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Tuesday, 20 April 2010 17:48

Volcano fallout points to social networking need


Lonely Planet's Twitter and Facebook pages have provided a glimpse over the last few days of what it's like to be stuck overseas when a volcano blows - they also give a clue as to the direction that savvy call centre operators might take in the future.

Airline call centres around the world have been sagging under the weight of inquiries about flights to or from Europe, where most airports have been closed due to the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano. But according to CRM software specialist, RightNow Technologies, in the future it might be possible to deal with some of the calls by integrating social networking tools with call centre computing platforms.

Ted Bray, vice president of the company's contact centre solutions business, today said a rising number of corporations were attempting to harness society's enthusiasm for social media 'and turn it into something proactive rather than something that has been reactive.'

Bray said that the 400 million plus population of Facebook now made it the world's third largest 'country' after China and India. He added that 'more things are happening on social media than on email.'

Corporations and Governments were now grappling to deal with that he said. 

According to Michael Bishop, managing director of SmartSpeak which provides integrated contact centre computing solutions, the airlines have been identified this week as clear candidates for early adoption of social networking tools in their call centres.

'All airlines at the moment are having strife with the volcano,' according to Bishop. He said that it would have made sense for them to use Twitter to provide information to customers delayed by the closure of airports across Europe.

While international airlines have been manning contact centres around the clock, many have acknowledged long waiting times given the volumes of people trying to access information about travel plans.

According to Audrey William, research director of Frost & Sullivan's ICT practice, social networking tools could be particularly useful to companies handling disasters. 'You can use Twitter to alert people, or use Twitter as a customer service channel,' she said.

William added that government agencies and pharmaceutical companies were already using services such as YouTube to disseminate information.

However she warned that long term it wasn't enough to simply bolt on a social networking service as an afterthought to a call centre. Instead, to wring value out of customers' or citizens' enthusiasm for social networking, organisations needed to consider merging their contact centre, marketing and PR departments.

If co-ordinated properly this approach could reduce the traffic to call centres, and also enhance the relationship between the enterprise and end user. Speaking at an event organised by RightNow William said that some organisations such as Dell were already using social media as a marketing conduit.

But as Ted Bray noted the addition of social networks as a communications channel into enterprise call centres would create additional staffing challenges. At present although contact centre staff need to be able to have the appropriate language skills, and demonstrate some level of empathy with callers, once social network content entered the contact centre the call centre operators would need additional levels of cultural and domain experience.

This could pose a particular challenge for companies which outsourced or offshored their call centres. 'Trying to get outsourcers with empathy and domain experience will be challenging,' Bray acknowledged.

Companies would also need to ensure they had appropriate policies and procedures to fulfil duty of care responsibilities to contact centre employees who might be exposed to invective or offensive images sent to the company via social networking sites. 'This is why people have to bring this into the call centre, because they have developed the processed and policies to deal with issues,' according to Bray.

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