Social Customer Service in the Contact Center: 7 Best Practices

A formal customer service social media group could be a boon to your contact center. It could be tasked with developing an efficient strategy to manage channels like Facebook and Twitter—to benefit customers and the business.

Assign members to the group who are socially savvy. For the uninitiated, social media can be intimidating, so give some of your in-house millennials (who grew up in the Digital Age) a shot at wrangling the social beast. Be sure, as well, to add experienced customer service staff to the team.

When handled skillfully, customer service via social media can enhance the customer experience and even create brand loyalty that is infectious. This is the potential impact of 24/7 customer access, instant communication and quick problem resolution.

In a nutshell, social can be a valuable ally for your brand, so it’s worth making the effort.

A very public forum

Social media is also a highly visible forum for disgruntled customers to complain.  A gripe can speed around a social platform, spreading vitriolic negativity wherever it goes. This is even more of a reason to manage social media for your brand.

You need to be where your customers are—both to boost engagement and to thwart destructive comments. And your customers are on social. In one JD Power survey of more than 23,000 online consumers, 67 percent of respondents claimed to have contacted a company via social media for support.

Customer expectations are rising when it comes to social media. It used to be a pleasant surprise when a brand responded to a customer care issue on social media. Now, it’s become de rigueur for companies, meaning that sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become important channels through which consumers solicit and receive customer service.

Social media and customer lifetime value

With social media in your pocket, you have a better chance of retaining customers—because you have a better chance of keeping them happy.

Here are seven ways to provide great customer service through social media:

  1. Choose the right platform(s): Determine where to focus your social media time and resources by searching for mentions of your brand within popular social sites. If your customers aren’t talking about your brand online, look for ways to include yourself in conversations and add something of value.
  2. Monitor for mentions: Use available tools to automate the process of searching for mentions. Collect and analyze customer activity to better understand their issues and to respond appropriately. Use insights to make decisions for improving customer service.
  3. Respond quickly: Your company size and industry vertical will affect your social metrics. You may need to sift through a lot of “noise.” You may also need a customer service platform that can integrate with social media and turn certain messages into tickets—with a caveat: In the fast-paced world of social media, speed of response is critical, so assign priority accordingly.
  4. Adjust your tone: Be friendly, but not too friendly. While chumminess, including emojis, is acceptable between friends and family, don’t necessarily expect a warm welcome when they come from your business. As a general rule of thumb, keep language concise and professional, but avoid canned responses and be personal. You may have to strike a different tone with each customer, adjusting based on the responses you receive. What tickles one person might offend another.
  5. Take heated issues offline: Customers can be unfair and demanding. Tactfully and quickly, take negative conversations offline before they do damage to your brand. Placate the customer while signaling to online observers that the issue is being handled. Don’t simply pass the customer to another channel, like email, as that can come off as rude and non-empathetic.
  6. Leverage your database: Save yourself time and make life easier for your customers by linking to knowledge base articles. Rather than explaining complex processes over social media, provide easy guides built to help. Furthermore, use your CRM software to leverage customer histories that can add value to social media conversations.
  7. Know when to switch to crisis mode: One or two complaints are manageable. If 100 customers are mentioning the same problem, it’s a crisis for your brand. Make sure you have a planned response: Have a trusted PR firm on retainer, or a company leader prepared to address customers directly.

Use these seven social media best practices to deliver great support on the social platforms that your customers already frequent. You’ll build stronger relationships and create more loyal customers.

Five Ways to Meet Customer Expectations in the Digital Age

We all know by now—at this point in the Digital Age—that customers are strongly influencing how businesses operate. Events have transpired to flip the traditional sales model on its ear.

Whereas companies used to hold at least some of the cards—developing “solutions” for customers who didn’t know how to solve their own problems—now consumers are armed with data to define solutions for themselves.

The new reality is that consumers today are self-reliant, mobile and demanding. They can quickly do their own research on-the-go via the Internet, but then they expect prompt delivery of the products and services they desire. Along the way, when they bump up against your brand, they expect a personal and stylized interaction.

Fail to understand and/or adapt to the new rules of customer engagement at your own peril. Your key targets are texting, tweeting, browsing and chatting, often using self-service channels, peer-based communities and social networks to find service. A poor response from you and they’ll simply go elsewhere.

