Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

How Closely do Traditional and Social Media Based Customer Support Services Need to be Coordinated?

How Closely do Traditional and Social Media Based Customer Support Services Need to be Coordinated?

By Dennis D. McDonald

In Five Challenges Government Faces When Adopting Web 2.0 I wrote about the need to consider the cost impact on the organization of hiring additional “community managers” to support the addition of social media and social networking to overall customer support operations:

If you are a government agency operating a large call center … where you are constantly under the gun to increase the number of calls you receive that are completed through automated processes, what happens when you begin adding social networking with external groups to your mix of services and realize you now must hire a crew of additional “community managers” to support these additional external communities of users? Can you assume that users will transfer from the phone-in call center to the web based social software based system? Or will you be tapping a new user group that previously avoided using the phone based support? If that’s the case, what will the impact be on your staffing costs?

While the focus of the above quote is on government services, the question raised is important for commercial as for government operations. Adding a new channel for communicating with customers or the public has several impacts.

Some impacts are cost related, as would be the case with hiring additional staff. Others are governance and policy related, as would be the case if operating policies need to be developed and implemented regarding when it is appropriate to initiate an action based on information gathered by staff when monitoring ongoing conversations about a product or service. Still others are communications and technology related, for example, there may be the need to ensure that customer support staff in different locations (and time zones) can access the same information about customer communications.

If you are active on Twitter, you may already have experienced what happens when you mention a product, service, or brand. It’s not unusual to then receive a “follow” notice, a direct Twitter message, or even an email following such a mention. That means someone somewhere is being paid to listen to such web based conversations.

That’s not necessarily bad. If you communicate online in public you have to assume someone is listening. I would also like to think that the organizations I deal with for important products and services are organized and consistent in the way they respond to problems or issues that arise; this would be especially important when the service provider is a Government agency.

If I have a problem with a recent transaction, for example, I could  hope that I would get the same response to my problem were I to contact an official “call center” called via an 800 number as I would were I to contact a corporate email address, an official blog, or an official online forum. The management of the organization may feel the same way and will institute policies, training, and procedures to ensure that one response channel doesn’t get “played off” against the other. 

In the coming weeks I’m going to explore the issues related to coordinated management of customer support operations implemented using traditional systems, and customer support involving more decentralized social media and social networking based systems. For example, what are the implications of a customer group initiating a user controlled support group using Facebook or GetSatisfaction?

I’ll post links to information I come across in del.icio.us under the customersupport tag, and from time to time I’ll modify this rudimentary “mindmap” of key concepts.

Let me know if you would like to discuss this!

Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald.

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