The Social Contact Centre

to a social networking way of working through the eyes of a Contact Centre manager

Archive for the ‘Case Studies’ Category

Social Networking making a financial difference

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ImageI asked my teenage daughters over dinner the other evening to tell me what significant things have been invented in their lifetime. Its a good question to ask and the results are enlightening. They pointed out that DVDs, the internet, MP3 players, digital cameras and mobile phones all came to commercial prominence during their lifetime. Going back a little further in my lifetime I could add the PC, colour television and McDonalds.

The point is that nothing is forever and revelatory innovation can transform our lives in a very short period of time. I look at my desk in front of me as I write this and the essential things I need to do my job have massively improved my productivity compared to the tools of yesterday. Just think of what was in place in the days before email. All you cynics who yearn for the old days just aren’t thinking hard enough!

For this reason, even with something as relatively new as Social Networking, we need to stay light on our feet. We have to keep thinking about the ideas and not just the latest technology to do the job. The ideas around my desktop haven’t changed. If I think about the email analogy – I could have imagined when I started working that there could be a faster way to get a letter out than visiting the typing pool with my handwritten notes. In the same way I know there are shortcomings with email in terms of security, reliability, complexity of email addresses etc.

The other point is to stop just thinking about Social Media. Twitter, Facebook and, yes, blogs are great but they will be superseded. The idea of communication, collaboration and benevolence rolls on. As I listened to Radio 4 this morning there was a small article that was barely picked up on subsequently. An official from the UK finance industry made a speech in New York in which he envisaged  peer-to-peer lending overtaking traditional banking for personal loans. Just imagine a world where the banking High Street is decimated and overtaken by lending between individuals.

There are many areas where Social Networking inspired business models are making huge strides forward away from the glare of Social Media publicity. In the UK Zopa members have lent £185m and currently has over £90m out on loan. Peer-to-peer loans represent between 1% and 2% of personal loans in this country and there are plenty of other companies following the same business model. The attraction for lenders is access to loans which otherwise wouldn’t be forthcoming and for borrowers, an interest rate well above the current rate offered by bank accounts. They address the market which is disillusioned by the performance of the Finance industry in the UK over the last few years and the shocking behaviour of exploitative Payday loans companies.

The financial world is awash with Social Networking in action. Some of the sites are, for me, some of the most uplifting and exciting. They are doing things which I hoped were possible but didn’t think could work. Check out sites like for a piece of joy.

Written by greencontact

March 16, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Social Media Customer Service – Acme widget problems

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Your community is active – you have tons of followers, friends and contacts and all is going swimmingly. Then from left field comes a complaint…what do you do? The social world is savvy and realises that Social is a pretty good way to complain in the same way that standing by the counter in a shop asking for the manager tends to have an effect. On that beautiful sunny spring day this suddenly appears on Twitter

@AcmeCustServ My widget has been broken for 5 days now. Its disgusting!

Here’s a quick checklist:

1. Do nothing in haste. Remember this is a public forum and you need to get it right. Someone else may step in and resolve the issue for you without you needing to do anything!

2. Identify the customer and treat them well. This is no different than any other customer service issue – you need to know who they are, that they are a legitimate customer and what product they own. That comparison with any other customer service issue is important. It is very easy to be too clever – the KISS principle applies here too. Treat it as a complaint – apologise and ask for a bit more information. Taking ownership of the situation in the customer’s eyes is invaluable. Social Media can be a great way to demonstrate the quality of your customer service in an open forum. You can also share resolutions which will save you some customer service cost for other customers with the same issue.

Lets assume this isn’t a quick fix. The customer will either come back to a fair question with the information you need (by private means email or DM if needed) or potentially just become belligerent. If the customer is happy to talk, the right answer is to resolve their concern in public (obviously not discussing any compensation or liability) or in private if it gets complicated and needs more time and space. In either case, once resolved the objective is to get an advocate willing to attest to how they have been treated in the public social forum. But what about the belligerent customer?

3. Look at influence. How many friends have they got and how likely is it that they are paying attention. If it’s a real celebrity you may need to be pragmatic and act quickly to rectify the situation; if its anyone else you need to go back to basics. The customer service principle means you treat each case on its merits and no matter how the customer behaves, if they have a point do the right thing. If they don’t have a point the crowd will work with you – they will see the unreasonable or unfair and back you up on it. The important thing is to take the conversation private if you can (ask for an email perhaps) and maintain a professional representation of your brand. Remember, there is no point in trying to suppress the situation because at least the customer is in open field, with you having an opportunity to reply, while they are talking to you. If you try and be too clever they will just pop up with their points on a blog somewhere or referring to you in hashtags.

Things are a little different if the complaint is about you but not addressed to you:

My #Acme widget has been broken for 5 days now. Its disgusting!

