The Social Contact Centre

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

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Call Centre and Customer Management Expo 2012

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Call Centre And Customer Management Expo 2011 courtesy http://www.callcentre.co.uk

In a world where social networking plays an ever-increasing role I visited Call Centre and Customer Management Expo at Olympia recently. There is always a place for “physical” networking and ultimately in the B2B world physical networking is the goal. CCExpo is the event in the UK for contact centre professionals to meet each other and suppliers. There are other membership events which are more about benchmarking and sharing experience such as the CCA and PPF conferences but in the current straitened economy they are less accessible than CCExpo.

The prepublicity is geared around making the most of your visit and over the years there have been various different ways that the organisers have attempted to get people talking to each other. Their success depends on footfall of visitors (who will attend if they know about it and if they get value from their visit), exhibition stand takeup from suppliers (who will attend if there is sufficient footfall of prospects) and sponsors (who will also attend if the sponsorship packages are attractive enough). The problem that pervades all these events is how you get the most from your investment of time/money/sponsorship to justify the visit. In a cyber world, trade shows suffer in the same way that high street retailers do: there are many more ways of getting the information you need in this day and age. The old exhibition stand is being replaced by webinars and, as in all industries, the new method often is more effective and at much lower cost.

As a networking event I think that Call Centre and Customer Management Expo is tricky. My benchmark for networking is the TMA event which used to be held every year in Brighton. It was the place where everyone would be there – customer and supplier alike – and possibly for the whole event. The Marketing Forum on the cruise ships was very similar with the same industry gurus holding court in the different bars around the ship. If you weren’t there, you weren’t part of the industry. The changing attitudes meant that TMA ended in 2002 after 25 years but the Marketing Forum continues. The Marketing Forum is by invitation only (a free cruise to Jersey on a luxury yacht isn’t offered to everyone). Suppliers pay a hefty price to be involved but the threshold to entry does mean attendees feel honoured and suppliers feel they are getting their money’s worth. The agenda is made up of some heavyweight research and industry topic discussion interspersed with mandatory 1-2-1 meetings with suppliers. If you don’t attend your quota of meetings and treat them seriously you won’t be invited back again. The result is a highly personalised, high energy and highly focused event which is possibly the benchmark for all conferences.

I’ve attended CCExpo in the past as an exhibitor. What always struck me was how the tone of the show changed year on year. The themes people wanted to talk about were different, the calibre of attendee changed and the other people exhibiting was always different. Some years you would groan internally as yet another student or supplier sidled on to your stand wanting to talk. In other years you would be overwhelmed with the number of good quality leads captured. You do still see the same faces as you tour the stands and watch presentations but the continuity is less powerful than it used to be and I think this is representative of most trade shows.

What is interesting is to see the use of social media before during and after the event. Claudia Thorpe, the editor of CCF, the title behind the event has been active with Social Media for many years and has championed a multichannel approach rather than just the printed word. She has created forums and executive groups amongst the readership to try to further engage them. The Call Centre Focus magazine itself is now an electronic online resource – callcentre.co.uk. The resource is active in LinkedIn and Twitter as well as having an extensive web presence. Claudia is a very active and creative community manager who regularly networks herself across all industry events. She was active during the event as @CCFClaudia but also the @callcentrefocus was tweeting throughout. The #ccexpo tag was established and was used by suppliers before and during the event. Suppliers monitored the use of hashtags and interacted with prospects throughout. They also attempted to grow their social media followers and establish their own event related hashtags through on-stand competitions. A category of visitors was identified as VIPs and they were given a set of benefits including a lounge area to relax (an excellent idea) and priority access to some presentations. This was a good compromise on the Marketing Forum model. It identifies potential decision makers and spenders¬†for suppliers in a slightly subtle way and makes the event an easy place to visit. One puzzle that never seems to work is an area set aside and sponsored by a supplier for networking meetings. I haven’t seen this successfully carried off anywhere yet and the area which is designated for some kind of business speed dating becomes another seating area for tired punters.

