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3 Components of Best-in-Class Social Support

customers request social support


Social media has become one of the BIG THREE customer service channels—especially in B2C—joining phone and email to form the triad of support modalities. But customers have high expectations, and there aren’t many companies meeting them.

Market Reality – Emerging Expectations

What are the emerging expectations from customers seeking support through social channels? You need to be fast and always on.

Jay Baer says his social research indicates that rapid reaction from a brand is becoming the norm.

  • 32% of customers who have contacted a brand on social media expect a response within 30 minutes.
  • An additional 42% expect a response within 60 minutes.
  • 57% of respondents expect the same response time at night on the weekends as during normal business hours.

Market Reality – Falling Short

The reality is, most companies just aren’t meeting these consumer expectations. According to the State of Customer Service Experience 2015:

  • 33% of consumers who contact a brand on social media never get a response.
  • Of all channels, social media has the lowest percentage of issue resolution and follow-up, with only 13% and 9%, respectively.
  • 63% of consumers have to engage with a brand two or more times on social media before a customer service inquiry or issue is resolved.
  • Despite the immediacy of social media, only 13% of consumers get a response within minutes.
  • 26% of consumers turn to social media when they can’t reach a rep through another channel—the highest of all reasons—indicating that many use social as a last resort.

Organizations have been quick to socially visible, yet have struggled to build a support structure to understand and respond to customer expectations; equip themselves with the tools, resources and training to enhance the customer experience in social support interactions; delineate between marketing coverage and customer care and support; and utilize data to better inform and optimize the customer support experience.

3 Components of Best-in-Class Social Support

There are three best practices to ensure customer satisfaction and achieve success with a social customer support program.

1. Immediate Response

To meet consumer expectations of response and resolution within a very short time frame, a social support should include the following:

  • Active listening for specific, actionable support issues requiring immediate identification and resolution
  • Workforce management practices to ensure adequate staffing during periods of peak response volumes
  • Timeliness metrics to assure issues are identified and addressed in a timely manner
  • Customer satisfaction measurement on all support issues to continually assess performance in relation to meeting customer expectations

2. Social Support Issue Data Analysis

Data plays a crucial role in defining and solving customer complaints. A successful program will aggregate support issue data to assist with identification of new and emerging issues. Once resolutions have been determined for those issues, (reliable, confirmed fixes), best practice is to use that data to create resolution-related content pieces to be proactively shared and promoted on customer forums and other watering holes. Customers can then find this content before experiencing the problem or before contacting support to solve the problem. The organization should also add the solutions to the enterprise knowledge base, as well as new and recurrent agent training modules.

3. Customer Persona and Journey Mapping

Speaking of data, a successful social support program will also use aggregated support data to create a customer “Care Persona.” This persona considers the various means of resolution customers pursue to “self-serve” their issues and addresses the tools they use in that process.  It seeks to assure those who choose to “self-serve” have the tools they need to achieve success on their own without intervention. The Care Personas also identify where in the customer journey customers are experiencing challenges and categorizes customers based upon their attempted resolution behavior.

Accurate, data-based Care Personas help organizations to better enable support personnel by assisting them in recognizing customer issues and equipping them with resources to more quickly and effectively solve those issues. They also enable the organization to build fixes into the support system to aid in the speed at which agents can respond.

Improve Customer Experience AND Reduce Support Costs

While this type of approach clearly addresses issues related to providing a better, more balanced customer care and support structure, it also has a significant impact on reducing support costs. Support issues often arise in the social sphere ahead of traditional mediums (phone, email, chat, etc.). As a result of this “early warning,” we have the opportunity to update the customer facing knowledgebase and create training content for our call center agents. This means we are better prepared to manage support tickets for these issues and can solve social inquiries before they reach the phone lines.

For example, one consumer electronics manufacturer noticed that, for each of the respondents whose issues we have resolved through social channels, 70.4% indicated that their next course of action was to reach out to the contact center if their issues wasn’t resolved. By resolving these customer issues on-line we are able significantly reduce costly on-phone handle times and drive down overall support costs.

All in all, social support isn’t going away. If you haven’t already, it’s time to integrate it as an integral part of your support strategy and allocate resources appropriately. You’ll not only reap the rewards of satisfying your customers (that demand an always-on social presence), but you’ll also reduce costs associated with more expensive support channels.

Elevate Your Contact Center Through Smarter Agent Workspace

contact-center-3This is my third blog post on contact service solutions this month. This blog series has been designed to help our readers understand and create “smarter customer interactions” including recommendations on customer experience technology solutions. This week, I want to share insights and tips on how to improve customer experiences through the creation of strong agent workspaces.