To make sure you know how to deliver great service and build strong relationships, take a look at the following five consumer expectations for contact centers, based on an Aspect report:

  • Understand preferences and personalize interactions: Sixty-eight percent of consumers say they’re annoyed when they have to repeat themselves. This means you must maintain the context of every interaction with customers, including between channels. Use this information to dynamically adapt a self-service menu or provide an agent with a customer history. Leverage it further to proactively deliver a service before a customer asks for it.
  • Offer mobile channels: Customers want to interact with brands any way they prefer—from SMS to voice to chat to social—on their mobile devices. Deploy mobile apps that create a seamless transition when customers call into an IVR or connect with an agent.
  • Enable self-service: Provide an omnichannel self-service offering. It’ll lower your costs while aligning your contact center with customer preferences. Another benefit is that this option elevates your agents to experts on complex issues, since most people contact companies only after exhausting other potential resources.
  • Don’t be a time drain: Yes, consumers want fast and easy access to information; after all, they’re only human! Some 66 percent of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to win their favor. As many as 45 percent of U.S. adults will abandon their online purchases if they don’t receive a quick answer to a question. Consider that lowering customer effort can be as simple as being where they are. For instance, embed an instant chat button on your website or streamline self-service menus based on frequent behaviors or a recent transaction.
  • Educate: Well-informed customers are more likely to become loyal brand advocates—veritable extensions of your customer support team. Plus, by offering relevant information, you help your customers discover new and improved ways to use your products or services.

Of course, to meet these expectations, you’ll need to access modern technologies and tools. For example, a workforce optimization solution can be the cornerstone of agent performance and productivity, leading to better customer experiences. In addition, plan to optimize your CRM system using experience continuity data to intelligently route inquiries. You can also deploy cloud, hosted or hybrid solutions to gain flexibility and enable rapid adoption of new features that will keep you competitive.

Understand, Anticipate and Act on Customer Intent

Improving the customer experience has been identified as a 2017 critical priority, second only to growing revenue, for 37 percent of marketing decision makers, according to a Forrester study. To achieve this goal, consumer intent must be the cornerstone of your marketing strategy.

As digital continues to disrupt business processes and practices, organizations must take a new approach to customer engagement—one that anticipates and acts on consumer intent across channels. In this way, companies can create moments that matter for consumers and drive successful outcomes.

Technologies for assessing customer intent

In 2017, forward-thinking businesses will leverage the following three technologies to impact operations and improve the customer experience: Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

Rather than simply analyzing data to understand how customers have behaved in the past—to predict future behavior—companies will leverage machine-to-machine communication through IoT devices and sensors to deliver personalized support, like fixing a product problem before it happens.

Best practice for intent-driven customer engagement

Channel-centric customer engagement is a popular contact center model today. Yet, a focus on optimizing performance within channels is more of a passive, or reactive, approach to customer interaction. This can end up disappointing customers.

Instead, an intent-driven customer engagement model uses data to anticipate a customer’s intent during the purchase journey. The intelligence thus gained allows marketers to present customers with intelligently selected next steps.

Applications in the contact center

Chatbots: According to a 24/7 article, AI-powered chatbots are emerging in more businesses to better handle inquiries efficiently and at scale. Since 93 percent of U.S. consumers use the Internet for research before making a purchase, a chatbot function will become critical to customer satisfaction. Chatbots like Siri, Cortana and Facebook’s Bot Engine for Messenger are already familiar to, and popular with, consumers. In 2017, 24/7 predicts that chatbot technology will extend beyond messaging apps to empower customers with self-service on several channels, including SMS, mobile apps, email and phone.

Communication channels: This year, progressive companies will begin to orchestrate the customer experience by pairing communications channels to ease customer interactions. Logical pairings might include Web and phone, chatbot and live chat, or mobile app and IVR—depending on each business’s unique needs. Leaders will apply AI and ML techniques to company data (customer profiles, histories and relationships) to gauge consumer intent. In turn, this intelligence will allow organizations to deliver experiences that exceed customer expectations.

Personalized marketing: How businesses market their products and services will be significantly aided by advanced technologies that help determine customer preferences in product features. This year, more companies will start to use cognitive science to gain consumer attention. Advertising and marketing campaigns aimed at individuals will funnel results back through ML models to continually improve outcomes.

Intent-driven customer engagement is about understanding your customers—who they are, what they’re doing, the channels they’re using—and leveraging insights gained by employing today’s advanced technologies to deliver the optimal customer experience.

 

The Future of Measuring Contact Center Performance

Contact center performance ratings are currently based on scorecards that attempt to balance the reporting of key metrics across the spectrum of efficiency, effectiveness and customer experience. The customer experience portion—the most critical reflection of contact center performance—is typically gathered by surveying customers post-contact.