And my day? I find the event to be an example of trending. Every year there is a hot topic. I remember the years when outsourcing, offshoring, speech analytics, and social media were the hot topics. You could tell by the mix of suppliers exhibiting, the products they were displaying, the themes chosen by speakers, and even the words adorning the stands. The trending theme this year was The Cloud. I try not to see any suppliers throughout the year other than those I already use – I could easily spend a lot of time learning about technology I can’t afford and would not use. I do like to occasionally go and see other sites and learn about their experiences.

I am always surprised at the poor practice of some exhibitors. You’ve paid all the money on a stand and a location and unbelievably you then man it with people who are either intimidating or look like you would be disturbing them. I’ve seen people eating their lunch, texting and reading a paper rather than try and engage with passers-by. One stand was set up with advertising boards either side of a door sized gap and the guy looking after the stall stood right in the gap like some kind of bouncer. It is still disappointing to see the number of very attractive young women on stands who can’t answer questions and immediately pass you to one of the few people who know their subject. The other stereotype appears to be alpha males who also don’t know what they are talking about but have no-one to pass you to – ¬†a little team briefing wouldn’t be too much to do? The best idea this year were the two people in really good police uniform who were able to engage pretty much whoever they wanted in conversation – brilliant… if I could remember which product they represented.

When it comes to Expo I like to go with a problem and visit a few stands and presentations to get a rounded view of it. I also like to meet up with people who may be able to give me some of their knowledge and visit my regular suppliers. This year I wanted to get a better understanding of how a hosted switch could operate in my environment. How would it integrate with my existing technology and what are its weaknesses. By discussing the situation with half a dozen suppliers and seeing a couple of presentations I think I have what I need to see me through until next year.

 

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Written by greencontact

October 4, 2012 at 2:51 pm

First forays in SM


My first steps into the Social world were on a private basis. Having realised that I was already social networking I decided to use the media more frequently just to “acclimatise”.

The easy first steps were to wade into TripAdvisor more and to actually contribute reviews back. This just seemed like good manners to me – if you take information you should contribute equally. To date my reviews have had over 7500 readers – and quite frankly if I can spare some people the horrors and support the gems it makes me feel good.

I decided to raise my LinkedIn profile and get in touch with old colleagues, friends and university peers. This is one of the areas I find the hardest. To me a “friend” is a very specific term. I don’t have thousands of them. What I do have is lots of contacts and acquaintances. Once I got over the name I felt less embarrassed requesting a LinkedIn connection with clients, people I’d met at conferences etc. I have a clear view that my LinkedIn profile is my online CV. People judge me and I judge other people by who I know and I do the same with other people. I still find it difficult to ask for recommendations and don’t particularly like or respect the automatic exchange.

I expanded my Facebook friends and linked my Twitter account in so that I provide content. I still have some reservations about security and posting family pictures but I am getting over what is clearly my “generational” problem. My kids still won’t let me be their friend though!

Twitter and WordPress are my “natural” homes and I think this was a lesson for me. Everyone has their voice and after trying them all, will settle on a primary channel. I find Twitter natural, suits my mobile work and home life, and probably matches my attention span. With Twitter I very quickly saw the lie of the land – the different types of people who use Twitter – there are distinct clusters.

I’ve tried lots of others with different degrees of success – FourSquare (checking in at locations), Waze (collaborative satnav with a bit of Pacman built in), SoundTracking (a life through music), Showyou (watching TV together), Quora and Wikipedia (building and sharing knowledge).

The point is.. its difficult to contemplate a strategy without understanding the problem and the resources available to you.

Written by greencontact

September 7, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Social Media


Here’s the nub of the challenge: How do you turn Twitter followers and Facebook friends into customers and influencers? The answer is that you can’t. There’s no magic formula that makes it happen. Social media is not direct marketing, its much closer to PR in my opinion.

In the old days (puts on slippers and gazes into the middle distance with a slight smile), the stereotypical business social networking was on the golf course, through the Freemasons or gentlemen’s clubs. I witnessed plenty of sales wining and dining but all this activity was about getting under the skin, understanding a bit more about what makes someone tick, finding out who else they know – not predominantly about getting a signature on a contract. People buy from people – importantly from people they like and trust and so it figures that your Social Media activity should be about being likeable and trustworthy.

