How to "Socialize" Social Customer Engagement Skills

Customer Service
Customer Service
The growth in customer service via social channels requires an organizational culture shift and new skill sets that will help employees to cultivate customer engagement in the social sphere.

Social media is all about communities, communications, and conversations. Social customer engagement, if it is to succeed in a sustainable manner, is about creating a culture that fosters social interaction with customers and supports staff in building related skills.

Xerox sought to develop this sort of collaborative culture by "recruiting the natives," says Duane Shulz, vice president of social marketing for the $15.7 billion technology and services enterprise. "The first thing we did was to go out and find the most social media savvy people in our own organization."

Xerox employees poking around Facebook, checking TweetDeck, and proposing social marketing initiatives were doubly valuable, Shulz and his team figured. First, they understood the ins and out of social media. Second, and more important, they understood Xerox's markets, offerings, and culture. The company armed its team of 25 social media natives with executive support and a charter and then assigned them the task of "activating this capability," Shulz explains, by identifying specific initiatives and stimulating the development of social media skills.

Social skills inventory

What social marketing skills should employees who engage with customers over these channels possess? Basic knowledge, for starters, according to Matt Storm, director of innovation and strategy for NICE Systems.

"These employees need to be socially savvy, as this world has its own language, acronyms, and conventions," Storm says. "Timeliness in response is critical to [preventing] the perception of avoidance. In the contact center we call irritated, in-queue hang-ups abandoned calls, and companies cannot take the risk of abandoning the customer in the social media world."

Listening skills are also crucial. Throughout Xerox, for example, businesses assign employees to simply listen to discussions that relate to its product and service offerings. "What are the conversations taking place in the digital high-speed printing realm or in the transportation services realm, for example?" Shulz asks. "By finding out, we can understand what people are thinking about. And then we can decide how this influences what we offer and what we should do going forward."

Christine Eberle, executive director in Accenture's talent and organization practice, who contributed to The Social Media Management Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Get Social Media Working in Your Business, identifies several other requirements for social customer engagement, including:

  • Managing a customer community;
  • Integrating data from social media platforms with other source of customer data;
  • Managing business processes and working collaboratively across teams;
  • Developing extensive knowledge about issues customers communicate about;
  • Deflecting anger; and
  • Putting thoughts into written words clearly.

Add one more crucial capability: "Judgment," says Joe Chernov, vice president of content marketing at Eloqua. "Good, sound judgment is the most essential [skill] when it comes to employees engaging on social channels. We can teach tools, we can teach policy. But having a feel for voice, tone, and timing? That stuff just can't be taught."

Cultural considerations

Maybe not, but nearly all of the skills and actions described above can be developed and promoted through an organizational culture that supports social customer engagement via a combination of policies, principles, some training (as even Chernov acknowledges), and perhaps most important, the right tone at the top.

For example, when Chernov, who runs social marketing efforts at his company, accidentally combined Eloqua CEO Joe Payne's first and last names (as "Jayne") in a tweet, he got a laugh from his chief executive rather than a pink slip. "Tacit permission to make an innocent mistake helps staffers relax and behave more naturally when it comes to social engagement," Chernov explains. "And social engagement is all about being natural."

When it comes to training, experts favor innovative forms of skills development. "To encourage employees to learn new attitudes, behaviors, and skills, companies must incorporate advanced learning methods," Accenture's Eberle says. She points to what her firm describes as "learning 2.0," an approach that combines innovative approaches and technologies in Web 2.0 learning, knowledge management, and real-time performance support.

While this training will cover many of the same type of skills found in the contact center, Storm believes that employees using social media also need additional coaching and guidance from marketing and HR to ensure compliance with brand messaging.

At Xerox, the natives suggested an innovative way to combine training and acculturation.

When an employee or business unit wants to engage in social customer engagement, they are asked to "register" an application. The registration process involves a conversation with Shulz's department. The discussion is designed to educate both parties on social engagement approaches, stimulate knowledge-sharing, and emphasize the need to tie social activities to business metrics, such as sales leads.

"The registration process is not about control or approval," Shulz says. "Instead, it's about keying up a conversation that has enabled stronger social media literacy throughout our enterprise."