Things Aren’t Always As They Appear


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When presented with a new problem, an unknown entity, it’s human nature to compartmentalize that new quantity under a heading that is well known and familiar.  This process helps us make sense of things.  It helps us apply our experience and existing knowledge to the problem in an effort to simplify and solve.

But, bucketing new concepts like that can often limit our thinking, stifle the creative process and create blind spots and business risk. 

I’ve been observing this problem solving method growing in application as relates to how social media and social CRM will impact customer service and the contact center. 

So, here are five key considerations to weigh before you conclude that social media is “just another customer service channel”

1. Style vs. Substance – I was at a conference of customer service folks recently where the subject of communication style came up.  Specifically, many faced the challenge of “undoing” the training that has been engraned in agents to communicate properly and formally, in order to appear more “real”, less corporate and to speak in the manner that “social” customers expect.  This is not an easy task.  And many at this conference are struggling especially with agents having to flip back and forth between styles, depending if they are tweeting, talking on the phone or emailing.  This is not an insignificant change management quandary.   
Impact: training, culture, quality, recruiting

Recommendation: why not ditch the stuffy corporate speak regardless of the channel?  You’re really not connecting with your customers in any meaningful way anyway when you start your email response with “Dear Sir”.  You’re not establishing rapport by reading some contrived, impersonal phone script.

2. Organizational Structure – This is a really broad topic.  But how customer services reports up through the organization can impact its role in customer engagement via web 2.0 and beyond.  In some organizations, consumer affairs or customer service report into Quality or Manufacturing.  In those scenarios, the focus is very different than customer service integrated with marketing, brand management or PR.  There have been a lot of models put forth in terms of how to organize the social organization, like this early rendition from Jeremiah Owyang: the hub and spoke model.  Depending on where customer service resides, it will engage the social customer in very different ways, for very different reasons.
Impact: corporate strategy, organizational design, performance management, culture 

3. Service Levels and Performance Management – At the same conference where the crowd struggled with communication styles, the discussion also turned to the subject of KPIs.  Because this was a very senior group of veteran contact center folks, they were working within the framework of traditional production-based and cost-centric metrics.  So, I heard KPIs like: posts viewed per hour and responses per hour and average speed to respond.  In social media circles, if you talk about bots and auto DMs and the like, you’ll get a pretty stern response.  Many feel these things cut against the grain of the spirit of social networking.  So, you might want to think twice before trying to automate the process of social customer service engagement, whether via a bot or a human on a timer by applying traditional performance management systems.
Impact: compensation, financial management, training, recruiting, culture, quality management

Recommendation: As in #1 above, perhaps social media and the social customer are giving us a general wake up call in customer service that the tried and true approaches to customer engagement need an overhaul.  Business typically needs an external catalyst for initiating change.  Social media and the social customer are that catalyst.  We lament that customer service has historically been relegated as a cost of doing business.  Yet, we as practitioners in many ways perpetuate that by applying dated business models and metrics.  Its time for different thinking

4. Data & Channel Integration – The techie in me had to raise this issue.  In our traditional contact center customer service world, a customer calls and we collect their entire dossier in the process of the interaction.  We know their name, phone number, email, address….When we engage on twitter, we know their twitter handle and, depending on the tools you’re using, their email address.  Which in my case is not the same email address I use in other parts of my life.  So, who is this @bsdalton I’m talking to?  Check the CRM.  Wait!  I don’t have a field called “twitter ID”.  Ok, so I’m over simplifying this issue.  Way over simplifying.  But, hopefully, you get the idea.  As we add more and more channels of communication, we run the risk of fragmenting further the quality of our customer data.
Impact: marketing, IT, voice of the customer, reporting, customer experience, customer segmentation, routing      

5. Scalability – While very cool and a great start, the two CSRs you’ve taken off the phone and sat in front of Hootsuite and Facebook to engage with your consumers is not scalable.  If we all believe that the social customer will continue to drive engagement in the manner in which they choose and the volume will continue to grow, it will require significant change in the processes by which that volume of interactions is handled.  Best Buy has taken a shot at this problem with their Twelpforce, leveraging the concepts of unified communications to handle the demand for service via twitter.  Technology vendors such as Avaya and Cisco are coming to market with solutions that are addressing this question.  As we start to blend social web interactions with interactions via phone, email, chat and others, new routing strategies, new methods will be needed to scale operations in order to prevent the degradation and, more so, enhance the customer experience.    
Impact: technology, data, training, performance metrics, service levels

So, while there are others, hopefully this is a thought starter that drives your thinking from a different perspective.  Social CRM is not a channel.  Its not a technology.  Its not always what it appears.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Barry Dalton
Telerx Marketing
Consumed by the pursuit of delightful service. Into all things customer loyalty and technology. My current mission is developing new service channels and the vision of the contact center of the future.


  1. Some very interesting points are raised here. How does one approach and define social CRM? The challenges discussed represent new obstacles in which many companies today need to figure out. What’s interesting is that the dialogue is questioning the technology, and what happens when you don’t adapt to its demands. As difficult it as it may be for companies to consider changing their entire business model, it’s not a new concept. For any business to fully adopt and embrace their CRM solution, they first have to redesign the way in which they did business. No longer does the business strategy dominate sales, marketing, and customer service, but rather the customer leads the strategy. Businesses need to understand that if they want to win market share, they have to adapt to a customer-centric model. The same principle applies when we talk about social CRM. Businesses who are ready to take the next step in customer intelligence and organizational cohesiveness need to take stock of their business model and commit to an overhaul. And yes, there will be challenges and obstacles along the way, but that’s nothing new. Over time, challenges will be meet with gains and greater efficiencies.


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