As Andrew Harrison notes in his blog post on building customer loyalty through contact centers, a well-trained agent can be a make-or-break touch point in the customer lifecycle. Creating a smart agent workspace can be one of the best investments you make when it comes to customer experiences. And that doesn’t simply mean hiring strong agents. We can take the experience many steps further once the customer is connected to an agent via chat, email, social or voice.

Create a Smarter Agent Workspace

So what is the first step? It is to create one single solution for support agents to use. Most customer support programs require agents to access more than one system to solve the customers’ problem, such as order management systems or any other source customer database. Once you are in an environment where agents have to log in and launch multiple systems to handle an incident, you have instantly increased the time it takes for the agent to help the customer. If these systems require the agent to re-enter the same data you have also decreased the integrity of your customer data as a whole, due to manual errors that occur when reentering data into multiple systems.

Knowing that most programs will require multiple systems, there are a few easy steps you can take to simplify the process:

  1. Implement a single sign-on strategy. Give the agent one login for all the systems they need to access to immediately reduce training issues and interaction time.
  2. Expose those external systems into the CRM. Using browser controls you can launch external systems inside the CRM, allowing agents to work out of one system to reduce handle time and decrease redundant data entry. This saves money and improves data integrity.
  3. Make sure to design your workspace to keep relevant customer data on display throughout the interaction. Customers are most satisfied when the agent is able to concentrate on the interaction and not struggle with the systems. Handling an issue quickly and on the first call improves your customer satisfaction score. Dock key data points for viewing at all times. Exposing relevant customer data to the agent at call arrival and enabling the agent to see the entire customer picture on one screen increases their ability to resolve the customers’ issues quickly and during the first interaction.

Putting Our Tips Into Practice

Let me walk you through a real world program that required us to implement all of the best practices I just described. Harte Hanks was helping a large entertainment provider launch a new subscription service that allowed viewers to watch their programming via online streaming. The support had to cover phone, email, chat and social channels, as well as subscriptions, billing and technical support. Harte Hanks had to launch a support system less than 30 days prior to the first major online event, and we had to make sure our solution and agents could handle a peak of up to 240,000 calls per hour. No big deal, right?

We quickly implemented Oracle Service Cloud, our preferred solution and a great platform to use as a foundation. Then, we trained agents to handle the interactions as quickly as possible to address the massive amounts of call volume. To do this, we loaded the Service Cloud with ongoing data from all of the streaming service customers to ensure our agents had access to information on any customer that contacted us. We immediately applied CTI functionality that would automatically bring up the customer’s record and history when a call was connected to the agents. This reduced the amount of time agents spent searching for customers in the system. We had to make the work flow fast to handle the volume.

Next, we set out to find ways to reduce the expected volume. We wanted to deflect calls while still keeping the customers satisfied. Using the customer portal, we designed an easy-to-use customer support site that allowed customers to find the answers to their questions quickly and easily. We published the “Contact Us” information inside the support site to drive customers to the site before reaching out for live support. Then we integrated our IVR to offer up automated services such as “Forgot Password,” allowing us to identify the subscriber while in the IVR and see if they had not logged into the service recently. If it had been a while since they last logged in, the team assumed they may have forgotten their password and offered an option to reset it from the IVR.

These technologies allowed us to reduce the volume, but what else could we do? Using our call and screen recording solution, we were able to evaluate how the call flows changed over the course of the program. We noticed that data elements we had placed on tabs inside the workspace were now relevant earlier in the interaction. So we redesigned the workspace to match the new flow, keeping not only the customer data but also the device information docked and visible to the agent at all times on the workspace.

Lessons learned? As programs evolve, technology should as well. Watch how your agents are using your solutions and make adjustments that will continuously improve the quality of your programs. If you invest in a great customer support site, use the insights from that site and apply key integrations and technologies to the agent workspace.

We’ve covered a lot these past few weeks in regards to improving customer experiences and satisfaction through the contact center. Using the technology solutions that I’ve outlined will help get you on well on your way to creating smarter customer interactions.

The 4 Biggest Challenges Facing B2B Tech Marketers Today (Part 3)

Maximizing ROI with Fewer Resources and Smaller Budgets


If you’ve been following my four-part series on the biggest challenges impacting B2B tech companies today, you’ll have already picked up some tips on maximizing your tools and technologies and generating high-quality, real-time data.

In this post, I’m going to address one of the most pressing and urgent pain points that marketers face today: how to show an increased return on investment for marketing activities despite shrinking head counts and budgets.

CHALLENGE #3: How do I Maximize ROI with fewer resources and less investment?

