The Game Changer Channel: Integrating social media into customer management strategies

Helen Murray, chief customer solutions officer at Webhelp UK, considers how social media has changed the game for customer relationship management…

Today the social media challenge is falling firmly at the feet of customer management professionals. Though adopted initially as a promotional platform by marketing, it has become clear that it demands the operational capability and expertise that resides in the customer management domain.

Customers want and expect to be able to contact organisations via social channels. Most social media posts are made in the heat of the moment, frequently in anger and frustration or extreme delight. For this reason responses must be immediate. Consumers see social media as a ‘conversational’ medium and expect their conversations with you to be fluid and spontaneous and in real time.

Advisors must be equipped to communicate appropriately via social media. They need excellent product knowledge, of course, but also an ability to converse freely in a way that is immediate, direct and aligned with the brand. Many organisations recruit ‘social media geeks’ for this role. It’s a mistake. At Webhelp UK we have trained our best customer experience advisors to use social media.

The dominant skills that our agents already have, such as empathy, product knowledge and an ability to manage emotive situations mean they’re well equipped to handle difficult situations on social channels.

Social media is not a single channel but many, and the rules of engagement vary for each. It is a vast reservoir of customer comment and conversation. Through listening to these conversations we’re able to identify which social channels are used most extensively within a certain demographic.

This insight, alongside knowledge of the expectations of the customer demographic and business activity allow us to define the appropriate approach. Consumers may go to a fashion site for entertainment and recreation, they are unlikely to visit a utilities company’s site with the same intent. Understanding what is appropriate, commonplace and ‘leading edge’ within a sector will help to identify priorities.

As social media becomes a recognised customer management channel, companies must be able to evaluate their performance and improve it based on customer feedback. For our own clients we advocate a combination of Customer Effort and Customer Satisfaction to determine how well the customer has been served, supplemented with NPS to determine advocacy. In fact, we have developed ‘Touchpoint NPS’, which allows us to measure the customer experience across every channel in order to understand where we are performing best.

The ultimate goal must be to create a consistent, omni-channel customer experience, social media therefore cannot be viewed in isolation. Social channels must be integrated into a true omni-channel service operation. Achieving this will involve blending social media agents into your overall agent community. We have successfully multi-skilled agents to deal with social media and email, while allowing other agent teams to focus on voice and webchat. However, when an interaction is escalated from a social channel to voice it is vitally important that the agent handling the call is fully apprised of the preceding online conversation, which means channel integration on the agent desktop is key.

Through measuring performance and customer responses, we are able to understand the business contribution the channel is making both in terms of customer engagement (loyalty, advocacy, satisfaction and spend) and operational efficiency (reduced cost).

Finally, it is important to reiterate that achieving excellence in social media is of little value if other channels fall behind. Social media gives customers a platform from which to speak out against the inadequacies of the organisations that serve them. The lesson is an obvious one. Social media has raised the customer engagement stakes and we, as customer management professionals, need to raise our game in response, delivering an exceptional customer experience on every channel.

You may be in the early stages of formulating your social media strategy; you may have taken your first tentative steps. Either way, ‘The game-changer channel: Integrating social media into customer management strategies’ will help you to understand the shifting social media landscape and will provide recommendations for your progress.

The first in a series, in this paper we consider how customer management professionals can act to take ownership of social media and how they can integrate this into their customer contact strategies.

Meanwhile our forthcoming follow-up paper, ‘The Social Service’ will look in greater detail at how this can be achieved.

View our white paper archives to download this paper and others. Contact Helen on LinkedIn with questions or comments.


Retail resuscitation; why the high street must wake up to brick and click

While the idea of a multi-channel consumer experience has been on UK retailers’ radars for some time, news from a sector giant this week has thrust it into the fore.

Marks and Spencer’s reported this week that multichannel sales were up by 22.8% over the past year. Over half (55%) of all online purchases had an in-store element, with goods being ordered in-store for home delivery or ordered online for in-store collection.

This should come as little surprise, especially when you consider online sales of non-food products in the UK grew by 11.2% in April versus last year, according to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium.

What is surprising however, is that in 2014 major retailers are still grappling with full integration of their multichannel offering. Retail solutions vender, Micros, found in its 2014 Online Returns and Refunds Report that only 50% of retailers surveyed allowed goods purchased online to be returned in-store. Even back in 2012, research from eMarketer found almost half of all consumers (45%) were already using a combination of brick, online and mobile channels while shopping.

