The Growth of Social Media in Customer Service

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Few recent phenomena have generated as much interest and hype as social media. The technologies used to create consumer-generated (and, increasingly, business-generated) content—blogs, networking forums (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace), review sites (e.g., epinions and TripAdvisor), company-created community spaces, YouTube—are giving consumers a voice. Facebook alone has 500 million active users; nearly 200 million Twitter users post 65 million tweets each day.

While most of what’s happening in social media is personal in nature, organizations are finding that it’s important to listen carefully when they become the subject of discussion. Companies must tap this emerging channel to respond both reactively (to stem a crisis or the spread of misinformation) and proactively (for feedback on products and services, to provide support, and to discover innovation and forge new bonds with customers).

Contact centers, however, have not had an entirely clear view of what should be done with and about the potentially vast reservoir of feedback yielded by social media. A May 2010 DMG Consulting survey, "The Winning Formula: A Benchmark Study of Contact Center Workforce Management," asked 230 contact center, enterprise, and information technology executives and decision-makers about social media in their organizations. The results? Only 6.5 percent of contact centers currently have any type of support for social media. Only about one quarter (23.9 percent) are planning to add such support by 2014. 

So only a small number of companies are rapidly embracing social media, but the rest will need to get on board, whether they want to or not, because customers expect it. As a result, we predict that, by the end of 2014, more than 45 percent of contact centers will have integrated some type of social media support—monitoring social networks for mentions of a company or product, responding to blogposts or tweets with an invitation to participate in a survey or incorporating them as a means of communicating directly with the contact center, etc.

Contact centers are the ideal department in the company to respond to feedback on social networking and community sites, because they are set up and staffed to handle large volumes of interactions across multiple channels, in real or near-real time. Yet despite their natural fit for social networking, most of today’s contact centers do not actively participate (though the number of companies experimenting with these sites is increasing daily). 

Businesses must learn to tap into the power of these networks to expand their customer bases, improve service, gain additional ways to interact with and respond to customers, and obtain feedback in a more timely and less intrusive manner than with typical Web-based surveying techniques or interactive voice response systems.

Even as social media and social networking grow in importance as additional means of communicating with customers, organizations need to be careful not to overreact or to exaggerate the importance of communications that flow from these media. Social media communications must be monitored and responded to, but some communications may unduly magnify an issue. 

Coupled with the continuous public availability and viral nature of social media communications, human nature lends these communications more weight than those that arrive through traditional surveying and feedback channels. Before changing policies, procedures, or products/services, organizations should make sure that they’re not overreacting to the voice of a lone and uniquely disgruntled customer. 

Social media can offer great insights into the voice of the customer, but particularly when used in conjunction with other, traditional communications channels. 

Donna Fluss (donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com) is founder and president of DMG Consulting (www.dmgconsult.com), a leading provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting. Maureen Rogers (maureen.rogers@dmgconsult.com), a senior analyst at DMG, has more than 25 years of experience in the technology sector, specializing in strategic product marketing and market research. 

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