This is more interesting and challenging – to intervene or not to intervene? This kind of comment happens every day and its good to look at it through the customer’s eyes. If I was that exasperated I would contact the customer service team first – there’s a chance there is a case already underway. A quick check of the customer’s tweets may give some context to the problem. Of course the widget may be six years old and there is nothing you should or could do about the situation. In this instance it may be better to monitor the situation and see what happens next. The first tweet could be the last tweet on the subject (remember you’ve already checked the timeline for previous occasions). Alternatively it could be followed up by:

So’s mine. I’m now on my third #Acme widget…they are so unreliable.

In my opinion this is a sign to intervene. The tweets could actually be revealing some product issues but also could draw in a whole negative line of communication. Initially you should contact the first customer and offer to help them – make a customer service case out of it and treat it like the first case above. In these circumstances this is where you have a chance to shine. By getting in touch you are demonstrating that you are listening and wanting to help. Some of the best examples of social customer service come from prompt proactive intervention. You really have a chance to delight a customer, build your company’s service reputation and instill real loyalty. You should also look at influence. How many people are seeing this negative conversation and therefore how many more are likely to join in. How many followers/friends do these two have? Check their PeerIndex or Klout scores. You may consider putting a holding message out proactively such as:

We’re disappointed to hear we’ve got a couple of widget problems. Time for #Acme service to take control. If you have a problem call 0800 1231234 to talk to one of our engineers.

Just as important is the way you respond afterwards to any situation. Remember to feed back the outcome to the community to avoid future problems and to reinforce the brand!

We hear some people’s widgets are jamming in the current weather we are having. Remember to treat your widget with #Acmegard before the rain comes because this isn’t covered by warranty

Written by greencontact

March 13, 2012 at 9:24 am

A benevolent crowd

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Social Networking is driven by the fundamental benevolence in the participants and this can be immensely powerful. The desire for people to help each other encourages people to do a day’s work and then spend further hours helping out complete strangers. Consider this: The website offers advice for DIYers having problems with any project. Member plumbbob has helped out with advice over 1600 times and Sparx 2100 times. The IT community are used to sharing knowledge. When was the last time you actually called Microsoft or Apple with a problem rather than Google it or look through forums. is ranked as the 64th most visited website in the UK (according to and has a community of developers helping each other and gaining reputation points from their peers. Not far behind is TripAdvisor in 71st, a site that hosts 45m reviews of hotels, resorts, attractions and restaurants by benevolent travellers.

From a cult which began as forums the desire to share has now spawned sites dedicated to answering your questions regardless of topic: Yahoo Answers, Answers.Com, Quora.

So what is this benevolence based on? Clearly there is the fundamental desire to help. It is human nature to be charitable; to help someone in need. But much of this activity is on a low degree of urgency and displays a degree of self-interest too. Some other factors which appear prevalent are:

1. Gaming and competition. There are specialist providers who offer to “gamify” websites to drive up engagement. Web 2.0 is all about participation and engaging with the community. Think  about the number of engagements which are rewarded with badges or are stimulated by targets. WordPress itself reminds you of the next goal in terms of numbers of posts. TripAdvisor has badges for contributors set at a fairly low threshold. This is not really about rewarding loyalty but about stimulating usage. For many the objective of Twitter is to maximise followers. Across a range of Social Media platforms tools such as Klout and Peer Index attempt to rank and profile engagement.

2. Boasting. Particularly for the more technical skills there appears to be an element of wanting to be “seen” as a guru or expert in your field. In some of the forums there appears to be a little jousting between technical rivals even. The Stackoverflow website nakedly scores contributors with a reputation score based on volume and likes.

3. Companionship. For some the social media world has undoubtedly given them a voice which they would be shy to use as frequently or at the same volume in the “real” world. Engagement is not always about answering the question or solving the problem – there is a high level of empathy demonstrated.

4. Cost and time saving. Possibly the most important factor of all is the desire to reduce our costs and save time. Web 2.0 is a 24×7 world with vastly more expertise available than any one call centre. People understand that the contributions they are making are an investment for when they need help themselves. There are still huge numbers of “lurkers” who take without giving or are waiting for the problem to come along that they themselves can answer.

There is an undercurrent of manipulation emerging which sceptics have latched on to. TripAdvisor, in particular, has attracted negative publicity over “false reviews” which are either placed by owners or proprietors to boost rankings or by malevolent individuals looking to extort from them. Forums are regularly monitored or moderated by undercover suppliers. This is undoubtedly a threat to benevolence but Web 2.0 users are very savvy and can read between the lines more than ever before.

