suited to their day-to-day activities, such as this example highlighted by Dominic:

“For our more child-focused projects like CBBC or ChildLine the moderators are very much ‘protectors of the realm’. Child safety is the most important thing they are doing and they wouldn’t be thought of as a contact centre at all. This is not to belittle contact centre people, they’d just rather be thought of as child protection services people.”

This trend towards multi-skilled service agents ties in with the increasing integration between Customer Service and Marketing, which is especially prevalent in social media. A growing number of Community Managers create content and manage campaigns, as well as respond to queries from customers. They might even see themselves as ‘creative’, rather than copywriters. Government Digital Services, for example, reflects this trend on the platform by calling their social media editors and copywriters Content Designers.

For more insights into integrating social customer service into the contact centre, you can download our free White Paper here.


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