Contact center agents play one of the most critical roles in the enterprise. They have more direct interaction with customers than any other group, and thus have a profound influence on revenues, customer retention, and brand loyalty.
With social media changing the landscape (and volume) of customer service, and big data promising to change how we market to customers, it's imperative that brand-conscious organizations unify the core functions of workforce optimization within their contact centers—so that agents can deliver customer service as a competitive advantage.
When properly leveraged, social media can be used to learn more about customers, partners, and competitors; spot industry trends; and identify influencers, all while allowing your business to enjoy the benefits of communicating with customers through the channel of their choice.
But you had better get it right. How do you effectively train agents to handle and prioritize the sheer volume of interactions social media requires, not to mention drive customer retention and customer satisfaction, as well as cross-sells and upsells (or collections, for that matter)?
Also consider that many companies have self-help/self-service plans that handle the easy questions (usually 80 to 90 percent of all inquiries), so, generally, when the contact center does get engaged, it usually means a more complicated resolution is required.
This mix will change, and we will see a shift toward a new "customer laziness"—where customers skip contact center agents and go straight to social channels to get their response—no matter what the issue or "degree of difficulty" of the question. Your agents must be ready to jump in at the precise right moment, and with the right response.
So before you pull that pin, think about this: If you get this wrong inside the contact center, you not only risk customer dissatisfaction, but the doomsday scenario, a viral detonation that you may not recover from. Need proof? Click here.
Pros and Cons
Like when we went from telephone to Web to email, treating social media as "just another channel" can be a huge mistake.
For starters, figure out a policy on how your company will deal with—or not deal with—customer interactions. Some companies, for example, won't allow customers to post comments, a policy that could dampen relationships with Gen Xs and Gen Ys. Taking the high road are companies like WestJet, which allows its customers to post questions about promotions, deals, and flights.
Second, put a policy in place that dictates the social media service levels you want to commit to, measure, and improve upon.
Social media radically changes the company/customer communication from monologue to dialogue, and with that change come profound implications that contact center agents must understand and become comfortable with.
Agents must be coached to respond within different technologies (video, chat, IM, or a combination). Contact centers must also employ monitoring and forecasting to better hedge the delicate balance between the correct response and the efficiency of that response. They also must be able to predict the correct number of agents needed per shift as volumes ramp up or down.
You may also know what your fulfillment is on an average day. Can you forecast what a nonaverage day may be, such as when a billing issue appears in customer mailboxes? Are your agents coached on fulfillment and/or customer retention, and monitored and evaluated for each skill set separately?
High agent turnover, a dilemma already (can you spell money pit?), will be exacerbated with social media. You could train agents upfront, but then it's a matter of continuous and ongoing one-on-one monitoring and feedback. Instead, coaching is the solution, with ongoing, direct, and targeted feedback.
Social Agent Workflow
Taking a step back, remember that it was marketing, during the early days of social media, that was tasked with playing both offense (promotions) and defense (handling inbound inquiries from social channels).
Marketing is not really equipped to solve customer issues. Promotions? Yes. Craft corporate messaging? Yes. But one-on-one sessions that address specific customer issues? No, and nor should it be.
Thus, if a product recall was issued, marketing can and should post on social media channels the details and who to contact with questions.
Or, going back to an airline example, marketing can warn of bad weather, offer rerouting options on Facebook, and so on. The call center's goal is to make sure one-on-one interactions with customers are handled properly and within the newly trained response guidelines.
So how do you get there?
What you will need is a coaching mechanism in place that can keep agents up to speed on product knowledge, new policies, promotions, etc.; ensure that training/coaching is ongoing and automated; and be able to replicate this process across multiple contact centers.
Bottom line, the customer experience must be the same across the board.
Understand also that there is a critical balance between efficiency and effectiveness, and there are two processes to consider that make agents more effective:
1. determining what your values are, and what you will and won't respond to; and
2. evaluating those against company criteria, and scoring them.
At a minimum, frontline agents need a set of best practices to know when to listen to the conversations and when to jump in. Simple text responses will not always be acceptable, and customers may also expect video and audio as part of the agent response.
Coaching should be in place that enables supervisors to say, "Here's a new product we are promoting," then coach them "in the moment" ("here is the base product; here are the options you should be offering…"), and monitor and evaluate in real time. Supervisors should be able to evaluate by individual, group, skill, and so on.
Supervisors should also be able to address the best practices and soft skills that enable agents to utilize the (in-house) systems at their disposal to correctly solve problems, find a solution, or confirm they solved the problem.
Moreover, service and support cases may also have to be created—on the basis of the social media contact—and then continued by other means, such as text, chat, video, or even a call with the customer.
Social media provides a new gateway into customer behavior, important data on market trends, product feedback, brand perception, customers, and customer service.
It also presents a unique set of customer interactions and needs that can detonate virally if not properly addressed. Companies must be able to train agents to respond properly where a simple text may not be efficient or a full-motion video is required, or when laser-quick feedback is what's needed to do the trick.
This is a full-on communication channel that requires ongoing and continuous training, forecasting, and scheduling; an aggregator to collect and analyze the data; and the ability to measure and monitor the efficiency of agents to respond, all within preset service-level goals.
Solve that and you can pull that pin and the bounty can be endless. With proper agent training, companies can coach more than just the agent; indeed they can "coach the customer" and drive greater ROI across sales, service, marketing, and IT.
Rodney Kuhn is the CEO of Envision, which he launched in 1994. Prior to founding Envision, Kuhn worked on the development of CTI-enabled voice messaging products for Active Voice.