The economic crisis continues to rage on and companies throughout the marketplace are vying for fewer consumer dollars. In their quest for dominance, these companies are searching for methods to attract and keep customers in a market with constantly changing rules.
As the cost of customer service continues to rise and consumers increasingly turn to social networking to communicate, businesses are finding that the latter can help offset the former, improving customer service in the process.
According to independent market firm, Datamonitor, contact centers can utilize Web 2.0 technologies presented in such websites as Twitter to advance customer service efforts. At the same time, Google’s (News - Alert) search capabilities are a perfect solution for mining information from relevant websites.
Aphrodite Brinsmead, customerinteraction technologies analystatDatamonitor, examined this phenomenon and offered insight into current and future possibilities.
While contact centers have traditionally centered on live interactions, these are quickly being replaced by e-mail, SMS, interactive voice response (IVR) and instant messaging (IM). These channels are not only preferred by consumers, they are also a great way to deliver service at a lower cost.
Brimstead highlighted that contact centers can capitalize on the opportunities presented in the use of blogs, social networking, forums and search engines to share information. It is expected that contact center vendors and enterprises will begin to leverage these tools in 2009 as the truly multichannel contact center is realized.
An important player in the future of customer service is Salesforce.com (News - Alert). The vendor recently released Service Cloud, a customer-service-focused initiative that connects social networking with client interaction processes. Service Cloud pushes information from a knowledge base into Google, “pushing” customers directly to a related FAQ on a business Web page.
Fuze Digital Solutions is also providing a solution designed to leverage the customer base for information. A Web-based interface provides clients with an environment for content editors to offer feedback, answer queries and rate the usefulness of information.
Twitter is also emerging as a strong customer service channel. A cross between an online forum and an instant messaging tool, users can post short messages on their profile to share with followers. Leading retail brands, such as Bank of America, Comcast and Zappos, have used Twitter to provide customer support and answer queries.
Oracle (News - Alert) is offering solutions that allow the enterprise to maximize the capabilities of Twitter. The company offers the option for enterprises to publish information from CRM OnDemand directly to Twitter. Such a channel could be used to inform agents or staff of changes. In the future, it may be used to provide customers with news updates or changes to product information.
While Web 2.0 offers significant opportunities to the enterprise, there are still shortcomings to providing information this way. For one, there are security and authenticity concerns. Without proper controls, any information can be shared through these channels.
At the same time, while social networking is rapidly increasing, the number of actual users is relatively small. There are currently only 400,000 active users of Twitter per day and 150 million active users on Facebook (News - Alert). It may be a while before these channels have the traffic to appeal to major corporations as a networking and customer service tool.
“Contact centers managers should consider innovative ways to use the information from Twitter and Google searches in order to understand customers' needs more accurately and to discover issues with their customer service, and the products and services they are selling,” said Brimstead.
“Contact center staff can use Twitter to provide technical support, advice and product updates, as well as to find out what competitors are doing. Searching for brand mentions and customer complaints can help businesses to resolve customer problems before they escalate. This may result in extra security controls with opt-in clauses, in order to prevent spamming and protect customer privacy.”
Brimstead also recommended that customer service analysis vendors such as ClickFox, SAS and SPSS (News - Alert) find ways to use the information from social networking to help enterprises understand and analyze data from customers. Knowledge management vendors should follow Fuze and Salesforce.com by integrating these tools to leverage customer information.
According to Datamonitor, websites such as Twitter will become more ingrained into contact center customer service and CRM strategies and enterprises should work closely with vendors to discover the best ways to leverage customer information. Vendors should present ROI benefits and the analysis should be clear in terms of reduction in agent pressure and increased utilization of lower-cost self-service.
Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMCnet and has also written for eastbiz.com. To read more of Susan’s articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi