Smart companies today understand social media as a key driver of optimized customer experience and, ultimately, builder of brand affinity and customer retention. But while 64 percent of organizations with social customer service say investing in online communities is important, most companies mishandle up to 80 percent of engagements, according to Bluewolf research. For today's companies—all competing on customer experience—sound social media strategy calls for a firm grasp of how to optimize this maturing channel. HGS recently launched our DigiSOCIAL customer service, designed for businesses seeking solutions to provide social media communication with customers via live agent assisted messaging and self-service forums, such as peer-to-peer communities, FAQ Facebook tabs, and social automation to decrease costs. Here, our social media experts, HGS team members Lauren Kindzierski , VP of Solutions & Capabilities, and Sachin Karweer, HGS Interactive Business Head, share insights on how to evolve your strategy. Q: How are businesses transitioning from using social media as a marketing tool to using it as a customer service channel? Lauren: When it comes to social media, organizational departments are finally realizing that they can’t operate in silos anymore. Social media is an effective communication channel for every department—such as marketing, public relations, sales, and customer service. One effective cost-saving strategy that works well is when brands outsource the monitoring piece to a third-party contact center, or business process outsourcer (BPO). The BPO acts as a social command center hub. Team members read each social mention and determine whether it’s actionable or non-actionable. If it’s actionable, then they will route to the correct party internally to engage. This ensures that all posts gets read and followed up on. Then, the expensive marketing, PR, and sales resources can focus more on strategy within their respective areas instead of doing the tedious, tactical monitoring of posts. Sachin: Brands traditionally used social media for marketing for customer sourcing and acquisition; however, today’s customers have started using social media for raising their queries, complaints, feedback, and opinions. This has led brands to look at customer engagement and customer service through social media, with equal importance. For example, Twitter is emerging as a great customer service platform due to its ease of use and ease of sharing. We see more and more of our client brands increasingly using Twitter for effective customer service. Q: How do you staff for successfully managing social media as a customer service channel? Lauren: While social media is definitely another customer service channel, it is one that absolutely requires special consideration when it comes to recruiting the right talent. And that’s because social media is a public-facing communication channel, as compared to other channels such as phone, email, chat, and text which are all private one-to-one channels. It takes a certain type of person and skill set to communicate with an angry customer in a public-facing forum. When hiring this kind of talent, it’s important the candidate has good spelling, grammar, typing, and communication skills. These team members must also understand the sensitivity of social media, and what they type to a customer in a public forum could be on the front page of the New York Times the next day. Also, training is a critical part of the strategy. It’s important to educate the new recruits on the company’s social media guidelines, policy, and etiquette. In addition, it’s important to teach them how to log each customer engagement into the CRM system, and escalate anything that could be a lawsuit waiting to happen. Sachin: Social customer service is very different from traditional customer service in terms of resources, training, and skill sets. Resources require a range of skills. Some may require content writing, and some may require a background with social customer service. This training module/curriculum involves content training on tone, voice, and language. In rare cases, resource hiring/training is completely dependent on the brand genre and sensitivities. But ultimately, for BPOs, the brand’s social guideline is the driving force while recruiting and training.