The city of Mountain View, CA had a fairly typical community issue to deal with in May. A few census workers were starting to canvas door-to-door in this upscale, decidedly digital corner of Silicon Valley, sparking concerns about their legitimacy. The citizens did not call each other to gossip about it, they tweeted early and often about it, so the Mountain View Police Department met the people where they live. It tweeted back about the legitimacy of the census takers and even made an official U.S. Census Bureau announcement available to back them up.
Granted, Mountain View is Twitter heaven, driven in no small part by the fact that a few Internet companies like Google, Symantec, Intuit, and VeriSign call it home. But the police usage of social media there presents some telling developments about using networks as customer service tools. In fact, experts say they expect companies to find their most practical long-term usage of networks as a connection to customer service, even plugging their contact centers into social networks.
"This is at its early stages for sure, but there are some companies that are already connecting customer service centers to networks, and I expect that these efforts will quickly reach a larger scale," said Ian Jacobs, senior analyst for customer interaction technologies at Datamonitor. "The way to do that will be to link formal contact centers with those networks."
Jacobs, who is author of the report "The Rise of Social Networking and Emerging Channels in Customer Service," says the current state of linking customer service with social networks is rudimentary at best. Much of it takes place through manual scanning of networks such as the Mountain View example. Social media monitoring tools such as Factiva, Nielsen Buzz Metrics, BoardReader, and dozens of others help automate social media conversation tracking. But most interaction on a customer service level happens one of two ways. First: marketing analysts or call center managers scan Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other networks to find potential problems and then reach out to solve them. Example: If a Ford owner in Chicago is yelling about problems with his new Focus, the dealer who sold it can be notified immediately. Second: Executive personalities tend to bring out the good and bad service points about their companies and the minions can follow up. Think Tony Hsieh at Zappo's.
The second wave of this connection is about to break. Salesforce.com has introduced a tool that lets its users monitor, search and respond directly to comments on Twitter, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and other social media, directly from the Salesforce.com system. Avaya, which provides contact center infrastructure for several Fortune 500 companies, the US Navy, and a number of universities, has introduced a new software package called Avaya Aura that uses real-time communications technology to help companies and their employees track more customer touchpoints, including social networks.
"The companies need to have a complete view of the customer, and now they can include social networks in that view," said Laura Bassett, director of customer service solutions for Avaya. "Now an agent can see whether or not a customer has interacted via Facebook, and if permission has been granted, the agent can reach out via Facebook."
Reaching out via social networking sites may smack of big brother, and that's something the contact center companies are struggling with. Both Bassett and Jacobs see an easy jump from a brand's Facebook page to a brand's Facebook customer service page. As an example, Harley Davidson's current Facebook page is all about "Screw it, let's ride." Not exactly conducive to a weekend warrior who can't adjust his broken side view mirror. But if Harley, and most every other brand, could direct customers that need service to a dedicated social network service page, it would automatically expose them to people who might have had the same issue, save on contact center overhead, and enable quick response times.
"But in order to get to a point where they can automate this process, companies need to focus on social networks instead of social networking, because it's the customer they want to communicate with, not the network," said Jacobs. "And silos need to come down internally. Marketing people need to have access to customer service information in order to be able to integrate the two."
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