The true sign that benevolence is alive and well comes in the form of  Crowdfunding. Charity has long been successful asking for donations with no payback in support of worthwhile projects. Crowdfunding allows people to connect with projects and to contribute money to them in return for recognition or token gifts. Examples at the moment on are unsigned artists looking for funding for their first album, charity projects, and political parties looking for funds for TV adverts. Similar platforms exist for businesses looking for equity. The difference is that inherent in the investment is a close relationship between funder and recipient from the start. The funder is providing the money directly to the individuals for a very specific project which they have an interest in – more Dragon’s Den than traditional sources of capital.


Written by greencontact

February 6, 2012 at 10:46 am

Yammer Clamour

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My objective is to try and build a social contact centre: A multichannel environment which thrives on using social techniques to communicate internally, with stakeholders, and with clients. We will develop product sets which address the needs of social media customers and build processes which are efficient through social networking techniques. I am doing this because I think there is a huge amount of untapped potential, knowledge and new thinking which will create a unique, agile capability.

With this in mind I began looking at collaborative tools a couple of years ago and struggled to make a reasonable business case. The capital expenditure seemed high against quite soft returns and this made me rethink what the strategy ought to be. I then stumbled across Yammer through a conversation on Twitter where @DanSlee told me about the best social project he’d done with zero budget. My ears pricked up!

One Friday afternoon I decided to launch in a low key way – remember those words LOW KEY. Now this is against a background of working hard to improve communications in the contact centre anyway. We have been through five years of improving the way we do things and trying to increase engagement through building a social knowledgebase (FAQs but also sending e-cards to each other, publishing all results, strategies etc), blogging regularly (team managers, account managers and me), Agent forums with published minutes, staff satisfaction surveys, interactive chat with coaches and managers,  encouraging the independent creation of  an alumni Facebook site, and using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for the business. Collaboration was launched against a context not cold into the team.

On this Friday afternoon I set up an account for the free Yammer service and was confronted with a “who else do you think would be interested” screen and entered some email addresses in the company that I though would be interested. This triggered invitations to the Yammer community which also invited them to suggest other people that may be interested. By late afternoon there were 100 people on the network who were curious as to what it was. I immediately began to wonder about security and bandwidth issues and sought clearance from our IT department and my Director. What I realised immediately is the absolute thirst to communicate. People want to help but they aren’t given a voice enough. By the close of play the network had Executive attention and questions of policy came into play very quickly with some people being advised by their managers to withdraw. Remember, at this point no-one had had any instructions on what the product was or what it did, and the numbers kept growing.

I created some groups – obvious ones to discuss particular topics and also departments but very quickly other departments began creating their own groups. One particular thrill was the Payroll department opening for business and asking for feedback on the service they provide – when does that happen normally? How could it easily happen?

The obvious nervousness was around the look and feel of the site. It feels like a social media environment because its easy to use and potentially easy to abuse. I am aware of other launches where the site fizzles out as just another Facebook group or becomes a subculture. I have a feeling that because of the preparation work on communication the early adopters at my company knew how to behave and why the capability was launched. As a result they conformed with the crowd from the start and so new joiners had role models to copy. We had a couple of private messages in the early days asking people to moderate the wording of their profiles but no posts had to be removed. We had a couple of Facebook like greetings as new members came online but they soon picked up the house style.

We now have around 260 members, 20 groups, 2 external networks and membership covers all departments and all levels (including the Board). People use the system in different ways but we now have consistent steady, focussed use rather than initially we needed a little crowd entertainment and “hosting” to get things going. Most importantly we have a platform to drive change and to collaborate and we haven’t had to rein it back which could potentially lose momentum or goodwill . We’ve bought the main client external network and we see the potential with clients and stakeholders.

Written by greencontact

January 26, 2012 at 9:26 am

Real Twitter reach and influence

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Most social media comment is abstract and this is the weakness in the argument so far. For the sceptics, an argument based purely on numbers of users doesn’t wash because the newspapers are full of negative comment. It can all be too easily dismissed as a fad. A very small number of articles attempt to get into the numbers and playing Devil’s Advocate is never a bad thing. Here’s my analysis of my own Twitter account @greencontact.

I have 564 followers for @greencontact and I follow about 1100 other accounts. Its objective is to gather contact centre and social media followers so that I can learn, share and influence on a personal level. My ideal goal would be thousands of followers including authors, journalists, suppliers and bloggers. On Klout my score is currently only 13 against an average for Klout of 20, and a score for my personal Twitter account of 38. My @greencontact account score is on a real recent slide from around 19. I do think it is harder to get leverage with a business account with a tight focus than it is for a personal usage where you have more “freedom to roam”. Klout thinks I am “influential” on Social Media and Business which is encouraging because on my personal account it thinks I am influential on Sausages and Jewellery (really). I am classified as an Observer – “You don’t share very much, but you follow the social web more than you let on. You may just enjoy observing more than sharing or you’re checking this stuff out before jumping in full-force”. I feel a bit aggrieved about this bit if I’m honest – like most business users it is hard to find the time to up the activity levels and it is harder to find something to say.

