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When presented with a new problem, an unknown entity, it’s human nature to compartmentalize that new quantity under a heading that is well known and familiar. This process helps us make sense of things. It helps us apply our experience and existing knowledge to the problem in an effort to simplify and solve.

But, bucketing new concepts like that can often limit our thinking, stifle the creative process and create blind spots and business risk.

I’ve been observing this problem solving method growing in application as relates to how social media and social CRM will impact customer service and the contact center.

So, here are five key considerations to weigh before you conclude that social media is “just another customer service channel”

1. Style vs. Substance – I was at a conference of customer service folks recently where the subject of communication style came up. Specifically, many faced the challenge of “undoing” the training that has been ingrained in agents to communicate properly and formally, in order to appear more “real”, less corporate and to speak in the manner that “social” customers expect. This is not an easy task. And many at this conference are struggling especially with agents having to flip back and forth between styles, depending if they are tweeting, talking on the phone or emailing. This is not an insignificant change management quandary.

Impact: training, culture, quality, recruiting

2. Organizational Structure – This is a really broad topic. But how customer services reports up through the organization can impact its role in customer engagement via web 2.0 and beyond. In some organizations, consumer affairs or customer service report into Quality or Manufacturing. In those scenarios, the focus is very different than customer service integrated with marketing, brand management or PR. There have been a lot of models put forth in terms of how to organize the social organization, like this early rendition from Jeremiah Owyang: the hub and spoke model. Depending on where customer service resides, it will engage the social customer in very different ways, for very different reasons.

Impact: corporate strategy, organizational design, performance management, culture

3. Service Levels and Performance Management – At the same conference where the crowd struggled with communication styles, the discussion also turned to the subject of KPIs. Because this was a very senior group of veteran contact center folks, they were working within the framework of traditional production-based and cost-centric metrics. So, I heard KPIs like: posts viewed per hour and responses per hour and average speed to respond. In social media circles, if you talk about bots and auto DMs and the like, you’ll get a pretty stern response from most. Many feel these things cut against the grain of the spirit of social networking. So, you might want to think twice before trying to apply traditional metrics to the process of social customer service engagement.

Impact: compensation, financial management, training, recruiting, culture, quality management

4. Data & Channel Integration – The techie in me had to raise this issue. In our traditional contact center customer service world, a customer calls and we collect their entire dossier in the process of the interaction. We know their name, phone number, email, address….When we engage on twitter, we know their twitter handle and, depending on the tools you’re using, their email address. Which in my case is not the same email address I use in other parts of my life. So, who is this @bsdalton I’m talking to? Check the CRM. Wait! I don’t have a field called “twitter ID”. Ok, so I’m over simplifying this issue. Way over simplifying. But, hopefully, you get the idea. As we add more and more channels of communication, we run the risk of fragmenting further the quality of our customer data.

Impact: marketing, IT, voice of the customer, reporting, customer experience, customer segmentation, routing

5. Scalability – While very cool and a great start, the two CSRs you’ve taken off the phone and sat in front of Hootsuite and Facebook to engage with your consumers is not scalable. If we all believe that the social customer will continue to drive engagement in the manner in which they choose and the volume will continue to grow, it will require significant change in the processes by which that volume of interactions is handled. Being consistent with #3 above, this does not suggest replacing human interaction with auto responses or bots. Its about employing tools that add capacity to scale the personal, one to one engagement with is expected by the social customer. Best Buy has taken a shot at this problem with their Twelpforce, leveraging the concepts of unified communications to handle the demand for service via twitter. Technology vendors such as Avaya and Cisco are coming to market with solutions that are addressing this question as well. As we start to blend social web interactions with interactions via phone, email, chat and others, new routing strategies, new methods will be needed to scale operations in order to prevent the degradation and, more so, to enhance the customer experience.

Impact: technology, data, training, performance metrics, service levels

So, while there are others, hopefully this is a thought starter that drives your thinking from a different perspective; gives you an idea of the breadth of change management required to become a social business. Social CRM is not a channel. Its not a technology. Its not always what it appears.

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