NEW YORK (CUSTOMER SERVICE EXPERIENCE) - The phone is still the most common channel for customers to reach out to customers, but online engagements are on the rise, according to research from Forrester Research.
"We're seeing a huge jump in the new digital channels," said Kate Leggett, a senior analyst at Forrester, during the morning keynote session at the Customer Service Experience conference Aug. 14. Among these new channels are social media, Web chat, and screen sharing technologies, she added.
As companies look at these new channels, they "need to know and keep track of who your customers are, how they want to communicate with you, and deliver to them on those channels," she added,
Doing, so, however, is rife with problems today, "according to Leggett. "Most companies are a mess of disconnected technologies," she said. "And agents are not being equipped with accurate and timely answers to customer questions.
Leggett further maintained that many companies lack proper data management capabilities, made even more difficult by the volumes of data available through social media..
Thomas Mueller, global director of customer experience at Siegel & Gale, laid out a five-step plan to manage social media interactions. That plan, which his company implemented at Baylor Health System in Dallas, starts with choosing the right social media outlet for the company.. "Not all social media is created equal," he said. "Not all sites are appropriate for different purposes or reaching different people."
For that reason, he suggested that companies go into social media with a purpose and then view each action as an engagement rather than just a chance to publish company information. Because it can be overwhelming, he further suggested that companiess think big but plan in stages, and then they need to connect the dots, he said.
But among the most important, he said the company's Web presence must be consistent across channels.
And then it's important to be able to measure the effectiveness of the social media strategy and quantify a return on investment. Natalie Petouhoff, director of the Social Media Executive Education Program at the University of California-Los Angeles; and Kathy Herrmann, director of measurement and insight at BCF, noted that ROI is possible with social media..
One of the clearest benefits is the cost. "Social media is a lot less expensive to implement," Petouhoff said.
But, social is not free. Companies will need to dedicate people, processes, and technologies to it, she warned.
On the positive side, however, companies can expect higher sales revenue, more consumer insight, greater brand protection, higher lead generation, and more efficiency in call center operations, Petouhoff added.
Other benefits include reduced call and email volumes, greater agent productivity, greater first call resolution rates, and lower search engine optimization costs, she said.
Revenue improvements typically come in the form of higher customer lifetime value, greater product ideation, and a higher lead conversion rates, Petouhoff concluded.
Nonetheless, "embracing social media without assessing the impact to the business could actually hurth the business," warned Clint Oram, co-founder and chief technology officer at SugarCRM.
Despite the risks, companies face greater risks by doing nothing, Oram said. "Don't ignore the social channel. It could really work against you," he said.