Destinies entwined: Social media and the multichannel contact centre

25th Nov 2013

There’s a bloodless coup taking place in social media, at this very moment, right under our noses.

While marketing has been the de facto home to corporate social media activity since year dot, an increasing number of businesses are now recognising that customer service is the department that provides the most appropriate hub to deal with Web 2.0.

And the upshot is that customer service is gradually wrestling the reins to social media away from the marketing department.

All of this comes as no surprise to Martin Hill-Wilson, director of Brainfood Consulting and co-author of new book Delivering Effective Social Customer Service: How to Redefine the Way You Manage Customer Experience and Your Corporate Reputation.

“It began in PR and marketing because social media crisis management makes it an imperative, but it also became the hot new channel for marketers to get more engagement. However, the last thing that marketing would have dreamt of was that service was going to pop up in the middle of it,” he says.

And, he notes, this has largely been customer-driven.

“There was some really interesting research from JD Power earlier this year, asking respondents why they interacted with brands on social media – was it for service reasons or for marketing reasons. And the results broke down into three generations, with only the oldest generation more drilled into interacting with the brand for marketing reasons. The other two said they only wanted to interact for service reasons.

“Service has traditionally controlled the agenda by saying ‘this is our telephone number, this is our email address, these are the hours that we’re open and that’s the only way that you can get us’. But on social channels, the customers don’t care how you would like to interact with them, they’re going to post anyway. And as soon as they have a problem, they expect you to respond to them, and not in six hours’ time, but pretty much real-time. That is revolutionary.”

With consumers empowered by social media, marketing has had a rude awakening.  

“The average marketer has woken up and realised that there really are customers on social media and that they are complaining and want stuff done,” continues Hill-Wilson. “So marketers are now asking service if they would like it. The transfer is pretty advanced and the consensus now is that the operational home for social media service has to be within traditional service.”

But not all revolutions are successful. And while the transfer to customer service seems sensible, the inherent danger is that with so many service departments organised along channel lines such as telephony, inbound and email, social media will end up sat in a silo, meaning cross-channel interactions will not be catered for.

“The majority of them are going to do exactly the same thing they have always done – shove a skilled group at the end of a channel that is isolated,” acknowledges Hill-Wilson. “The reality is that most of these channels are still siloed because that’s how we bought them over the last 10/15 years. And social will be managed in those terms.”

He continues: “The fact that social is probably going to be initially dealt with as a separate queue and separate skill set issue is going to become a major problem when we’ve got scale. And social media is going to grow beyond the 10% of contact centre traffic up to possibly 30% in some markets by the end of the year. Anything that is fundamentally real-time – such as travel – is going to drive this use of social more and more.”

Tighter integration

Research from Social Bakers demonstrates that even at its present level, the industry average of customer response to social media enquiries is only 55%, while on Twitter the global average is a response rate of just 32%. And even those that do reply do not necessarily do so in a timely fashion – the industry benchmark for a response on Twitter is 357 minutes, while even that pales in comparison to the average response time on Facebook, which is a whopping 819 minutes.

Hill-Wilson advocates a much more holistic view of social and the other channels that contact centres support - the modern consumer is an omnichannel consumer, and businesses must begin to acknowledge the role that each channel plays within the customer journey.

“Channels don’t die. They multiply. And the real reason why we have so many channels is that when you start to look at them more carefully they’re all good for different things. Every single channel has got unique strengths and weaknesses. If you think of it like that, they all work best at certain parts in a customer journey. So you need to think about when video is good, when text is good, when voice is good. And in that form of analysis, social media has a dynamic because it is visible, and it has particular use as a ‘queue busting’ mechanism.”

So is social media’s destiny set to go hand in hand with another revolution – that of the transition to the multichannel contact centre?

“Clearly it isn’t smart to treat social as a separate channel because it’s dangerous and wasteful. I’d argue for a much tighter integration of everything, and if you do that then we should lose ‘social’ customer service. If social media really signifies behaviourally my impatience as a customer, then operationally we need to construct experiences that are frictionless and fast and cater for the fact that customers are multi-device and coming in over any channel. And that means joining everything up. What we’re talking about is ‘digital glue’, and having a conversation about how we bring the comms, the data and the workflow threads together.”

Elaborating on how businesses could start to structurally and technically transition towards this, he continues: “What is interesting is that if you look at some of the middle office and back office architectures that are now being blueprinted, coming out of omnichannel, they are really concluding that even if you have the whole Oracle or SAP environment done, that is still only a piece of it. We still have to think of the bigger picture. And that is why I think Cloud is very important as an enabler, because it becomes the digital glue to bring everything together.

“Nobody’s actually done this yet, but I would prefer to tell a client to buy a total ecosystem, even if you know that the bits on the ecosystem are definitely not best-of-breed at this point, because if you’re in the Cloud you’re able to swap those out later. In the meantime, everything finally joins up in a way we have never done – front, middle and back office – and the next two years can be spent behaviourally getting the organisation to be a ‘digital business’. You make do with the tech as it’s enough to cause the behavioural transformation. Then, when you’ve got good enough for people to realise that genuinely it’s not good enough anymore, you can swap it for the best-of-breed solutions.

“So when we start to talk about ‘social media’, we then realise that means ‘multichannel’. And it’s like pulling a piece of thread – how big is this final bundle? And it’s actually called ‘social business’ in an embryonic form.”

And what of marketing – the original home of social media – what will become of their role in social?

“Marketing still wants skin in the game and I think that phase two of this whole conversation between the two departments, is to look at it from the social monitoring perspective. This throws up a whole bunch of opportunities for marketers, product development people, service people and everybody really. That activity certainly needs to be cross-functional, and the distribution and leverage of those insights needs to be a co-ordinated one. It would be very silly for that to be fragmented since it all comes in one hose pipe.”

He concludes: “So social is a real force for good at the end of the day, but the prevailing mood seems to be that service is going to own it operationally – but marketing still certainly wants to have a key influence in it.”

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