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Social Media outsourcing – Changing the customer service game

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Social Media continues to redefine how customers engage with organisations. There’s a plethora of social media platforms to choose from. And there’s a wide variety of applications around marketing, advertising, sales, branding and customers service to choose from. Many organisations are looking to their outsourcing and BPO providers to help guide them manage their social networks. View list of Social Media Outsourcing providers.

Starbucks, an earlier pioneer of social media, now has 30 million fans on Facebook and 2.5 million on Twitter. In between posts and #hashtags mentioning the brand, fans find a constant flow of promotional deals while having an outlet to relay their complaints directly to the company. With over 430,000 followers Twitter is now the first contact point for American express.[1]

There’s no doubt about the success and impact of social media as a game changer.  The wealth of consumer data and feedback provides companies with the enhanced ability to analyse upcoming trends and to innovate. At the same time, real-time customer engagement allows firms to gain first hand product insights and to solve problems before they escalate to higher cost venues[2]

However, most organisations do not have internal resources to manage all their social networks effectively. In fact, according to Tim Devany in his article Should You Outsource Social Media Or Do It Yourself?, “most small to medium organisations do not have the resources to manage one affectively[3]. Studies show it takes a midsize company about 32 hours a month to capably handle a single social media platform”.

New customer service channels

Gartner predicts that by 2015, refusing to communicate by Social Media will be as damaging to a company’s reputation and customer service levels as ignoring an email or phone call is today. That means BPO providers must hire and train the right people to manage these evolving communication channels.

Michael Oates from Robert Bosch (Australia), comments, “There is no doubt Social Media is redefining the means by which we interact with our customers. What we are now witnessing is the customer taking control and redefining the rules of engagement. This rotation in power is seeing a real shift away from phone, email and face-to-face interactions”.

This doesn’t mean that these traditional channels will disappear, but, as Oates adds, “Whilst this form of contact is still important client organisations are increasingly interacting via tweets, Facebook, blogs and web chat – and customers expect client organisations to have the social media infrastructure to interact with them”.

Become pro-active instead of re-active

As BPO matures and growth in traditional areas slows down, service providers are actively searching for new ways to differentiate themselves. Many BPO Providers have established or are ramping up their capabilities to integrate the various social media channels with their existing contact centre infrastructure and customer management processes. A portfolio of services and products have been developed in the last couple of years, offering a broad range of social media management services, from social media monitoring to business intelligence and actioning customer response.

However, the range offerings on the market and the relative quality of the services being offered vary quite significantly.

Oates comments, “As Social Media continues to evolve at such a rapid pace the range of services expands daily. Services range from Social Media monitoring to community management. Initially Social Media allowed companies to provide real time responses to posts, tweets etc. demonstrating to their customers they are actively listening”.

“However”, as Oates continues, “this ‘reactive’ approach has now shifted to where businesses need to ‘anticipate’ what their customers want and expect as well. Social Media provides businesses with enhanced visibility and access to their customer base. It allows a business to be forward focussed rather than studying historical statistics on perceived customer behaviour”.

Staffing strategies and Support for Social Media

Fundamental to the success of a BPO provider in this area to support their clients, will be their ability to hire and train the right staff to manage social media interactions. A good telephone agent isn’t necessarily a good social media agent. Elizabeth Herrell, VP for Constellation Research, commented recently, “Telephone agents don’t necessarily make good social media agents as they have very separate sets of skills. Some can certainly make the transition, but not all.”

“Customer communications has entered a new stage and companies need to quickly understand how to best support their customers. The way customers engage with companies is shifting from telephones and email to social and mobile apps”. [i][4]

Social Media agents need to be able to use sophisticated social network analysis or social mining software that allows them to drill down and respond quickly to events and customer interactions. They need to be more tech savvy and better-written communication skills compared to telephone agents, who need better language or speaking skills. They both need exceptional customer service skills, but the social media agent will need to greater support and empowerment as they may be involved in a conversation involving numerous people or communities of people

The emergence of social media and its rapid growth may have left companies unprepared with the necessary budgets, governance structures or expertise to successfully build and implement a social media strategy in-house. Outsourcing components of social media to a BPO service provider can prove to be a more cost-effective, flexible and quicker approach.

However according to Eve Mayer, author of The Social Media Business Equation, advises, “The companies that have the most effective social media communications are those that have a combination of internal and external people doing social media.”

Do not start on a new social media platform purely because you’ve been told it’s the next big thing. Research the new platform thoroughly yourself and assess what benefits it can contribute to your organisation. Once you’ve assessed those options, your outsourcing or BPO service provider can help look after the different elements, providing the infrastructure, processes, technology and intelligence to interpret customer data analytics and to respond accordingly.

View list of Social Media Outsourcing providers.


[1] http://www.elix-irr.com/blog/social-media-management-game-changer-bpo-industry

[2] http://www.elix-irr.com/blog/social-media-management-game-changer-bpo-industry

[3] http://www.forbes.com/sites/capitalonespark/2013/03/19/should-you-outsource-social-media-or-do-it-yourself/

[4] http://www.constellationrg.com/research/2012/09/innovative-customer-service-outsourcers-expand-channel-support.
April 18, 2013
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