New ideas about measuring contact center performance are focused on tracking actual customer behavior—not what customers say they’re going to do, but what they really do—post-contact. The ability of a contact center to implement this tracking and use it to optimize performance will depend upon how well contact center leaders respond to the following evolving contact center trends:

Technology: Thanks to gigantic technological gains since call centers were born 40 years ago, integrated contact center software, especially in the cloud environment, can generate a holistic view of the customer journey. Insights gained are allowing contact center managers to personalize communications for a better customer experience. It won’t be long before a single set of unified software technologies emerge that will further coalesce and analyze data, improve operational efficiencies and heighten customer satisfaction.

Communication channels: Today’s communication channels—including voice, chat, email and social media—will continue to expand, challenging contact centers to keep up with user demand. Video chat, anyone? SMS, or texting, has vast potential, as a communication tool, as evidenced by millennial usage of the technology. In fact, a Gallup poll found that text messaging is the dominant form of communication for Americans under the age of 50. Fully 68 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they texted “a lot” on the day prior to being interviewed.

Self-service: To optimize contact center performance, decision makers will also need to expand self-service options across channels. Yet in tracking the customer journey in the days ahead, companies may find that customers are reaching out to each other in collaborative forums instead of engaging with their contact centers. If this is not an ideal scenario for your organization, you may want to put processes in place to enable your facility to deliver value and information not attainable elsewhere.

The ongoing digital transformation will enable contact center managers to learn how customer interactions impact future customer behavior, including repeat purchasing and retention. This information will enable forward-thinking leaders to adjust processes to enhance the customer experience.

Customer Experience Predictions for 2017

Customers are leading businesses by their noses into the new year. Some companies are going kicking and screaming into 2017 while others have geared up to meet the demands of a customer-driven marketplace and are sliding more comfortably into the future.

Arm-in-arm with keeping up with customer demands, organizations primed for ongoing success have delved into everything digital. From banks to retailers to manufacturers to utilities, businesses are ramping up digital efforts to maintain or grow their customer bases.

A new Forrester report, “2017 Predictions: Dynamics That Will Shape the Future in the Age of the Customer,” expects one-third of companies in the business-to-customer space to change their business structures to enhance the customer experience. This is to counter the ease with which today’s customers switch brands when they experience a negative interaction with any one company.

The Forrester report indicates that 40 percent of customers have a high willingness and ability to shift spend, with an additional 25 percent building that mindset.

What was once considered just a millennial trait—rewarding or punishing companies based on just one experience—has become universal. Forrester says it’s now the norm for all generations of consumers. The research and advisory firm predicts that revenue risk—from customers shifting spend to a competitor, and from brands’ inability to enrich—will increase by 25 percent to 50 percent.

This outcome will drive companies to speed up their customer experience initiatives, as well as widen efforts to compete in a customer-led market, as follows:

Emotions will drive process transformations: Adequately measuring the impact of human emotions on buying decisions has been a challenge for companies, meaning their core processes and experience designs are missing key components. After all, brand loyalty and spend have long been governed by how customers feel about a brand.

Forrester anticipates that a few companies will make important inroads in 2017 into what drives consumer decisions to better guide experience design and operations. Some are currently piloting emotion-recognition techniques to measure physiological responses, as well as employing old-school ethnographic research. The latter is the systematic investigation of a culture through in-depth study of the members of the culture.

Microdesigning the customer experience: In 2017, marketers will be pushed to deliver experiences that delight customers, as well as boost revenues. Yet engaging modern day customers—who are in a constant mode of multitasking and distraction management—is a trick and a half. For years, marketers have mapped the customer journey from initial touchpoint to purchase to gain insights into customer needs. This practice has proven fruitful, but in 2017, customer experience professionals will need to develop new ways to differentiate their brands.

Forrester believes that marketers will drill deeper into the customer journey in the upcoming year to identify those micromoments where customers are paying close attention, most anxious to resolve a pain point, and clearly appreciative of the solution’s value. This sort of detailed research will require many organizations to first integrate disparate analytic tools and processes. Only then will they be able to design and deliver an optimal brand experience.

To prepare for 2017, take a good look at your organization’s processes for engaging and satisfying customers. That’s your ticket to success in the age of the customer. Identify what needs to change to ensure your profitability next year and beyond. To offset revenue risk, prepare to make those changes as soon as possible. Best wishes for a secure and plentiful future.

Technology to the Rescue for Government Agency Engagement

How is your agency operating these days as far as engaging with the citizens you serve? Ideally, you would answer that citizen engagement has been a key priority, so you’ve modernized your contact center and improved the citizen experience overall.

The contact center provides a critical path between constituents and the state workers who deliver customer care. New communication methods employed in these centers enables government agencies a means to improve citizen engagement.

A 2016 infographic encompasses the results of a Governing Institute study, “Citizen Engagement Modernization in the State Contact Center,” showcasing how state agencies are positioned today, along with the technologies and resources that will take them to the next level in citizen engagement.

