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Looking back at last week's Call Centre Expo it's clear to me that Social Media has well and truly made it's way in to the contact centre industry. Social Media seemed to be one of the main themes this year and almost every stand had some sort of social mention, message or product.

Every talk I attended on Social Media mentioned a different set of giant numbers about people using social channels. The numbers were large, the potential loss significant; fear, danger and a sense of loss were the starting blocks for almost all of the messages.

Some even used stats on Facebook to push a product stream relating to Twitter, almost as though the two channels are interchangeable. It seems there is a lot of simplification of the social space.

Social Media engagement was also made out to be simple, straight forward and easy to do. Having spent many years in this field I can assure you there's a lot more to it than just creating a Facebook account or sending out a few tweets.

There was a simplification that seemed to suggest that ALL messages on the social channels are read by all users. This is miles away from the truth. Try following more than about 100 active users on Twitter and you'll soon start to miss messages. Sure; if it's interesting it will come around again through other contacts or followers, but the notion of everyone seeing every message in real time, is a false statement built around nothing but fear about the destruction of your brand. Somethings do go viral, but not every message is read by everyone.

Only two talks I attended didn't mention United Airlines breaking a guys guitar. It's an interesting story for sure, but it's quite old now and there are plenty of other interesting stories to choose from. (a quick Google will bring you plenty of links). The facts used about the share prices affected by this social media incident are also somewhat dubious when you open the data further and many in the social media industry describe these events as a "storm in a teacup".

It was the same message from everyone.

"Pay attention to the Gazzillion of people on Social Channels, otherwise your share price will drop and your brand will be devalued"

It's a classic case of fear, followed by a simple solution to the problem; a system which cleverly filters the social noise to find the messages that matter, which can then be dealt with by trained professionals to engage with the people who matter (i.e those with X number of followers or more). One person even suggested individual complaints don't really matter.

So the message is simple. Observe the social space. Gather all negative mentions of your brand. Filter the noise. Respond with corporate messages. Have trained professionals.

But here's some thoughts:

  • Wouldn't it be better to improve your service/product/business so you had fewer complaints in the first place?
  • Why are people complaining on social channels anyway? Did they try to phone? Did they email? Did they try other channels of communication? Ensuring you have at least one channel for complaints will go some way to stopping the public complaining in the first place.
  • Social Media is not just about monitoring the messages about your brand. What about reaching out to new clients or customers? What about engaging with people in the same domain to build friends, future customers or show thought leadership? What about using social media channels to distribute new content, interesting ideas or to gather feedback?
  • Only one person talked about User Generated Content and building a community. This is the true power of social media. Why did the United Airlines breaks guitar story do so well? It was a message turned in to a song, made in to a video and then distributed through social channels. It was user generated content and it utilised social networks to go viral. Most people don't go to that extreme to complain though. You've got to be pretty annoyed by this point to go to that effort. Couldn't you solve the issue earlier than this, before it blows up?
  • Do you have the resources to deal with more communication channels? Or will it be the same call centre staff stretched even further to deal with social channels too?
  • Are the calculations and decisions made by the tools right for you? Do they detect sarcasm or dry humor? How do they detect a message as SPAM?
  • Are the calculations and decisions made by the tools consistent with other vendors? I doubt it. Is there an industry recognised standard way of valuing social proof and rating each persons communication or potential impact?
  • Does it really matter how many followers someone has? I could have just 4 followers, but they could be the 4 most influential in my domain. Someone else could have 1000, but they could all be spam bots or marketing droids. The numbers alone don't matter, it's the context they exist in and how you feel about the numbers that's important.
  • Will the people responding to the social channels be doing so in-line with your companies values, market approach or marketing strategy?
  • Should all channels be treated in the same way by the same people? Some channels require a different mindset or outlook to others.
  • Will your call centre staff have the autonomy to make decisions or will each response require approval? Or stock responses? How will this affect your staffing and decision making?
  • Which channels should you monitor?
  • Wouldn't it be better to direct all users to a central community site, where their problems or questions may have already been answered? Where they have the chance to air their complaint or question in a safe and trusted environment? Where you have fans and users of your product who want to help each other? A community of people supporting your product, evengelising and letting you know when it fails their expectations?

Yet none of the talks really surprised me. It was the same message, the same problems shown and the same examples used. And the solutions don't surprise me either. In an industry led by metrics it was inevitable that metrics would lead the way with social media solutions too. I think it's too early to say whether anyone has the right solution for the social media and call centre integration. The speaker from Vodafone said the same thing in his excellent talk. There's no one answer.

It's trial and error. It's exploration. It's an adaptive and iterative process. There is no one set way of managing the social media channels. So be cautious of any vendor who tells you they've got it right. There are a lot of contexts out there.

Cloud solutions, with flexible scalability and a rapid agile deployment process catering for change will be the leaders in this field. Those who are listening to their customers will be the ones to help, and even push forward, the evolution of social media in the call centre.

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About Rob Lambert

Rob has been with NewVoiceMedia since March 2010 and works as our Test Manager within Development. His blog will feature software testing with various posts about the hosted telephony market and changes to our domain. Outside of work he loves nothing more than spending time with his wife and three children. He also helps run an online testing community and is the editor of "The Testing Planet".

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