Social Media Mission Control, The Contact Center Must Evolve #SocialSupport

Rise of Social Commerce, an Altimeter Conference Left: Gatorade’s (Pepsico) Social Media Mission Control Center in Chicago listens and supports customers wherever they are in their lives. (Video, WSJ)

Customers have been blessed –and cursed– by call centers where customers call into customer support phone lines when they have woes to solve. Now, expect similar strategies to now use Social CRM technologies (read the report) to first listen to customers where they already are, and respond in real time.  In fact we know of Gatorade being the first to launch their Mission Control center (see video below) and Dell’s head of Social Media, Manish Mehta, announced at our conference last week they are going to launch the Dell Social Media Mission Control center at their HQ.

How the Contact Center Evolves: Traditional to Social Media
Social media is not just a ‘new channel’ where existing processes are applied, there are significant changes required in approach or risk public customer backlash, support teams must be aware o f the following changes:

  1. Traditional Channels vs Social Channels: Rather than use traditional communication channels like phone, web, online chat, and email, Social Media support centers will reach customers where they already are –in social networks where they talk to each other.
  2. Inbound vs Outbound: Rather than waiting for customers to contact the contact center on phone support, web, or online chat, they are being proactive by listening to customers and responding to them in their own native social channels.  Expect savvy brands to anticipate customers needs by using Social CRM databases to find trends, locate issues before they surface, then contacting customers before their issue surfaces.
  3. Post Issue vs Real Time Response: Call centers often occur once a customer has had a negative issue, and a frazzled or frustrated customer calls in.  The goal of Social Support is for support agents to contact customers before they call the support center, reducing expensive high touchpoints.
  4. Incident Resolution Scripts vs Lifestyle Content: Call centers have one one primary mission and often a secondary: to solve customer woes and get them off the phone as quickly as possible to keep costs low, or flip to upsell opportunities.  The contact agents script has been carefully designed to solve customer issues quickly and efficiently, yet, social media support may involve discussions and true dialog that build relationships with the customers beyond product support.  Expect lifestyle content, news, industry happpenings, and even marketing deals to emerge in the same social channels to offer more value for customers.
  5. One-off Incidental Relationships vs Long Term Relationships: Contact center interactions often are short term, with different staff interacting with different customers with no long-term relationship building.  In social media support, a handful of the same folks may participate in the social support efforts with their public persona appearing, this building a known relationship as a human with customers.  See how regulated Wells Fargo does it right with their Ask Wells Fargo Twitter help account.
  6. Customer Support Skills vs Social Media Skills:  While we’ve already seen a traditional skillset emerge for contact centers, expect a new skill set will be required to learn: brand monitoring tools, social media workflow, listening tools, social CRM training.  Beyond the tools, they’ll have to learn conversational marketing, conversational support, and have a high degree of gut feeling to determine if an incident will need to be responded to.  Furthermore, they’ll need to quickly ascertain the social influence of customers, as that will impact the triage process, that’s right, certain customers with more Twitter followers will receive priority treatment over others.

The Future: While Strategy Remains Constant, Expect Resurgence of Vendors and Measurement This isn’t a revolution but instead evolution, in fact both types of centers will focus on issue resolution and customer satisfaction rates.  Both will have dedicated teams.Voices from customers cascade into social channels, and in both cases customers will likely share their experiences to their friends in social channels. Expect that contact centers in India and Philippines to quickly gain steam in this area, cut deals with one of the 145 brand monitoring companies, and offer these pilot programs to their clients.  Lastly, expect that studies emerge that show the cost savings by heading off customer complaints early and responding to them before an incident goes ‘viral’ or reduction in low cost social channels vs higher cost call channels emerge.

Update Dec 11: Although Dell gave me an invite to come to the grand opening, I was unable to attend due to travel, they’ve now launched their Social Media Listening Command Center, see above.

Update: I kicked off a discussion in the growing Social CRM Pioneers Google Group –you’ll find the front line practitioners in here.

63 Replies to “Social Media Mission Control, The Contact Center Must Evolve #SocialSupport”

  1. Absolutely, as a provider of a brand monitoring platform, our attempt has been to build it in a way that achieves the above effectively. I like the Gatorade video! Cool will become a “must have” very soon! – Vinod @ Position2

  2. Raw design skills and Unity 3D delivered the heat for the gorgeous visualization crafted by StruckAxiom. Great job!

  3. Perhaps I need to start using the term “Customer Contact Strategy”??? This will really help support something I've been telling clients but many of those companies find it hard to believe. All 6 of these points about the “contact center” should help me explain to companies why they need to consider addressing 5 key areas with their overall communications strategy, especially when it comes to social media. Too often companies respond that they just want to “do” social media without realizing what is different from other traditional marketing communications and campaigns.
    Within the 6 contact center evolution points you mention, my 5 key communications needs companies should address fit really well!
    1) Listen to current customers, prospects, industry experts and other influencers in the market space and internalize what you hear to improve your business.
    2) Speak to the overall market conversation with quality, supportive and helpful content that people want to respond to, inquire about and pass on to others.
    3) Care about what is being said about your products, your company, your competitors and your industry, but even more important, care about helping your customers and prospects fulfill their wants and needs.
    4) Share your experiences”positive and negative”and your insights as you grow your company and evolve your product lines.
    5) Build relationships with market conversation Influencers, Participants and Listeners based on the mutual interest of the consumer problems that need to be solved with product innovation.