Likeability in the Social world is about participation. If all you do is advertise the latest offer it doesn’t really add to the crowd. Imagine you walked into a crowded conference networking session, picked up a glass of complementary champagne and proceeded to tap people on the shoulder and sell to them. The conversion rate would be very low and there would be a string of people around the room discussing your behaviour. The social world is very similar – you build a meaningful network and get to know them better. The rule of thumb is that your contributions are a third interaction, a third adding content and only a third promotion. This isn’t a lot different than the crowded room. You’d walk up to a stranger and try and understand a bit more about them (where do they work, what do they do, are they enjoying the event…) before then giving some of the same information to them. You would then use the information you’ve shared to find common ground or to explore an area that interests you in more detail (“so you worked in Dubai for a while..what was that like” or “are you affected by the Euro problem at the moment?”). The point is that you have to work at it to find a foothold and then you need to listen and learn before you have permission to lead. LinkedIn is growing in stature as far as this is concerned – join groups and participate.

And this is where trust comes in. You’ve spent time getting a foothold but you can lose it in a moment. Remember, the objective of any networking activity is more about PR and help than it is about selling. If you are able to sell it is a surprising by-product rather than the reason for being there. What you do have is an enormous focus group, on-hand expertise, access to other contacts, suppliers if you need to find them. Be honest, be genuine and be personal.

The final point in my view is to try and turn the virtual into the real. If you meet someone, try and find their presence in the social world and follow or friend. Similarly, if you follow or friend someone in the social world, take the opportunity to introduce yourself if you find yourself in the traditional world – social media is not an alternative.

Written by greencontact

April 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Opinion

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Tentative Social steps


So we’re past the sceptical stage – Social networking is not the new CB Radio and we can all relax. We’ve all got a presence – even the crustiest of the crusty FT500 execs are dabbling with Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and we’re feeling good that we’ve taken that first step. Ok, we may only have put a cryptic photo up and are treating our profile as a bit of CV but… hey we’ve done it. When people ask us in the pub what its all about we can gauge the audience and either deny all knowledge or be the instant expert.

All that means is that the laboratory is open for business and the hard work then begins to try and make it meaningful for business. Lets begin with the easy wins… millions of people in the UK choose to give hours of their time sharing, advising, tweeting and blogging. Some of these millions are our colleagues, employees, suppliers and customers. They don’t become completely different people the moment they come through the door at work. Wouldn’t it make sense to create a network which harnessed this energy for your business to make better products, better offers, and a better working environment?

And all these millions are commenting about your people, your brands, your offers and promotions and about you. Many organisations spend huge sums of money on focus groups, market research, PR, and press clippings. The very least you should do is listen to what’s out there for free.

And, while we’re on the subject of PR, the old model had PR mandarins who have built careers on their little black book of contacts in your industry. Movers and shakers have become movers and shakers by their track record and by getting noticed for what they have done. Many will be part of the millions who are happy to share and to listen through Twitter and blogs. It would probably make sense to know who they are and to try and spot the new voices who are rocketing ahead through the new media.

You’ve already broken the first barriers. Don’t be shy. The first steps to making social meaningful are in understanding the landscape.

Written by greencontact

March 22, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Turning Social into Physical

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The cynics see Social Media as virtual reality or a computer game. “You’re not really meeting or talking to people” is the typical comment. And they are right to an extent. Much of social media usage can appear like collecting butterflies – aesthetically pleasing but ultimately a listbuilding exercise.

One of the things I have been looking at is how to break out of the virtual and into the real world. After all, in the real world sometimes an email, or even a phone call, can’t replace the benefits of a face-to-face meeting. In some ways this is the real opportunity. Social Media is fantastically easy to wield as a way of getting introductions to like-minded people (Facebook Groups), huge crowds of people happy to communicate (Twitter) and large numbers of business contacts (LinkedIn).

I’ve gone up to people in shops and in the street and introduced myself as a Twitter follower (I really have), and I’ve arranged meetings from LinkedIn contacts to discuss general topics and the response has been favourable. In some ways it would be impolite to not say hello if you have the opportunity – you’ve already learned quite a bit about each other.

So here are some tips to help ease the process along:

1. Create the links in the first place off something concrete and make the invitations meaningful. If your first introduction refers to a conference you both attended some years ago the link is more tenuous than making it your policy to see if people you met yesterday are on LinkedIn.

