Social Media and the Contact Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineShould 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.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of  Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From Connection Magazine November 2013]