Working Backward Toward Social Media

A Look at How Steve Jobs Transformed Human Interaction
Michael Schein

A few months ago the world lost Steve Jobs, a man who will very likely be remembered as one of history's greatest innovators and entrepreneurs. The influence of Apple’s founder extended well past hard technology. He changed the way we listen to music, communicate with friends and interact with our colleagues. In short, Steve Jobs used technology to transform how we connect as human beings.

Like many others, I was deeply touched by all the reflections that came in the wake of Steve Jobs' death and astounded by how much wisdom there was in the speeches and interviews that resurfaced. During one of these, I heard something that struck me as particularly relevant to the contact center industry.

"You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around."

Although the contact center industry is theoretically all about people, many decision makers concentrate primarily on technology and data. Increasingly, however, companies that neglect the human part of the equation do so at their own peril. Faced with competition from work-at-home agents, chat and email delivery and premium in-house services, contact center executives are bracing for change and looking for ways to reposition themselves. One area that has emerged as a way of dealing with this realignment is social media.

While just a few years ago the majority of customer service transactions were conducted by phone, more and more people are choosing to seek help online through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Unlike phone interactions, the spread of negative opinions through social media is lightning fast and exponential. One bad Facebook post or Twitter tweet might be seen by thousands of prospects and customers within minutes.

I work in the customer contact industry, but I’m also a consumer. It's in the latter capacity that I’ve best been able to observe the damage that poor social media customer support can do. For example, I recently purchased an add-on cable service that was supposed to allow me to watch my favorite shows at any time. After signing up, I found that it was taking three hours or more for each show to download. Instead of calling my cable company’s customer service line, I decided to post my complaint on the company’s Facebook page. While I received a posted response from a best-selling company technician within the hour, my happiness was short lived. The agent gave an incomplete response, so I entered a follow-up post. Unfortunately, that was the last I heard from him.

The incident eventually led me to switch cable companies. More importantly, I posted a statement about the experience on my own Facebook page. From the comments I received back, it quickly became clear that the company will soon be in serious trouble unless they make some real changes in their social media support practices.

Major companies are making big investments in social media. They're working hard at trying to figure out how to use it. Social media is the hot topic in trade magazines, at conferences, and on panels. Why, then, are so many companies having such a hard time delivering a consistently high level of social media service?

The answer can be found by paying attention to Mr. Jobs. It seems that most companies are starting with the technology and working backward toward customer service instead of the other way around.

Regardless of how expensive or sophisticated the social media management platform or how many people you staff to handle posts, the processes and values that underlie your customer service are what matter most. Maintaining the integrity of the service provided through this channel goes back to providing streamlined training and education that can be delivered uniformly to every agent in every facility. Instead of simply hiring agents to hover over computer screens and answer posts as they pop up, take the time to build your procedures for teaching them what, when and how to interact with customers via social media. Before you throw money at a shiny new social media management system, plan how you can programmatically train your staff on the unique elements involved in delivering great social media service each and every time.

Steve Jobs would be proud.

November 10,2011