2. If you are an Engager in Social Media it will clearly be far easier than if you are a Lurker. If you lurk a physical approach is only saying “Hey, we’re both on Facebook” whereas if you are already engaging in dialogue its more like “Nice to meet you finally, lets carry on the conversation”.

3. As with all communication you need to have a context. Why are you wanting to say hello? If the answer is just that you want to sell them something you can join a long and fruitless queue; if you want to learn and share most people will be happy to join in.

The most powerful networks, virtual or real, are the ones which are actionable. Try testing yours….

Written by greencontact

March 7, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Fishing In The Right Places

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This is about creating the audience – the bit that is often taken for granted. How do you get the people you want to follow, friend or subscribe so that you can communicate with them in the first place?

I only ever went seriously fishing once. On a cold and grey Spring day I went with friends, sat down at the edge of an enormous reservoir and caught nothing. I had no technique, no special equipment, no idea what lay beneath the water and no local knowledge. I got precisely what I deserved and couldn’t wait to go home. Every weekend keen and skilled anglers compete and land huge catches at the same place.

The excellent Groundswell by @charleneli and @joshbernoff describes a four stage method called POST (People, Objectives, Strategy and Technology) and everything begins with understanding what your “people” are ready for. I take a little issue with this in that I think the Objectives may come before the People. The objective for social media interaction may not just/always be end consumers. In a B2B environment it could be other stakeholders such as employees, journalists, Government etc and unless the strategy for the social media effort is properly understood you may begin with the audience you have rather than seek out the audience you want.

Assuming the target audience is identified Groundswell then lays out the Social Technographics Ladder and a method for identifying how you customers are most likely to want to communicate and to identify the media and methods that are most likely to be successful. There are big differences between age groups, sexes, nationalities and interest groups. The key is to identify the social usage profile of your customers – in crude terms you want to be fishing with the right bait.

If Twitter or Facebook are suitable approaches here are some techniques I’ve used for finding the right people:

  • Use hashtag searches to find people who are talking about the right topics. Start with your own brands, products and markets. This method will also find a lot of suppliers and competitors. You need to decide how you are going to deal with these. At the very least you need to keep some form of segmentation of your crowd.
  • Read the trade journals. These can be a good aide memoir for when you are having a mental block. It also prompts names of journalists.
  • Some journalists advertise their Twitter names as a means of contacting them. There are also some quite dated lists on the internet. One other thing is to check out key names’ own follow lists. Often key journalists may have thousands of followers but only a smaller number of the people who influence them. Check out their Lists also.
  • Go through your contact lists and the collective library of colleagues and then try and find Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter contacts against them.
  • As you put out content (with appropriate hashtags) some of the people you want to contact will find you and you can close the loop be friending them or following them back.

Slowly your follow list will grow and at this stage this is the target audience. The next step is how to convert the non-followers into part of your crowd. Here are some tips for I’ve found to work in doing this.

  • Identify a small target list of the people you really want to follow you and comment in context with what they are talking about when they talk about it. This will make sure the comments are on topics they are interested in at a time they are probably watching the conversation. At times this may be quite time consuming but the result is worthwhile. Don’t tweet or update for the sake of it though. Less, better quality, comment is far better and will avoid the ultimate snub.
  • When you meet people try and add them to your LinkedIn group or ask them if they use Social Media immediately. It is far less awkward to issue an invitation soon after the event. Remember, with Twitter or LinkedIn each time you add a contact you also have access to their lists. Don’t abuse this.
  • Comment and talk about current topics in an interesting way. Just retweeting, interacting or banal comments won’t cut it to attract followers and it won’t keep them in the future. Keep your eye on trending topics.
  • Choose carefully who you follow back. It isn’t about numbers and at some point you may have to unfollow in Twitter to let more people in. The other thing is that the bigger the numbers, the harder the management of them. Are people in a different country, different industry or pure spammers really going to add value to your proposition? Are you really going to add to theirs?

No matter what else you are doing, keep a focus on the quality of your crowd. Even when you are busy with other promotional activity remember to look after your followers. You need to communicate regularly to keep them interested and notice when they want to interact with you. This is a social network not a sales pitch. Everything else tactically may change but your crowd moves with you.

 

Written by greencontact

February 1, 2012 at 4:39 pm

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