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Social agent workflow: Fitting social media into the contact centre

20th Aug 2012
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Rodney Kuhn outlines how contact centre agents must make the transition from telephones to the world of social media.  

Contact centre agents play one of the most critical roles in the enterprise, with more direct interaction with customers than any other group, and with that a profound influence on revenues, customer retention, and brand loyalty.
With social media changing the landscape (and volume) of customer service, and big data promising to change how we market to customers, it’s imperative that brand-conscious organizations unify the core functions of workforce optimization within their call centres - so that agents can deliver customer service as a competitive advantage.
When properly leveraged, social media can be used to learn more about customers, spot trends, identify influencers, while enjoying the benefits of communicating with customers through the channel of their choice.
But you better get it right: how do you effectively train agents to handle and prioritize the sheer volume of interactions social media requires, coupled with the need to drive cross-sells, up-sells (or collections, for that matter) that go well beyond complaints?
Also consider that many companies have self help/self service plans that handle the easy questions (usually 80-90% of all enquiries), so generally when the call centre does get engaged it usually means a more complicated resolution is required.
This mix will change and we will see a shift toward a new “customer laziness” where they skip call agents and go straight to social channels to get their response - no matter what the issue or “degree of difficulty” of the question. Your agents must be ready to jump in at the precise right moment, and with the right response.
So think before you pull that pin: if you get this wrong inside the call centre, you not only risk customer dissatisfaction, but the doomsday scenario, a viral detonation that you may not recover from (see pink slime).
Pros and cons
Like when we went from telephone to web to email, treating social media as “just another channel” is a huge mistake - you cannot respond at will, but you will need a response!
For starters, figure out a policy on how your company will deal with, or not deal with customer interactions. For example, if you blast United Airlines on Facebook, they will not respond. If you compliment one of their employees, they will respond.
Then, put a policy in place that dictates first what the social media service levels you want to commit to, measure – and improve upon.
Social media radically changes the company/customer communication from monologue to dialogue, and with that change come profound implications that call center agents must understand and become comfortable. 
Consider that agents must be trained to respond within different technologies (video, chat, IM or combination). And what about monitoring and forecasting to better hedge the delicate balance between the correct response and the efficiency of that response? Or, predicting the correct number of agents to put on shift as volumes ramp up or down?  
You may also know what your fulfillment is on an average day. Can you forecast what a non-average day may be, such as when a billing issue appears in customer mailboxes? Are your agents trained on fulfillment and/or customer retention, and monitored and evaluated for each skill set separately?
High agent turnover, a dilemma already, will be exacerbated with social media – how much time do you put into each agent? You could train them upfront, but then it’s a matter of continuous and ongoing 1 to 1monitoring and feedback (can you spell m-o-n-e-y p-i-t?).
Social agent workflow
Taking a step back, remember it’s marketing that, during the early days of social media, were tasked with playing both offense (promotions) and defense (handling in-bound inquiries from social channels).
Marketing is not really equipped to solve customer issues. Promotions? Yes. Craft corporate messaging? Yes. But one-on-one sessions that address specific customer issues? No, and nor should they be.
Thus, if we know a billing error was made, marketing can post on social media channels that the company is correcting the issue, and/or “here is the remedy.”
Or, going back to the United Airlines example, marketing can warn of bad weather, offer rerouting options on Facebook. The call center’s goal is to make sure one-to-one interactions with customers are handled properly and within the newly trained response guidelines.
So how do we get there?
What you will need is a training mechanism in place that can do it in-seat (no travel!); ensure that training/coaching is ongoing and automated; and can be replicated across multiple call centres - so that one does center not outperform the other.
Bottom line, the customer experience must be the same across the board.
Understand also that there is a critical balance between efficiency and effectiveness, and there are two levels of coaching that make agents more effective:
  1. What are our values, what will we and what won’t we respond to?
  2. Evaluate those against criteria, and score them.
At a minimum, frontline agents need a set of best practices to know when to listen to the conversations and when to jump in. Simple text responses will not always be acceptable, and customers may also expect video and audio as part of the agent response. 
A training program should be in place that enables supervisors to say, “This is how we want this response to be”, then coach them “in the moment” “(here is how we want you to evoke empathy…”), and monitor and evaluate in real time. Supervisors should be able to evaluate by individual, group, skill, and so on.
Supervisors should also be able to address the best practices and soft skills that enable agents to utilise the (in-house) systems at their disposal to correctly solve problems, find a solution, or confirm they solved the problem.
Moreover, service and support cases may also have to be created - on the basis of the social media contact - and then continued by other means, such as text, chat, video or even a call with the customer.
Social media provides a new gateway into customer behaviour, important data on market trends, product feedback, brand perception, customers, and customer service.
But it also presents a unique set of customer interactions and needs that can detonate virally if not properly addressed. Companies must be able to train agents to respond properly where a simple text may not be efficient or a full-motion video is required; or when laser-quick feedback will do the trick.
This is a full-on communication channel that requires ongoing and continuous training, forecasting and scheduling; an aggregator to collect and analyse the data; and the ability to measure and monitor the efficiency of agents to respond, all within pre-set service level goals.
Solve that and you can pull that pin and the bounty can be endless. With proper agent training companies can coach more than just the agent, indeed they can “coach the customer” and drive greater ROI across sales, service, marketing and IT.
Rodney Kuhn is a pioneer in the field of CTI and call centre software, launched Envision in 1994. It is best known for Click2Coach, the company’s award-winning product for agent effectiveness and performance improvement. Kuhn’s vision continues to serve as the guiding force behind the development of its newest solutions including Envision Centricity. Prior to founding Envision, Kuhn played an important role in defining computer telephony standards while developing CTI-enabled voice messaging products for Active Voice.

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