  4. Jeremiah,
    I'm normally on the same page, but what you have argued here will only create a more fractured organisational response than is currently the case. In comparing legacy with new and conceptually splitting these teams you are encouraging further cultural divide and operational cul de sacs.

    An organisation that encourages heroic social media interventions at the same time as running its call centre as sweatshop has real issues with joined up thinking. It's the same customers base, the same infrastructure, the same underlying set of problems. That's the message we should be pumping out. There is nothing intrinsically right or wrong about live voice any more than a text based peer to peer community support intervention. Each has its defining character, scope and 'special place'.

    What we need more of is quality advice on cohesive customer strategy building to bind the new with the old. As you know much of the problem with the old is that it was atrociously deployed and opened up silos rather than reduced them.

    Your line of reasoning coupled with your undoubted influence is in danger of setting off a whole new generation to believe that call centres are 'bad' and social media is 'good' in relation to the customer experience.

    In respect


  5. We have a live map feed that shows the location (in realtime) of each barcode scan of a Gatorade/Pepsi product. Usually one Pepsi product scan every 20-30 seconds in some part of the United States. Fun to watch, you should get Pepsi to add it to their mission control center. Email me at

  6. Martin

    I've been talking to the decision makers that run support centers, there's concern that existing contact centers don't have social media capabilities –and as a result a pilot or skunkworks is required to make a shift and a change.

    I agree with you that a holistic customer experience needs to be provided to them in any channel the customer prefers interaction, but right now, companies have fallen behind the shift in where customers have moved towards.

    In the ideal sense there should be a bridge between the 'Social media command center' and the existing support teams and Social CRM should be the under pinning system to provide that.

    One of the end goal we listed in our SCRM report is this: “Customers should receive a holistic experience from any brand touchpoint, mobile, phone, social, to real life”.

    I really, really enjoy your meaty comment, come back more often.

  7. Jeremiah,

    I hear you. It reminds me of early '80's when we used to build high energy call centres full of bright people with Zappos style zeal. The clients wanted it as a stand alone example of the culture they needed to become. 30 years on………….Beware false promises or insist on completing the transformation.

    Meanwhile do one of your fab slidewares that everyone downloads that conceptually shows how CIM, CRM and Social platforms integrate to enable closed loop customer workflows underpinned with cross channel case mgt, intelligent search enabled knowledge mgt and real time experience tracking.

    Or something that counters this temporary tactical adaptation and keeps those strategic minds focussed on wholesome, holistic thoughts! -)

  8. Early days, and what we traditionally see is a swing between the 'centralized and distributed' pendulum. What we're seeing now is the distributed, since there's an injection of new technology. It'll swing back and forth, over and over.

    Heh, thanks, request noted. I'm doing research on 'social support' hang tight, will have more to come in future.

  9. The question becomes queuing and tactical priorities. How can you make sure it's not the squeaky wheel getting the grease because they are inherently more popular? They could cause problems.

  10. Jeremiah

    This is a great post with some excellent content, comments and perspectives.

    You are right about the matter of customer support, whether it is a call center, chat or using social media, when it comes to customer support it is about being wherever customers are. That is why in 1996 Dell established community forums and why along the way we established chat as customer support options. In our current situation, @dellcares is our customer support team across the social Web. Worth noting that this team and their tracking of issues is in fact part of Dell™s overall support offering¦it is not, to Martin Hill-Wilson™s point, something special or different or siloed within the organization. In this respect, social media is not some special channel¦it is among the many tools we use to connect with customers. Ultimately, whether it is the call center telephone call, our community forums, chat, email or @dellcares in social media, it is all about what Dell™s customers choose.

    In addition, I think it is worth noting that the social media mission control is not just about contact centers or customers with support issues “ or at least that is not the sole purpose behind Dell™s social media Ground Control Center.

    Our new Ground Control is about tracking the largest number possible conversations across the Web and making sure we internalize that feedback “ good and bad. For example, today, we might be tracking conversations about new bamboo packaging and how that is being talked about by customers or other stakeholders interested in our sustainability initiatives; tomorrow it may be tracking a number of fans and what they are loving about one of Dell™s new mobility products or how the Dell streak is successfully being used in the healthcare environment; next week, it may be about early-warning conversations for a blue tooth driver issue; or about some tremendous new successes in successful green data centers and storage integrations.

    Dell™s Ground Control is also about getting that information to the right people wherever they are in the Dell organization, globally and functionally. It™s also about tracking what you might call the long tail¦.those smaller matters that might not bubble to the surface today, but are out there¦and deserve to be heard. We want to hear them too “ contrary to the scenarios about squeaky wheels getting grease

    Hope that adds some additional context to the great conversations, perspectives and thoughts here.

