Will Social Media Replace Contact Centers with Advocacy Centers?

Last night I had an interesting conversation with Frank Eliason (aka comcastcares) via Twitter.

This all started because Shel Isreal asked a question many are asking right now: Do brands belong on Twitter? I think this is an interesting question – which primarily goes to weather or not the “community” will accept brands on Twitter. That being said I think the answer is already baked in. They are already on Twitter – and for the most part – Twitterers seem happy to have them there.

The more interesting question is – as I put it in my exchange with Shel Israel last night:

the question isn’t should they be here -but how do u scale beyond single person and maintain effect & persona…

This was the stimulus for my conversation with Frank Eliason

more after the jump…

Here is that conversation:

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To be clear I think Frank and I agree in many respects – but I’d like to make one thing perfectly clear:

Social Media will not force companies to build Advocacy Centers. If that was in their operational DNA they would have done it in their existing contact centers. To assume that somehow Social Media will transform fundamental principals of how companies interact with their customers is classic over-reach.

Social Media is different. But I’ve seen this movie before. During the late 1990’s I worked for a customer loyalty consultancy called eLoyalty. We believed (as did everyone else) that the web would fundamentally transform support and customer service. That companies would have to focus on making their customers loyal and building wallet share. For some of you I’m sure this rings a bell.

And yet… here we sit 20 years later and the vast majority of companies still are abysmal at providing a quality customer experience. Why? Because it simply costs too damn much.

Think about it – every time a company has to interact with YOU it costs the company money. That cost has to be passed along to YOU or the company can not be profitable. It isn’t that these companies have bad motives – it is that they can not scale great service without pricing themselves out of the market. That is also why small experiments that provide outstanding service experiences fail when they are scaled to accommodate every customer. I believe what we are seeing today in social media from @comcastcares, @scottmonty (Ford), Dell and others are those experiments. I remain unconvinced that there is anything fundamentally different which will make the scale/cost equation change.

Social Media is (and will be) no different than phone calls, email or chat. At some point it will become all about providing some moderately acceptable level of service at a cost that allows the company to be profitable.

There is, however, one way in which social media is different. Social Media allows a company to engage in the word of mouth conversations about their brand (the totality of the experience of doing business with them). That capability is where I believe companies should engage, focus and expend scarce resources. Simply because the ability to participate in word of mouth conversations, amplify positive messages and engage to correct negatives does more than “service” a customer – it defines your company in the eyes of your current and potential customers.

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