CRM in the age of social media

Wednesday, 07 December, 2011

The company call centre was once the primary (and a private) port of call for irate or frustrated customers. Now, many are turning to social media, airing their complaints on Twitter or Facebook for the world to see. Robert Allman, of Dimension Data Australia, looks at how to build a competent CRM architecture in this age of social media, and public complaint.

When the modern consumer needs help with a company product or wants to lodge a complaint, the company call centre or website is often the last place they turn. Why wade through website FAQs when a quick tweet or blog post can have a questioned answered or frustration aired quickly?

This is particularly the case amongst young people. A recent survey by global contact-centre provider Sitel found that 15% of 16- to 24-year-olds preferred to contact companies via social media than any other method. Asked what could be done to improve the customer experience, 17% in this age group said “respond quickly when I ask a question on Twitter”. While these numbers aren’t high, they have potential to grow rapidly, and spread to older demographics.

That is why social media leaves many C-suite executives tossing and turning at night. Consumers armed with ‘one-to-many’ communication tools like Twitter, Facebook, blogs and online discussion groups can swiftly turn once-isolated problems, misunderstandings or disgruntled individuals into a torrent of consumer backlash, negative publicity and reputational damage. What’s more, growing numbers of consumers are aware of their power and are increasingly skilful in wielding it.

Qantas provides a recent example. When the company attempted to engage positively with consumers on Twitter - only three weeks after the threat of a mass strike that grounded its entire fleet - the social media backlash was swift. The airline asked consumers to name their “dream luxury flight experience” for a chance to win a holiday. Instead of unleashing a ticker tape of dream holiday flights, Qantas was digitally pelted with messages of frustration and anger.

Even well before this case, enough big brands have suffered a reputational battering at the hands of social media to make it a boardroom priority. But staying on top of potentially harmful complaints is a major undertaking given the scale of the digital terrain companies must watch. Facebook’s 500 million users create three billion pieces of content per month. Twitter’s 75 million users can generate thousands of tweets per minute, like the frenzy of 8868 tweets per second that followed Beyoncé’s pregnancy discovery. Every minute, 24 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. And elsewhere, millions of consumers are posting comments or complaints on blogs, chat rooms and discussions forums, as well as reading posts that others have made.

But what is the best approach for organisations that want to build a robust and resilient CRM system that can proactively and reactively manage social media interactions without being cost-prohibitive? Largely, this depends on the infrastructure and processes an organisation already has in place. However, below are several fundamental steps organisations should consider when building a social media roadmap.

  1. Formulate an organisational social media strategy. Involve all key organisational stakeholders, including customer service, marketing, corporate communications, product, IT and HR teams, and consider how social media impacts their line of business.
  2. Establish which sites are critical listening posts and which ones your organisation should actively participate in. Then invest in tools to automate continual site tracking. There are solutions that exist which focus on ‘negative tone’ mentions of the organisation’s products and services, and can be more cost-effective and sustainable than manual tracking. In addition, such solutions are capable of ranking a specific individual’s social media ‘clout’ and the frequency of their posts to enable organisations to quickly decide the urgency of a negative posting.
  3. Decide who in the organisation will act as a frontline social media response team. For many organisations, this is the contact centre whose long CRM history makes them well placed to add in social media interactions. Dimension Data’s 2011 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report found half of all organisations will manage social media interactions through their call centre by 2014. In 2011, one in five already does. However, some organisations quietly dread an inexperienced call centre operator responding inappropriately or even inaccurately to a social media comment, risking greater reputational damage. But it is possible to allay these fears. Organisations can put formal procedures in place to determine how contact centres manage their social media presence and participation. Training and clear guidelines for contact centre staff on how they engage with customers can help make social media interactions as safe as traditional CRM platforms such as the telephone.
  4. Decide the most suitable deployment architectures and engines to listen, capture, analyse, categorise, distribute and measure social media interactions. Consult third-party experts to see what is available in the market. Often the end-goal is for social media to become another stream into the contact centre, being routed seamlessly to the right agent based on content, customer segment and other technical considerations. Solutions exist to do this and organisations need to look at which ones work best with their existing infrastructure investments.
  5. Decide event handling and response processes. Not every negative tweet or blog post demands a response, and reacting too proactively can seem Big Brother-ish. Learn to detect which comment is a hidden call for help, as well as which ones risk becoming corporate headaches. Any serious allegation made through social media - legitimate or not - that looks like it might be true demands an efficient, accurate and measured response. An open apology for any problem or inconvenience caused is often enough. Then diffuse ‘one-to-many’ communications to ‘one-on-one’ communications by inviting the person to deal with your organisation in person or over the phone so their issue can be dealt with more effectively, and away from the public eye.
  6. Put in place problem escalation procedures. Frontline social media teams can usually deal with most social media comments and enquiries. Typically, these replicate questions a contact centre already manages, such as queries about product parts, service outages, store opening times and so on. But you will need a back-up hierarchy of personnel with strong subject matter expertise that can handle more complex or sensitive interactions.
  7. Make ongoing training paramount. Once you identify teams to manage social media interactions, include social media in their job classification, training and career development structures. Even simulate a Twitter attack on your organisation to test that your processes can handle it, and your corporate leadership team is fully prepared.
  8. Consider any change management that needs to take place. Organisations that are most adept at social media understand its power to damage or strengthen their organisation at every level - from the CEO to the call centre junior. Organisations that pass social media to their marketing team or customer service centre and think the problem solved are setting themselves up as sitting ducks.
  9. Beta test new social media tools and procedures in-house to make sure they work. If you engage with customers via web chat or a live video agent, make sure the technology works every time. Customers expect such tools to perform at an acceptable standard and are annoyed when it doesn’t. It’s also important that social media interactions are handled as swiftly or appropriately as other traditional CRM channels.
  10. Create an effective organisational feedback loop. Build in measurement that tracks how your organisation is performing with social media. And use intelligence gathered from social media - the wisdom of crowds - to correct problems and improve product and company performance to promote greater success.

Beyond its risks to corporate brand capital, social media holds promise to deliver enormous benefits to organisations. Solve a problem on the telephone and only one person knows about it. Solve a problem on Twitter, thousands might be helped. In marketing and sales environments, businesses can use social media to trial new products to targeted followers, promoters and even known detractors. Even sales opportunities are possible through to social media conversations.

In the end, the richest benefits of social media come to fruition when organisations can offer customers a consistently high level of service across a variety of channels and make social media a fertile source of market information for continually improving their organisation and its products and services.

*Robert Allman is General Manager, Customer Interactive Solutions (CIS) for Dimension Data Australia. He is responsible for the general management of the national CIS group with a focus on providing strategic direction and execution, and building strong partner relationships. Allman has a wealth of experience in areas such as customer management strategies, project implementation, contact centre management and consultancy.

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