Part 8 of the Social Business For Real Work series.

The Challenge

In many organizations, customer service staff are well-equipped to deal with the most common questions from customers, but need to rely on experts from other departments to help resolve more detailed or unusual issues. Access to this expertise can be difficult because it’s not always obvious who to ask, and when the right person is found, they may not have the time to spare. As a result, resolution of complex customer issues can take a long time, leaving the customer dissatisfied.

The Social Business Advantage

An enterprise social network makes it easier to access the expertise of people in other departments by making requests for assistance openly visible to everyone. Serendipity is one of the key benefits of working in this way – anyone who has a valuable contribution to make can do so, even if they were unknown to the person who originally asked the question. By holding these discussions in an open forum within the company, this forms a valuable knowledge base, searchable by other customer service staff who may need it later.

Example

Brenda is the customer service lead for Mobile1to1′s new software developer kit (SDK). Although she is an experienced customer service agent, and a competent programmer, she lacks detailed knowledge of the new SDK. Therefore, she needs to rely on colleagues in the product development team and professional services organization to help resolve detailed questions from developers outside the company.

To address this knowledge gap, managers of the customer service and product development teams agree to create a community in the company social network for customer service escalations. Certain members of the product development team are instructed to spend some time each day monitoring the forums in this community, but the community is open to the rest of the company to join and contribute to.

 

As the customer service lead for the SDK, Brenda acts as a focal point within customer service’s own community, and tries to resolve as many issues as possible within the customer service team. When she cannot do this, she creates a new discussion topic in the escalations community.

 

These new topics appear automatically in community members’ activity streams, and as a result Brenda normally receives a rapid response from the members of the product development team assigned to monitor the escalations forums. But when this doesn’t happen, the escalation process agreed requires Brenda to assign a task to a member of the product development team to ensure that issue is resolved.

 

If the assignee of the task feels someone else is better placed to answer the question, they can reassign it to a another team member. Meanwhile, Brenda can continue to monitor the status of the task to ensure it is completed.

Make It Real

  • Agree the terms of engagement between customer service and the other departments that are likely to provide assistance in resolving customer issues. While a social network allows serendipitous resolution when someone spots a question and answers, it is important to get the right people into the community in the first place to enable this serendipity.
  • Create separate escalation communities for each group of product experts, e.g. one community per product line. This avoids too many people needing to read too many questions, thereby making the process more efficient.
  • Identify the right balance between “push” and “pull” mechanisms for answering questions. Ideally, every issue would be resolved by “pull”, i.e. someone answers without being explicitly asked to. However, some questions may go unresolved in this way, so there has to be a point where a more formal “push” is required to request explicitly for a designated subject matter expert to take responsibility for providing an answer. Use tasks for these explicit calls to action, so that their completion status can be monitored.
  • Make the escalation community as open to many people as possible within the company. You never know who may have a useful contribution to make, or who might benefit from the knowledge shared.