Elevating Customer Experience through Enterprise Social Networking

I am not sure about most people, but I really dislike automated call center routing systems. They are impersonal and convey a sense that the company I am dealing with does not see the value of providing customer service that increases positive perception of their brand. By the time I am connected with a live support representative I am actually more frustrated than before I originally dialed. Each time a company interacts with its customers or prospects there is an opportunity to enhance that relationship.

Technical enablers like call center routing systems can be a double edged sword – providing process efficiencies, but removing the human context of some interactions that can build a lot of long term value and create substantial repeat business. Certain web systems, available through “chat with a representative” now links on some web sites, provide a quick and easy way to get in touch with someone and cut down on help desk calls, but miss the opportunity to deliver an even more personal experience to customers and prospects. As more and more users head to the web for self-service and product information, the quality of this interaction becomes critical to supporting a company’s brand image and viability. It takes very little effort to go a step further and elevate customer experience, without adding significant cost through social enterprise software technologies.

Enterprise Social Networking
Social networking technologies have slowly gained footholds in the enterprise, evolving from something that people may have been simply curious about, to tools that have started to provide tangible value in the enterprise. Much like instant messaging, once considered a toy in the enterprise, expertise search, blogs as communications tools, wikis for tacit knowledge sharing are all seeing adoption in a way that is directly applicable to the business and quickly adding value.

So where does social networking come in when trying to enhance customer experience?

Imagine for a moment logging into a web site to look at what products and services you are currently using or an trying to research a product issue that you are having with an organization like Comcast, AT&T or your bank. Within the context of your browsing experience you notice that a real picture of your customer service or sales representative, along with their name, a note about their current status, a link to start an instant messaging session with them or call them and perhaps a link entitled “about me” are present within your browsing experience.

The customer has now gone from dealing with a large, impersonal organization to dealing with Monica, Susan or Tim. The customer now has a “human context” around their interactions and there is a real objectifiable value that can be placed on that.

Social networking technologies in the enterprise, when turned outward to the extranet, provide a very compelling experience for end users.
At a recent lecture at MIT’s Software Special Interest Group regarding Virtual Collaboration and a number of the panelists cited a tangible improvement in collaboration, simply through the inclusion of a user photo – as even that limited effort adds a beneficial human context.

Upselling Made Easier
In addition to enhanced profiles to support customer interactions, technologies are also available to provide “activity streams” of user’s interactions. Traditional web analytics have existed for some time, but are focused on collecting information that is generally more aligned with general storage of browsing history, not geared toward telling a “story” about a particular user.

Just as customers and prospects can benefit from human context, so can internal users. The benefit of providing a sales representative with a web-based dashboard that showcases “stories” about the most recent account interactions has tremendous value. The representative will actually be able see what the account user interacted with (download of a document, reviewed particular forums, performed some searches) and what they found of interest, based on a Facebook-esq wall of sorts that reports back on the user’s activity. The key here is that this information does not need to be massaged and is available to be acted upon instantly by the sales representative.

The system can also correlate the user’s story or “activity stream” information with collateral and marketing materials that are directly applicable to the keywords that are located within the activity stream. Once again, this type of business intelligence allows an organization to provide support and insight levels above what was previously available.

The Technical Side of the Equation
WebCenter Services ships with a series of native social components that through configuration can be included within customer self-service interactions, adding basic technical components like rich profiles for all constituents, messaging and activity graphs. Using these components greatly lowers the effort to pull rich social functionality into existing applications. There is never a silver bullet, but early adopters of this style of integration are going to be able to generate more leads, build better relationships, and ultimately grow revenue faster than technical laggards in their space. Zappos (now owned by amazon.com) spends $300k a year to support its customer interactions through the use of Enterprise 2.0 technologies and their excellent customer service results are widely used in case studies.

Summing it Up
Enterprise software tools that support social functionality are finally ready to be turned “inside out” to support external customer experiences. By using service-based components to deliver this solution, it is an excellent way to give customers higher levels of treatment without requiring much effort above what is being done already.

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