Contact centers (or customer service departments) should be the group responsible for handling social media interactions, not because all discussions are service-related (although a large percentage are), but because the contact center is the only department in most organizations capable of managing large volumes of interactions on a timely basis. While there are very significant differences between social media interactions and phone calls (or even emails), there are also striking similarities. Among them:
1. The volume of interactions is high and fluctuates.
2. The interactions have to be handled in real time (or near-real time).
3. Interactions should be handled within a predefined service level in order to preserve the opportunity to make a positive impact or favorably influence the outcome and market perception.
4. Topics can be about anything the company does.
5. The interaction volume drives the need for a staff that is dedicated to the function.
6. Interactions should be handled by well-trained employees who are familiar with the company's products, services, and policies and who are effective communicators.
7. There must be a way to route ongoing discussions back to the same agent or representative.
8. All interactions should be logged, tracked, and tied together to understand the entire "customer journey."
9. The feedback should be analyzed, and trends identified and communicated throughout the organization.
10. There needs to be an established process for communicating issues on a timely basis throughout the company.
11. Answers provided by the social media team must be consistent with answers provided by the contact center/customer service team.
12. Quality assurance should be performed on these interactions to ensure that responses are accurate and contribute to building the brand.
13. It is essential to take advantage of the right technology and tools.
This list could go on and on, but I think the point is clear. Marketing departments that want to "own" the social media channel, because they rightfully see it as a way to build their brand, should take a close look at these requirements and decide if they have the knowledge, skills, and resources to handle the job. While there may be one or two exceptions, they generally don't have what it takes, nor should they be expected to—marketing is responsible for strategically building and managing the brand, not responding to every customer interaction. Instead of taking on a new task (or retaining one) that has already overwhelmed many marketing departments, they should work closely with their contact center/customer service team in order to train them to build their company's social media persona. What I am proposing is a true partnership between marketing and the customer service department/contact center, a collaboration that will benefit customers and the enterprise alike.
In a recently published DMG Consulting benchmark report that analyzed the impact of social media on customer service organizations, I wrote: "In the near future, all organizations will have to address social media. It will become the second most important servicing channel, whether companies are ready for it or not, because it is a very comfortable way for a growing percentage of the population to communicate." Phone calls are not going away anytime soon, but social media interactions are rapidly picking up momentum. DMG recommends that you prepare for the future by building (or enhancing) your enterprise social media strategy so that it properly addresses the servicing challenge. Social media is about engagement, and this requires you to meet your customers/prospects/public in their channel of choice and in their desired time frame. Too many companies have already seen that this is easier said than done. DMG recommends that you build a social media-servicing infrastructure before your inaction and inability to effectively respond to the needs of your customers result in a social media "fail."
Donna Fluss (email@example.com) is founder and president of DMG Consulting, a leading provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting.