Comcast offers 10 steps to creating a call center social media strategy

At the annual ACCE show, Comcast outlined 10 steps call center managers can take to create a social media strategy that serves customers.

NEW ORLEANS -- Comcast Corp. revealed a 10-step  “cheat sheet” for building a social call center strategy at the annual International Customer Management Institute ACCE conference for contact center managers held here this week.

The tips were based on practical business steps and were welcomed by attendees, many of whom said they are still struggling to integrate social channels into their operations.

“It helped me see how I can get buy-in from management,’’ said Robert Frost, senior director of global client relations at Acronis Inc., a backup software company based in Woburn, Mass.

In a keynote presentation, Kip Wetzel, director of integrated experience and product development at Comcast, said a social customer service plan, when stripped of social media hype, is really quite simple.

“We are meeting our customers on the platform where they are most comfortable,’’ Wetzel said.

Wetzel was joined by Fergus Griffin, vice president of Service Cloud product marketing at Salesforce.com, to provide the cheat sheet for success, which consists of the following steps:

1. Start listening on social channels. Wetzel said when Comcast launched its social strategy three years ago “we wanted to listen before we tweeted.” This gave the company “raw feedback” to start grasping what customers were saying about the brand.

2. Define a social strategy and stick to it. Throughout customer service areas at Comcast, there are notes posted about the mission, Wetzel said. When adopting social media, customer service groups need to avoid getting sidetracked by other social media initiatives within the company that may not directly relate to customer service.

3. Determine the necessary agent skills your organization will need. Salesforce.com’s Griffin said some organizations will discover they need social media experts on the payroll, but others may prefer a different skill set. As it turns out, Comcast’s Wetzel said he would rather have agents well versed in Comcast products than someone “who can tweet until they are blue in the face.” He stressed that a strong understanding of a customer’s product is important, regardless of the channel.

4. Respond quickly to customers. Once engaging on a social channel, speed is critical, Wetzel said. It is more important to reach out to customers and tell them you are working on getting an answer on a social network than to wait until you have a complete answer to make the first contact. Customers want to know they have been heard in near real time, Wetzel said.

5. Be authentic and respectful. Although the interaction appears casual online, “it is still customer service,” noted Salesforce.com’s Griffin.

6. Think before you post. As corny as it sounds, Wetzel said his guideline is to never post something he would not send to his mother.

7. Create a social media policy. This should include designated tweeters or other social media participants as well as provide a clear definition of the company’s voice that they must use.

8. Give agents the tools they need to be socially engaged.

9. Track social engagement. Often companies do not have an integrated knowledge base that shows a an up-to-date customer profile across traditional channels, much less social channels, but companies need to create some kind of case management or tracking system for online engagements.

10. Keep management informed. This process begins when first pitching social customer service to executives. Using real examples of customers’ online comments can be a big selling tool. Using listening tools and analytics gives customer service management information it needs to keep management informed.

Attendees such as Acronis’ Frost said it was helpful to get common-sense guidelines.

“When we first started exploring social medial, there wasn’t a well defined process,” said Frost. “It was just this idea of ‘do social media.’ ”

Jim Iles, director of customer care at Suburban Propane, a New Jersey company that runs a Syracuse, N.Y.-based call center, said his company has not yet explored how to use social media, adding, “One of the reasons I am here is to pick up on that.”

Suburban’s business is seasonal with a much higher call volume in winter months. Most of those calls are emergencies, such as when customers contact Suburban because they have run out of fuel.

Iles said he wanted to assess how social media will fit this model. Right now, “it’s not clear how to exploit it.”

Kay Nielson, an attendee who serves as an assistant vice president at Nodaway Valley Bank of Maryville, Mo., also said her organization does not yet have a social customer service strategy. “Right now, we don’t have social media, but that’s our next big plan, Nielson added. “We change as our customers change, so we have to adapt.”

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