Social Engagement Requires Listening, Acting, and Reacting

Customer Service
Customer Service
Five tips for using social media to improve customer relationships.

Research throughout the past year suggests that 2011 will be a big year for social media in the enterprise: DMG Consulting, for example, predicts that by the end of 2014 more than 45 percent of contact centers will have integrated some type of social media support. Yankee Group found that 70 percent of employees want better software tools to communicate with colleagues and customers more effectively through social media channels.

As companies move further into the world of social media, it's important to keep sight of your ultimate customer service goals in order to leverage social media to the fullest. If you can deploy a social media strategy effectively, your organization stands to reap both top- and bottom-line benefits.

There are five key imperatives for enterprises looking to launch a social media strategy and be reactive-to opportunities and emergencies-and proactive in brand management or providing customer support:

1. Listen - The power of tribal knowledge is growing rapidly. Consumers increasingly use social media to research brands, products, and services they are considering purchasing. They seek peer recommendation and give their own opinions as advocates for, or critics of, products they've bought or experiences they've had.

There's always a mix of positive and negative sentiment; the companies that listen to it will have a much deeper understanding of how customers engage with their brand. From there, companies can identify responses and improvements.

2. Prioritize - With knowledge comes the responsibility to use it effectively. Once businesses have an understanding of what's actually going on, they need to identify the best action to take. Capturing that tribal knowledge in its knowledgebase will help to inform, and improve the effectiveness of, existing strategies or spur new strategies.

Understanding which audiences are important in the social media arena is also essential: Who are the biggest influencers, customers, and time wasters? Traditionally, this has been determined by value or profitability. However, an individual can drive minimum revenue and still influence a significant amount of revenue through their social media following. Customers' social graphs, which give insight into influence levels, such as number of followers on Twitter, can be a useful tool to identify top-tier audiences.

3. Engage - It's not just a case of responding, but of being proactive. With the knowledge of who is important comes the next question: What do I need to do to respond?

It's all about engagement and education. If someone influences purchasers, allow them to review your products and espouse how good they are to their sizeable following. If they offer help to existing customers, embrace these individuals and share tips with them. Most important, be proactive on education, sales, service, and marketing. Anticipate any problems before they happen-but, certainly, be quick to respond to any direct requests.

4. Integrate - You need visibility and accessibility, but also real agility within social media. The final cog in the social media wheel is to integrate this channel into the enterprise. However, it shouldn't be treated the same way as every other channel; the measurements of its success are not the same as the telephone or email. Social media demands greater immediacy, which means that four-hour response times are unacceptable.

Consequently, the tools that support a social media strategy should integrate with existing investments. One example is to use a tool that automates the monitoring of consumer communications through social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter, analyze the content for sentiment, determine whether it is actionable, and then prioritize it based on customer influence and service-level objectives of the company. Using this analytical approach, the system should then automatically inform the most suitable customer service agent, expert, or back-office employee to follow up.

5. Serve - Leave customer service to the service experts. Contact centers are designed to handle customer interactions, which makes them ideal to engage in social media on the company's behalf. Today, most companies leave this interaction to marketing departments. But companies that create a seamless integration with the contact center will be able to more quickly and easily develop a stronger brand through social media interactions.

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About the Author: Lisa Abbot is senior product marketing manager for Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise