Social media is turning customer service into a critical differentiator that not only improves customer retention but also builds loyalty, according to Richard McCrossan, strategic business director for Genesys, who here explains why companies must adopt a more integrated approach to managing new communication channels to improve the strategic value of their customer service operations. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

On average, companies around the world spend some US$500 billion on advertising and US$50 billion on CRM (customer relationship management) - so why are they spending only US$9 billion on contact centre operations? Despite this massive advertising spend, a recent survey by the American Marketing Association (AMA) indicates that only 14% of consumers trust traditional advertising, while 90% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know, and 70% trust peer reviews posted online.

The new social media communications channels now have a big part to play in marketing. In fact, Genesys research conducted in conjunction with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) found that, while marketing has dominated the use of new communication channels, 60% of respondents said that marketing is the main function of the new social media channels. So companies predominantly use social media to broadcast highly targeted, personalised sales and marketing messages to 'push' the company brand message, rather than for broader public engagement campaigns that focus on customer service and customer retention, and creating brand advocates.

But only 6% of respondents regarded customer support or service as the main purpose of new social media communication channels. But customer service staff are the people who have a direct one-to-one relationship with the consumer, and who are perfectly poised to help build brand advocates and exploit the power of social media. Customers impressed with a product or service are more likely to let their social media friends know, acting as unpaid brand advocates.

An integrated approach provides the best all round customer experience. By using social media monitoring tools, customer service and the organisation at large, can 'hear' their consumers, provide timely responses, determine the appropriate action and manage other issues that may arise. By adopting a method of intelligent distribution of tasks, by using an automated solution (such as the Genesys Intelligent Workload Distribution (iWD) back office suite), a business can create an enterprise-wide task list sorted by business value, and prioritise and distribute these tasks to the right resource in real time. Defining priorities and service levels based on the business value of each task ensures that the the highest value tasks get completed first, and that right resources are proactively dealing with the most critical tasks.

As most customers are users of social media, effectively and efficiently managing customer interactions to provide the best customer experience, allows customer service delivery to become part of the consumer dialogue. This integrated approach means that businesses need to sort out formal methods to manage their response to the new social media communication channels. The company's research showed that businesses are beginning to understand this, with 47% using a team and 27% using an individual to manage social media. The team should certainly work across all departments, not just marketing, because the skills to manage and exploit consumer opportunities always involves different departments.

At the point of service, a company becomes 'real' to its prospects and buyers. These conversations, which engage the consumer directly, can capture important insights to allow the company to better manage and build its brand. By producing instant and highly relevant responses from whichever department is involved, brands can also create valuable advocates whose online reviews are trusted by 70% of consumers and whose recommendations are trusted by 90%.