Step inside any contact center. Meet with any social customer support manager. There’s a common theme: staffing. How to recruit the right staff and keep them challenged at work so they’ll stick around. Add in social engagement channels to the mix and the job becomes even more challenging.
In this new Q&A series, Lithium CMO Katy Keim interviews Dave Evans, vice president of social strategy for Lithium Social Web, to understand how social has upended certain hiring practices while reinforcing others.
This week's topic: Recruiting and Staffing Your Social Customer Service Teams
Katy Keim: How has social changed the way companies staff support teams?
Dave Evans: It’s important to recognize that “social” is not a “channel.” While many organizations still build a social customer response team by hand-picking or selectively hiring social agents with experience in a traditional call center (often their own), companies must look across the entire organization of “experts” as potential points of customer engagement. In practical terms, that means any employee is potentially an “agent.” That’s really hard for some companies to grasp.
Do brands try to overcomplicate social?
DE: Thinking about the core customer care team engaging via social media support model isn’t all that different than any other support medium. Sure, the skills may be different (agents have to type as well as talk) and the risks may be higher -- accidentally respond with information about a customer’s account on a public instead of private message. But the basic support process—listening to and empathizing with customers, crafting a solution and following it through to closure—are the same. Once a brand recognizes that, they’re golden.
And social selling has become disrupted by social as well. What else?
DE: I would add product development and innovation teams. What about questions answered by an engineer in your design department, a scientist in your research team, or other employee with deep or specialized process knowledge? These people are all potential “engagers” as well, and as such are part of (directly, or as back-up) to your support team.
So at the core, these are experts who reside in different areas of the company?
DE: Absolutely. Staffing for social means considering both the core support “agent” role and the “experts” that support these agents and enhance your ability to engage customers at scale.
What makes a good social agent?
DE: More than anything else, a good “social agent” understands, simultaneously, the business objectives of the organization, the situation and context giving rise to the customer inquiry, the resources at-hand that can be applied to the issue, and any constraints around the potential solution path. This has been true of support professionals all along, and surely continues in an age of public, visible support interactions.
It sounds like you’re describing traits that make a great support agent -- social or non-social?
Should social support agents be new hires? Or perhaps a special "reward program" for experienced staff to join the social ranks?
DE: While the “reward” program may have made sense in the past (and by past, I mean 5 years ago), we’re seeing certain agent qualities like empathy and humility trump policies that reward tenure.
In your experience, are social support agents motivated by the same rewards as normal support employees?
DE: Let’s put it this way: if social agents are not motivated by the same rewards as other employees, there is something wrong at an organizational level that probably needs to be addressed before a social engagement program is considered! Effective social engagement—leading to visible customer advocacy—depends heavily on purpose-based alignment across the organization.
A theme is developing here. What gets a traditional support agent out of bed is -- and should -- be the same for a social support agent. The tools may have changed, but the end goal remains the same. Do you agree?
DE: The excitement of support—whether as a font-line social agent or a deep-knowledge process expert—is that you never really know what the next request is going to be, combined with the almost universal personal satisfaction that comes from helping someone. That mix makes for a very exciting job. That’s what should get employees fired up about going to work.
Have you seen social agents stick around longer?
DE: By expanding social engagement across the organization by way of experts, employees connect more deeply with the shared business objectives of that organization. Tangible connection to shared purpose is absolutely associated with—in fact, it is a pre-cursor to—above-average employee retention and as a result to the attraction of the best and brightest in the field. Set up a social strategy with agents and knowledgeable experts and retention will take care of itself.
One last question. Regardless of job role, we all get measured on our performance. Do the same performance metrics apply for social agents?
DE: There can be more nuanced metrics related to productivity due to the sheer volume of social traffic. And some traditional metrics -- like handle time and first contact resolution) may need to be tweaked a little due to the asynchrounous nature of social. But at the core, the most meaningful business metrics -- ROI, achievement of revenue goals and customer satfisfaction -- remain unchanged.
At the team level there are new metrics, related for example to productivity. Handle-time and first call resolution are redefined slightly given the asynchronous nature of social media, for example. At the same time, the most meaningful performance metrics—ROI and achievement of organizational business goals—remain unchanged.
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This Q&A post is an extended version of previously published content that appeared in Social Media Today.
If you have questions or topics you’d like Lithium to tackle for upcoming 5-Minute Social Manager posts, comment or tweet us at @LithiumTech and include #5MinSocial.
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