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Social media as the ultimate communication channel

In order to truly comprehend the power of social media, it’s important to grasp the basics and then understand how each affects the contact centre. To get started, remember the alphabet….

In the first of a four-part article series, Shama Kabani and Jennifer Wilson have provided insights on various social media topics broken down by alphabet. This week, we look at social media, from A to E.

Surprising to many, social media is anything but a new concept… it actually spans back almost a decade now with LinkedIn introduced in 2003, Facebook in 2004, and various blogs even earlier. What is new, however, is its overwhelming popularity and continued rapid growth. With over 95 million tweets going out daily, 50 million LinkedIn members, and 750 million active Facebook users worldwide, social media is the fastest growing communication channel, and not just amongst the younger generation. Interestingly enough, 37 percent of Facebook users are over 45 years old, 64 percent of Twitter users are over the age of 35, and 44 percent of all social networking users are between the ages of 35 and 54.

What this means for businesses is that many people, young and old, are sharing and looking for information on social media sites. Therefore, it is in the best interest of businesses to have a plan in place for implementing a social media structure. For starters this plan must include how you plan to use it, how you plan to manage it, and how you engage your internal staff as well as your customer base.

With an estimated 22 percent of all online time spent on social networking sites, it is a trend that cannot be ignored. In reality, more and more people are finding benefits to leveraging social media on a variety of different fronts – from providing product feedback, looking for customer service, or just expressing opinions. While traditional uses of social media were to simply keep in touch and network, this technology became so popular, businesses started to realise this is not just a fad, but a communications channel that they must be equipped to monitor and respond to like any other.

So, how do you decide where to start? What do you need to know? How can you prioritise and manage your social presence? And how does the contact centre fit into all of this? In order to truly understand the power of social media, it’s important to understand the basics, and then understand how each affects the contact centre. To get started, remember the alphabet….

(A) Attract

Kabani: Very few people flip through the phone book anymore to find what they’re looking for. They search online, seeking reviews from strangers and friends alike for products they consider purchasing. Many sites have even incorporated social sites into their product pages, providing users with the ability to ‘like’ a product or share information about it. This not only allows consumers to share their feedback, it can also be free advertising. Keep in mind, most people will research a company before doing business with them, learning what has been said about the company (and its key figures) online. You need to secure your position in the online space to even be a contender in the business world.

Wilson: Building social media into your customer service strategy is most important if you are a B2C business. Adding a blog site with rich content about you increases SEO rankings, making it easier to attract the right business. Other social sites to consider would be a Facebook page or if you are a B2B business, a LinkedIn discussion group. From a customer service viewpoint, these outlets allow your customers to interact with other customers and get feedback, support and ratings on your products and services. The overall goal would be that of self-service and to build brand ambassadors.

(B) Buzz

Kabani: Social media is a seriously underused lead generation tool. The free advertisement of, “Sarah likes Wonder Nail and Spa” to her 1,300 Facebook friends is a way to spread the word about a product and ensure a referral that otherwise might go unnoticed. However, along with the task of creating buzz and getting your name out there comes watching what is said. Monitoring conversations about your brand is one of the most important aspects of social media. Because consumers have been given so much power, responding to ALL feedback is important, but when it is negative, the reaction time needs to be immediate. This also allows brands to capitalise on complaints made about competitors online and leverage their clean brand image against the competitor.

Wilson: The “buzz” gets a lot louder when you do not respond to customer’s negative comments about your brand. Therefore, be sure to develop appropriate metrics for handling social media interactions just like you do with other interactions coming into your contact centre. What should those metrics be? For example, the Average Speed to Answer (ASA) for Social Media should be faster than an email, but slower than a phone call or web chat.

(C) Contact

Kabani: Social “ME”dia serves almost as a baby monitor for consumers. They expect to be heard and responded to (or they will just keep screaming). If you do not maintain that open communication line and accessibility in the consumers’ channels (social networking site, telephone, email, etc.) they will not bother to do business with you. In fact, they may even make it their mission to ruin you. At the same time, take notice of all posts and feedback made. Sometimes just a simple post back to a customer goes a long way when it comes to customer service. The negative will always be a priority, but do not overlook the positive feedback.

Wilson: When looking at “contact” from a customer service perspective, you have to take a different approach than you do with traditional interactions. Very rarely (if at all), do customers interact with your contact centre just to let you know they like your product or service. Let’s face it, customers only reach out to you when they have a problem. In the world of Social Media, your contact centre needs to develop a different mindset – one that adopts a relationship philosophy that responds to the negative or problematic comments as well as the positive ones. Giving customers feedback to let them know you are there and that you appreciate their views helps build brand ambassadors.

(D) Define (your campaign)

Kabani: Outline your specific goals for your social media campaign (i.e. customer service, loyalty, lead generation, awareness, etc.), and work toward them with each post, event, complaint response, etc. Narrowly defining your campaign helps give your brand a stronger online identity, and unites your customers under those characteristics in their social networks. Once you have defined your initiatives, figure out your plan of attack for monitoring these sites. Whether you dedicate resources to do so manually, or implement a social monitoring tool to create a more rules-based automated approach, your social media strategy must include a plan of attack for responding to the channel.

Wilson: Building an outbound customer service campaign can be difficult for many contact centres that have lived in an inbound world – reaching out to the customer base is a foreign tactic. However, defining a social media outbound campaign to post helpful hints, solutions to problems, or product update information will go a long way to building superior customer service.

(E) Engage

Kabani: Why are people participating in conversations on social networking sites anyway? They like the engagement, sharing, sense of importance, and connectivity it gives them. In turn, social media creates a more personal relationship between your company and the customer. Find creative ways to keep them engaged so that they aren’t using your networks as a way to vent only. Having competitions, giveaways, and contests based on content-sharing reinforces that relationship and keeps consumers returning to your online profiles.

Wilson: In the contact centre, engaging with customers is a way of life. As customers call, email, or chat with the contact centre, the customer service reps engage. The same tactic is true with social media – when customers interact with your brand, you must engage with them. For instance, leveraging social site information can help contact centre agents facilitate better conversation with the customer by having insight into their likes and dislikes. This more personalised relationship allows the customer service department to connect with the caller in a different way. Additionally, opening up social sites for support opportunities, helps to create one more communication channel for the customer to reach out to your company.

– Shama Kabani is the CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, a digital marketing agency. Her insight into the social media space is based on her experiences working one-on-one with customers to implement social media strategies for their businesses. Jennifer Wilson is a product manager at Interactive Intelligence focusing in on the social media strategies for the contact centre specifically. The overall concepts that both authors share help to outline some basic guidelines for implementing a social strategy, while leveraging the contact centre to better manage these social initiatives.

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