An exclusive interview with Alton Martin tells us about one of his latest projects focused on establishing the Industry Standard and Model for Community and Social Media Performance Management and Certification…

Interviewer: Alton, It’s my impression the steering committee you’ve organized is still a fairly well kept secret in our industry, can you tell us a little bit more about who’s on your committee, your primary goals and some of the progress you’ve made since you launched last year?

The committee’s principle role is to act as a sounding board and professional advisory, relative to the design, deployment, and refinement of The Social and Community Performance Model (SCPM). They act as a guide to ensure that we are addressing the right issues and furthering the practice of community and social customer engagement. It’s also a great opportunity to network and share industry best practices. So far the group has been engaged in defining the standard metrics we use for measuring the performance of a community and social management operation – which as you know is very arduous task. Many of the members have contributed data toward building a benchmarking database and developing the framework for how we will organize and report on the metrics.

Interviewer: Would you say that the steering committee members are “ahead of the curve” so to speak, with respect to managing social media contacts and interactions? How would you characterize what they are doing vs. other less progressive organizations, who are perhaps just now beginning to form their social media channel strategy? 

Microsoft and Dell Computers have both publicly stated that they are now managing as many as 20-40% of their customer inquiries within their in-house/social communities, which is a huge off-set to what was hitting their front-line contact center agents.

The worst companies are the ones that just ignore their social contacts or only respond to the negatives. Most companies are still grappling with trying to understand the tool sets and get a handle on what they want to do – so there is no real “mainstream” movement, as of yet. The ones that are getting left behind are the ones that are just not doing anything to learn or understand how to embrace it.

Interviewer: Do you think social media and/or mobile channel interaction management can/should be outsourced successfully? Are there any firms getting it right and if so what are they doing differently from the rest?

Yes, I think it can be outsourced successfully and in fact, I know of one software manufacturer that is using one of their outsourcing partners to manage this channel for them, and is very happy with the job they’re doing. But I will say, managing a company’s social or community channels has to be much more collaborative than the traditional channels have been managed in the past. First of all, you are taking on the persona and image of the brand when you manage their social interactions and the outsourcing partner has to understand the culture, tone and rules of engagement that their client company wants to reflect to the masses. Having a one to one conversation with a customer about their bill is one thing vs. handling a tweet that just blasted to the world you have a major billing glitch in your software that’s causing everyone’s data charges to be higher than normal.

While I am not familiar with all of the outsourcing companies and what they are doing in this arena, I don’t think there are very many of the traditional contact center outsourcers who are really offering this capability as a mainstream/dedicated service offering. If they are looking at it strictly from the perspective of volume of transaction activity to drive seats revenue – then they are completely missing the boat, which I fear is mostly the case.

Interviewer: Are there some key “lessons learned” or tips you can provide to our audience relative to how to go about the process of establishing and integrating a successful social media channel management strategy and operation?

Yes, I’d say making sure you do the appropriate amount of up-front planning and due diligence on tool selection, for one thing. There are a lot of vendors out there and right now the market is highly fragmented – there are probably a few players, controlling only about 20% of the total market, so there is likely to be a lot of consolidation somewhere along the way.   Enlisting the support of an industry expert/consultant who really understands this space is definitely a recommendation I would make for those companies that are just getting started.

Another thing I would recommend is establishing key milestones or checkpoints along the way so that a company can ensure the original business problem they were trying to solve for and process for solving that problem, hasn’t drifted off course. I’d say every 90 days or so is a good time to reassess and evaluate the operation, once it’s up and running.

Interviewer: I understand one of the committee’s roles is to establish a “Standard”, similar to what you did when you were at COPC, that defines all of the relevant processes and metrics that a social media operations environment should use to monitor and measure their performance. Can you tell us what kind of progress you have made with that initiative and how close you are to releasing your first set of benchmarks?

