By Luis Echevarria
On a regular basis, most of us log into one of the many social media outlets – LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, to name a few – to keep in touch with family, friends, and acquaintances as well as to promote ourselves within the business world. We see the ease with which gainful connections can materialize among strangers, ideas shared, and new business relationships formed. Why then are so many of us failing to see the benefit of adopting social media technologies and channels of communication as our own business tools?
Today, the use of Web 2.0 technology is growing and changing rapidly within the call center industry, and the longer companies hold back from engaging with social media and other useful communication technologies, the further behind they will find themselves. No longer simply a trend, involvement in social media is becoming a necessity for call centers. Capitalizing on these strategies and channels can build agent utilization and capture sales.
That’s because the standard notion of a call center fails to meet the needs of today’s customer. In its place is the contact center, dominated by new forms of technology that allow customers to communicate with you when and how they want, across multiple channels. These include social media, mobile smartphone applications, live chat, order processing from the Web, and ecommerce systems.
There are multiple ways to incorporate these new tools into your contact center, and when executed correctly they have the potential to boost not only company awareness and customer relations but also your bottom line. However, the key to success is an understanding of the new technology options and the benefits they can deliver.
What Is Social Media? Social media is the online conversation that consumers are having, whether on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or other popular platforms. Social media can also provide the information consumers say they want, and it allows companies to continue to engage after the consumer has provided feedback on a product or service. This version of inbound marketing is actually a new kind of Internet communication built on one-to-one trust.
Retailers understand these trends and are searching for more convenience for their customers, including Smartphone apps, chat support services, and short message services (SMS). With these goals in mind, it’s only a matter of choosing the right tools to incorporate into your contact center.
Using SMS, Chat, and Smartphone Apps
Inbound sales: Building awareness about your company and its products is an important step in developing consumer interest and influencing their decision to buy. So how can you use newer technologies to make purchasing as pain-free as possible?
SMS, or text messaging, is becoming a contact center staple. Upon deciding to purchase an item, a customer can simply text a keyword signifying his or her interest, which will then be routed to an agent within that specific campaign who will respond. As more consumers are on the move and attached to their smartphones (many no longer having landlines), this provides an easy, appreciated interaction. Currently, close to a fifth of my company’s consumer base utilizes text-messaging capabilities.
Once a sale has been made, email follow-ups – such as contacting a customer to inquire about a recent purchase – are a welcome communication among customers, as well as an opportunity for an up-sell or cross-sell.
Chat support services provide consumers with yet another form of interaction with the contact center. As with all of the aforementioned functions, whether or not it makes sense for your business depends entirely upon the nature of your product and campaign. In what language are you selling? Are you selling 24/7? What traffic patterns and types of interactions (complex or easy) do you anticipate? Analyze your needs and potential outcomes, and then fill in the holes with updated forms of communication as needed.
Outbound sales: As with inbound sales, SMS can be utilized to promote a new offering to a specific consumer segment, prompting those interested to send a message requesting a callback. In a similar attempt to simplify the ordering process, some contact centers are creating their own smartphone apps that enable consumers to view new products, place orders, and manage their accounts. In addition, many call centers are utilizing smartphone apps that allow clients to access their project reporting information and statistics in real-time while on the go.
Contact Center Clients Expand Their Reach with Web 2.0 Technologies: Regardless of marketing strategy, brand awareness is influenced heavily by public sentiment – and social media is the perfect vehicle. For instance, when an employee of Avaya, Inc., a global communications firm, noticed a Tweet debating whether to use Avaya or a competitor, the lead was forwarded to Avaya and wound up landing them a $250,000 sale. The employee was a member of Avaya’s “Twitter Army,” compromised of approximately 200 workers. As a contact center, you have an opportunity to support these types of sales.
Still, the most crucial aspect of involving your business in social media is that it remains the absolute best way to cast a wider net and reel in a better understanding of the customer experience. What are your customers’ biggest complaints? Use that information to alter company procedures and standards, if possible. What are the top concerns or questions? Use that to create an FAQ that can be listed on your website – or Facebook page – to prevent callers from taking up agents’ time. Harness social media’s simple power and use it to your company’s advantage.
Getting Started – The Right Way: Commitment is key to success. A weak attempt at social media usage – lacking properly trained staff, policies, and accurate forms of measurement – will do little for a brand and its employees but waste time. Incorporating social media into your contact center requires thought, research, planning, investment, and employee training.
Once executive approval and sponsorship is attained, it will be necessary to train or hire a set of employees whose sole responsibility will be to manage the social media input and output. A senior staff member directing the operation is also recommended. Training sessions and training guidelines are necessary. Though younger employees are generally more adaptable to social media, certain standards of communication need to be set and followed. For instance, are spelling shortcuts allowed (using “u” instead of “you”)?
When incorporating new communication technologies – such as chat support services – into your inbound and outbound campaigns, choosing a specific set of qualified agents to field these requests is also necessary. Some questions to ask your staff are: Who is best qualified to handle customer complaints? Who can type quickly? And for multilingual call centers, who is the most proficient in the selected language? Once you have selected your team, you will need to set standards and train agents thoroughly, making sure to test them before sending them out to field calls.
We should all be taking advantage of these new customer communication tools. Whether through social media, a smartphone app, or chat support services, the key is determining what makes the most sense for your call center – and then making that a reality in 2012.
Luis Echevarria is CEO of Vixicom, a Dominican Republic-based call center.
[From Connection Magazine – April 2012]