This week I had the pleasure of sitting in a panel at the Belgian national conference for contact centers. Since the theme of the conference was “look who is talking”, it seemed appropriate the discussion touched on social media. To my big surprise, social media seems to be an unknown and much feared topic within the contact centers environment.
Will virtual communities replace contact centers?
The biggest fear seems to come from the fact that people are going to switch from a contact center to virtual communities to get their questions answered or to find information. To a certain degree this is true but I am convinced that there will always be a place for these contact centers. Not everyone is online and some of us rather talk to a human being via the phone. Some companies are using Skype-like solutions to talk with their customers as Rabo Bank from Holland demonstrated.
Conclusion 1: Customers will use the channel that fits their needs and behaviors to find information. After the hype, a new balance between will established and social media will be part of it.
Conclusion 2: Contact centers should add the social media channel to their product offering to be more attractive to both the company and the customers.
Contact centers are not connected to social media while their clients and employees are.
My quick research and market study project confirmed that less than 50% of the members of the Belgian contact center association (90 companies strong) have a social media profile. Of those who do have one we can safely say that they operate in an international environment. Checking some of the monitoring, the results are in line with my previously published study (40% twitter response and less than 5% Facebook response) Keep in mind that most of the companies that replied are international companies.
The main reason for this disconnect seems to be the fear of the negativism. Contact centers do have a “bad” reputation and they are not looking for yet another channel to get bashed. Plus there are not that many public success stories around social media in contact centers. The fear of the unknown and inexperience are a close second and third in terms of why contact centers are not on social media.
Conclusion: It is safe to state, that these most of the companies are not connected to or do not even monitor what is being said about them in social media. It is certainly not a service they offer to their clients. An opportunity lost? Or a unique selling point for further business?
Modern media and technology require a super agents in the contact center.
Here it becomes really clear that contact centers underestimate the qualities and skills of the people they hire. They forget that most people (and there are over 3.5 million Belgians on Facebook – just to name one) are taking part in social media before or after working hours. I am sure that some even take part during working hours through their mobile devices.
Conclusion: What is really needed is a good code of conduct, call it is a social media policy, and some advice on how to behave correctly on behalf of the company (language, tone of voice, etc.) in the same manner they get when they are behind a phone.
What is next?
In the new balance of contact channels, it is clear that social media will find its place. It will not replace the contact center but it will help further redefine their operational model. Contact centers should embrace social media to both serve their client companies as well as find new employees that understand fully this medium.
Implementing a social media policy and monitoring tools should be at the top of the agenda of priorities for 2011. These are going to be key to the success and level of professionalism of the contact centers.
There is no way around it, join or lose customers!
I would love to hear you your feedback, experiences and comments.