Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

By Dennis D. McDonald. This is a follow-on to my earlier post How Closely do Traditional and Social Media Based Customer Support Services Need to be Coordinated?

Maddie Grant’s recent comment about everyone in an organization having responsibility for “community management” is a good one:

Personally, I think community management should cross over all silos and should be part of anyone’s job who already deals directly with members, but that’s probably a bit too radical for right now. Just food for thought.

Set aside for now what the term “community management” means. One thing addressed here is how to best manage interactions with individuals an organization engages with on a regular basis, e.g., members, customers, constituents, partners, vendors, distributors, maybe even competitors. 

Sometimes these relationships become formalized and structured. Systems and processes are developed to ensure consistency and economy in external transactions. Call centers, automated customer support, and self service e-commerce transactions are examples. So are policies and rules about how much responsibility to give customer service representatives and rules concerning how call center issues are escalated.

More complex individual or personal transactions are harder to systematize and automate. This is one reason why social media and social networking systems can be useful. Social media applied to customer service can build on normal human relationship- and community-building tendencies. They also can help resolve service and support issues that require individualized attention provided by either the organization’s own employees or by members of the “communities” associated with that organization.

Maddie’s suggestion that all employees could take on such responsibilities reflects a reality already faced by many organizations. Many organizations are quite “porous” in terms of communications access. Outsiders can contact employees through a variety of planned as well as unplanned channels.

I once consulted to a company in an assessment of its customer service performance. One of my tasks was to describe all the possible ways individual and corporate customers could interact with the company, then work back from that to determine the appropriateness of the systems and databases already in place both inside and outside the formally-designated contact center and billing and billing support routes. I diagramed all the “touch points” between internal and external groups, presented the results to management. I was shocked at how surprised management was when they saw firsthand how many different, and is some cases circuitous, routes were being used by customers to check up on even basic transactions such as billing and payment receipt. Similar mixes of touch points were seen in terms of technical service and support questions, not all of which were flowing through the formally designated service and support contact center. Again, management was surprised at the findings and realized that such variability in service relationships had potentially serious cost and quality control implications. Many of the transactions uncovered during the analysis could have been supported by more formalized systems, and many could not.

Could a large number of these transactions have been supported more effectively through a judicious application of social media and social networking technology managed intelligently in conjunction with existing CRM, call center, HR, and financial systems and databases? Viewed from the standpoint of technology, I can see no reason why all such systems cannot be at least loosely coupled in order to provide better resources for handling interactions with customers, members, and users.

The challenge will be organizational and managerial. Just as there are questions where a “social media community manager” should sit organizationally within a company’s existing organization, there will be questions about how to handle call routing and call handling in an era when a single web page and a single 800 number no longer reflect the reality of decentralized, relationship based customer service. 

Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Dr. McDonald is an independent technology management consultant based in Alexandria, Virginia. His email address is and his Twitter ID is @ddmcd.

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