With the rise of data analytics, there is more pressure to measure results and account for ROI on ever dollar spent. At Harte Hanks, we’ve found two complementary solutions that work best for driving ROI without hiring a team of marketers or straining existing budgets: Marketing Automation and Centralized Tele-services Programs.

Marketing Automation: Marketing automation platforms help plan, coordinate, manage and measure all of your marketing campaigns, making them more personalized, effective and efficient. The best part is they are executed just as the name suggests­­ – automatically, with minimal need for resource oversight.

Marketing automation has been a buzzword for a few years now, but according to Sirius Decisions, in 2014 85% of B2B marketers using marketing automation platforms feel they are not using them to their full potential. My colleague Anthony Figgins recently wrote about creating more relevant, personal customer interactions using marketing automation as well as some tips for getting started, which I’ve summarized here:

 5 Tips for Implementing Marketing Automation

  1. Pick the tools that best suit your business needs: Identify a tool that fits your goals and budget. We suggest tools that prevent unhealthy data and support better conversion rates, progressive profiling and social integrations.
  1. Select the right team: Because of the complex nature of many marketing automation systems, training will be crucial to success. Empower your team to know, understand and follow best practices and spend an adequate amount of time with vendors to fully immerse with the systems.
  1. Integrate your automation marketing platforms with a CRM system:Many brands use marketing automation solely as an email platform and then sync data with a CRM system. Your marketing automation platforms should work in tandem with your CRM to tell a holistic, cohesive story to and about your customers.
  1. Engage your sales force: Your sales team is the eyes and the ears in the field. They know what is happening with your customers. They can be an excellent source of knowledge about what is working and what needs to be re-evaluated.
  1. Have a plan, process and goal for your tools: Integrate and build processes early to ensure the success of your marketing automation systems. Take a crawl-walk-run approach: Start with an email, then test and refine based on real-time data.

Centralized Teleservices Program: While automating your marketing processes is a sure path to increase ROI, a complementary hands-on approach through a consolidated telemarketing program can also contribute to the bottom line. By simplifying engagement through a central point and single CRM, companies can drive and support both inbound response management to ensure quality customer experiences and outbound lead generation to drive new business.

I’ll give you an example. One of our B2B tech clients was challenged with a waning sales pipeline and declining brand awareness. They had a decentralized model with multiple local agencies, which led to inconsistent service, process, pricing, training, reporting and management. With all of these inefficiencies, the sales pipeline was clearly suffering and the customer experience was fragmented and inconsistent.

Harte Hanks collaborated with the client to design and execute a centralized telemarketing program. The new program offered marketing efficiencies and a commonality of process through a single CRM. Customer experience and sales ROI improved dramatically through simplified engagement with one central support system that drove inbound response management and outbound lead generation.

Through handling 128,000 calls and 30,000 customer and prospect interactions in a centralized manner, the client increased its sales pipeline 300 percent and qualified leads to pass to sales by 500 percent.

With marketing automation and centralized tele-services, marketers can save money and time while still driving ROI.

Join me next week for our final installation of this series: How to unify communication strategies across channels to drive customers through the buyer journey.


Tips to Create Smarter Customer Interactions Using Innovative Technology Solutions — The Voice Channel

contact-center-2Last week, I published a blog post to help our readers create smarter customer interactions from a custom experience standpoint, including recommendations on customer support websites. This week, I’ll share some insights and tips on how to improve customer experiences through the voice channel.

 Using the Voice Channel to Create Smarter Customer Interactions

A crucial second step in creating smarter customer interactions via contact center solutions is through the voice channel. There are three common technologies that you can use in new ways to take your support to the next level:

  • Integrate interactive voice response (IVR) services with your CRM. Since most CRMs have easy-to-use APIs to access customer and incident data, this has become a quick and inexpensive solution. When you are able to identify customers in the IVR by accessing CRM data you can provide them with smarter IVR features. Once you have a view of the customer and possible reasons for the call you can tailor your IVR self-help options in real time or apply custom routing to get the caller to the best-suited support agent.
  • Most of you are aware of computer telephony integration (CTI) / screen pop technology because it has been available for quite some time. Leveraging CTI technology can help populate the customer’s information (way beyond just a name) to the agent as the call is connected. You can instantly display open orders, tickets and account status. These can come from inside the CRM or from various systems via API calls. This puts all relevant customer data in front of the agents, reducing the search time. The agent now has insight into the customer before they have asked the first question.
  • Expose all relevant customer data to your CRM. This can be done by importing the data or exposing it via APIs. Good examples of data sources you should be tapping into are the marketing database and order management systems. By integrating your CRM with your marketing database you now have the ability to identify the customers needing support even if they have never contacted the support team before.

