For years, some companies have been wary of starting corporate blogs or of making other forays into social media, afraid they would be unable to control what others might say about them in those environments. Now that sites such as the social networking giant Facebook and the microblogging service Twitter have transformed the way people interact with (and talk about) organizations, executives have no choice but to jump into the fray -- particularly on the customer service side of the house. Becoming the latest vendor to promise an immediate grasp of what's being said in the cloud, Parature -- a provider of on-demand customer service software and named a Rising Star in CRM magazine's April 2009 Service Awards issue -- recently introduced to its contact center offering an integration with Twitter.
According to Gary McNeil, Parature's vice president of marketing, his company's clients recognized there were plenty of Twitter messages -- known as "tweets" -- that were relevant to their businesses, but these clients didn't have a good methodology for collecting the content, let alone for taking action. "They wanted to be able to capture it in their customer history, instead of just being able to respond publicly on Twitter saying, ‘I'm a customer service representative, I can help you,' " McNeil says.
Formal integration into existing customer service systems is a pain point that many companies would love to solve, explains Natalie Petouhoff, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. "This helps customer service professionals harness the power of social media," Petouhoff notes. "Up until now, many have had to monitor sites manually."
Parature's integration of Twitter content provides companies the ability to recognize the volume, sentiment, and impact of tweets coming through that channel, allowing comparison with other channels already in use, including chat, help tickets, email, phone, and Web self-service content.
The expanded Parature offering also enables customer service professionals to internally route tweets to the most appropriate respondent -- based, for example, on whether it requires support assistance or merely general knowledge -- and can isolate tweets from other support traffic through the use of what Parature is calling a Twitter Queue. This capability lets customer service representatives (CSRs) examine comments, route them for response, and create reports to determine how many tickets are directly generated from tweets. "The skills-based routing in the service desk allows for the right person to take action on the tweet," McNeil says. "We look at this as just another channel in our approach. Not just having a knowledge base, ticketing system, or forum, but having a bunch of different ways customers can get the answer they're looking for."
But can offering "a bunch of different ways" stretch a support system's limits? Petouhoff points out that many companies risk falling into the trap of having too many channels that aren't properly integrated. "Social media is the cool place to interact with customers," she says. "But how do we do this when customer service already has so many channels and can't get the basics right?"
Petouhoff maintains that social media must be monitored, but that the monitoring has to be done in an integrated fashion with other communication channels in order to provide -- and maintain -- a high-quality customer experience. "What Parature is trying to do here is give the opportunity to see what's being said about you in the cloud, and the advantage is you can see trends in sentiment earlier than you normally can in the contact center," she says.
While Twitter may be at the forefront of the social media buzz, the fact of the matter is that most customer service vendors have yet to offer an official contact center integration. Petouhoff says she evaluates at least 29 vendors for her company's "Forrester Wave" on the sector, and that not only have very few vendors taken the plunge, many of the others don't even have the feature on their roadmaps.
"I think this leapfrogs Parature," Petouhoff says. "For 2010, the only real change is companies integrating social media into the contact center. It's a business transformation tool, and software vendors have to make this change…. It's very visionary and smart for Parature to have done this."
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