Even as the regular use of social media becomes second nature in our own personal and professional lives, the rise of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social platforms continues to create confusion in the contact center industry. It's becoming increasingly clear that companies who create a positive social customer experience will have a significant competitive advantage.  Further, according to DMG Consulting, more than half of customer interactions will arrive at companies via social media within five years.

While we can debate whether social media is the next major channel for customer service, consumers have already embraced it as such. Still, most companies are not keeping up with these emerging demands. Although the majority of consumers have identified social media as their preferred way to address issues, a number of recent highly publicized studies have shown that the majority of social media complaints are ignored by companies. On top of this, most companies still aren't actively using social media for customer service, so there is still much work to be done.

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Getting from Calls to Cross-Channel

A little historical context is helpful to understand how far we've come from a single channel (the telephone) toward a vision of a channel-agnostic contact center. With the introduction of ACD (automatic call distributor) technology, we began to route phone calls, emails, trouble tickets—and now texts and online chats—to appropriately skilled agents who can best meet the needs of customers through their channel of choice.  

Social media, however, has not been easily routable in the traditional sense for a number of different reasons. The primary explanation is that phone calls, emails, and the like present a structured, concrete request or specific issue from an actual customer for an agent to resolve. With a Tweet or Facebook status update, on the other hand, the concern may be more difficult to pinpoint. 

Searching for keywords can be helpful, but don't provide the full context of the customer's profile, past interactions with your company, or personal preferences. To date, social media care requires a higher level of creativity and quick thinking than traditional channels, but important, powerful tools like social and text analytics are becoming increasingly available to agents.

Overcoming Channel Challenges

Rather than shrug off social media as outside of the scope or ability of your customer care team, consider both the opportunities it provides and the opportunity cost of ignoring your social customers. Social media is by nature a public forum and easily searchable on Google—while few bad customer experiences go unpunished in this context, you can also use your social interactions to respond quickly and show the world your dedication to addressing customer needs.

Although not everyone on Twitter, Facebook, or Yelp is not necessarily a high value customer from a dollars standpoint, consumers who are social media-savvy often have a sphere of influence that is broad and sometimes viral. And increasingly, consumers are relying heavily on peers or friends on social media to help guide buying decisions.

While social media presents unique challenges to the contact center, new advancements are allowing us to integrate it just as we have with siloed channels in the past. For example, the cloud provides a more flexible platform that allows contact centers to incorporate nonnative requests like social media and CRM cases into their workflow. At the same time, the arrival of Millennials in the contact center is an important trend because they have grown up with social media and are often well-suited to a "bursty" work process that involves multi-tasking and rapidly changing priorities.

Indeed, exciting innovations are on the horizon as we move toward more intelligent and social contact centers. Don't sit on the sidelines. Take advantage of this incredible opportunity to engage with customers, promote loyalty, and ignite positive conversations about the customer experience you provide.