Social Media CRM, or Social CRM, is getting a lot of air time these days. But where does it fit? Today’s post is by Laurie Shook. Laurie is a technology marketer creating solutions that help people communicate and collaborate more effectively. When not blogging, on Twitter, or on Facebook, she is marketing WikiThreads, her small business featuring Dallas t-shirts and logo embroidery. Thanks for chiming in on Customers Rock!, Laurie.

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? That’s the perspective many customer service experts have had toward social media-based customer service, or social CRM. With so much noise in the social channel, is it worth it to ferret out a few random requests for customer service? And with a sawmill full of fallen logs ready to be processed, few could blame customer service executives for focusing on contact center through-put.

But to a marketer that pristine forest of social media represents opportunity to be harvested. Consequently, many companies leave the task of social CRM to the marketers. Marketing creates the proactive messaging and offers on Twitter and Facebook while attempting to handle service issues as they arise.

But consumers are taking service issues to social channels in ever growing numbers. According to Gartner, the Social CRM segment will double this year, surpassing $1 billion. Included in the growth are those who simply prefer social media to the traditional contact center. According to Mike Merrill, @MikeDMerrill and Director of Marketing at ReachLocal, “I find it more convenient to ask for help via social media, since I’m on line all the time anyway. When I raise the issue via social channels, I’m not stuck on hold. It puts the ball in the business’s court.”

Customer service is better suited to handle social service issues for three reasons:

Coverage. Consumers expect prompt responses regardless of when their complaint is aired. Marketing departments aren’t staffed evenings and weekends, although many contact centers are 7 X 24.

Product Knowledge. Customer service agents are trained on product and service specifics and are better versed in how to handle the issues that arise.

People Skills. Customer service reps trained to handle the wide diversity of people issues and personalities that crop up in day to day business.

So where’s the gap?

Brand Voice. Marketing departments report that there is work to be done to get customer service representatives ready to speak in the company’s “brand voice”. Agents need to understand that since conversations are public, service needs to be delivered with a different tone than would occur one-on-one.

Volume. We’re back to the original issue. Unless there is a corporate fiasco, most companies don’t currently have enough service issues aired via social channels to warrant integration into the rank and file agent’s work queue.

But, if growth is inevitable, how can the customer service organizations get ready for the very logical integration of the social media channel into the service function?

Take it slow.

  • First start by following marketing department responses. Learn “brand voice”.
  • Then, start handling service issues that arise from corporate social media properties with a small, focused group under the customer service function.
  • Next, establish service specific social media properties. This is a big step, since it brings a dedicated staffing requirement to Customer Service. It is important to carefully gauge workload before beginning. Remember this activity doesn’t create new workload—it simply focuses it away from general corporate social properties onto service-oriented properties.

Mainstreaming social CRM into the contact center is a big step. Evaluate the baby steps you may need to take tor prepare for a stronger customer service role in social channels, so you are ready before someone yells “timber.”

(Image credit: ardaguldogan)