I recently watched a great TED talk by economist Tim Jackson on the economics of climate change; I would recommend it for everyone, as it gets into some of the catastrophic, and potentially inevitable, results of the ways in which we (particularly in the western world) currently go about our daily lives. Further, it goes into some of the root societal factors that drive the current vicious cycle.
Jackson covers a lot of ground in 20 minutes, but at the root of the talk is the notion that the behaviors modern society encourages (consumption, pursuit of novelty) run counter to behaviors, like conservation and moderation, that would tend to improve our ecological lot in the long run. The socioeconomic forces driving the modern world could only have led us where we are today; the game is, in a very real sense, fixed.
While I was listening to this talk, it occurred to me that contact centers are facing analogous problems enabling their organizations for the new world of social CRM. With relation to voice calls, contact centers have built processes around interacting in a relatively faceless way with end customers; they may occasionally identify and screen-pop a customer (I’ve heard numbers as dismal as 10% of the time), and they may have created one-on-one agent relationships for the highest-value customers, but in the end, the customer’s interactions are relatively isolated and context-free. Sophisticated CRM apps can provide some customer context to the agent in the form of call history or notes, but there is rarely any continuity to the customer’s experience over time.
This also applies to the text-focused channels like web chat, email, and SMS — it’s generally a bit easier to find a customer match, and there are opportunities for contextualization using keyword search and deeper content analysis, but beyond messaging history, the customer is provided with no real connection to the business beyond the present conversation. Social contact center connectors scarcely do better; they convert Twitter tweets, Facebook comments, or Pinterest pins into routable interactions to which an agent can respond, but they do not usually present anything more than a façade of true engagement. It’s as if the organization has forgotten the customer, often immediately after a conversation is complete.
Contact center leaders are learning that being “social” is more than tapping in to tweets and responding with stock text. But the game is fixed; social monitoring technologies are geared towards very basic detection and response, and many contact center applications want to treat each social event as they would treat a voice call — one-and-done. The state of the contact center economy reinforces the game: it drives agents to focus on resolving each interaction as quickly as possible, gleaning what context they can from a screen pop in a few seconds; it pushes a queuing mentality when the mesh of human interactions might not fit the queue concept as well; and it ignores the factor that makes real human relationships work: empathy.
I’m not claiming that agents must befriend all of your customers; however, in a world where social media are becoming more of a factor in sales and support, it is important that contact center processes be revisited with an eye towards empathy. At every point in the customer contact process, it’s appropriate to ask what it means to care about the customer’s experience, to get a feel for what’s happening from their point of view. Agents should be trained in providing responses on social channels that take both the original request and the longer-term relationship into account. And customers should be enabled to “pivot” from one channel to the next with relative ease depending upon what will serve them best from conversation to conversation.
Engaging customers in the social sphere demands much more of the contact center and its agents than ever before. Many of the newer technologies emerging in the contact center market are providing better tools for broad customer engagement; multichannel routing, social data lookup, and broad analytics support can all improve competitive advantage. However, so long as the existing economics hold sway, many contact centers will be slow to adopt new, more socially aware approaches to customer engagement, to their detriment, and to the benefit of their quicker-acting competitors.
The emerging social layer of customer interaction will demand new approaches to customer engagement; working to organizationally empathize with customers would be a very good first step towards a new approach.