Social media is not like email or phone service. Its public nature means a mistake can have enormous ramifications for your brand. At the same time, its rules and constraints (cultural and technical) make mistakes nearby and easy to make. Mistakes become easy—for example, sending a public message instead of a private DM… a mistake that even twitter’s CFO can make.

Social media also has different consumer expectations from other digital channels. It combines real-time expectations with asynchronous workflow. Abiding by the same service expectations as email (often measured in days) would be disastrous. Consumers expect a social media response “in-the-moment”. At the same time, private social media conversations oftentimes have similar “open” resolutions much like chat. The customer may not respond for 30 minutes and the engagement weaves in and out – per the convenience of the customer.

That’s why social customer service requires a different approach, with new teams, training and new processes. As a result, we’ve seen the rise of completely dedicated social customer support teams (with best-in-class software to support and enable the agents). These teams sit inside the contact center, but with a unique team of agents, trained in social media, being managed separately. The Travelex social care team literally sits in the middle of the operational command center. They are literally and physically in the middle of the action.

What makes a great social agent? Gone are the days of hiring a recent college grad just because they know how to use Twitter. Are they veterans of the call center who graduate into the social channel? Are they external candidates who come from agencies and have technical “chops” across every conceivable social channel?

A model for today

Having a dedicated team is the best way to get started with social customer service. Training a small number of agents is simpler; and it’s easier to reinforce the right behavior, with constant attention. New policies and behavioral norms need to be created, often from scratch or on the fly, so it’s important that these can spread quickly between the agents.

The pros of a dedicated team:

  • Simple to train the right behavior
  • Mistakes minimized as agents are highly specialized
  • Dedicated agents become social-savvy very quickly
  • Information (e.g. new processes) can spread quickly among the team
  • Agents can take a #socialfirst approach, with processes and workflow best for social (and the customer), instead of trying to fit social into a traditional model

There are two main considerations, however: resourcing, and agent satisfaction.


The biggest consideration is in agent resourcing. If inbound volume in social media spikes, and you have stable volume on other channels, you cannot move your other agents onto social media. The risks are too high when any Tweet they send could be seen by millions.

Unless you have a very large dedicated team, it can even be hard to match normal shift patterns to varying volume needs over the course of the day and week; and offering 24 hour service can be a nightmare to implement.

Combined, this can mean huge backlogs and wildly varying SLA performance.

Agent satisfaction

Social media customer service is in general more informal and more human than traditional channels. Social agents often have more freedom, and enjoy their work far more than over traditional channels. The social media team is a highly coveted role for most agents. Although this is great, having a dedicated team limits this benefit to a small number of your agents.

Widening the pool increases agent satisfaction more widely—reducing staff attrition, which can have a huge impact on the bottom line.

A model for tomorrow: Multi-channel agents, but dedicated social shifts

As businesses have come to accept social media as a core customer service channel, more companies have moved social media to the contact center. This has raised topics such as best practices for efficient resourcing, and how to best unify customer data and reporting across channels.

With training, processes and management clearly established in many companies, it’s now time to help spread the workload and bring more social media savvy agents into the fold. Instead of a team of 10 dedicated social agents, you should be looking to train a much wider base of your digital agents in social media, who can each take dedicated shifts in social media according to demand.

To do this, it is essential that you have a very clear social customer service playbook, with solid training plans for agents, and regular refreshers to ensure agent knowledge up to date. Use of approval workflows and QA also becomes much more important. We also recommend having managers who specialize in social media, to always be on hand with in-depth knowledge and guidance for agents.

This approach allows you benefit from significantly more efficient resourcing, the ability to hit consistently high SLA performance, and to have higher general agent satisfaction. It also makes you much more ready to deal with sudden social media spikes or crises.

Social media has grown phenomenally over the past few years—but now it is time for social media to grow up. The time of separate, dedicated social teams—whether within the business as a whole (usually run by marketing), or inside the contact center—is drawing to a close. The future is one of social deeply integrated into the contact center, no longer treated as an ungainly step child, but instead the best way of engaging with a mobile, social audience. It’s time to put social first, but not social alone.

There are six ingredients that make great social service agents:

Personable – Can the agent find the right tone of voice, no matter the situation?

Confident – Social moves fast so you need someone who trusts their instincts

Resilient – Can the agent cope with your busiest day of social traffic?

Articulate – They need to communicate effectively through text so it doesn’t feel like cold SMS

Empathetic – Agents need to relate and appreciate that customers are human beings

Curious – Agents need to have a desire to improve, discover and explore

One of the pillars of great social service agents and great social service is connecting with customers on a deeply personal and emotional level. This is not just to be chatty—it’s because humans are social creatures and our modern economy is built on a foundation of trust. Building relationships anchored in empathy and connection are critical and you need people who can do that across channels that might otherwise feel distant.