Social media adoption and usage rates are increasing at a nearly exponential rate. Simultaneously, HOW social media is used, and consumer expectations are changing. To address this increase in volume, and changing consumer usage and expectations, a new set of practices and technologies known as social media response management is quickly emerging. This article provides a brief overview of how consumer needs and expectations are changing, why a different approach is needed, and an overview of best practices and technologies that are being used to meet consumer wants and needs.
So, What’s Happening…
Social media usage/adoption continues to increase nearly exponentially across ALL demographics.
The way people use social media is changing… Users are now doing more than just posting ABOUT you… They are now posting AT you… They are using social media channels to request services and information… They EXPECT you to be “listening”. But, more importantly, they EXPECT you to respond—nearly instantly, and they EXPECT you to actually engage…
In addition, the nature of social media is different than all previous forms of business to consumer types of communication. Phone calls, emails, and chats are one to one communication. But, social media is one to many or many to many—which has significant implications on how the company/brand is viewed. In the past, word of poor response or customer service traveled much more slowly. Now, a single customer service failure can reach thousands in a matter of minutes. This is especially true when a customer requests service using social media based communications.
Couple this change in how social media is being used with the fact that traffic is growing nearly exponentially, and the potential spread of perceived “bad news”, and companies have some big challenges on their hands that must be solved quickly. These challenges include:
- Cost effectively managing and responding to an increasing volume of social media activity that needs some type of response
- Ensuring timely responses and engaging with social media users—in a managed, process oriented manner
- Ensuring accuracy and quality in the responses that are provided
The Evolution of Social Media Response Management
Typically, social media responses have been managed by a small informal social media response team (typically part of the marketing organization), who simply used the social media network interface itself to respond and engage without any productivity tools. Typically, these teams have manually monitored various social media networks for mention of their products, brand name, etc., and provided responses, when it was deemed appropriate to do so.
A few years back, new tools were introduced to help companies automatically monitor and “listen” for them. These tools worked well when the primary purpose was for a company to understand who and how many were “talking”, what was being said about them, etc. These tools also provided some rudimentary mechanisms for handling those posts that needed a response.
This approach worked, when volumes were low and easily manageable. But now, as volumes have increased, these informal teams using simple response mechanisms are struggling to keep up, because the response interfaces are not optimized for efficient, high volume response. In addition, these interfaces do not provide any way to track and measure responder productivity, response times, conversation outcomes or resolution, accuracy, or response quality. And, there is no way to effectively and efficiently take the conversation “private”, when needed, to collect personal information or more personally engage—which is critically important when the goal is to resolve issues.
Companies have been searching for a way to tie the use of social media to business impact and business value. For the most part, the quest to quantify business value has not been fruitful. This is true for one primary reason. In order to create any form of business value, there MUST be a measurable outcome to an interaction with a customer or prospect.
While most companies have been effectively measuring and monitoring social media activity and behavior from a marketing perspective, there has not been a way to effectively measure those interactions from an operations perspective—the perspective needed to manage high volume response oriented activities.
The Next Step in Social Media Evolution—Social Media Response Management
Companies now realize that a new discipline and different approach is needed—an approach that is the next step in the evolutionary cycle. That next step is a combination of strategies, workflow processes, and tools designed specifically for managing and addressing the challenges associated with reliably and safely responding to, and engaging with, an increasing volume of social media based service requests. This new discipline is known as a social media response management.
Much like the combination of traditional contact center workflow processes and tools, such as Automated Call Distribution (ACD) systems, allows an organization to cost effectively and reliably handle and manage service levels of telephone based service requests, the purpose of a social media response management strategy is to allow a an organization to cost effectively and reliably handle and manage service levels of social media based service requests. Using the right combination of strategies, processes and tools, companies can easily, safely, and cost effectively:
- Manage and respond to large volumes of social media interactions made about a company or AT a company
- Control quality, accuracy, and privacy of responses so that social media based interactions can be safely utilized to handle customer service, technical support, sales support, and even transactions—while maintaining a personal, friendly, and engaging tone and “feel”
- Set and reliably meet response time targets and manage overall performance of the social media response operation
Because adopting and implementing a social media response management strategy and the right set of processes and tools makes this possible, companies can now use social media for more than traditional marketing purposes. Now, they can:
- Utilize social media based communication for customer service, technical support, and or sales support
- Identify sales opportunities and engage with prospects for the company’s products and services—before competitors do
- Identify opportunities to improve self service systems and information to reduce incoming contact volume and provide prospects with additional information to help in buying decisions
- Provide an “early warning” indication about potential issues that could create negative publicity and/or increased contact volume to other organizations—take action in the form of responsive engagement to avoid those situations
- Spot and identify trends, opportunities, and unmet market needs in the company’s and competitive products, delivery process, support process, etc. to provide potential competitive advantage
Emerging Best Practices
As companies have been grappling with the challenges associated with reliably and safely managing high volumes of social media based requests for service, several best practices have emerged. Following is a brief overview of the most common of these in use today.
