Social media is now migrating in full force to the enterprise, with particular importance for contact centers. To find out its perspective on this aspect of business socialization, CMSWire recently talked to customer contact vendor, Aspect Software’s Chief Marketing Officer Jim Freeze.

Earlier this month, Aspect announced a partnership with Lithium Technologies, exclusively integrating Lithium’s Social Web product with its customer contact software and creating a new Aspect Social offering. Lithium’s enterprise social customer platform is designed to assist businesses in using social media to help their customers, and it includes a role-based interface with specific access levels, patented algorithms for scoring social media posts based on such factors as sentiment and follow-up and the ability to follow a conversation thread instead of only posts.

Marketing, Customer Service

In virtually every customer interaction platform, social media is climbing aboard, including those from Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, Kana and others. But a key question businesses are facing is -- where in the organization is social media ending up?

Freeze noted that, in its booming but relatively short life, social media has “often been seen as the province of marketing,” which was focused on an increased social presence -- “more likes on Facebook or more Twitter followers.”

The problem with marketing’s ownership of social media, he said, is that “many customers use social media as a way to find answers to an issue,” so there is less of a connection between how marketing is using the tools then how customers are. “Marketing is not the best for customer support,” the head of Aspect’s marketing effort said. As Lithium Technologies CEO Bob Tarkoff has told news media, “the real power of social media lies in its ability to engage and enlist, not just tally.”

Aspect Social website image.png From the Aspect Software Web site

Freeze added that, while “many companies would probably agree” with the fact that social media is becoming increasingly important for customer service, “lots of companies are still just using listening tools and are not being very pro-active.” They need to move from a “one-way monologue into a social dialogue,” he said.

Leveraging Experience

Freeze said that Aspect Social is specifically built for contact centers, while most social media products being used for customer service are not. Aspect’s tools, for instance, are action-oriented, designed to capture social interaction and then direct them to the proper person. Actions are routed through automatic categorization that includes subject, language and type, responses are prioritized based on urgency, customer know-how and social status, and forecasting can project and allocate social resources.

This approach, he noted, leverages “the existing Aspect platform into social” and builds on the company’s experience. It’s also designed for fully integrated management so that “contact centers can manage multi-channel customer interaction.”

Freeze also highlighted Aspect Social’s unique integration across all channels, so that “customers never have to repeat themselves” if they've started their inquiry about a given issue via, say, email and then moved to phone or Twitter. A survey last June by intent-based solution provider Nice Systems, for instance, found that forty percent of customers expect contact center representatives to already know about their issue, even if they've initially come in through another channel. It also found that, on average, customers are using up to six different channels in customer service inquiries or requests.

Other companies echo this perspective. In an interview last November with, for instance, customer experience provider Kana Software’s CMO James Norwood said that the biggest thing happening in customer service is the “realization by companies that they need an omni-channel solution to the multiple channels.” When they work together and pass the “same context” to the customer, he said, “that’s the Promised Land.”

Customers Choose

Another theme that keeps coming up in discussions with those involved in integrating social media with customer interaction systems is that customers are driving the interaction. Freeze also emphasizes that point, noting that companies used to set up the channels by which they allowed interaction, such as phone or websites.

But now, Freeze pointed out, “if a company has chosen not to enable a channel, it doesn’t mean a customer won’t use it.” A company may choose to ignore Twitter, for instance, but customers are still free to issue tweets praising or condemning that company’s products.

A large difference from pre-social media days, he said, is that earlier channels were often private communications between a customer and the company, such as mail, email, phone, feedback via “contact us” on a website. But social media is different, frequently involving conversations with friends and strangers whether the company is involved or not.

Because of these new dynamics, Freeze said that “customer experience is going to increasingly become the province of the contact center,” adding that the experience needs to be “seamless, multi-channel,” provide one right answer, and have access to the data that’s been mined on that customer. In fact, a recent report by the Customer Contact Association similarly emphasizes the importance of customer experience aligning with customer service.

Aspect’s position is that social media requires contact centers to proactively notify customers for such purposes as informing about outages, changes in service or a problem resolution. In other words, “customer contact center” now means not only the place where customers contact the company, but where the company contacts the customers.