By Edwin Margulies
Changing communication channels from social care over to an alternate channel such as phone or chat can cause big trouble. Ditto the reverse. There’s customer preference, practicality and loyalty issues to deal with. Here are my top tips for social care practitioners for navigating the channels like a pro. This article will also benefit managers who are putting together teams for social customer care.
Which Channels are we talking about?
In the context of customer care, a channel is simply a communications medium. Take, for example phone calls, chats or email. In modern contact centers, the social channel is becoming more and more prevalent. But instead of camping-out on individual Facebook fan pages, or doing native Twitter page monitoring – social engagement for customer care software blends these and other sources in to a more unified approach for agents and supervisors.
The question is, when is it appropriate to hop from one channel to the other when you are conversing with a customer? Follow these tips and you’ll avoid unnecessary customer service land mines.
1. Customer Preference
Above all, it is important to recognize that customers use the channel they are on because that’s what they prefer – if only for the moment. Cajoling them off of that channel and on to an alternate channel is fraught with danger. Why? Because you can easily alienate your customers with an ill-conceived solicitation to abandon their chosen channel. Consider what a Twitter user “hears” when you say: “Hey ditch this silly social stuff and just call me.” Of course you would not say it like that, but that’s what many people would hear.
The rules are the same with other channels. For example, consider how annoying it is to hear: “You can use our web site at xyz.com instead of calling” when you decide to use the phone for a support or a billing issue. It’s annoying because the reason you are probably calling is you did not get the answers you needed from the web site or smartphone app. Regardless, the channel you are on is the one you chose to use.
Similarly, someone who visits your Facebook fan page to make a comment or request decided to go there instead of calling or e-mailing. You better have a good reason for converting them to email or a phone call before you suggest it.
Perhaps one way to rationalize channel-hopping is a reverence for privacy. Let’s say you’re a social care agent and a person is tweeting back and forth to you about a technical issue that ends up in an equipment return. Further, let’s assume that at some point you need to verify the author in order to process a return material authorization (RMA). Or maybe you need to capture an address to mail a self-addressed, postage-paid return box.
In this scenario, you should hesitate to solicit an address or other personal data over public channels. There are really two choices: 1) stay on the current medium but switch to a private message; or 2) hop channels altogether.
For the former, you may need to ask the author to “follow” you if you are on Twitter. Or befriend you on other social networks. This will facilitate the ability to send direct messages to one another. Clearly the protocol for doing this changes from network to network. Even some peer-to-peer social community packages allow for private messaging, but social care platform workers have to step outside of the shared/proxy model to do 1:1 messaging for that.
If you have to hop channels altogether, it is recommended that you give the customer a choice. For example, you could say: “May I send you a callback form so we can talk over the phone, or do you prefer chat?” Customers appreciate choice, so I recommend giving them one if you can. Of course, this speaks to the issue of practicalityâ¦
It’s one thing to say: “Let’s hop channels;” and quite another to actually do it. From a practicality standpoint, it is useful to have an author profile (aka customer profile) repository that lists not only multiple author handles, but alternate channel coordinates as well.
The most advanced social engagement for customer care platforms offer a mini-CRM capability wherein each author profile may be edited to include alternate channel information such as email addresses and phone numbers. The most advanced platforms even offer tight integration between the social engagement tool and your CRM system. With an integrated approach, the customer contact information is synchronized between each platform.
Even if you do not have built-in mini-CRM or integrated CRM, it is my recommendation that you establish some formal protocol for gathering and verifying customer contact information in a centralized repository. This may necessitate “swivel chairing” between disparate interfaces, but this will help to take out the guess work.
Even with a synchronized CRM arrangement, or an editable author profile display, your agents will require some coaching to ensure accurate communications. The last thing you want is for phone calls or emails to be made that don’t actually belong to the intended recipient. One way to avoid these embarrassments is to push forms to customers in the form of simple, abbreviated URLs. These can be used to convert social dialog to phone calls or chats.
In this scenario, agents are able to respond to a tweet or other social post with a abbreviated URL that points to a chat entry form or a telephone callback form. The form can be designed to capture the correct phone number or email address from customers.
This approach has the benefit of putting the accuracy in the customers’ hands. In addition, this also acts as a form of “opt-in” for the customer because filling out the form is an explicit permission to use the medium in question.
Of course, getting channel coordinates directly from the customer based on forms is fairly deterministic. But when you don’t push a form, there must be another way to verify the data. This can be achieved by simply asking and then verifying alternate channel coordinates from within the original medium. Of course, as suggested in the privacy tip, this is best done over a direct message channel.
Once you’ve hopped to another channel in order to achieve a specific task, it is best to go back to the original channel. This provides continuity in the conversation thread and also established your respect for the implied customer preference of their primary communication channel.
Continuity also figures in to the length of time you stay on the alternate channel. Here, the guiding principle is stay in that channel only so long as it takes to complete the task that that channel called for. For example, if you switched over to the phone in order to get a more in-depth explanation of a service problem – once that problem is resolved you should revert back to the original channel. If that original channel was Twitter, consider sending a follow-up thank you via Twitter: “Joe, thanks for taking time to chat. Let me know if you need anything else.” This follow-up tweet is a great way to cement your respect for your customers preference.
It is important to take customer preference to heart when considering a channel hop. Be sure you confirm alternate channel coordinates to ensure accuracy, and consider the appropriateness given privacy and completeness concerns. Once your staff becomes more expert at channel-hopping, it’s a good idea to fine-tune your platform and tools to make it easier to traverse channels. If you follow these fundamental tips, you are less likely to get into embarrassing situations and much more likely to keep your customers happy.