There is a growing realisation that digital communications needs to be two way. If it is two way then questions about your organisation get asked. It's time these questions were plugged into customer services. Here's how one forward-thinking organisation has done it...
by Matt Bond
Picture the scene. You arrive at work on a Monday morning after a weekend of downpours to find your social media accounts inundated with cries for help. Requests to clear a flooded drain sit alongside a query on how to find out if a dead cat has been collected by Council staff, and much more besides.
So, (to coin a well-know phrase) who you gonna call?
Luckily for us, we had already started talks with our contact centre colleagues on how to better resource our Facebook presence so that it not only reduces pressure on the corporate comms team but also satisfies the contact centre's own channel shift ambitions. I'm sure we're not alone in starting to see our Facebook page being used much more as a direct customer service channel rather than the 'celebration of where we live' ethos that we originally envisaged.
Yes, we still post campaign messages and promote the council and wider Cornwall as much as possible, but as our social media presence evolves, we're finding that our customers simply want a better way to get hold of us and to get the information they're after quickly, accurately and with a friendly tone.
It's up to us to respond to this call.
In the above example, what would have taken a comms team member the best part of a morning to source contacts and write responses took the contact centre team just 15 minutes; both quick and accurate. We even got some thanks from customers - The mark of a social interaction well done!
And reputation boosting is just one of the benefits of bringing your contact centre colleagues on-board.
In corporate comms we have to keep ourselves as 'in the loop' on corporate matters as possible but it has been surprising to learn just how much the customer service team know about those customer priorities that are happening now, in real-time (rather than reactively) on the ground.
For example, their knowledge of the corporate calendar - from changes to bin collections to notices of council tax being issued - is an invaluable resource worth tapping into on its own. They also have a far better awareness of which customer contact channels may be experiencing busy periods at any particular time and can react and divert people accordingly.
This knowledge means that as time goes on, we're finding that they are equally adept at posting proactive corporate messages to Facebook.
And the benefits don't end there. Your contact centre will already have a book full of the contacts your customers need and can intuitively, due to years of experience, find the right person for the right answer, and fast.
As Karen Collet from the contact centre says: “With social media we are finding that we can interact with people in a public place (one to many) and this allows us to engage with those who may not use our website as a preferred tool for information or as a way to contact us through the traditional channels.”
On the mechanical side we currently use a flagging system using a shared email inbox - flagged red for customer services and yellow for comms. We're not sure yet if this is the best approach (a situation not helped by some Facebook notifications not being sent as email alerts) but it seems to be working for now.
A natural part of the process are regular feedback sessions on how we're all finding it. Knowledge sharing on the best ways to move forward and what challenges, opportunities we may face going forward has done wonders to cement these new-found working relationships.
In fact, as time goes on, it becomes ever more apparent to us that better links between internal communications and customer service teams are a vital part of effective service delivery.
Looking ahead it's obvious that while we're merely scratching the surface at the moment we can all see the potential.
Whether the next logical step is moving customer services onto Twitter, You Tube, Vimeo and beyond we'll have to wait and see but if our Facebook experiences are anything to go by then it is certainly worth considering.
It helps if, like us, you have a contact centre team that buy-in to the more authentic tone that social media allows.
Karen added: “We hope that this collaboration will allow us to publicise customer service information that affects residents directly such as refuse and recycling, highways information, permit renewals, disruptions to service, and hopefully correct inaccuracies in things other people are saying, but overall showing that we are human and are here to help.”
So our advice? Next time you find your social media pages inundated with requests for help, make sure you've put your customer service team on speed dial.
Matt Bond is communications specialist at Cornwall Council.