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The Rise of Social Customer Care
Best practices for staying on top of the new service landscape.
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For the past two years, DMG has been evaluating the current and future role of customer service and contact centers in handling social media interactions for enterprises. In November 2011, DMG issued the results of a worldwide benchmark study on this subject. The study, along with our ongoing research, has led us to make the projections shown in the accompanying chart.

These projections will change the way that most organizations handle their social media interactions. They will also alter the servicing landscape, driving operational, technical, and procedural changes and enhancements.

Why Social Media Interactions Should Be Handled by Service Organizations

While there is still a great deal of confusion (and politicking) about who should "own" the social media channel, it's clear that the contact center or customer service group should take the lead in handling the interactions and feedback, which are predominantly customer service or customer satisfaction–oriented. Contact centers/customer service groups also possess characteristics that make them best suited to address social media.

  • They are trained to respond to these types of inquiries or comments, albeit in different channels.
  • They are accustomed to handling high volumes of customer interactions.
  • They are accustomed to addressing issues within time frames established in service-level agreements (SLAs).
  • They have the broadest knowledge about the organization.
  • They have established communications channels and SLAs with other departments that handle social media inquiries. While the SLAs may have to be modified to address social media time frames, the information bridges already exist.
  • They have escalation procedures that they can extend to incorporate into the social media channel.
  • They have reporting mechanisms to accurately capture and report on findings.
  • They are experienced in dealing with the public.

General Servicing Guidelines

Organizations that receive large volumes of social media interactions most often set up a social media servicing organization separate from the contact center or customer service group. This causes problems because the primary mission of most social media groups is to de-escalate issues. This often motivates social media responders to do whatever it takes to satisfy the complaining customer. In too many cases, this conflicts with established contact center and customer service policies. Companies need to develop a true multichannel servicing strategy in which all department roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.

Enterprises have much to learn about using social media effectively. Here are a few recommendations that are becoming industry best practices:

  • All customer-facing and policy-setting groups should work together to build an inbound and outbound social media strategy.
  • Make the contact center or customer service group responsible for handling all social media interactions.
  • Establish a formal program for handling social media interactions, and staff it appropriately.
  • Identify and measure your organization's responsiveness to social media interactions, to ensure that you are satisfying your customers, prospects, and the public.
  • Train the team that handles social media interactions.
  • Evaluate the impact of social media on your contact center or customer service group so that you can be prepared to make the necessary changes to accommodate increasing use of this channel.

Rules of Engagement

Customer service conversations in social media are about establishing an ongoing relationship with users and addressing issues quickly so that they do not go viral. A response to an individual must address that person's specific concerns or issues, but because it may be read by anyone interested in that conversation stream, it needs to be clear and easily understood by people who may not be familiar with the company's products and services. Crafting these responses takes skill.

In many cases, responses must protect personal information and be approved by compliance and legal departments. It is truly difficult to address the specifics of the situation while adhering to enterprise guidelines. Moreover, in social media, it is often a bad practice to use templates with standardized responses. Therefore, DMG recommends that social media responders be given broad guidelines for creating customized responses. We further recommend checking social media responses for quality as often as possible, to identify responders' skill gaps that may require additional training.

The following are some of the rules of engagement for customer service/contact center social media programs. These practices are expected to evolve as companies get better at using social media to handle service issues.

  • Publish a written governance policy that lays the foundation for your organization's social media behavior. This document should be drafted by the customer service/contact center but needs to be approved by legal and compliance.
  • Provide response guidelines for each type of inquiry.
  • Train your staff to handle your social media responses.
  • Establish the social media persona that you want reflected for your organization, and ensure that everyone involved in handling discussions uses that same "voice."
  • Customize responses in the format expected for each channel.
  • Avoid familiar or trendy terminology.
  • Be engaging and positive in all dialogue.
  • Establish a review process that ensures consistent handling of inquiries in all channels throughout the organization.
  • Create an exception process to empower the social media team to deviate from established guidelines when they deem it necessary to keep an issue from going viral.
  • Regardless of how the initial communication arrives, determine the most appropriate social media channel for response.
  • When necessary, move a conversation off social media to a more private channel. When a discussion is moved off a social network to protect a customer, issue an appropriate comment via social media so readers know that it was addressed.
  • Establish service-level requirements for social media responses.
  • Respond to an inquiry or post within the customer's time frame, or do not respond at all.
  • Use social media to identify trends that could negatively impact your company's reputation, and be proactive to minimize their impact.
  • Enhance your quality assurance program to address social media interactions.
  • Set in place goals and metrics so that social media performance is properly captured and tracked.

There are many reasons the contact center or customer service group should be responsible for handling social media interactions, only some of which are outlined above. The bottom line is that no other department is going to be willing to take on this responsibility on a long-term basis, and based on what we have found, no other should. For more information and best practices for building social customer care organizations, see DMG's Social Media Customer Service/Contact Center Product and Best Practices Report.

The study is available on DMG Consulting's Web site, www.dmgconsult.com.


Donna Fluss is founder and president of DMG Consulting, a provider of contact center and analytics research, marketing analysis, and consulting.


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