Contact centers joining social chatter

Social media becoming important tool for contact centers to respond to customers as well as monitor consumer sentiments, say industry players, who note need for support service to be shouldered by entire company.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

With more consumers turning to social media to evaluate products, contact centers are now monitoring social chatter and responding to customers online. But they must not do so at the expense of other communication channels, according to industry experts.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Vijay Venugopalan, head of CRM capability at BT Asia-Pacific, said the company's Fragvergence research found that 82 to 85 percent of customers in mature markets use social media to check the quality of goods and services. These consumers use rating systems and reviews by fellow customers as references, he added.

Sonny Sammy Jr., director of strategic business at Cisco Systems Singapore, concurred. He said contact centers are now monitoring social media sites not only to listen to feedback from customers, but also to monitor competitive activities.

However, it is challenging to deal with the staggering amount of information posted on social media every day, noted Sammy. To overcome this, he suggested companies integrate social mining tools into their contact center platform to enable keyword search and use the mined data to enhance customer support.

Aside from simply reacting to discussions, he said companies should create social media pages or Twitter feeds to generate feedback and offer gifts and reward points to encourage customers to participate in the discussions.

According to Amdocs, social media can also add to the knowledge base used by contact center representatives. Customer service staff can use social networking platforms to open trouble tickets and search for answers, especially when it is difficult for companies to train these employees on all aspects of the business, said Erwann Thomassain, Amdocs' Asia-Pacific director of account and regional marketing.

Catering to senior folks
While the social media channel is increasingly popular, Thomassain told ZDNet Asia that customers are still diverse in their platform of choice for problem solving. "For some customers, self-service is the answer while others refuse to use anything but social media. The more savvy users prefer to post requests on user forums, while others prefer to just call the contact centers," he said in an e-mail.

Therefore, contact centers are making sure that customers such as elderly folks who are not technically inclined are not left out.

For example, some call centers now use a technology called "call prediction" which is able to anticipate the reasons for a customer's call and direct it to the relevant customer service representative, Thomassain noted. This allows customers to bypass the multiple-item menu selection, he said.

He added that call prediction can be combined with speech recognition, which allows customers to speak in a conversational manner to reach the correct representative.

Sammy noted that some contact centers put callers through a long list of options that can be confusing for the customers, and recommended that these companies explore the use of video either on mobile phones, computer screens or televisions to reduce response time.

"There are many ways to use video, such as presenting the menu options in a video format, similar to the menu on an ATM (Automated Teller Machine)," he said. "Instead of spending minutes going through voice options, it will take less time if done on video. Touchscreen devices will also help the elderly and non-techies who are not used to a PC mouse."

He added that companies can then consider using face-to-face video calls as another customer service channel. Using a healthcare contact center as an example, Sammy said it can be more beneficial for patients to use video call with the healthcare personnel instead of describing their ailment over the phone. "Video is once again the critical component here as it allows customers to see and interact with the personnel, and receive visual feedback in return," he said.

Every employee plays a role
Contact centers play a critical role in ensuring customer satisfaction. BT's Venugopalan pointed out that most organizations today have a customer service team focused solely on customer satisfaction by managing and maintaining customer relations. The customer service team typically has access to the backoffice, internal products and other teams so it can resolve customer requests and complaints, he said.

This structure, however, is not sustainable, he noted. "The fundamental meaning of customer service is broadening and organizations are realizing that every unit in the business has a stake in customer service," said Venugopalan.

Pointing to a study by the Call Centre Managers' Forum, he said achieving resolution at the first call was the most important challenge to improving customer satisfaction. At least 30 percent of a contact center's operating cost was found to be related to a failure to achieve first-call resolution, he noted. This failure was due to repeat calls and extra time spent by the customer service team to locate the right person to help the customer, he noted.

Steven Tan, director of products, go-to-market and strategy for Aspect Asia Pacific, India and Middle East, concurred. In an e-mail interview, Tan said: "For most enterprises, their contact center platforms tend to be siloed.

"To succeed in the expanded, open environment of customer-company collaboration, contact centers must harness the knowledge of their entire organization and customer ecosystem in real-time," he explained.

Fortunately, said Venugopalan, this challenge will improve with the emergence of new tools that are integrated with other networking technologies, such as "presence" technologies, which can be used to show the availability of staff.

"The convergence of IP telephony, multichannel contact through SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and the use of instant messaging, presence technologies and collaboration tools within the contact center. will enable networked organizations to put experts into direct customer engagement, providing better, faster and more satisfactory advice or solutions," he said.

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