Within five years, the number of relevant social media interactions with companies will be equal to the number of phone interactions, with 70 percent to 80 percent of them being service-related and requiring swift attention, according to a new report from DMG Consulting.
But this does not mean that the phone is going to disappear as a customer service channel, cautions Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting. "We do not expect the phone to go away, just that more people will turn to social," she says. "People will start in one channel—like the phone—and then move to social."
The reason, she adds, is that people have already learned that they can get a faster response by posting their issues to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter because companies are afraid that small issues or unresolved complaints can quickly go viral, leading to a public relations nightmare for the companies involved.
To help companies navigate the social media waters, DMG compiled its 111-page report, titled "2012-2013 Social Media Customer Service/Contact Center Product and Best Practices Market Report."
"After watching the market for two years, there is finally enough available to identify some best practices from a practical, technological, tactical, and strategic perspective," Fluss says.
The report details how to set up an organization to handle social media interactions, the metrics needed to track activity, and pitfalls to avoid. It also offers insight into the vendor landscape, which Fluss says is very fractured right now.
About 35 vendors in the contact center infrastructure, customer relationship management, and analytics markets claim to have social media capabilities, but none offers a complete solution that handles all aspects of social media interactions from end to end. And, "it will be difficult for any single company to do it all in the next three to four years," Fluss says.
"If you want to do something very basic today, you probably need pieces from at least three vendors: One to find the tweet, one to route it, and one to help respond and track it," Fluss contends. "Ideally, you also need to apply performance management, workforce optimization, quality assurance, and a lot more."
The need for an end-to-end contact center servicing suite, and even best-of-breed applications to address specific aspects of the challenge, is enormous, and will only grow as more organizations get involved in social media, the report suggests.
Among her recommendations, Fluss says companies cannot afford to ignore social media. "It is not going away. It has to be a part of every company's DNA."
A proper social media strategy, she adds, "is not just about responding to tweets."
And then, "the customer-facing service group needs to be involved. It shouldn't just be marketing," Fluss advises.
Fluss strongly urges companies to use the same strategies when dealing with social media as they do for customer issues that come in through other channels. "You want there to be a consistent handling. You don't want one channel to eclipse the others," she says emphatically.
A big part of that, Fluss says, is setting up a universal response time for all channels. "You need a fast response, and then you need to measure that response," she says.
This especially applies to email, where a response time of 24 hours has been considered acceptable. In light of social media's growing popularity, that's no longer the case, according to Fluss. "The handling of email has been atrocious," she says. "A 24-hour response today is not adequate; it's the same as saying that email is not that important and if you need to reach [a company] immediately, use the phone or social media."
That, too, sets a dangerous precedent where customers can hold companies hostage on social media. "You don't want to reward people for channel shopping if they don't like the answer they get on one channel," Fluss says.
The company, therefore, must be consistent across channels, and work toward a first-contact resolution regardless of the channel. "You want the customer's first channel to be the only channel they need. You want a one-and-done no matter which channel it is," Fluss concludes.