Categories
Call Center Articles

Social Media and the Contact Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Should your contact center handle social media for your organization or clients? Perhaps you already are but desire to do so with greater ease and effectiveness. Alternately, the idea of social media as part of your contact center mix may present an overwhelming challenge that you’d prefer to not touch.

Regardless of your perspective, looking at the past can shine a light on the future, providing hope for the haggard and vision for the cautious. That doesn’t mean that all the needed social media integration tools exist today, but we can reasonably expect history to repeat itself. Let me explain by taking a walk down memory lane.

First there were calls, whether inbound or outbound. The answering of ringing phones and the dialing of digits were the sole purpose of call centers for several decades. Aside from some operations that may have also handled faxes and snail mail, call centers were just that, centralized workplaces were agents processed calls. But faxes came and went, as did the art of letter writing, both giving way to the simplicity and speed of a new technology: email.

Email ushered in a philosophical transition in name from call center to contact center, following the increased communication options available to consumers. Email opened up a new channel of opportunity for call centers – and their customers – sparking the enhanced label of contact center. This revised name more fully embraced the expanded service offerings of the quintessential call center. Not far behind email was text chat, a third customer communication channel for the contact center to consider.

In the early days, agents often had to try to handle all three. This was without the benefit of universal queues or even integrated tools. While email could be batched – as long as the delay wasn’t too great – chat carried with it the expectation of a near real-time response. Over time, email and chat platforms actually began to interface with call center switches, eventually giving way to full integration. This allowed for the universal queue, which forever prevented a phone call and a chat from arriving simultaneously while an agent worked on an email.

While some contact centers continue to operate in this mode, with agents switching between calls, chats, and emails as needed, other operations have segregated these tasks, allowing agents to specialize on one function, sometimes even at dedicated centers.

What does all this have to do with social media? Just as in the early days of contact centers trying to handle email and chat with kludged-together tools that didn’t play well with each other, processing social media comments and tweets within the contact center is likewise at its awkward stage. Yes, vendors – due in part to what they learned with email and chat – are doing much better today than they did back then. Still, further progress is needed, though it’s occurring rapidly. If you’ve not recently looked at all the social media tools and solutions for call centers, you’re likely working with an old understanding of what is available. Over time, these systems and software solutions will function better within the contact center and fully integrate with the existing infrastructure – just as happened with email and chat solutions.

However, there is also a new twist that social media provides. While phone calls, emails, and chats all carry with them a need to respond to each one individually, not all social media is that way. True, customer service communications from social media outposts require a response, but other posts, tweets, comments, and likes don’t warrant a personal agent-generated reaction.

Instead, some social media activity rightly needs to be aggregated, considered as a whole rather than in parts. This means being able to spot trends early on and detect potentially viral posts before they become fully inflamed. This allows contact center agents to respond quickly – or escalate the situation, if needed – before an issue gets completely out of control and becomes unmanageable. This is proactive customer service on a higher level.

Opportunities abound for today’s call center, the latest one taking a leading role in taming the social media channel, turning it into one more way to serve customers and resolve problems.

[From Connection Magazine November 2013]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

Categories
Call Center Articles

Follow Us on Twitter

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Last month I wrote about the importance of embracing social media. Regardless how you may feel about it, social media is an increasingly important business enabler that should be part of our overall business strategy. In general, social media can be used as a means to connect with people and their businesses. This means that social media is a tool to provide service to existing customers, reach potential customers, interact with staff, and find new employees.

Calling social media a tool is an important distinction. Like any tool, it can be used for maximum benefit or it can be abused, becoming a huge waste of time. In order to avoid this risk, it may be tempting to summarily dismiss social media – and some businesspeople have. But doing so removes the opportunity to connect with customers, prospects, employees, and job candidates in the medium of their choice. After all, if you want to fish, you need to go where the fish are.

Of the major social media considerations – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and blogging – the easiest to set up and use is Twitter. Essentially, Twitter is a short messaging service that allows you to send public messages to those following you or private messages – as private as anything can be online – to specific individuals. However, these messages must be 140 characters or less. Links can be included in messages, and Twitter will even shorten them to provide you with additional message space.

Setting up a basic Twitter account can be done in just a few minutes. Even if you decide to change the appearance of your Twitter page or upload a graphic, it can still easily be done in under an hour.

Here are a couple of pointers in setting up your Twitter account:

  • Unless you want to make it hard for people to find you, use your name or company as your username. You may have to abbreviate, though, as you are limited to fifteen characters.
  • Use the bio section to tell others who you are and why they should follow you.
  • If you do upload a graphic, make sure the artwork represents your company or use a photo of yourself. Anything else will merely keep people from following you.

Once your account is set up, be brave and send your first tweet. Unless you’re famous, people won’t care about what you ate for dinner or that it’s raining outside; keep things informative or entertaining.

Next, find people or companies to follow. Here are some vendors who appear in Connections Magazine:

  • 1 800 We Answer: ‏ @1800weanswer
  • Amtelco: @amtelco
  • CAM-X: @cam_x_members
  • Etech: @etechtexas
  • Professional Teledata: @pinnacleptd and @pinnaclefreedom

And please follow us: @connections_mag. There I tweet – or retweet – industry news, let you know when a new issue is online, inform you of upcoming events, and provide other relevant information. And if you follow us, we will try to follow you!

[From Connection Magazine June 2012]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

Categories
Call Center Articles

Do You “Like” Social Media?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Whenever the phrase social media is uttered, people have one of three responses: “I love it,” “I’m sick of it,” or “I don’t have time for it.”

Much has been said about social media, and that’s bound to continue, most likely with increasing frequency. Social media is not going away anytime soon – and before that happens, it will become even more prevalent. The nagging reality is that it’s becoming increasingly important for businesses to have a presence on social media. Do you?