  11. That's very helpful vision, I'd like to learn more.

    Got it: It's more than customer service and support, but also what we call “Learning” about customers which can impact product as well “Innovation”. It's also safe to say, however, that Ground Control will also be in active conversations with customers –some which may be support related. Ground control is also triaging information to the right folks within the company, which I'll assume is classic support systems.

    In order to be successful (either Ground Control or traditional Support) a social crm solution must be in place so regardless of the employee touchpoint: A holistic experience is provided to the customer.

    Looking forward to watching Dell lead into yet another area in social business. I'm constantly impressed with how Dell (to your words) quickly 'fails forward', learns, and gets it right.

  12. Agreed Joshua, while you can't ignore the average regular customer (who represents the greatest amount of revenue) you also can't ignore influence, which can make bad problems even worse or great opportunities even louder –you must factor in both.

  13. @Manish,

    In terms of tracking the long tail from a practical standpoint, is that still a largely manual process, or do you have faith in machine-based text analytics and if so, how much?


  14. Ive never heard from a single brand that they rely completely on Brand Monitoring tools completely, the data they 1) return is too much in quantity, 2) junk data 3) unable to decipher nuances.

    Manual is still required, with tools to support that process. Humans and tools together.

  15. There is something non-authentic about treating influencers differently. Imagine if Southwest treated Kevin Smith nicely but everyone else like crap. Or you found your posts never answered but Marissa Mayers and Jeremiah Owyang are catered to right away. Zappos did not become synonymous with stellar customer service by treating influencers differently. They treat you differently by whether you are a loyal customer to Zappos. I think that is more genuine. Customer service should not be a PR strategy.

  16. Thank you Yumio.

    Companies ALREADY treat certain customers differently based on how much money they have. As a result, loyalty programs emerged, executive response programs, and classifications of customers based on total lifetime value has been a standard.

    That existing program of segmenting customers based on value, is simply adding on a new flavor of influence.

    I've detailed out how companies are –and will –do it here:

    We're past should or should not, it's really about 'when'.

  17. Manish,

    Interesting to hear about the scope and mission of the Ground Control Centre. This makes perfect sense as an 'intel' sweep. In that respect I would imagine you are sythesizing that proactive insight stream with your speech and text analytics which picks up your re-active customer stream (i.e. once they have made contact with you). Thereafter it's plugging into a continuous improvement workflow.

    I would be very interested to hear how advanced that is.

    For instance do you 'market' back to customers which ideas you have acted on that they sourced?

    What skin in the game is there to act on this feedback? I've always promised myself early retirement once front line customer service win the right to cross charge those can cause the f*** up in the first place!

  18. I'm on Yumio's side in terms of 'ought'. But if you want to argue the case as 'realpolitik', then mull on this.

    Roughly a decade back when CLV first emerged, some UK brands were caught out 'sacking' customers and advertising VIP support treatment. Maybe it's something about our history but that did not go down well in the UK. (imagine how the French would react!)

    If the 'bitch with the biggest bite' has to go first, it had best be a covert strategy, because the collateral damage to brand would not be pretty!

  19. Actually, working for a social media monitoring company based in Paris, I can say that there is just as much emphasis placed on “influencers” as in the U.S. (I'm an American), and what's different is sometimes a person may be referred to as an “influencer” and thus treated differently because they stand out in the blogosphere, not because they necessarily have an affinity for a certain brand. VIP treatment, then, is something that is not unknown here.

  20. Great discussion here, as always Jeremiah, and I have to turn to Forrester for their great explanation of the future of call centers representing one voice of the customer. Whether a customer calls in, or sends a Tweet, or contacts a company through their contact form, there should be one place that unites all these points of contact to unify the person™s multiple identities. It™s something we are working on at Synthesio, integrating internal data and external data so that there is not a disconnect as there currently is in many companies between someone needing help in social media and someone needing help outside of social media.
    Whether the person is an influencer or not, then, remains to be seen after having united all of these factors to see if the person is a valuable customer which indeed is nothing new. I agree with you, Jeremiah, that preferred customers are preferred customers, with or without social media.
    I agree with Martin, however, that the skills aren™t necessarily entirely different for customer service vs. social media skills ; it™s just an evolution that has been occurring and will continue to occur. Orange in France, for example, took members of their customer service team and trained them for responding to web conversations in forums. This meant that the community managers are already have the company™s DNA in them and can respond accordingly, while being sensitive to the different particularities of web interaction. Their team has grown over the past year and they have, indeed, been able to detect problems much more quickly on social media than through customer service calls, saving several millions of euros over the past year and a half.
    I don™t think that there will be a trade-off, then, between traditional and social channels, but rather a blending of the 2, allowing contact via whichever channel the customer prefers.

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  24. Social media proves to be an effective platform for contact centers in communicating with their customers to promote their products and services. BPO establishments use social media to get closer to customers, spot trends, and identify influences. Social media is not considered to be a fad but instead a continuing trend for more years to come, and BPO’s are more than ready to harness its powers.

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