So why this failure to adapt? The problem is digital is still viewed as something separate, to be kept locked-away in its own silo, removed from the physical retail operation. Which is why, despite success in moving their high street offering online, many retailers still struggle to integrate their online presence  with their in store offering, never mind dovetailing seamlessly with social media, mobile interaction or even a simple telephone call.

In our experience, retailers that work hard to integrate their customer experience into an omni-channel that is consistent in store and across online, social, mobile and non-physical channels are the ones who succeed in boosting sales and earning consumer loyalty.

Every individual customer must feel that they have been enriched by their experience no matter what channel is used for the interaction. If you don’t provide that first class, integrated, seamless customer experience, you can’t expect customer loyalty, regardless how that interaction occurs.

Thankfully, some retailers have begun to address this. Amazon recently launched ‘Kindle Kiosks’ in the USA, a move that has triggered speculation the online giant could be seeking more of a presence in the physical sphere. Meanwhile, having been one of the pioneers of ‘brick and click’ services on the high street, House of Fraser also continues to benefit from ‘virtualising’ its in store experience to make it more closely aligned to its online presence.

Whether they shop virtually or in store, or are gathering pre-purchase information at home or even walking along the high street, customers’ main priorities are convenience and service. In person or online, they expect to be treated in exactly the same way, and expect to be able to switch between different channels seamlessly.

By embracing the omni-channel, retailers also stand to gain invaluable insight. By intelligently analysing the data gathered in the digital world, they can deliver exceptional service, in-store for example, which adds value to their overall proposition.

People no longer think in terms of bricks versus clicks, so nor should our department stores or supermarkets. Now is the time for the sector to think differently about the relationships it forms with consumers. Through greater insight, customer solutions and experience, Britain’s retail love affair could soon regain its place as the nation’s favourite past time.

Contact Helen on LinkedIn with your questions or comments.


Jessica Ennis-Hill visits the Webhelp UK team in Derby

The team at Webhelp UK in Derby were paid a visit by Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill. The Sky Sports ‘Living for Sport’ Ambassador met some of the Sky Customer Service Team and listened in on a few live calls. 

As part of her visit, Jessica shared some of her motivational secrets for success with the team. 

Speaking about her own road to her success in athletics, she explained how a sporting mind-set can be beneficial in everyone’s careers. 

Jessica Ennis-Hill, said: 

“Sport can teach you so much that you can apply to your career and other areas of your life.  Through sport, you naturally develop skills such as how to focus your time better and how to become more disciplined. The Sky Sports ‘Living for Sport’ projects, introduces students to these skills, helping them on their path to success, but it is never too late to apply these. I’m really proud to be able to mentor and give something back as I’ve seen the impact my achievement has had on me and the people around me through the highs and even the lows”

David Turner, Webhelp UK CEO, said: 

“Jessica’s visit was really well received and created a significant buzz at the site.   

Our success is based on the strength of our people, so I’m particularly pleased that the team in Derby had the chance to meet such an inspirational person and hear her motivational tips.”


Evolution of South Africa’s customer experience industry

Evan Jones, Chief Operating Officer at Webhelp South Africa, speaks to CNBC Africa on the evolution of the customer service industry in South Africa and the opportunities ahead. South Africa has made its mark in the global customer experience industry as an offshoring destination of choice. The value offered by local contact centres to global brands goes beyond cost reduction. It lies in the emotionally compelling service experience due to a strong cultural alignment with the markets served - primarily UK and Australia but increasingly continental Europe too. Scripted responses and focussing on call handling times and similar metrics as success criteria is no longer enough. Customers who call a customer service department expect to be able to speak to an informed and empathetic individual, irrespective of contact channel choice. With the skills, training and mindset available, South Africa's local infrastructure is also developing rapidly, reinforcing South Africa's mark in the global outsourcing industry. However, there are still hurdles to cross and challenges still faced by businesses looking to set up customer service operations from South Africa. Evan's comments are present in the news article and the video published by CNBC Africa.


What comes first, the big data or the experience?

David Turner Chief Executive Officer at Webhelp UK - Customer Experience Innovators

Over the last 30 years face-to-face interactions have reduced, new channels have emerged and the once simple task of knowing your customer and meeting their needs has become more difficult. Or has it? In this multi-channel age, do you know your customers better?

