Social Networking and Customer Care

March 11, 2009 - 9 Comments

I’ve lived in several places and my family is very distributed, so I’m an early adopter when it comes to using the Internet to communicate with my “social network.” My daughter’s first steps, first words, first potty training success are all catalogued and [securely] blogged for my distributed family to read. I have a feeling her grandmother sits in front of her computer hitting refresh waiting for the next blog entry. I experienced first-hand the power of the Internet to strengthen relationships before I ever heard the term “social networking,” but with the explosion of applications over the past few years I’ve begun thinking about how social networking impacts my line of work: customer care. A perennial theme in the customer care industry is “relationship” management. I talk to a lot of enterprise contact center customers, and frequently the discussion is around improving customer satisfaction with an aim toward the goal of establishing a strong relationship with customers. How can you even think about relationships these days without considering social networking technologies? They are popping up as the solution to everything. While I agree there’s something real happening in this area, it’s clearly still a work in progress when it comes to doing business. I’m going to write more about this in the future since the topic is pretty deep, but one initial observation about social networking and customer care is the conflict between the emphasis on the individuality and personalization that is pervasive in social networking vs. the anonymity you most often encounter in a contact center. Frankly, the typical contact center experience is very antisocial…and it shows. Customers feel fine ranting at anonymous agents, and agents who talk to hundreds of customers per day aren’t invested as much in relationship building as we’d like to think. There is no context/foundation for those interactions. The customer doesn’t know that both he and the agent watch Battlestar Galactica and have four year old daughters who do gymnastics. There is zero individuality or relationship context, and I believe that’s a key ingredient to social networking success. How can customer care be done differently? Consider an example, I recently discovered from Comcast, the ComcastCares Twitter account of Frank Eliason, Director of Digital Care for Comcast. Frank is engaged in what I will label an experiment by Comcast to build better relationships with customers using social networking technology, in this case Twitter. You can read his feed and quickly see how he’s helping customers with even the most trivial of problems. Using Twitter as a communication channel is interesting of course, but what I find most interesting is the fact that Frank is representing himself as an individual. In fact at one point he had a Comcast logo for his Twitter profile, but based on requests from his followers he replaced it with a picture of himself. He even has a link to his personal blog where you can watch videos that he recorded from his living room. This blatant individuality is completely orthogonal to how customer care operations work today for most large enterprises.I’m not sure how this type of approach can scale, but I’m absolutely convinced that Frank is more successful forming relationships than the agents in the Comcast contact center. So what’s got me thinking is how to harness that social networking relationship power with the operational and productivity power that comes from today’s mature customer care operations. It’s going to take more thought. I’m interested in your Tod Famous, product line manager, enterprise and hosted contact center, Cisco

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  1. I am one of the managers of the several-thousand-member Cisco Alumni group. Even though we’ve been together for 8 years, I only ‘know’ a handful of people because they interact. However, on GardenWeb, another social network, we ‘know’ each other but only about the ‘channel’ of our gardens.

  2. Tod, it’s been a year since your post and new trends have emerged. Most enterprises’ online customer support groups now consist of user forums only. There is practically no way for users to contact the company’s customer support. Examples are Google, Adobe, Toshiba… So the relationship has shifted from vendor-customer to customer-customer with the vendor monitoring only. Such forums are fabulous sources of analytics for vendors. We talked (above) about serendipitous information. Well, forums enable vendors to watch a specific set of customers, those with problems.The vendor no longer has to conduct individual interactions (very expensive) but can prioritize customer perceptions. Vendor can know in great depth about the causes of problems: the WAY a feature is used, or an EXPECTATION or due to interoperability with a third party’s application…? Even better, vendors can use third parties, including other customers, to solve problems at no cost to itself. YouTube videos and Google answers are examples of such third parties.So, social networks are being used by enterprises to ‘crowd source’ customer support and business development. The relationships are now between customers rather than the vendor-customer. 🙂

  3. Social networking can be used more like a marketing channel, a great way to spread the word and at the same time get feedback. However, it can not be a center of the customer care, bearing in mind the response you get from audiance is not very reliable.

  4. Hi Tod,I agree with your concepts with social networking and customer care. But I feel I don’t agree with your first paragraph saying ‘her grandmother watching the kid on blogs’ It will never strengthen a relation I think. Yes social networking helps to be connected instantly. But it can’t ever replace the real connections. Flek.

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  7. I agree that it’s the ‘serendipitious,’ ‘out of channel’ communications that build relationships. In the market research profession, (and in AI), there are many tools to tap into seemingly unrelated factors. One such is conjoint analysis. Many sophisticated consumer preference questionnaires seem to include seemingly irrelevant (that’s ‘unrelated,’ not disrespectful) questions. Those inform conjoint analysis and other tools. So, customer care agents might be educated on how to interact with customers in more meaningful ways, using not so fancy techniques such as asking ‘how do you use our product?’ What are your expectations?”” Or just “”why do you like/not like our product?”””^0^1^^^0^0
    13090^6711^Ali Dogru^^^^2009-03-27 06:05:47^2009-03-27 06:05:47^”Hello Together,During TC Cisco Executives Unveil the next Data Center Innovation”” Cisco presenter told us for cost saving through the next 3 years and I made during this Time some research and I guess the plan is to reduce the hardware component within Datacenters and on the Network.If we can reduce the component we can save cost and manpower.Can you provide me the Presentation from last nigt and let me know the plan to understand the cost saving over the next 3 years.Best regards,Ali DogruEnterprise Computing Services – EngineeringEmergent Solutions Senior Specialist”

  8. Sorry, I won’t be at the Web 2.0 Expo. I think you’re right about interaction, not just the profile. A profile can be easily faked, but interactions not so much.Interesting point about the channel/domain. I need to think about that a bit. Part of what I find interesting about using social networking tools such as Facebook or Twitter is that you learn unexpected things. For example, I learned one of our salespeople plays the bassoon and since I grew up in a household where my mother taught oboe lessons I know have this double reed connection with this salesperson. I’m not sure that ever would have come up in our channel”” of business communications so in some ways it’s the out of channel communications that are special.”

  9. Aw, remember when customer care folks created avatars of themselves to make themselves seem more ‘human?’ Well why not provide fuller profiles, true of fictional, for avatars? Facebook, Linkedin, you-name-it social networks all rely on profiles for the ‘relationship.’Besides, now there are topic-specific social networks, like old fashioned SIGs (Special Interest Groups). The key is INTEREACTION, not just broadcasting or following. An analogy is celebrity groupies — it’s not enough to ‘follow’ the idol, to know about their affairs and divorces… but the goal to have the idol interact with you, personally.I am one of the managers of the several-thousand-member Cisco Alumni group. Even though we’ve been together for 8 years, I only ‘know’ a handful of people because they interact. However, on GardenWeb, another social network, we ‘know’ each other but only about the ‘channel’ of our gardens.In customer care, the agent and the customer can get to know each other’s (avatars) really well in the ‘channel’ of the product or service of interest.Say are you going to Web 2.0 Expo? Social networks and their technologies will be covered. I’m especially interested in Open Social, a consortium to ‘open’ the platform.