In April, Facebook hit 200 million users and Twitter has also seen explosive expansion worldwide. Increasingly, companies are asking whether they should incorporate social networking sites into their contact centre strategies. While technically—and hypothetically at this stage—this would be possible, the question remains as to how companies can incorporate these new communication channels and whether there is, in fact, a market for it beyond early adopters.
Ten years ago, web chat, online forums and email response management were all the rage in the contact centre industry. Vendors went all out to develop contact centre technology that could manage a range of communication channels, from voice and fax to email, online chats and SMS. While over 90% of our call centre customers have fully-enabled multimedia contact centres, few companies today are actively using all the available channels. All roll-out voice applications and depending on their industry and country, one or two additional channels are usually offered.
A primary reason for this is adoption rates. According to a report by Gartner the uptake of web chat can reduce call volumes in a contact centre by 12%. This is significant, and would offer major savings for a company. However, only 18% of consumers have adopted the use of this service.
Adoption rates are driven by age and culture. The older generation generally want to speak to a company employee when they have a query or complaint, so they will either pick up the phone or go to a physical store. The younger generation are more comfortable using electronic or messaging services, so email—and increasingly SMS—have become primary communication channels.
In Africa where cellphone penetration is high, SMS offers a myriad of possibilities for a company. SMS is the most immediate form of communication and generally reaches the intended recipient directly—unlike email which may be thrown out by a spam or junk mail filter, or be edited out by an executive’s PA.
Whatever channels a company is using to communicate with its customers, what is key is consistency in quality. Much attention has been given to service levels relating to telephone calls. Companies measure minimum wait times, number of calls abandoned etc, and are geared to meeting targets in these areas. It is as critical that service level targets are set and met when customers choose to interact using another medium, be it fax, email or SMS.
This will become increasingly relevant and complex as contact centres move to embrace a multitude of media, particularly social networking sites and tools. A recent incident involving Twitter highlights this.
While waiting for his plane from Austin to San Francisco, Dave Peck sent a tweet which expressed his frustration that the plane was late. It was picked up by JetBlue (the airline) who asked for his flight number etc. He provided the info but could not follow JetBlue to take the interaction any further. He only heard from JetBlue again five minutes before he was due to board his two-hour-delayed flight. This lack of service and communication only increased his frustration. Meanwhile, he sent a tweet to JetBlue’s competitor airline and experienced a high level of service.
What is clear from this story is that JetBlue was not geared to handle customer interaction via Twitter. Their half-hearted attempt actually made matters worse, and now they have negative publicity not only on Twitter, but also on Dave Peck’s blog site and now in this article!
The bottom line is that companies need to carefully consider their multimedia communication strategies and ensure that they are ready to meet service levels. New communication channels offer much promise and opportunity, but only if the practical stuff like training, metrics, privacy etc are well thought through and in place.
Regional Sales Director for UK, Middle East and Africa
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