There’s been a lot of hype recently about big data. That hype might easily lead you to believe three things; firstly that big data is new, secondly that it’s the answer to any problem you might face and, lastly, that it is very complicated and difficult to apply.

‘Data’ isn’t new, but its escalation into ‘big data’, fuelled by the rise of mobile devices and social media, and the seemingly limitless wealth of information they generate, is substantively different. Many business people find themselves wondering where to start.

Our starting point is the customer and our premise is that big data can be used to target products and services precisely and deliver an exceptional, profitable customer experience across any channel.

When your goal is to deliver excellent customer experiences by showing customers that you know them and that you’re listening and responding consistently and enthusiastically to their needs, I believe there are three capabilities a company must develop:

  • First, they need to capture and analyse data to understand their customers.
  • Then they need to use data science techniques to spot changes in a customer’s behaviour or needs and decide what to do next.
  • Then they need to be able to design and deploy a consistent set of actions that will meet the customer’s needs over whichever interaction channel they choose.

Do you really know your customers better now or can you not see the customers for the data?

White paper: Big data analytics & the creation of profitable, personal customer relationships
Have a question or comment? Get in touch with David on LinkedIn


Five minute interview with Webhelp UK HR Director Gillian Campbell

Contact Centre Focus recently conducted a five minute interview with Gillian Campbell, HR Director Webhelp UK. The interview, as published, is below. Click here to read it on the Contact Centre Focus website.

Gillian began her career first in market research, and then moved into customer experience management before going on to hold a number of senior HR positions in the telecoms industry and public sector. Following three years with the Scottish Police Services Authority, she returned to the customer service sector to join Webhelp UK in 2014.

1. How did you get into the contact centre/customer service industry?

“After completing a Marketing degree, I began my career with a market research company through which I moved into telemarketing, progressing to operational and commercial management of contact centres.”

2. And how did you end up in your current role?

“Having begun my career on operations side of customer experience management, before making the transition into HR, I was keen to combine both areas of expertise in one role.  The opportunity to become HR Director for Webhelp UK was a perfect way to do this.”

3. How has the industry changed since you’ve been involved in it?

“The industry has moved on significantly since I first began my career. From an operational perspective things have changed, with a greater focus now placed on improving customer experiences through planned campaigns. As the industry has grown, it has also consolidated considerably.”

4. What do you think are the biggest challenges to the industry?

“Perhaps the greatest challenge is recruiting and retaining the best talent. The public perception of the industry has been tarnished by the actions of a minority of companies that have fallen far short of delivering the customer experience and the employee experience, and this is an area that the sector needs to continue to address”

5. What do you think the industry’s future looks like?

“Extremely positive. Certainly from our perspective at Webhelp UK, it will continue to embrace and adapt to new technology, utilising different channels to improve customers’ experience.”

6. What are your greatest personal and professional achievements?

“Personally, my wonderful children, friends and family are my greatest achievement. Balancing this with a career in which I’ve been able to progress from  operational roles into senior strategic positions, moving from direct customer experience management into the HR and People field with Webhelp UK has also been tremendously rewarding. “

7. Who has had the greatest influence over your life or your career?

“Throughout my career I’ve been privileged to work with a number of talented, dedicated individuals who have challenged me to build on my drive and energy to constantly learn and improve myself.”

8. Which people or companies do you admire the most and why?

“I admire people and organisations that work smart, are innovative, and are assertive enough to inspire this in others to achieve results. In the field of Human Resources, I’ve been particularly inspired by Professor David Ulrich who has done so much to develop people strategies and structures.”

9. What do you think is the industry’s single most valuable asset?

“People. Without a doubt. As an industry which serves to improve the customer experience we are only as good as our talent.”

10. How do you spend your spare time (if you have any)?

“I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, particularly activities which allow me to combine quality social time with being outdoors. I like nothing more than a long walk or bike ride, followed by a relaxing lunch.”

11. What advice would you give to someone looking to start out in the industry?

“Go for it, work hard and grab every opportunity. The customer experience industry is a meritocracy, it rewards people who are dedicated to improving their skills and supports people to develop their careers.”

12. Do you have any other thoughts about the industry that you would like to share with us?

“As an industry we treat our people well, but there’s always more to be done. At every level we should concentrate on developing our talent, empowering them to achieve and developing them. By concentrating efforts in this way at Webhelp UK, we’ll continue to grow, improve and deliver even more for our clients and their customers.”