Check back next week as I will be sharing more insight into contact center solutions, including how to create smarter agent workspace.

Tips to Create Smarter Customer Interactions Using Innovative Technology Solutions — The Customer Support Site

contact-center-1A few weeks ago, I participated in a webinar with CRM magazine, and discussed how to create smarter customer interactions and more effective contact centers. I have dedicated the last several years at Harte Hanks specializing in Customer Experience Support solutions, leading a team of technology experts who specialize in Oracle Service Cloud for Contact Centers. Today, I’d like to share my thoughts and experiences on defining what a “smarter customer interaction” means, as well as suggestions on customer support tools that can improve your overall customer experience.

Defining Smarter Customer Interactions

At Harte Hanks, we have been specializing in smarter customer interactions for 80 years. But what do “smarter customer interactions” actually look like? I’d suggest the following:

  • Enable your customers to find answers to their questions quickly and accurately.
  • Allow them to find answers using their preferred method of communication whether that is social media, digital chat, self-help, email, voice or video
  • Require that customer support representatives have easy access to data and tools that enable them to focus on the customer interaction and solve any issue in a timely manner
  • Improve your Contact Center continuously via learning from previous customer interactions and observed behaviors

Let’s take a look at the steps you can take to create smarter customer interactions.

Start with a Great Customer Support Website

Your starting point should always be a customer support website. When executed properly, a great support site can allow customers to self-help by finding the answers they need quickly and efficiently. Remember to make your site more robust than just a traditional FAQ by including website tracking mechanisms that allow you to analyze and improve your knowledge base over time. You can then use that data when customers decide they need to interact with a Contact Center agent multiple times. This is a big step towards creating a smarter customer interaction because it gives insight into where and when your customers give up on self-help and reach out to an agent.

Here are a few other tips for executing a top-notch customer support site:

  • Select a technology that allows you to integrate all of your channels. Harte Hanks uses Oracle Service Cloud for this, which creates consistency by using one knowledge base on the public support site and across all agent channels. This ensures consistent, reliable responses to questions regardless of the customer’s preferred channel.
  • Format answers differently than traditional FAQs. One simple trick is to reduce the length of a written article and replace it with pictures or video instructions.
  • Improve the success rate of self-help by adding guided assistance logic to knowledge base articles. This changes a long written answer into a step-through guide to ensure the customers’ questions are answered and they are not overwhelmed with too much information all at once.

There are no shortages of customer experience solutions available to help create smarter interactions. Check back next week as I will be outlining how to improve the voice channel, and how it can contribute to improved customer interactions.

5 Ways to Improve Your Contact Center Through Digital Marketing

Use Your Contact Us Page and Digital Marketing to Improve Customer Satisfaction

five ways

We live in an age where the customer – not the company – dictates your brand. In the old days, you could put out a massive advertising campaign with the moniker “Fly the Friendly Skies” and convince consumers that your airline was the nicest around. Today, an angry customer can create a video called “United breaks guitars,” and millions of consumers will share it in second.

Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to create a brand advocate or a raving-mad critic. Many companies don’t realize that there are relatively painless ways to use digital marketing to increase the chances that you wow every customer who interacts with you. Here are five ways digital marketing can help:

  1. Help people find your contact info online via search engine optimization. Some companies purposely hide their contact us info deep into their website, in the hopes that customers will end up getting their questions answered without talking to an actual human. While this saves money in the short term by reducing the size of your contact center, the long-term negative hit to your reputation when customers complain to their friends and through social media will cost you dearly. Using search engine optimization (SEO), you can edit your website content and code to increase the visibility of your Contact Us page, making it easier for clients to get their questions answered promptly.
  2. Retarget visitors with a customer satisfaction survey. Retargeting is a form of advertising that serves banner ads to customers who have visited a particular page or completed a particular set of actions on your Web site. While most people use retargeting to convert a customer from a browser to purchaser, contact centers can use this technique to increase their customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey results. Simply retarget everyone who visited the Contact Us page of your website with a banner ad inviting them to give you feedback about their experience with your contact center, and your company overall.
  3. Use analytics to reverse-engineer why customers contact you. When a customer visits your site, your online analytics tool (usually either Google Analytics or Omniture) follows their every move. Which pages did they visit? In what order? How long did they stay on a page? How frequently do they visit the site? All of this information can be mined to figure out how your customer ended up at your Contact Us page. Did the customer look at your “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) page and not find what they wanted? Use this information combined with your call log to create additional FAQs to resolve future customers’ needs. Do numerous customers go to the same product page right before calling customer support? Check the URL of that page; perhaps it is broken.
  4. Test different landing pages to optimize business objectives. The way you design your Contact Us page will influence the way customers interact with it. For example, a page with a giant toll-free number in the middle of it – and not much else – will inevitably lead to lots of calls to your contact center, but a page with links to your FAQs, a live chat option, and a less prominent phone number will increase site interaction at the expense of your contact center. The right balance of contact center versus web-based customer support will vary for every company. The good news is that there are plenty of tools available to help you test different Contact Us page experiences to figure out what look and feel drives the best business success for your business. Tools like Optimizely and Unbounce as well as “landing page optimization” (LPO) experts can help you set up the right tests.
  5. Encourage mobile app installs for customer loyalty. Many companies use their mobile apps to drive sales to their business and also respond to customer questions and concerns. When a customer visits your Contact Us page, why not encourage them to download your app with a prominent link? This is even more relevant if the customer is visiting your mobile website.

