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By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 5 May 2011

Many companies are adding a social media customer interaction channel to their call centres to allow them to monitor what is being said about them and their products on the internet and address customer complaints. “They need to know what is being said about their brands on social media websites like faceBook, Twitter, YouTube, hellopeter.com and getclosure.co.za,” says Yaron Assabi, CEO of Digital Solutions Group.

He says individuals globally spent 3-billion hours interacting on FaceBook in 2010, which illustrates why social media is such an important customer interaction channel. An increasing number of companies are also posting videos of new products, financial results, company profiles, slide presentations, and other video content on social networks.

This encourages business analysts and customers to post positive and negative comments, which provides market intelligence about how their brands, products and marketing campaigns are viewed, says Assabi. He says technology tools like Cloud Monitor and Social Media Accelerator can be used to monitor and gather comments, based on specified criteria, and there are plenty of reputation management tools available.

These tools will automatically feed relevant comments into the companies CRM system so that agents can monitor them.  A good approach is to appoint a team of call centre agents to respond to these comments and try to lead the conversation off the social media site, perhaps by posting a suggestion to chat directly to address the problem, says Assabi. “A full time agent can handle an average of 2000 interactions a month.”

Monitoring software tools will prioritise comments based on the use of characters  and words that indicate anger and will even learn to navigate through the slang, which is prevalent on social networks. Other software tools can be used to post links on social media websites to direct customers to the answers to their queries.

“The customer could be pointed to a comment from another customer who had a similar problem when trying to use the same product, and how they resolved it by themselves,” says Assabi. He says this customer self-help approach reduces the load on the call centre and there is no cost of agents’ time.

“Some big brands handle millions of interactions through their call centres.” He says to illustrate the power of social media, singer Dave Caroll, who was angry with United Airlines in the US because it broke his expensive guitar in transit, posted a song about it on YouTube and it attracted more than 10 million comments.

On a more positive note, a group of Nados customers in the UK posted a video on YouTube of them dancing to demonstrate how they loved its food.  Companies can also create a community section on their own website with a chat facility and special interest groups and invite customers to post suggestions for improving products and services, says Assabi.

He says the team handling the interactions through the social media channel will need to be skilled in communicating well in writing. They will also need to be equipped with a script as to how to respond to complaints and queries or have access to a knowledge base of suggested answers.

“All interactions between agents and social networks will need to be automatically fed into the workflow of the company’s business processes,” says Assabi.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist with 25 years experience, and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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