Over the last 90 days I have sent 79 messages, had 16 mentions, been sent 21 messages (almost all “thanks for following”), and had 18 retweets.

One of the things I do is to assign followers to lists so that I can understand geographically and by subject matter what my real audience is so that I can tailor my tweets and be more targeted. I only follow people that I would like to follow me back – no celebrities, sports stars etc – all on topic. Of my followers I know that 144 are in the UK which is not as high as I would like it to be. This is one of the challenges of Twitter profiles – I am looking for people who tweet on contact centres or social media enough to declare it as their interest in their Twitter profile AND state they are in the UK. Sometimes you have to dig through the tweets to understand what their background is. There are also 31 journalists or authors from around the world which is good – these are the pros I want to learn from. As you may expect there are around 110 suppliers or competitors (I work for an outsourcer) also. Some of these are included in the UK total figures. Overall then I am looking to grow the number of UK-based commenters on contact centres or social media who are not competitors or purely suppliers as well as journalists and authors from anywhere. I don’t want to discourage other followers but I think it is important to have a direction and measures for what you are doing in any sphere of life.

One thing is obvious – the more you put into Social Media the more you get back – I don’t tweet often enough to attract the followers and get noticed. Assuming other people use Twitter like I do i.e. they dip in and out, then typically they view maybe 200 Tweets at a time depending on the level of activity. This is one full load and maybe two or three “mores” going backwards in time on either the PC application or the iPhone app. This may be roughly an hour’s worth of tweets. Just checking the stats at the moment (8.30am in the morning), my follows have tweeted approximately 150 times in the last hour. Now bear in mind this automatically may mean I never see tweets from some parts of the world or only see North American tweets in the afternoon or if I browse the North America list – lists can really help out with this. OK, so 150 tweets in the last hour may equate to 1500 over the full day from people I follow. I am tweeting just over once every business day and so the odds are that other Twitterers like me may only actually see 10% of all tweets through their viewing habits and my tweet may not actually be in their viewing window. The chances are that only one in 7 of my tweets in the UK gets noticed by each of my followers. Of course, the most influential Twitterers may have thousands more follows and so a much smaller proportion have a chance of “connecting” with the target audience. Its worth bearing these raw stats in mind when creating posts in a business environment – they have to be effective almost like direct mail. One good point about this is that these are actually pretty good statistics – the reach of social media amongst social media users is very cost-effective. Looking on the positive side I am having something I have written read by my target audience possibly once a fortnight. This kind of analysis is vital I think. The vast numbers of social media reach come down to actually quite small figures when we begin to look at influence. One final point is that the chances of success can be improved by publishing tweets in other places. I post my tweets through my LinkedIn account and my blog.

So the next question is influence. We have already whittled down large numbers to quite small ones and this then puts the figures for retweets and mentions in the spotlight. Depending on the nature of these tweets they are the nearest approximation to influence you can get. Of course a mention may just be a “thanks for the #ff” which is courtesy rather than influence. For me retweets are the real benchmark and indicate that you are “moving the pile”. To get retweeted you must publish tweets which make sense, have immediate impact (use those characters wisely), and you need to be one of:

  • Topical – ideally news
  • Funny – again originality is key
  • A gatherer – if you find good stuff and share it you may be retweeted as the middle man
  • Hit a personal button for one Twitterer. This can be enormously effective but sometimes you write a tweet and can almost predict who will latch on to it. This comes down to knowing your audience – again the lists become increasingly important as the scale of your Twitter presence grows.

So you need to be a journalist, comedian, librarian or really skilled on a one-to-one basis. What you can’t be is bland. This is one of the criticisms from the sceptics; the “what I had for breakfast” brigade. The point is that if you tweet on that basis you may have a few conversations in your personal account but it won’t cut it in business social media.

And what if you are successful in getting retweets? What’s the prize? Its unlikely you’re going to sell anything as a result but you will attract more followers and speak to more people. Imagine you attended a trade show or conference. You will get a lot from the presentations and demonstrations but you also benefit from networking. Networks mean that you can always find something out when you need to – I discovered an excellent collaborative innovation tool through conversations on Twitter, you build your brand which in turn increases the chances of your brand being front of mind when tenders come around, you also will be in a position to hear about new opportunities sooner and get a feel for future threats or problems sooner. The big benefits are below the line, maybe not as sexy as direct marketing but full of long term benefit.

Written by greencontact

January 24, 2012 at 9:25 am

Mercedes-Benz Tweet Race

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Great little video describing the event and summarising the results of the MB Tweet Race

Written by greencontact

January 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Real Social Networking Examples: #1 Bitcoin

Link: Real Social Networking Examples: #1 Bitcoin

This is a summary of the rise and fall (not sure if there is a true fall) of Bitcoin in Wired magazine

Written by greencontact

November 28, 2011 at 5:27 am