The Great Contact Center Role Reversal: Social Customer Service

Even since the dawn of the call center, and through to the morphed version of today’s modern-day contact center, the roles of the service provider and the customer have been pretty clearly defined. The customer needed answers. The agents have the answers (at least that is the hope). And the provider of the service determined the rules of how a customer would get to an agent, which agent he or she would be routed to, and how fast that routing would take place. Machines, like sophisticated automatic call distributors (ACDs) automated this process…but still the rules of how all the routing magic would take place rested in the hands of the provider.

Brace yourself for a significant role reversal! All thanks to a concept we call “social customer service.” Social customer service operates on the premise that customers have preferences and that those preferences change based on the urgency of the matter, the topic, the severity, and a host of other variables.

Here is an example. A man is shopping for a guitar. Not just any guitar – he’s looking for a vintage Domino 1962 guitar. Not sure about the model, but needs some help with the purchase decision. Our man visits the website of and requests a call back (this just as easily could have been the initiation of a web chat session). Instead of being automatically routed to the next guitar generalist, using social attributes our customer is able to select the agent he wants to speak to. He filters by “electric guitars”… he then filters by “vintage” vs. new… next he filters to speak only to an agent that has a four-star feedback rating or better… finally, he filters by reps with wait times of less than five minutes…but wait, just before hitting that final filter he sees that Jimmy Page, of Led Zeppelin fame, is a guest agent today (crazy, I know)…the wait time is a bit longer at twelve minutes…but well worth it… he makes his final filter selection… he’ll wait to talk ax selection with Jimmy Page.

You can take my example and apply it to so many contact center topics – technical support, a running shoe purchase, travel bookings, etc. The primary points are that instead of the provider guessing which agent the customer would like to speak to, or chat with, the control of that selection is transferred to the customer. The customer decides if he’s willing to wait a bit longer to speak to a certain agent with a certain set of skills. This “customer empowerment” role reversal today is an opportunity for businesses to differentiate their service levels in a big way. And in the not-to-distant future it may be the new standard.

Joe Staples – chief let’s-empower-the-customer officer