Listen up! Enhancing customer service via social

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So-called social media listening platforms aren't new. Many larger marketing departments today have many ways to track brand mentions on Facebook and Twitter, including using such listening platforms as Nielsen BuzzMetrics Business360 or Radian6.

The challenge, though, is to turn all that listening into action. That's what makes last week's announcement by of a new version of its Service Cloud platform with social media capabilities so potentially significant.

The new tools won't be available for a few weeks, but they help bring to the mainstream a variety of capabilities that and others have been talking up for some time. The new features will let service agents listen in and interact with customers on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, as well as cross-reference those conversations against a company's customer database to see if important customers are having issues that need to be addressed.

Salesforce's Service Cloud 3 platform accomplishes this by bringing social media listening (in part via integration of Radian6's platform) into the service agent user interface, so that agents can conduct social conversations from within existing tools, turning them into “cases” that can be tracked, managed and logged from within the work flow.

Service Cloud 3 also includes analytics that provide dashboards and reports, to help agents identify and escalate pressing issues that start in the world of social media.

One of the most interesting things about is that when the company debuts a new release of its customer relationship management software, the new features become available to tens of thousands of marketers almost overnight. For instance, last year released its Chatter private social network, which enables companies to talk among themselves, and now claims 80,000 customers for the service. Thus, building social listening so deeply into the service platform could jump start the integration of CRM and social media.

“What you find today is that a large proportion of the online conversations taking place about a brand are about help, how-to and support,” said Jeff Zabin, research director at market research company Gleanster, that recently published a study on social media listening platforms. “Increasingly, the customer service function needs to access this information to inform their day-to-day activities and drive business success,” he said.

At the recent CloudForce event announcing these new social capabilities, several marketers talked about the challenge of successfully marrying customer service and social media listening. Ally Bank, for instance, maintains six call centers with 1,000 agents and is getting much more active in social media channels, said David Vasquez, the bank's VP-customer service, during the launch event.

“It's something all service organizations are really struggling with right now,” Vazquez said. “The days are gone when customers are interacting with us one-to-one. It used to be they would call, we'd give an answer and they would go off and might tell 15 people; but those days are gone. Today they might tell 15 million people [via social media].”

Being able to have an impact on those people, in addition to the one person who called in with the original problem, highlights the potential return on investment for investing in more social customer service.

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