Five tips for effective social customer service planning & integration

08 January 2016 by Dionne Lackey

Social customer service planning

Contact centres can no longer be viewed simply as cost centres. Investment is needed to integrate digital customer service but many organisations think that deploying a full omni-channel solution is complicated and shy away from social customer service integration. This is a widely held view in the industry and IT departments are reluctant to look at this. The reality is many contact centres will only need to enhance existing architecture. Investment in technology is protected because consumers will continue to contact brands on traditional channels and adding cloud based social customer service solutions is easier than you think. APIs can be hooked up and performance metrics and social data can be overlaid with CRM systems for traditional channels.

Businesses need a robust strategic approach to setting up and using social media to improve customer service. If you simply look at existing internal KPIs and run with a quick fix you may be able to pick low hanging financial fruits in the short term. Your plan needs longevity and should align with your strategic goals which will no doubt include some of these: improved customer loyalty, advocacy, account growth, retention or higher sales. You can also reduce costs and benefit from economies of scale with a solid roadmap.

Many brands though still need to grasp the nettle on full social customer service optimisation. Research by Incite Group for its The State of Corporate Social Media 2015 survey found that 67% of respondents did not think social media was integrated well enough. Businesses understand they need to fix this, so we've put together five super-helpful tips to help you plan and take the customer care you provide to the next level.

1. Table setting

Customers want a consistent experience regardless of the channel they use. They want to be served in the capacity they interact and have a personalised experience when they need to contact businesses. Social media is pushing interactions beyond the mechanics of frontline service and you need a strategy which spans your organisation. The conversations that agents have with customers, when their emotions are raw, are information tributaries for the rest of your business. As a company you need to figure out what you plan to do with these conversations. Marketing, service, tech and product teams all need a seat at the social customer service table to lay the foundations for your strategy. Be realistic and have a clear plan on how to deliver on your organisation's objectives and define success criteria in a staged process. Work with the resources you have and make sure you secure executive buy-in to support your plan.

2. Where does social sit?

A key part of your planning process should be around understanding what your customers are staying and what issues they are complaining about.  

  • Your customers will already be talking about you, whether you've tried to tune in already or not. Do your research to understand which channels they use the most. Comparatively analyse volumes for each social channel to help you plan resource-wise when building your customer service support team and to forecast inbound and outbound messaging. Using a social customer service tool with analytics will be a big help here.
  • Don't forget about the 1,000s of blogs and forums where affinity communities talk about the topics they are most interested in. If your social customer service tool can only monitor the social accounts you own, you will be missing the opportunity to give these high value customers a great experience by engaging on the networking sites where they hang out.
  • Understand what your customers want. Deep dive into comments to find out why they are asking for help or information, what their pain points are, and what they like and what works well.

Listen to your agents

  • Sounds really obvious, but ask your agents what customers are really saying about services on social channels.

3. Build on existing architecture

  • 79% of contact centres do not think their technology is fit for purpose for future needs
  • 34% of contact centres are planning for a hosted solution
Blended architecture

The challenge for contact centres is to assess whether your current technology is fit for purpose to deliver digital customer service, including social channels, or whether you need to integrate new cloud-based solutions to deliver an omni-channel experience for customers. The reality is most contact centres (79%) do not think their existing technology is future-proof and they are shifting from a pure ownership model to more blended cloud / legacy architecture, according to the research from Dimension Data. Ensure you get the right social customer service tool for both your immediate and future needs. 

Help desk software

As social has become more important as an inbound support channel, many help desk tools have added the ability to add your social channels (primarily Twitter and Facebook) so you can create tickets for social media mentions. Obviously it's attractive to provide all your support from one tool. But, there is a balancing act between the convenience of getting your social engagement capabilities from your existing help desk tool, and getting all the capabilities you need from a dedicated social customer service platform.

