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5/17/2011
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Social, Mobile Channels Still Lack Customer Support

Companies are rushing to launch consumer apps without building sufficient service behind them, finds Constellation Research study.

Top 20 Apps For Managing Social Media
(click image for larger view)
Top 20 Apps For Managing Social Media
Too many companies are diving head-first into social media and mobile business ventures without establishing service and support for those channels, according to a research report.

"It's taken companies a long time just to integrate email and text chat into their call centers," said Elizabeth Herrell, the analyst who wrote the report for Constellation Research. While the challenges of interacting with customers over social media and with mobile applications are different, "they are common in the sense that they have not had an infrastructure built around them," she said.

"The support for social is becoming known, although often social support is still not integrated," Herrell said. Mobile applications are where she sees more disjointed behavior, as companies rush to put out mobile apps in pursuit of a marketing advantage, but often treat support for those applications and customers as an afterthought.

"If the app doesn't work, and the customer can't get support for the app, they're not going to use that app," Herrell said.

Major call center technology providers such as Cisco and Alcatel-Lucent have announced integrated cross-channel solutions, but these are not yet widely deployed, Herrell said. Even where agents have been assigned to support customers seeking support over Twitter, Facebook, or through a mobile app, these are often separate teams who don't have access to the same customer information resources as their phone service peers, she said. "They have no idea whether this customer is important, priority, special handling--all those things we've done for customers over other channels."

Customers are seeking out new channels for support partly because they're tired of dealing with the old model of navigating phone trees and waiting on hold, said Zack Urlocker, COO of ZenDesk. "Customers are taking it to the streets. They're going to go out and complain about your company on Twitter or Facebook or whatever--and their expectation is that companies will respond."

ZenDesk, which offers Web-based customer service software, has an advantage because "we really built this business around the notion of multiple channels--voice, email, chat, Web forms--and making it possible to deliver great service across all of those," Urlocker said. The company introduced ZenDesk for Twitter in January, and Urlocker pointed to Hulu as an early big user, monitoring 9,000 tweets per week for customer service inquiries. With keyword searches and filters, agents can identify multiple tweets on the same topic and send a reply to all those users at once--making it more practical to respond to incidents such as service outages that affect a large number of people, Urlocker said.

ZenDesk has not yet introduced a similar capability for other social networks. "We're still pretty early in this evolution," Urlocker said. The company offers a mobile Web version of its service portal, as well as application programming interfaces that app creators can use to build help-desk functionality into the mobile user interface.

Herrell concedes social and mobile channels are different enough that it may be worth having a dedicated team to deal with them. "There are a lot of people who are good on the telephone, but to try to get them to tweet at 140 characters or less--that wouldn't work," she said. "It's a new channel, and it probably deserves a dedicated--but integrated--team that has access to the same information."

Mobile commerce applications are getting increasingly sophisticated, offering services customers can access from on the road or in the store, but the service to back them up can't be neglected, she said. "Anything that can go wrong--as it can with any kind of data transaction--anything that can go wrong, will."

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