Customer Experience, Three Ways to Equip Your Contact Center for Social Customer Service ResponseCustomer’s desire for instant gratification has caused a dramatic shift in the channels they use to contact companies for support. Contact centers must adapt to meet these new expectations, particularly when it comes to social media.

In the past three years, customer's preference for contacting companies has shifted dramatically towards Web-based channels. Social media in particular has experienced huge growth as a customer service channel, with an estimated 47 percent of social media users now engaging with companies in this way.

This trend presents a formidable challenge for companies that receive thousands -- sometimes hundreds of thousands -- of tweets per day. As I learned in a research project I conducted for my company last year, many still struggle to meet these expectations. The project, dubbed The Great Social Customer Service Race, involved tweeting customer service requests to 14 top consumer brands every weekday for a month. They responded just 14 percent of the time on average.

This lack of a response was likely due to a couple of factors. The first is one of strategy -- many companies still silo social media in the marketing department. They don’t even consider customer service as part of their engagement strategy. The second issue is one of process and scalability. Contact centers need to invest in new teams, procedures and technology to really scale their social customer response.

When we made the decision to build a social customer service team, we didn't really have a blueprint from what other companies have done to go off of. We were starting everything from the ground up,” Molly DeMaagd, the Social Media Customer Service Director at AT&T, told me recently. 

AT+T created their team with a small group of three or four people in 2009. Since then, the team has grown to about 70 people and cycled through three different social listening tools to get it right. Similarly, Zappos watches their social customer service page like a hawk. So how is this done?

Here’s three considerations your contact center should make when as they scale their social customer service response.

1. Implement a System to Find + Prioritize Social Support Requests

One of the biggest obstacles to scaling social customer service is often is the volume of messages that need a response. In my “Great Race,” one of the consumer brands received more than 2,000 mentions on any given day. To address this problem, contact centers need a system for filtering out customer service requests, prioritizing them and sending them to the appropriate responder.

Products such as Parature and Salesforce’s Social Hub allow contact centers to find social media customer service messages by listening for combinations of the #CompanyName, @CompanyName or brand mention with keyword triggers. These triggers include words such as “help” or “need assistance.”

These messages should also be prioritized using factors such as urgency expressed in the content and a customer’s purchase or service history.

To give an example of how this might work, imagine a computer manufacturer finds out that one of their products has a defect. They need to disseminate a fix to everyone who’s purchased that computer, so they send out a mass email. Right after that happens, 100 of those customers tweet about the problem and the contact center is bombarded.

In this case, their social listening system might prioritize a response to the customer in that group of 100 that has the most social media influence. The logic here being: if that person gets really upset, they have a greater propensity of spreading that negative message further, faster.

2. Process Social Requests Like any Other Support Interaction

Another common obstacle to efficient social customer service is process. If a customer submits a complaint on Twitter, what’s the next step? Create a ticket? Respond in Twitter with a link? Send an email?

Not having answers to these questions can result in customers not getting a response quickly. This is particularly important on social media where customers expect a reply within two hours or less. In my social customer service experiment, for example, there were several instances where it took more than 24 hours to get a response.

“This is basically the same as not replying at all,” Anna Drennan, the Marketing Manager for Conversocial, told me.

Contact centers should integrate their social listening technology with their ticketing system so these messages can be processed in the same way as any other channel. Once the social media complaint is identified, a ticket should be created that shows up in the service queue along with requests from other channels. When they respond, it’s automatically pushed to Twitter, email or whatever channel makes sense in that situation.

Some systems can even automatically reroute questions to another responder if the message doesn’t receive a response within a given time. Or, the message can be routed to a particular agent based on the content of the request.The system can consider agent expertise, work group, current caseload, average time to respond, and service satisfaction rate.

3. Ensure You Deliver Social Support Requests with the Right Contextual Data

When customers call, email or chat for support, they expect the agent to know what they've purchased and what interactions they've had with support in the past. Also, having this knowledge helps agents resolve issues faster because they have the full context.

This same logic applies to social customer service. If a community or social media manager is manually monitoring Twitter and Facebook, they won’t have the complete customer context on hand. As a result, they likely wouldn't flag a complaint as critical because they won’t know that the customer called the hotline, emailed three hours ago and then tweeted, for example. Similarly, they wouldn't have a quick reference to identify loyal and high-value customers that might warrant a faster response than others.

For this reason, it’s important that companies have a social customer service point person that works collaboratively with the marketing team. They need a clear process for tagging messages that go to support, then triaging those through the ticketing and/or CRM system.

These are just a few considerations call centers need to make when accommodating the new social customer. What sort of lessons has your support team learned since responding to social media requests? Join the conversation with a comment below.

Title image courtesy of hoperan (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read another take on the changing face of contact centers in How Communities Can Help You Get "Unstuck" and Delight Customers