Here are a few questions to think about when assessing whether your help desk tool is fit for purpose:

  • Can you route comments to a specific agent based on workflow criteria? Help desk tools tend to route comments to the next agent regardless of relevance. Without sufficient automations to route mentions to the right team, and approval workflows so the right replies are going out, what you can end up with are missed complaints on your main brand account, and marketing and sales enquiries going to your support account and wasting agent time.
  • Can support teams access conversation histories to inform replies? Many help desk vendors pick up a mention, then they send you to Facebook (or the relevant platform) to reply, this means there is no customer history stored for future engagement.
  • Are you able to monitor conversations beyond Facebook and Twitter? Nearly all help desk software only focuses on these two. What about all the other social channels? For example, if you are a retailer then you will need to monitor and engage on Instagram. The right platform will let you add all these different social sites, and route into one organised inbox to allow you to handle the customer in a consistent way regardless of social network they choose to engage on.
  • Are you able to search for indirect mentions on Twitter? Help desk software that doesn't allow you to search outside of official handles will mean you always miss a share of the interactions targeted at you.
  • Does marketing have an oversight on messaging and comments to protect reputations?
  • Are customer service supervisors able to analyse incoming conversations and spot trends in customer behaviours?

4. Deployment

  • 41% of contact centre managers admit that technology can be the cause of customer service mistakes
  • 87% of organisations cannot deliver a blended customer experience automatically and in real time

When it comes to selecting your social customer service channels, in a sense the choice will be made for you because you will need to focus on integrating the social platforms which matter most to your customers. You will have discovered this in the planning phase. It's best to prioritise two or three and dedicate resources for these. Trying to manage multiple channels will only dilute efficiency and negatively impact the quality of engagement your customers will expect. Ideally, you need to push your social channels into one platform where agents can work across them effectively and quickly to sustain quick response times. Monitoring channels natively and trawling through all the noise to get to genuine customer queries is time consuming and ineffective.


Resource your team for social media customer care

  • Analyse peak times when your customers contact you, this will influence when your support team absolutely needs to be available for first-phase deployment.
  • The most efficient strategy is usually to set up a small dedicated social customer support team, which is then expanded as your social customer offering grows and training is extended to the wider team.
  • Results from the fifth annual Social Customer Service Index by Social Media Today showed that brands which integrated social media support staff teams at the process level led to higher employee satisfaction with the company's service efforts. Team and process integration led to a 25% increase in the number of customer interactions handled on social channels.
  • Organize for scale to avoid damage to reputation from unplanned expansion down the line.

Here's the golden question - How many agents will I need?

Gartner, in its How to Manage Social Media Engagements research, looked at resourcing and it found there was 'no rhyme or reason' in how agents numbers were calculated among the 65 businesses it surveyed. It found there was no benchmark standard and the decision should be driven by use case. Although there were many inconsistencies, Gartner stretched its analysis to look at patterns around volume and came up with some ball park figures on the number of agents needed based on inbound comments per month.

  • Up to 5,000 messages - 5 to 10 agents
  • Up to 20,000 messages - around 10 agents
  • Up to 50,000 messages - around 10 to 20 agents
  • Up to 100,000 messages - around 50 agents
  • More than 100,000 messages - around 50 agents

This really is a rough guide and the number you reach will be driven by internal variables, the complexity of queries, the channels you engage on and the social customer service technology you invest in to optimise agent productivity.


  • Using intelligent workflow and automations in your social customer service app will simplify agent inboxes. Noise and spam is filtered out and priority mentions are routed the right agent to action. One of the biggest routes to failure is expecting your support team to effectively manage social conversations without intuitive tools to make it easy to manage them. When changing software it is important for agents to see how smart software increases productivity for the team and enables them to foster better relationships with customers quickly and effectively.


  • Enterprise-scale social customer service apps should include engagement reporting functionality for you to automate reports to ensure you are meeting SLAs, and to internally manage operations and agent performance.

5. Wallboards

Setting up a bespoke social media command centre is a powerful, visual tool to help breakdown silos across your organisation. It is more than a snazzy statistical water cooler to hang around. Displaying real-time customer engagement metrics and insight will show departmental colleagues and senior managers how the customer support team performs on social channels. It will provide valuable social customer care data to help improve agent productivity. It also provides a visual snapshot of what your customers really think.

This mini guide includes a recap of some of the tips published in our full Social Media Playbook for Contact Centres.

Social media customer care for contact centres

 Social Media Playbook for Contact Centres



Tags: Currys PC World, Social Media Today, Customer Service, martin hill-wilson, Social Media Monitoring Tools, VentureBeat, Pret A Manger, Sentiment Analysis, Direct Line, social customer service