Roadmap to a Contact Center of Excellence

Contact centers: Get ready for social media

Sooner or later — and sooner is more likely — government contact centers will need to accommodate social media.

Experts note that the majority of people prefer to interact with contact centers by voice, with other channels, such as e-mail and Web self-service sites, still much less popular. So far, social media has barely been a factor. But that will change, and when it does, agencies need to be ready.

According to the CFI Group’s Call Center Satisfaction Index, a survey of overall contact centers, social media plays a critical part as a damage control mechanism. “Customers would post their observations and criticisms to organizations, and then receive a voice call back to address those concerns,” according to the study.

In a closer look at government contact centers, the CFI Group survey showed that, while the use of social media isn’t so specific there, its use by centers “appears to yield a higher overall satisfaction” of citizens and agency customers.

To make it work on a large scale, agencies will need to coordinate social media-based interactions with their work in other channels.

If people ask for assistance through a Facebook page or in a Twitter message, contact center staff should be able to verify that their requests are being processed and then respond through various channels, including voice, said Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director for Nemertes Research.

“If all the systems involved in producing that answer aren’t united, then you potentially have two or three different people running around trying to take care of the customer,” Lazar said. “So the goal of the contact center manager it to integrate all possible ways of speaking with the customer.”

Although many agencies use social media to push information to the public, most are still learning about its potential role as a two-way channel, according to Tonya Beres, contact center specialist at the General Services Administration, and co-chair of the Government Contact Center Council.

But if agencies intend to fully embrace social media, they will need to invest some money in software to help them manage the traffic. Otherwise, things could quickly get out of hand.

“Some 80 to 90 percent of what’s happening on social media you won’t need to respond to directly,” said Sheila McGee-Smith, president and principal analyst with McGee-Smith Analytics. “You need a rules-based engine to decide which ones require a response.”

Most rules-based solutions take one of two approaches: either straightforward word search, with social media traffic being routed to an agent if certain words come up, or a more complex tool that looks for specific addresses, names or accounts.

Is social media worth the investment? That depends on two factors: the availability of funding and the expectations of constituents.

Chat service is a good example. GSA has found that chat generally results in high customer satisfaction — likely because it provides the ability to “really dig in and probe and (produce) an instantaneous response for the customer,” Beres said.

But it also is an expensive channel, because it requires direct, on-demand interaction with individuals. Even if an agency has adequate funding, it needs to consider its customer base.

“The Department of Education uses chat to help people with applications for federal financial aid, and it really is effective for them because they are dealing with a younger audience,” said Beres.

In contrast, it might be less useful for agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services that deal with older constituents, who tend to seek more traditional channels such as voice and even walk-in centers, she said.

In any case, now that social media has become so popular within agencies themselves, they need to figure out where the responsibility lies for the response, said MaryAnn Monroe, director of GSA’s contact center services. Does it belong to marketing, the Website managers, to the contact centers or a combination of all of them? And how will they bring all those resources together?
“Those are the things we are tracking within the different agencies,” said Monroe.