The Age of Social Customer Service: A New Method for Matching Customers and Agents


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Customer service is transforming as companies seek to reinvent the experience to better meet the needs of today’s empowered customer and find new ways to differentiate.

If we think about it, “reinvent” has been an important theme in our social, mobile, connected world. Amazon reinvented the way we consume books, Apple and Pandora music, and Netflix home movies. The consumer world is much different than it was 20 years ago.

The age of the customer
At the heart of this renaissance is the customer. We are in what Forrester calls the age of the customer, which they define as follows: “A 20-year business cycle in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers” (Source: Forrester Research, Inc., Competitive Strategy In The Age Of The Customer, Oct. 10, 2013).

Reinventing the service experience
Now, take a moment and think about your last few customer service experiences. Does the word reinvent come to mind? Probably not.

That’s going to change soon, however, as a new category of customer service emerges – one increasingly called “social customer service.” While social customer service can take many forms, one that is starting to gain traction is a new method for matching customers and contact center agents. It works by enabling customers to choose their agent by viewing in-depth profiles, service ratings, wait times, and more.

If we think about the first automatic call distribution (ACD) system, it was all about cost reduction and efficiency – offload resources and do more with less. Folks were lined up in the order that they called, and once at the front of the queue, they were connected to the next/first available agent. Hardly a personalized experience. The only control customers had was to wait in line or hang up. And while this traditional ACD model has evolved, it just wasn’t designed to deliver the kind of customer-centric experience today’s empowered customer prefers.

That’s where a new method for matching customers and agents comes in. The idea is to transfer control from automated systems to the customer, while increasing agent transparency, thus making the experience more social and personal in nature.

How it works
1. A customer requests service on a website, clicks on relevant criteria, and sorts through a list of qualified agents by skill, availability, or wait time.
2. A customer browses agent personality profiles to determine the best match.
3. A customer selects an agent and his/her preferred communications channel.

The contact center doesn’t go away. Agents live on. So do reporting and management tools. And companies have full control over options presented to customers, the degree of agent details shared (some prefer avatars), and how things are configured in general.

Let’s bring it to life
Imagine you recently purchased a telephoto lens for your high-end Nikon camera and you’ve run into a problem. You want to use the lens for a trip to South Africa in three days so you go to the company’s website to get help fast. You’re pleasantly surprised to find a customer service page that feels like a mix between Amazon, Facebook and LinkedIn — not the static, text-filled Web pages directing you to 800 numbers that you’re used to.


You’re presented with a page that lets you select an agent by various criteria. You select English, digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, Nikon, and telephoto lens. The list of agents changes. You then sort by wait time. After scanning agent personality profiles, you find your ideal agent, Raul. He’s highly skilled and, like you, goes on adventurous trips to photograph cool stuff. After reading reviews, you choose to chat with Raul. He becomes available and is able to troubleshoot your problem.

Key characteristics and benefits
Here’s a list of characteristics that define this new customer/agent matching method, along with their associated benefits.

* Customer picks agent => Increased empowerment
* Familiar search and filtering => Maximum ease of use, faster agent selection
* Agent personality profiles => More personalized service
* Availability and wait time => Greater control of tradeoffs
* Reviews and comments => Better informed agent selections
* Multichannel communications => Increased convenience

Next steps
So, for companies looking to turn customer service into a competitive weapon, this new method of customer/agent matching can be a critical arrow in their competitive quiver. It’s exactly the kind of concierge-level experience today’s empowered customer wants.

The following are some initial steps for companies wanting to explore this method further:
* Do your research – talk to solutions providers, analysts, and consultants to evaluate the benefits versus costs based on your unique business objectives.
* Craft a vision – document what this would look like for your company and the impact it would have on various departments – from a technology, people, and process perspective.
* Assemble a tiger team – get a small number of stakeholders to investigate further.
* Experiment – run a small pilot to test things, then refine and expand if warranted.

If your due diligence points in the direction of deployment, go for it! You have the opportunity to be a hero by helping to reinvent the service experience for your company and your customers.

Jason Alley
Jason Alley is a senior solutions marketing manager for Interactive Intelligence. Since his employment in 2010, Jason has helped Interactive Intelligence develop market requirements and go-to-market strategies for contact center, customer experience, and cloud solutions. Prior to Interactive, he spent ten years consulting with large enterprise contact centers and suppliers for Vanguard Communications, and a company he later founded, SmartContact Consulting. Jason spent the first seven years of his career in sales, marketing, and product management.


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