The research identified areas of need and gaps facing government institutions, as well as ways to better address these issues by modernizing contact center technologies. For example, of the 129 state and government officials surveyed, 72 percent agreed that digital communications are the fastest-growing form of citizen-to-government communication. Yet, a majority of their contact centers don’t support popular digital communication channels like interactive voice response (IVR)/self-service, mobile apps, or online messaging or chat.

The study included a look at how changing societal methods of communicating in the Digital Age have raised citizen service expectations. They expect the same well-oiled machinery of modern communication—instant access to information via mobile devices like smartphones—to be replicated by every service organization with which they connect. This expectation is especially well-formed among millennials (citizens born between 1980 and 2000), who were raised on digital technologies.

These generational and cultural shifts have resulted in the accelerated uptake of technological innovations across a wide swath of businesses and industries.

Study findings indicate that state governments recognize the changing environment and are prioritizing technological initiatives to meet the needs of citizens. These initiatives include comprehensive self-service strategies, engagement through digital channels and advanced knowledge management solutions.

Respondents say they’re improving the efficiencies of contact center staff by employing self-service offerings; however, only 20 percent use knowledge management solutions. And while 26 percent of respondents claim to be making access to internal policies and procedures easier for citizens, 22 percent acknowledge that data sharing capabilities are an unmet need.

If your contact center can focus on just a few avenues for improvement, these three areas are key: digital communication channels, self-service and streamlined processes. Make the moves now to put you in good stead with citizens and customers in the future.

Change Your Employee Performance Metrics to Better Reflect Customer Engagement

Are you aware that customer engagement and customer satisfaction are two distinctly different metrics? A recent Gallup poll sheds light on the differences and how each can be measured most effectively.

Gallup confirms that engagement is a much higher bar to reach than satisfaction. One doesn’t necessarily follow from the other, and both are strategic choices for companies looking to grow business revenues.

Half of all customers in Gallup’s customer database say they are satisfied with a given brand, but only 38 percent say they are engaged with it. Gallup gives examples for each metric. For instance, a retail business may earn customer satisfaction by offering great sales, discounts and deals. But it will engage customers if its salespeople go out of their way to be helpful.

Four possible combinations of the two metrics were identified by Gallup: 1) low satisfaction/low engagement; 2) high satisfaction/low engagement; 3) low satisfaction/high engagement; and 4) high satisfaction/high engagement. No. 4 is obviously the ideal situation, and No. 1 is a sure miss.

Ranking in No. 2 or No. 3 can be valuable—but only if following from a company’s leadership and strategic aim to be there.

Gallup defines No. 2 customer relationships as ones of “convenience,” meaning that either price or product features are appealing but customers have no strong emotional connection with the brand. Here, customers want what the company offers—not the company itself. This is a perilous position for brands because customers will simply leave if another brand offers more bang for the buck.

Companies that rank in the No. 3 category are known for their emotional connections to customers but hardly rational aspects of their products or services. Think highly successful, upscale hotel chains and theme parks.

How can companies drive employees to performances that help them reach the ideal No. 4 category of both high satisfaction and high engagement? Start by measuring the right metrics; identify the specific actions that keep customers coming back and purchasing more. Spreading a positive message should be the primary focus of training and management efforts.

Senior leaders are the only ones in a position to instill organizational norms that engender greater customer satisfaction and engagement.

Here’re Gallup’s four key strategies for advancing within each category:

  1. Clarify the purpose and mission: Only a well-defined mission can drive purpose effectively.
  2. Reverse-engineer the culture: Organizational norms must serve the mission.
  3. Invest in what matters: Highly successful organizations invest time, energy and money into advancing their missions.
  4. Measure the right things: If you want engagement, measure customer “moments” as locally as possible.

Consistency and persistence across these four areas determine a company’s value proposition to the marketplace, says Gallup.  Senior leaders must be intentional in connecting mission—whether customer satisfaction, engagement or both—and strategy to turn organizational norms into strengths.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Engaging With InfoCision Is Now Easier Than Ever

We’ve taken our own advice—often shared with clients—and redesigned our website to be more user-friendly and responsive, easy to navigate across devices and intuitive for information searches. Perhaps most important, we’ve added mobile-friendly to its attributes.

InfoCision.com is now cutting-edge. It speaks to who we are as a company, and conveys a precise message to existing and potential clients. That message incorporates the willingness and readiness of InfoCision to meet the demands of a modern, digital user base.