The standard is complete and an overview can be sent upon request (info@epicconnections.com). Firms that want to get the entire version need to sign an NDA. As I mentioned earlier, the members of the committee have spent a lot of time coming up with standardized definitions and calculations for our top 10 quantitative and top 5 qualitative measures of performance. The database is still work-in-progress and will be tested and used by the team members internally, initially, to benchmark their own companies’ performance, as well as establish performance target ranges and thresholds.

Interviewer: What are some of the key metrics and how do they differ from that of a traditional contact center? Which ones are similar?

A lot of the metrics we use are similar to those we use in the traditional voice/web world of transaction management, like Abandonment Rate, Service Level, First Contact Resolution, Forecast Accuracy, etc. Most of the quality metrics are pretty similar in terms of accuracy/ error rates associated with key stroke data entries/typos and the like. Similar to how we monitor e-mail and chat. While a number of the metrics are similar in title, they often are calculated differently.

Some of the productivity measures are similar to e-mail management as well, in terms of responsiveness to posts or responses per day and managing the back-log of activity. In Social Media contact management, however, we also have what refer to a “flush rate”, which is the % of posts or commentary that never gets reviewed and just gets flushed out of the system.

There are actually quite a few unique metrics, you don’t see in the traditional contact center, like Noise/Spam %, which are the number of transactions an agent determines as just “noise or spam”- not worthy of a response. Social Influencer or MVP/Community Leader are two more examples of a unique metric that measures response time to what we classify as the “socially elite”, or those who have more social power in terms of their network or brand influence (like a Hollywood Star or Sports Athlete).

We’ve identified 41 metrics in all that we intend to create benchmarks for, designed to be used as the basis for audits and operational assessment processes.

Interviewer: How is your committee addressing the issue of Mobile channel interactions and transaction processing or is it? Do you see an intersection between Social/Mobile channel management and is there a separate set of processes and metrics emerging for that channel as well? Will the steering committee be producing a standard for Mobile?

We are not looking at Mobile, specifically as a separate channel – other than to recognize that it is likely to increase the total number of social interactions a company is likely to have due to the proliferation of smart phones and tablets that are enabled with social channel access.   We definitely see an intersection between the two channels, but are not sure yet how that is going to impact our charter – if at all.

Interviewer: How does EPIC’s role leverage/benefit from the steering committee’s direction and outputs? How does EPIC intend to leverage their contribution into your day to day consulting business?

By virtue of the fact that EPIC is working with a group of companies that are leading the industry in establishing best practices for community and social media customer engagement, enables them to have the “cat-bird’s” seat, if you will, for staying on the cutting edge of what is going on in the market. Having the ability to continuously improve the model and put it into working practice will no doubt enable us to have a leg up on other more traditional contact center consulting firms, that do not have a handle on where social is taking the contact center of the future. EPIC’s ultimate goal is to help companies scale their social customer engagement operation and transition it from being used just for marketing purposes into more of a mainstream customer management function.

Interviewer: In closing, Alton, what so you see is next on the horizon for both ISP’s and ESP’s trying to embrace this new medium? What are going to be their biggest challenges in the months and years to come with managing these channels and interactions? Who are going to be the winners vs. the ones who get left behind?

I think the biggest challenges are going to be with what to do with the data and customer information, now that you have it.   Businesses today spend a great deal advertising their products and services. They now have the ability to link social posts to individuals that are publicly acknowledging a need for those products and services, but how do they publicly target those individuals with advertising and offers? Obviously, there will need to be some well defined business rules for how this information is translated into next step protocols for customer engagement. The rules engines and processes for what to do with the data have yet to evolve.

The winners will be the firms that can figure out what to do with the data once they have it and stay on the path of innovation, learning/experimentation and refinement. The losers will be the ones that wait to jump in after everyone has already figured it out for them – at that point it will likely be too late to win back their customers from the guys who too took the leap, kind of like Borders and Amazon.

EPIC is a leader in the field of contact center performance optimization, and an expert in customer care in a dynamic environment.

EPIC provides social customer care strategy, influencer analytics, deployment, integration and training for contact centers and customer service organizations. We help our clients scale their organizations quickly, mitigate risks, and enhance leadership.

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