Like every other organization in businesses today, customer service departments face considerable pressure to improve their service delivery and satisfaction ratings while lowering their operational costs at the same time.

Customer service desks and customer support people, by their very nature, strive continually to improve the level of service they provide.

Socially enabling customer service and support through the entire value chain offers those organizations the opportunity to reach the next level of service, which can help them improve customer satisfaction and retention.

Starting in about 1995, and into the early part of the 2000s, customer service organizations placed a strong emphasis on telephony infrastructure, voice recognition, and specialized customer relationship management applications that tracked and recorded customer information. Those tools showed pre-filled screens with updated information to call center agents each time the customer called.

Later, sophisticated call scripts, workflows, and knowledge bases proliferated. Those enabled the service agents to be dynamically knowledgeable. And, all throughout, metrics capture and reporting would enable the technology, processes and people used to deliver service to improve continuously.

Today, however, we’ve pretty much reached the utility horizon for conventional service technology and processes, which also place constraints on people. Improvement to customer service through those channels becomes incremental at best.

Where does customer service go from here?

The next wave of major improvement will come from integrating social functionality through the entire customer support model.

Socially enabled customer support has already advanced through the proliferation of community forums that enable customer self-support using a combination of crowdsourcing with community members, structured FAQs, and managed question/answer streams with company designated subject matter experts.

This approach offers the advantage of providing customers with often faster resolution to their problem while also lowering overall support costs by eliminating the need to interact with service desk agents or send a service representative to a client site.

However, service organizations must monitor and manage the kind of “answers and messages” that are being communicated to customers to ensure consistency of branding and accuracy of content.

Looking at the service desk operation itself, properly applied social technologies can also have a major impact on the productivity and speed to resolution of service desk agents. Imagine a collective service desk that can discover and leverage expertise not only within the call center itself, but also potentially anywhere within the enterprise, to help solve a customer problem.

With complementary social platforms, agents would have the ability to reuse the wealth of problem/resolution dialogs as experts work with agents, both inside and outside the organization, to solve customer problems. This accumulated knowledge store then can be used by new agents to quickly come up to speed on customer and product support/resolution scenarios.

In addition, a social interaction knowledge base could also minimize the impact of knowledge and experience drain when agents move to other positions or leave the support center altogether, because this information is captured in a searchable form.

Looking even further ahead, pairing a social knowledge base with virtual agent technology could lead to even greater cost reductions and improved customer service.

Now that businesses are using public social networks like Facebook and Twitter to support marketing activities such as brand awareness and product promotion, big data has also entered the picture for sentiment analysis and analytics.

Imagine leveraging similar techniques to monitor for support issues posted on public or internal corporate social networks. They could generate an alert to a service desk that could proactively be responded to using an optimal response channel. Social sentiment analysis about quality of service could be used as another metric to guide service desk improvement.

Finally, the success of social enablement relies on the cultural concepts of transparency, sharing, and contributing to the common goals of the organization. To encourage and reinforce this behavior, social technologies incorporate gamification techniques.

Badging agents with earned expertise, rewarding support desk personal with kudos for outstanding service, and having a program to spotlight contributions can all serve to recognize the successful service desk agent. This social recognition can serve as added motivation to improve overall service quality and agent satisfaction in the service and support environment.

The next generation of customer service and support will rely on socially enabled capabilities integrated not only with the service desk itself but within the entire end-to-end customer experience as well.