The website’s new platform allows us to keep the site updated—in combination with bright new colors and visuals—so users, from employees to new hires to clients, can keep abreast of all things InfoCision. Users can even connect directly to our social media accounts from the website. Today’s updated website opens the wide world of InfoCision to users.

You’ll still find all the quality content you’re used to finding at InfoCision.com—just repackaged to better meet your needs. We’ll continue to publish employee and client testimonials as well as comprehensive articles about contact center news and best practices. During the next phase of our website overhaul, we’ll also restyle my blog to better sync with the new website design. Keep an eye out for the upgrade as well as my ongoing informational messages about our industry!

As part of the redesign, we’re especially proud to offer mobile users an easier platform for connecting with us. Mobile devices have changed the world in the last decade. Who doesn’t carry a smartphone with them 24/7?

If you haven’t refreshed the look and feel of your website recently, consider the benefits. Take a spin around the new and improved InfoCision.com to see how our upgraded website will help us rank higher in SEO searches and customer engagement.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.

Where You Should Engage With Certain Demographics for Best Results

To create brand engagement, companies must learn the ins and outs of how consumers communicate across the multiple channels available today. Understand that each brand—and even each brand offering—has a unique base of potential and existing buyers. In other words, don’t spend time learning where millennials engage with brands if your products or services aren’t aimed at that demographic.

With that being said, let’s look into research from SproutSocial and Pew Research to see where certain groups are clustered on today’s major social media platforms—and ripe for the picking:

  • Facebook: By far, Facebook (FB) is the most popular social media site, used by 71 percent of online adults. Here, you’ll find that women (77 percent) are better represented then men (66 percent)—but, still, both sexes are more present on FB than on any other social platform. Age-wise, there are more millennials (87 percent) than any other generation on this site. Usage actually declines with age; nevertheless, a majority of the over 65 crowd (56 percent) uses FB. If your business is international, be aware of FB usage differences by country. For example, while the United States represents 14 percent of the FB audience, Mexico represents just 4 percent.
  • LinkedIn: Usage of this platform (28 percent of online adults) continues to grow. Known widely as a social platform for business, it’s no surprise that demographics for the site include a higher average income (44 percent of adults make over $75,000) and education level (50 percent graduated college). A vast difference exists between urban (32 percent) and rural (14 percent) users.
  • Pinterest: You’ll find a high percentage of female (42 percent) vs. male (13 percent) users on this social platform. Plus, this is the one major site used by more rural (30 percent) than urban (25 percent) adults. The network (as with every other major social platform) does skew younger—with millennials at 34 percent, compared to seniors at 17 percent. The site is more popular, as well, with higher income (over $75,000) earners, 34 percent, than lower income (less than $30,000) earners, 22 percent.
  • Instagram: Twenty-six percent of online adults engage in photo sharing on this social media site. Millennials dominate usage (53 percent) compared to other age groups—from 25 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds to just 6 percent of seniors. Here you’ll also see a significant difference between urban (28 percent) and rural (19 percent) users. Plus, more women (29 percent) than men (22 percent) are fans. It’s also the one major platform that does not have college graduates (24 percent) as the top education demographic; that honor goes to users with some college experience at 31 percent.
  • Twitter: Used by 23 percent of online adults, Twitter is a fast-paced and high-volume social media platform preferred by the 18- to 29-year-old crowd (37 percent). Usage skews down significantly with age, as just 10 percent of 65 and older adults partake of its offerings. Twitter is also used significantly more in urban (25 percent) than rural (17 percent) areas. The platform is differentiated by education level as well. Thirty percent of Twitter’s audience has graduated college vs. 16 percent who have high school degrees or less. The Twitter audience also skews higher with adults earning over $75,000 (27 percent) vs. less than $30,000 (20 percent).

Although it doesn’t have the large user base of the platforms listed above, you may also want to consider online search engine site Google+ for building your brand’s presence. YouTube is another great option if you have video content to promote. Snapchat, too, has gained prominence as a social media site—where content lives for 24 hours, tops.

Work to align your marketing efforts with the consumers you hope to target—but keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to have a presence on every social platform. Instead, choose the right channels for your brand, and use them to deliver meaningful content. In this way, you’re more than likely to develop customers loyal to your company’s products and services.

Steve Brubaker began his career at InfoCision in 1985. In his current role as Chief of Staff and as a member of the Executive Team, he is responsible for HR, internal and external communications, and manages the company’s legal and compliance departments. Brubaker is a member of a number of professional organizations, including the DMA, SOCAP, and PACE. He also donates his time to serve on several university boards, including the Executive Advisory Board for The Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing at The University of Akron and The University of Akron Foundation Board. He is a frequent speaker for national events and has also been honored with a number of awards and recognitions for his contributions to the call center industry.