I was reading an article this morning called ‘Social Media Revolution’ which was published in ‘Call Centre Focus’. The article presents the main points from a roundtable held recently at which a variety of people from large companies came together to discuss ‘how social media will change the way in which businesses interact with their customers’.

I finished the article feeling slightly frustrated. I’ve just re-read the article, and I think the reason for my frustration was more to do with reading the same old arguments about social media. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for discussing social media. I’m happy to talk about it and the challenges companies face with regards to it; it’s my job. I think part of what irks me, is that people overlook a couple of simple factors:

Whether you believe in social media or not, is irrelevant. Whether you believe it is a fad or not, is irrelevant. What is relevant, is the fact that, all of us, have literally at our fingertips the most powerful tools of immediate self-expression that we have ever had. Why would we give that up?

My generation did not grow up – ‘on’, ‘connected’, ‘digitally savvy’. We have had to learn the lexicon of the internet and its tools. My children are growing up in a world of Twitter, instant messaging, Facebook, YouTube. What is relevant is that my children and subsequent generations will be the next employers, the next employees, the next CEOs, the next inventors, the next… and these platforms will be part of the way they communicate with each other. It is our responsibility to prepare the way for them, to prepare the groundwork for new ways of doing business, new ways of communicating. Zappos, Twelpforce, @ComcastCares and others give us a glimpse of what that might look like. We must all rise above the mundane, the traditional paradigms of business, and as The Cluetrain Manifesto says: get down off that camel!

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Here are some notes I made as I read the article. Please note that these are purely my opinions and my observations. In responding to them, my aim is not to criticise, not to point the finger, but simply to try to share my thoughts, provoke a bit of thought as well perhaps. At the end of the day, only by talking and questioning will we move the conversations forward.

‘The biggest challenge will be managing the the flow of information…’: this places the emphasis and in turn the responsibility on the tools and the systems, and not on the thinking that goes behind it, and the thinking that needs to change in order to embrace social media. It also overlooks the fundamental challenge of actually how to engage with your customers in what is becoming a more complex, fragmented and disjointed landscape, where so much emphasis is placed on the immediacy of the experience.

‘Consumers are spreading the word about the brands they like, and more importantly, the brands they don’t’: Hey, Mr Company don’t forget customers only tend to complain when something has gone wrong. You made a deal with them, you have not delivered on it. Customers will always complain, and have always complained. The only difference now, is that the complaint is much more public. But so is your response! Another thought Mr Company, perhaps instead of worrying about the complaint, you might want to think about the cause of the complaint. Perhaps the customer has got a valid point. Why this fear of the complaint? The complaint is an opportunity, it is your customer telling you where the problems are in your process. The only reason for fearing the complaint, is if you’re not going to do anything about it?

‘…and even how they might develop strategies to make sure they are at the centre of those conversations’: Why, Mr Company, do you always want to be at the centre? Why do you always feel the need to own and control? Break out of your silo. Why can’t you simply be part of the conversation? Oh and by the way, the conversation is going on now, without you…

‘…Companies might intercept Twitter messages and bring those conversations within a safer environment, where complaints might be resolved and customer loyalty built’: Customer loyalty will be built naturally if you handle the experience empathetically. What I don’t understand is what this ‘safer environment’ is? What makes it safer? Or do you mean ‘private’? The outside world, where my friends are, seems pretty safe already to me?!

‘For the outsourcers…the issue was pressing. …clients already coming to me and asking me what they are supposed to do about these new communication channels’: Why should an outsourcer know what to do, anymore than anyone else? Why should you know how to respond, if you’re not doing it? Theories abound of what to do, everyone has a social media suggestion, everyone who doesn’t know Dave Carroll knows about United and its policy on guitars. The thing about social media is that although the platforms are the same for everyone, we all use it in different ways. Not everyone can have a Twelpforce, not everyone is a Frank Eliason, not every company is a Zappos. One company’s best practice is certainly not another’s. You are, who you are, and that’s what matters, and that’s what you need to convey: who you are. There’s only one way to find out – do, take your first social media step, it’s not that difficult, it’s not that scary. Do you dare or will you hide behind the business case, the ROI, other priorities? Mr Company, social media isn’t scary, but you might be!

