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The world of customer service is changing. The accepted wisdom used to be that for every unhappy customer, you could count on 11 more customers (or potential customers) hearing about the unfortunate situation. But now, without even picking up the phone, just a few clicks on a keyboard and an Internet connection can spread one person's opinions to millions of people worldwide. Web 2.0 is transforming the way people are expressing themselves. People are using the Web to broadcast their frustrations, look for companionship, and seek solutions to their problems by tapping into the power of online communities.
Consumers are becoming accustomed to and demanding instant access and rapid results, including immediate resolution of any issue or question. This demonstrates how the Internet and Web 2.0 social networking applications are changing the dynamics of customer service in the 21st century.
Web 2.0 is the broad term used to describe the evolving use of the Internet as a technology platform to enhance functionality, communications, and collaboration. It encompasses the explosion of Web-delivered content, interconnectivity, new applications, and the way that always-on, always-connected people have built relationships with one another centered around content and like interests. It involves enhancing communications and information-sharing and the way in which companies, customers, and prospects interact. The most prevalent Web 2.0 applications are found in social networking technologies such as social networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook), blogs (LiveJournal, Xanga, MySpace), online communities (Yahoo! Groups, Del.icio.us, Google Groups), user-generated content (YouTube, Epinions, CNN iReport), widgets (WidgetBox, Snipperoo) and wikis (Wikipedia, WikiWikiWeb, WebPaint).
Social networking technologies are here to stay and they're one of the most disruptive forces in business since the introduction of the Internet. The market for these applications is strong and growing: Gartner estimates that spending on this software neared $400 million in 2008; IDC Research says revenue among social networking vendors has grown 191 percent; and Forrester Research predicts that, overall, Enterprise 2.0 spending will reach $4.6 billion by 2013.
In a tough economic climate, companies must prioritize customer retention, loyalty, and enhancing the customer experience. Technologies such as Web 2.0 that make it easier and more convenient to conduct business with a company go a long way toward improving the customer's experience.
The Dynamics of Communications Have Changed
In many companies, "skunk-works" (trial) Web 2.0 projects are taking root throughout the enterprise, particularly in the technology, sales, and marketing departments. Contact center managers need to get involved with these projects because the contact center is the primary point of interaction with customers. Contact center managers should capitalize on the unsolicited feedback provided by the social networking applications and use this information to tailor systems, services, processes, and channels to better support customers.
When customers initiate contact with a company, they're generally saying "Help me! Listen to my complaints and compliments and help fix my problem." Companies that implement social technologies are broadening their customer relationships by offering service in each customer's preferred channel. (See Figure 1, below.)
Once contact center managers understand their customers' communication preferences, they can work with marketing to develop complementary service solutions. This responsiveness to new technologies can help improve and strengthen customer service, the customer relationship, and the company's brand.
Why You Should Care about Web 2.0
Contact centers have to keep pace with changing technologies and customer preferences or they will risk losing customers. Web 2.0 is a powerful tool that can be used to their advantage. Armed with timely and near-real-time information from social networking applications, enterprises can develop appropriate responses, mitigate bad publicity and build processes that allow them to respond to and head off service issues before any spiral out of control.
Contact center managers should begin to incorporate Web 2.0 social networking technologies and applications into their customer service processes. They must modify their procedures to incorporate the highly valuable and near-real-time input from these unstructured and unsolicited communications channels. Contact centers can use these social technologies to accomplish the following:
- Rapidly identify and solve customer service issues via community forums, providing a form of one-to-many response. This will reduce call volume.
- Solicit customer feedback on products and services in an informal, unstructured, and friendly manner using community forums.
- Mitigate loss of consumer confidence by heading off negative publicity.
- Serve as an "early warning" system about what is on customers' minds.
- Join in conversations and address rumors and innuendo about the company before the discussions get out of control and generate negative publicity.
- Attract a new generation of customers and agents who enjoy using these forms of communication.
- Leverage "customers as experts."
Overall, businesses can use Web 2.0 technologies to improve the customer experience, reduce call volume, collect new ideas, rapidly share information, enhance information flow, and educate and update the public. But while these applications offer many strategic and tactical benefits, the bottom line is that enterprises no longer have a choice. Customers are using social networks to voice their opinions, whether or not the organizations they are addressing elect to respond. A growing percentage of customers are not satisfied with static Web sites and telephones as their primary means of communicating with a company. In the age of Web 2.0, customers want instant access to interactive and real-time information with whichever device or channel is most convenient for them at a given moment.
The front line for a customer's experience with a company is the contact center. As new forms of communication alter the business landscape and new technologies influence how customer service is delivered, enterprises have an opportunity to innovate and to meet the changing demands and expectations of the customer base. By using social technologies, companies can differentiate themselves and demonstrate that they are willing to provide service in the customers' channels of choice. All customers are not created equal-they don't want to be treated alike or be forced to use the same communication methods. Contact centers that respond by making themselves available via phone, email, Web self-service, and new Web 2.0 technologies (blogs, chat forums, and social networks) will develop deeper and more profitable relationships with customers and prospects.
Donna Fluss (firstname.lastname@example.org) is founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, a leading provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting. Beth Eisenfeld (email@example.com) is a senior consultant at the firm.
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