Digital marketing is usually known as a way to efficiently drive new customer acquisition and increase existing customer purchases. Using it to enhance your customer satisfaction is just one more great reason to invest in digital marketing.

Provide Show-Stopping Support: 4 Benefits of Outsourcing Customer Service

Infographic about outsourcing customer serviceEntrepreneur recently featured an infographic about the “skyscraping cost of bad customer service.” According to the graphic, an estimated $83 billion is lost by U.S. enterprises each year as a result of poor customer experiences.  In fact, 89% of consumers who have a negative experience will leave your brand for the competition. That’s a whole lot of people. And they’ll leave quickly: 50% of consumers will give you only one week to respond before they stop doing business with you.

On the flip side, this Customer Experience Impact report says that 86% of consumers are happy to pay more for great service.

THE POINT: you need to provide fabulous customer service. But should you do it in-house? Or would you be better off outsourcing customer service?

The Decision to Outsource

Let’s face it. Becoming a full-blown contact center expert is probably not your top priority—and it shouldn’t be. Your time, talents and treasures would most likely be better spent by focusing on your core competencies than trying to develop a top-notch customer service team.

But it can be tough to relinquish control of such an important task to what may seem like a group of faceless strangers. Consider the following benefits of outsourcing customer service before you make up your mind:

  • Cost savings and efficiency. Outsourcing customer service can save your company from a number of expenses, including investing in the latest contact center technologies, extensive and regular training and facility space. Pricing at contact centers, however, does vary extensively based on things such as volume, hours of operation and technical requirements. Make sure to fully consider the cost/benefit ratio before making a decision.
  • Better results across the board. A good contact center partner is solely focused on one primary objective: wowing your customers. You will see better customer service results as your partner leverages extensive experience and best practices to deliver high-quality care. You’re also likely to see better corporate results as you 1) keep your valuable customers happy and spending, and 2) free up your employees to focus on furthering the business.
  • 24/7 support. Outsourcing customer service allows for greater flexibility in meeting the demands of customers across multiple time zones (and those people that like to deal with their support issues at 2 a.m.).
  • Multichannel Customer Service. Your customers may want to call you on the phone. But they may also want to send you an email or a live chat message. Or maybe they want to connect with you on social media. In addition to traditional phone support, a good contact center partner can support your customers in the channels of their choice.

Still on the Fence?

If you’re still hesitant about outsourcing customer service, you might be succumbing to one (or more!) of the five of the common myths about outsourcing support.

Check out this white paper; to dispel these five myths, learn more about the reality of modern contact centers and learn how to choose a rock solid contact center partner.

Post originally authored by Traci Varnum.


Outsourcing Customer Service: Call Center Week Round Table

By: Lisa Figura

5 Myths of Outsourcing Customer ServiceI recently conducted a lively round table discussion at Call Center Week 2014 around some of the myths about outsourcing customer service. I asked the attendees to share their ideas and got a variety of responses.

They were concerned about loss of control of the relationships with their customers, learning to trust a new vendor and determining when they should even consider moving from in-house to outsourcing. We also discussed off-shoring versus near-shoring (closer to your timezone, agents that don’t sound foreign). What was interesting to me was they echoed essentially all of the myths we recently published in a white paper “Dispelling Five Myths about Outsourcing Customer Care”:

  • Myth #1: I’ll lose touch with our customer care process – and our customers.
  • Myth #2: I will have to give up control.
  • Myth #3: I can achieve better results in-house.
  • Myth #4: I can only outsource simple processes.
  • Myth #5: All vendors are the same, so I should hire the cheapest one.

Check out the white paper which dispels these myths and provides guidance around what to look for to find the right partner.

What other hesitations do you have about outsourcing customer service? Are there any other myths you have encountered? Let me know – I look forward to the dialog!

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