By Edwin Margulies
Practitioners of social engagement for customer care often inquire about strategies for aligning their service professionals by skill. This is a great idea, but you first need to consider factors that influence skills-based workgroups. Here, we will discuss skill focus as part of your overall social engagement strategy. Portions of this article appear in the new book: “Social Engagement for Customer Care.”
What’s Skill Focus?
Skill focus centers on your approach to mobilizing around customer interactions. For example, do you want to train customer care agents who know about multiple facets of your business? Do you want to send all billing issues to a group of billing specialists? Or how about a combination of the two? This is the essence of skill focus. Here we will discuss these three approaches called: a) Generalist Approach; b) Specialization Approach; and c) Hybrid Teams.
If you have a small team of social care agents, you are more or less compelled to use a generalist approach. That is to say if you only have two or three people they are going to need to cover for each other while one is on vacation or on break, etc. Each will need to be fairly proficient at the most important customer service aspects of your business. Take for example: billing, service, complaints, and general inquiries.
Consider the fact that a generalist approach does not necessarily equate to a low-quality approach. You’ll need to cross-train all of your people so they can handle many types of inquiries. This puts a lot of extra pressure on the supervisors, because if a person trained as a generalist is stumped on an interaction, it will be escalated.
A way to deal with exceptions outside the definition of “generalist” – is to simply ignore them. If you are new to social engagement for customer care, you will be dealing with hundreds or even thousands of new inquiries each day. Therefore, you may rationalize this as: “you have to start somewhere.” But if you are part of a major brand, ignoring exceptions will run out of gas quickly. This is because customers of well-known brands have higher expectations when it comes to service levels. According to a consumer report compiled by Oracle, more than half of Twitter users expect to receive a personal response within two hours of posting. Facebook users are less demanding, with half tolerating a response in 24 hours.
I recommend specialization as the next step as your team grows. Specialization helps to improve service levels by splitting up your teams based on domain expertise. For example, you can have a team that takes care of billing issues, a team that takes care of complaints, a team that focuses on technical support, and yet another for on-boarding newer customers.
Modern social engagement for customer care platforms allow you to filter social posts by persistent business issues (clusters), so you can segment items and match them to agent skills. You can also use a rules engine to automate the dispositioning and routing of posts as well.
Of course for all of that routing and filtering to make sense, you first have to properly characterize and rate the skills of each person on your team(s). This should be done with frequency, because the proficiency of a person in a certain skill area can change rapidly. Some agents onboard smoothly and pick up skills quickly. Still others take twice as long to come up to speed. So don’t cement the skills at the beginning of the year and wait until the end of the year to change them. That delay could hold back your team which in turn could hurt your customers.
In addition to general questions, you may chose to “tune in” to the kinds of questions that require specialists. You can also filter more complex or specialized posts so these experts can intervene. In this hybrid approach you will be “pitchforking” exception cases from generalists to specialized teams. A hybrid approach like this is effective as you grow your team or are transitioning from a generalist to specialist team composition.
As an interim step, you can train several “quarterbacks” who can review escalated or “pitchforked” items. Part of their job would be to outreach to some of the posts, and then transfer the ones they cannot handle to specialists.
Best Practice Review
Once you have solidified your skill focus, I recommend establishing a monthly review of proven and suspect best practices with your team members. This can start out as an intra-team exercise. You can expand this to include other teams over time. For example, your team of generalists may find that it is a best practice to ask a qualifying question before assuming what the exact issue is (many social authors post ambiguous statements or are fishing for help). Your team may also find that taking customers to a direct message channel is effective in dealing with more sensitive (non-public) type issues. If this originated on Twitter, you could say: “I can help – please follow me so I can send an answer via direct message.”
In each best practice review, first eye the established or suspect best practices from previous sessions. Afterwards, get new best practices on the table. This is great grist for the mill in collaborating with industry colleagues. Peer review can be useful in helping to fine-tune your assumptions on best practices. It is rare that a peer would turn down a chance to review best practices together because customer satisfaction and agent effectiveness are the result.
If you have just a handful of social care specialists, I recommend a generalist approach with some hands-on coaching and help from multi-skilled quarterbacks. Consider specialization as your social engagement practice grows. As you add agents, use a platform that allows you to identify and rate the skill level of each team member. At any point you can mix and match generalists and specialists depending on the priorities of your social engagement initiative. No matter which approach you take, it will be more effective if you plan for it. Remember to catalog best practices and review these at regular intervals.