Is Your Contact Center Social Networking Yet?
Ian Jacobs, senior analyst for customer interaction technologies, Datamonitor

The last thing you need is another distraction that keeps your contact center employees from helping your customers. So it's understandable if you're nervous about introducing "work"-oriented social networking into their daily regimen. But not doing it may be the greater risk.

According to independent market analysis firm Datamonitor, companies of all sizes are engaging customers and prospects on social networking services. Much of that activity is pure marketing, but some companies are offering customer service and support through social networking. This, according to the firm's new report "The Rise of Social Networking and Emerging Channels in Customer Service," has started companies thinking of ways to connect their key customer service resource—the contact center—to social networks.

The report says these expanding "Webs" of connections lead to viral communications: a customer's uncommonly good experience with a company is no longer heard about just by that person's four close friends, but by thousands. The converse also is true, and complaints about products and services "go viral" very quickly.

"Given the boom in popularity of social networks, enterprises of all stripes have started to look for ways to market their brands to potential customers through these services," says Ian Jacobs, senior analyst for customer interaction technologies at Datamonitor and the report's author. "Whether it is through online contests, coupon and discount offers, or just an extended presence to shine positive light on brands, social networking has become a darling of the marketing world."

The increased corporate presence on these networks has led to service interactions between company and customer. Some of these interactions result from a direct contact from a customer to a company (akin to a phone call into a contact center). But with new social media monitoring tools, companies also are injecting themselves into customer conversations. If, for example, a customer complains to the "blogosphere" about poor service, the company complained about proactively reaches out to the customer to try to solve the issue.

"When done properly, social network-based customer service interactions drive increased intimacy between company and customer," says Jacobs. "Customers feel the company listens to, understands, and cares about their preferences."

According to the report, most customer service and support performed online today on social networks comes from social media specialists within companies. These staffers have the latitude required to understand both the written and unwritten rules of social networking, and can imbue service interactions with personality.

But this model cannot scale to meet the exponential growth online social networking services are experiencing. Therefore, according to Datamonitor, there is an opportunity for customer interaction technology providers to create solutions that provide scalability for these support operations by allowing formal contact center environments to handle some or all of these interactions. Despite advances made in the use of social networking via contact centers, Datamonitor points out there are technological, business process, and cultural hurdles to overcome before this model can gain a strong foothold in the enterprise market.

"Social networks will not be a flash-in-the-pan craze, and will not disappear or burn themselves out," says Jacobs. "Companies that choose to ignore this trend will relegate themselves to the outdated, fuddy-duddy camp—an important distinction depending on a company's desired demographic—and more worryingly, maybe even to obsolescence."

---Source: Manage Smarter July 7, 2009 ( Ian Jacobs is a senior analyst for customer interaction technologies at Datamonitor (










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