‘Monitoring conversations about their brands online, and reacting to them, was beginning to look like a win for everyone’: Recognition that social media is forcing businesses to understand that engaging with customers is a company-wide effort. It’s not something that takes place in a specific department at a specific time; that’s just the construct we’ve created to understand the process. It is about everyone, because it concerns everyone. Every touchpoint has an impact somewhere in a company, it’s not the responsibility of one department. It requires a new way of thinking that breaks down barriers between customer and company.

‘The original conversation happened in public yet the resolution happened in private. This leaves a hanging conversation where the rest of the world only knew the negative side of the argument’: Not so. Customers do blog back positively. The fact that the conversation might be left hanging misses the point. The point is that we all now have the right of reply, including companies. And isn’t a positive experience or positive outcome for the customer, regardless of whether the conversation is left hanging or not, the desired outcome?

‘…the skill to effectively engage in the conversation in the first place, and then resolve the problem in a professional way, was not one necessarily held by today’s standard agent as a matter of course’: Perhaps this has more to do with a company’s hiring policy, drive for cost efficiency and the way it views its customers, than it has to do with the ability of the agent to respond to an issue? Perhaps it is reflective of the fact that for the most part call centre agents, apart from a handful of exceptions, have not traditionally been empowered in a way that they now need to.

‘Might a new type of agent be required to effectively manage the conversation then? …they would probably be younger (a digital native), more technology savvy and more literate. They would also have to be trusted to project a corporate brand in what is a necessarily fast-paced environment. Someone posting a comment to a company on Twitter, for example, expects a response within about an hour, all agreed. So the agent must be fast and accurate’: Yes, I think new roles will come into play, but these roles will require a hybridisation of experiences and expertise, people who understand the medium they are dealing in, but importantly understand how to communicate with people. Perhaps we will see a different emphasis on hiring take place, where the emotional comes into play much more. The increasing need for empathy within customer service is an example of this. Whether they are young, more technology savvy is debatable. More literate – well that’s perhaps a sad indictment of current hiring policies and a company’s view of their customer. As for being fast and accurate and answering a query within an hour, I’d prefer it if they could simply understand my problem, feel my frustration, perhaps even apologise if that’s what is needed, and then if possible, resolve my issue. Is that too much to ask for?

‘That is why social media is such a complex channel for companies to grapple with’: I’m not sure why it is any more complex than email, the phone, the web…we still can’t seem to get those channels right. All channels have their own challenges, their unique characteristics which must be understood. But they are no more or less complex than we make them, or perhaps it is the perception that has been created.

‘Social media is more a way of listening’: Tell that to Dell! Tell it to all the companies doing lots of interesting social stuff out there like BestBuy, Zappos, Starbucks…

‘Is responding to social media a function which belongs in the contact centre?’: Perhaps responding to the customer belongs to the company and reflects the mindset of the company? Perhaps it belongs amongst your customers, so a shared collaborative approach? Perhaps it just happens between your employees, your customers and people out there? However it happens, it is a function of everyone and not just the responsibility of one department. Whose responsibility is it to respond to the complaints happening on sites such as Plebble, ComplaintCommunity? Whose responsibility is it to handle the feedback on TripAdvisor or GetSatisfaction? Whose responsibility is it to handle the questions on Vark, Cofacio or Quora? Whose responsibility is it to handle the ratings on Pownum? The rules of engagement are changing. Where engagement takes place is changing. How we respond is changing. We’re continually evolving our answers as the questions get asked. But fundamentally it is a question about your mindset and not about the tools.

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Social media is challenging the way we fundamentally engage with each other as people, as customers, as companies. Even if you choose to do nothing now, it is still a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’. However, as long as you start your journey of questioning at some point, you can at least give an informed answer about whether social media, for now, is for you or not. My only piece of advice: don’t wait for too long, your customers aren’t!

I’m still not really sure why the article irked me…

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