While it’s not practical to be on every social media site – there are hundreds – there are some biggies that should be considered: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, as well as blogging.

Connections Magazine on Social Media: Here’s the information for our various social media activities:

We hope that you will be able to make use of these and connect with us on the platform of your choice.

Call Center Vendors on Social Media: We’ve recently contacted industry vendors to find out what they’re doing on social media and to connect with them. About half (48 percent) have a social media presence, while one-third (34 percent) have no social media presence – and the rest did not respond to our repeated requests for information.

Among the vendors we contacted, the most popular social media platform is Facebook, at 62 percent; this is not surprising, given that it’s the world’s most popular site. One-third uses Twitter and one-fourth have company blogs. Also, four of them have company LinkedIn pages.

My Social Media Efforts: Personally, I’ve been blogging since 2008 and now have several active blogs. This has been the primary focus of my social media efforts. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more, but with blogging receiving most of my social media time allotment, these other options have been shortchanged. Next, I will be giving more attention to Twitter. (If you want the list of my social media links, please go to my personal website, peterdehaan.com.)

[From Connection Magazine May 2012]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

Categories
Call Center Articles

Social Media: Opportunity or Distraction?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

For some, the mere mention of it produces a spontaneous smile and causes their eyes to light up. To them, it represents the preferred way to communicate; they would be lost without it. Business leaders seek to stifle it or monetize it. Others groan audibly and roll their eyes at its utterance. Some give it a resigned yawn, quickly tuning out the discussion or leaving the room. Still others are desperately trying to figure it out, while some don’t understand the fuss, and more than a few simply don’t care. The reality is, we should all care, because the future of your contact center may be at stake.

For contact centers, there are two social media considerations. The first is promoting your business, reaching out to prospects, connecting with clients, and recruiting and supporting staff. These opportunities have been amply covered by others, but before moving on to the second consideration, let me ask a pair of questions: First, if your competitor is providing customer service via social media, can you afford not to? Second, if the businesses that tap your labor pool use social media to find new hires, shouldn’t you do the same?

The more weighty consideration for social media is the opportunities that await you in providing additional services to your clients. (While this is of greatest interest to outsourcing contact centers, in-house centers also have opportunities to offer value-added services within their organization – an important factor come budget time.) Consider some of these opportunities:

Email and Chat: These first two, which I’ve covered in the past, provide both a prelude and an entry point to social media. Succinctly, everything you currently do with phone calls, you need to apply to email. Answer email, screen email, route email, add value to email, prioritize email, and escalate email. With chat, which is increasingly an expectation on consumer websites, you can do the same things you currently do for the phone number that is listed there: answer questions, assist with site navigation, and keep visitors from abandoning their shopping cart. Contact centers that are already offering these services are one step closer to embracing social media, but that’s not to imply these are social media prerequisites, just helpful steps.

Facebook: Making a Facebook page is easy. However, to be of use, relevant content needs to be posted and, more importantly, the people who “like” you deserve interaction. When customer service issues surface on Facebook, they need to be quickly addressed. Similarly, if an inquiry materializes, it warrants a speedy response – just be sure to follow social media etiquette; doing sales wrongly in social media can be a painful and damaging experience.

Blog Comments: Most blogs allow comments to be made, but to protect against spam, the comments must be manually screened and approved. This is something that a contact center can do easily, especially since approval notifications can arrive via email. Additionally, a response to the comment is sometimes called for and a dialogue can take place, be it within the blog’s comment section or via email.

Twitter: Although Twitter is a broadcast medium, one that is best left to your clients, sometimes a tweet may warrant a personal response. This is another great contact center service opportunity.

Media Alerts: There are services that scan cyberspace for mentions of a word or phrase, such as a company’s name, a trademark, or an individual’s name. Although helpful, this information generally needs to be filtered. For example, there are scores of magazines with “connections” in the title, so my media alert for “connections magazine” contains numerous false matches. A contact center can receive these alerts, cull out the mismatches, and then process the true matches as appropriate.

Other Ideas: These are just a few ideas. As you investigate social media, you will assuredly come up with more. Also consider LinkedIn, Flickr, and YouTube. Even better, ask your existing clients about their social media frustrations – and then solve them.

For me, in pondering the question posed in this column’s title, social media is both an opportunity and a distraction. I’ve been on LinkedIn the longest, but have yet to complete my profile. I do welcome those who want to become part of my network and occasionally send out similar requests to others, but I’ve yet to actually use it for something practical. Next, after hearing horror stories of the time-consuming and even addictive nature of Facebook, I long resisted it, only acquiescing to it in the past year. Though Facebook held an initial intrigue, the criticism of it being a time-waster quickly proved true. I haven’t “checked” Facebook in weeks; I now use it primarily to communicate with friends who prefer it to other methods – or who won’t respond to email.

Connections Magazine has both a blog and a podcast site. Both were started in 2008, so their three-year anniversary is approaching. The blog (348 entries, serving 1,200 visitors a week) is a means to quickly disseminate news and information, while podcasts of industry interviews (thirty-one recordings, serving 300 visitors a week) are a great way to gain insight from industry leaders. Additionally, the podcasts are available on iTunes.

This year, Connections launched a Facebook page and opened a Twitter account; we’ve also been on Flickr for several years, posting convention photos (but we actually have more photos on Facebook). So far, we’re not on YouTube.

All of this to say, we are simultaneously learning and using social media to provide you – our readers – with options. If any of these seem worthwhile to you, then please check them out – otherwise, feel free to ignore them. Just don’t ignore social media for your contact center – its future may depend on it.

Connections Magazine Social Media Links:

[From Connection Magazine December 2010]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.