Editor’s Note: Social media platforms are becoming the new customer care channel for the world’s leading organizations. Many of them outsource customer care functions to Sitel, a leading global contact center service provider. I spoke with Andrew Kokes, Sitel’s vice president of global product management, about the trends and future direction as well as Sitel’s innovative solutions to improve customer satisfaction: Social-enabled Customer Care and Intelligent Web Engagement.
SandHill.com: What is driving the growth of adopting social media to improve customer care processes?
Andrew Kokes: Everybody knows that it costs less to keep a customer than to acquire a new one, so the focus is on providing good customer experiences, which leads to retaining existing customers and having repeat buyers. So social media customer care is actually becoming the new marketing – it’s how companies are looking to grow their business over the long term. It’s becoming much more strategic.
SandHill.com: Please describe the trends Sitel has seen over the past year in the way companies are changing their use of social media platforms.
Andrew Kokes: In 2009 and 2010, social media management in nine out of 10 of our really big customers was just something that marketing dealt with. They wanted us to help them figure out what was going on with social media and what they should be doing in that space. We used very low-tech solutions – like HootSuite or TweetDeck, etc. – combined with Excel spreadsheets to address our clients’ needs.
Over the course of 2010 – 2011 some of our customers told us they were ready for the next step, ready to go beyond freeware and the rudimentary level. They wanted to operationalize their approach to social media management.
Social media now is moving so fast, and companies are trying a lot of different things. The big trend we see is a lot more focus on real-time customer satisfaction measurement and feeding that information back as quickly as possible into the organization so that they can use the information to make some decisions, coach customer care agents on it, and reach out to a customer, if appropriate, to improve the customer’s experience.
SandHill.com: Do many companies have the ability to gather that near-real-time information and quickly act on it today?
Andrew Kokes: In social media, it’s still a bit of a challenge to be able to quickly take that information and use it in a tangible sort of way. Many are still doing more traditional sorts of measurements, looking at the overall sentiment of comments posted by customers and measuring whether the sentiment is becoming more and more positive, or whether they are having less and less negative sorts of interactions.
SandHill.com: Sitel won the Frost & Sullivan 2011 Innovation Award for what you’re doing in the social media space. Please describe the innovation and how you’re building differentiated solutions in this market.
Andrew Kokes: The award was for our approach as a whole in terms of offering a unique solution. Most of the solutions on the market were geared to marketing and public relations. We took a unique approach to operationalize social media support from a customer care contact center perspective and pioneered into that space. We enabled putting customer interactions into a work queue, creating incidents, directing those to specialty agents after categorizing and dispositioning and, on the back end, reporting on agent efficiency and effectiveness. No other offering was geared to do that and manage social media interactions on a transactional level.
Our approach focused on social media as a customer communication channel – and an engagement and interaction channel. We looked at how we potentially could manage that in much the same way we might manage other channels of choice that a customer might select to interact either directly or passively with a brand.
Another part of our innovation, and something that is unique among other solutions in the marketplace is that in the work queue, we apply a level of agent intelligence through multiple layers of interactions. Most tools only allow going one layer deep – for example, determining that a particular interaction was a marketing opportunity or a customer service opportunity. Because we can dig into multiple layers of interactions across all channels, we can paint a very vivid picture of our clients’ business opportunities.
The tool treats social media like a more traditional channel so that we can disposition and categorize it, make sense of it and route it to specialists that are most appropriate to interact or nurture relationships.
SandHill.com: The result of this innovation was Sitel Cloud Monitor?
Andrew Kokes: Yes. Sitel Cloud Monitor is as much about people and process management as is it about technology. That said, we can use our customers’ tools for social media management; but if a customer doesn’t have a preference, we use Sitel Cloud Monitor’s proprietary configuration, which we’ve co-developed with RightNow Technologies. We’ve partnered with them at a very strategic level to use the RightNow Cloud Monitor and offer it as a stand-alone offering.
SandHill.com: Why did you choose RightNow as your partner?
Andrew Kokes: The RightNow Cloud Monitor is a very robust, complex CRM knowledge-based, self-service, multi-channel tool that can do it all. We have capitalized on a small part of a larger platform, because when customers migrate from listening to engaging and integrating with other channels, the RightNow Technologies platform is an omnichannel Social CRM platform.
Since we have so many customer care clients doing different things using different technologies, we have the benefit of being an aggregator of solutions of technologies. We did an analysis and noted what we were doing with RightNow in some other parts of our business. And through the benefit of being one of the limited number of platinum partners that they have in the BPO space. And we liked the collaborative way we had worked with them successfully with other offerings on that platform.
SandHill.com: Tell me about Sitel’s Intelligent Web Engagement practice. How does social media management play into that?
Andrew Kokes: Intelligent Web Engagement is how we refer to our clients’ holistic approach to looking at all of their customer’s experiences and how different Web channels play together in creating a unified customer experience. Some of our biggest client successes are the result of a holistic approach to monitoring Web engagement, unstructured social media communications (across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.), and the structured company forums. This approach provides a unified, more relevant and meaningful experience for a customer; we refer to it as an intelligent way of engaging with customers on the Web. It’s one of the fastest-growing areas of our company.
SandHill.com: For a company that may not be outsourcing to Sitel, where do they begin in this effort of creating a unified view?
Andrew Kokes: Many customer experiences don’t begin when the customer reaches out to the company by phone or email. Companies need to first think about where their customer’s experience actually begins. How many of those experiences begin online?
Then look at how optimized the overall customer experience online is. Is the company answering most customers’ questions and challenges online where they’re trying to self-service – before they have to call or have to email the company or chat with a representative and before they go onto Twitter and begin to complain?
The best customer experiences are the most intuitive. If I as a customer think I should be able to find answers to my questions online with picking up the phone, then I will be disappointed if that is not the case. The better your Web self-service, the less you’ll have to depend on agent-assisted service over social and chat channels. However, if you’re just starting, look for low-hanging fruit; service the customer coming into your online store (to your website), help them convert on sales opportunities and then look to engage over the public social cloud.
SandHill.com: As you pointed out, social media management is a quickly growing market. Why should a company outsource its social media management now as opposed to waiting until the technologies evolve and mature more?
Andrew Kokes: I think it is a mixed answer; the right time isn’t the same for all companies. If the company is looking to outsource customer care and social media management on a holistic basis, the reasons for outsourcing are still the same as they’ve been for years – better, faster, cheaper, as well as a way to mitigate risks and also not have to invest their own capital.
If the company is already outsourcing to one or multiple contact center providers, it’s important to ask the provider these questions: “What are you doing in the social media space?” “Are you looking at solutions?” “What are you doing to help us figure it out?”
We at Sitel don’t claim to have the silver bullet or be the panacea for how to solve social media challenges. But we continually invest in innovations, partnering with the best of breed, adopting and adapting those technologies and making them a part of our overall solution. We’re there with our customers, trying to help them figure out what to do in this fast-moving space.
Andrew Kokes is VP of Global Product Management at Sitel.
Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor at SandHill.com.