Acquisition and Aggregation
Much like multiple 800 numbers are aggregated into a single PBX/ACD for handling and reporting, work flow management, and distribution of phone calls, common practices in use a similar approach to:
- Monitor and acquire posts from a variety of different social media sources, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, company and other blogs, public and company provided forums, any other source accessible through the Google Web API
- Aggregate posts into a single system for reporting, analysis, triage, distribution, and handling
- Tag post receipt times for response time management purposes
Analysis, Triage, and Routing Practices
Uses a combination of keyword, semantic analysis, and business rules to:
- Identify and separate posts requiring responses from those that do not
- Determine how/where to route posts requiring a response to responder skill groups based on a combination of geographic origination, language, priority, sentiment, influence score, post type, skills needed, etc.
Queuing and Work Load Distribution Practices
Much like a contact center ACD system distributes phone calls, emerging practices and technologies are evolving to queue and distribute social media posts. These practices and technologies make it possible to:
- Evenly distribute posts—in batches of one or more—to logged in responders that are a part of one or more skill groups with the training and skills required to handle and provide the best possible response to specific types of posts
- Ensure that only one response is provided to any single post
- Allows responders to be located anywhere they have internet access
- Allows supervisors and managers to see and manage queue levels
- Share work load between company and outsourced responders
Responder Productivity and Tools
To streamline and reduce response time handling, practices and technologies are emerging to make it fast and easy for responders to respond to posts assigned to them. Emerging responder tools include:
- A common, simple interface for responding to posts—regardless of source—that frees responders from having to know how or remember protocols required to properly structure responses
- Dropdown boxes and other simplified interfaces for reassigning or forwarding posts to other responders and/or other skill groups, or re-categorizing posts with respect to post reason and sentiment
- Ability to view a historical “conversation” stream for context
- Ability to view posts in their original form and within context of the originating social media network platform itself, i.e., view a Facebook post within Facebook, Twitter post within Twitter, etc.
- CRM integration and “screen pop” of customer information contained within an integrated CRM platform on post selection and/or delivery to a responder
Privacy Management Practices
From time to time, it will be necessary to take a public social media conversation private—to collect confidential information from the user to answer a question, provide information, and/or perform a transaction. conversIQ™ provides features to facilitate this activity, which include:
- Ability to send private or direct messages—on platforms that support that function—to users who are fans or followers
- Ability to invite users to a private text chat and/or video chat session using a fully integrated chat suite
- Ability to invite users to talk via telephone using an integrated ACD routing application or through an integrated, web based “click to call” service
Quality Control Practices
There is significant risk inherent in social media based communication. Because a response could be seen by hundreds or even thousands of people—nearly instantly, a single piece of inaccurate information, or a causal mention of an issue or product problem can have large repercussions. Therefore, a way to monitor and review the accuracy and quality of outgoing responses—BEFORE they are posted—is quickly becoming best practice. Typically, these practices and platforms provide processes and mechanisms that:
- Allow special responders or supervisors—called gatekeepers—to view and approve (or modify) responses to posts from responders before they are put out on the social media network
- Tags and tracks the number and/or type of responses, by responder, skill group, supervisor group of approved and unapproved/modified responses for quality review/coaching and performance management purposes
A Different Set of Metrics
One of the primary success criteria of any effective and efficient contact handling operation is a rich set of the right operating and performance management metrics. These are different than traditional marketing oriented metrics being used to manage social media activities and strategies.
The purpose of these types of metrics is to provide management teams with the data they need to manage:
- Head count and scheduling requirements
- Service levels and response times
- Responder productivity
- Response accuracy and quality and identify training/coaching needs.
Typical operations oriented metrics include:
- Traffic/Workload – post volumes, where posts are coming from (source), what and why posts are about (sentiment and reason codes), arrival times and patterns, current queue lengths, available responders, etc.
- Service Level/Response Time – current and historical average response times for posts by workgroup/skill group, post type, dates, times, etc.
- Responder Productivity – historical number of posts handled and average handle time by workgroup/skill group and/or individual responders, average post handle times, etc.
- Accuracy/Quality – number of posts approved with and/or without edit/posts, type of edit required (if required), type of post, etc. – by workgroup and/or individual responders
Summary and Conclusion
Social media based requests for service, support, and information are increasing at a nearly exponential rate. Along with the increase in volume, users are expecting near instant responses to those requests.
Traditional social media management tools and response operations, primarily designed for marketing purposes, lack the features, functions, metrics, and workflow processes needed to reliably and cost effective manage these increased volumes and service level demands.
A new social media discipline, called social media response management, is emerging. This new discipline is a combination of approaches, workflow processes, and technologies that make it possible for companies to address the challenges associated with increasing volumes and changing response time expectations.
Companies faced with these types of challenges should consider adopting a social media response management strategy and disciplines—in addition to their current and more traditional marketing based social media strategies and disciplines.