Is Facebook the future of call-centers ? The Air France KLM Switzerland case

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Summary : Facebook is usually considered as a communication and marketing tool. But it’s becoming more and more obvious that it’s becoming a customer relationship tool what has an important impact on the design of the community management system and the role of the community manager that’s becoming the central point of a service and internal networking system. Facebook is becoming a call center and the community manager a problem solver and a connector like the Air France – KLM Switzerland case shows.

I recently found this long and interesting video in which  Alain Pezzoni from Air France KLM Switzerland talks about their social media strategy. The video is in french but here are some points I’d like to highlight from this case.

1°) Favor local initiatives

This is Air France KLM Switzerland, not Air France KLM global and this fact is important. In large international organizations, linguistic and cultoral factors make that, both at the customer and organization level, having a global strategy is very complex. Depending on the countries, what can be done and the way to do it may be radically different and building a strategy may be hard and take a lot of time. Since it’s a new field where businesses are starting from scratch, having local initiatives from which the whole organization will learn what can be reused elsewhere and what will stay local may be a good option.

Talking about Air France KLM Switzerland, it’s about 2 brands and three languages what makes 6 communities to address…and as many fan pages. So a local anchorage is essential.

2°) Communication is service

Even if, at the beginning, pages have to be filled with content to feed the fans and get their attention, the flow slowly reverses and the organization starts answering to customers’ requests. As I’ve previously mentioned, the scalabity of the model allows, as Alain Pezzoni says, to deal with call-centers overload. The social channel, even if owned by the communication department, is shared by many processus (customer service, quality…) this department does not own but facilitate. What implies to prepare things beforehand. The community manager is only the front of the system and has to work with many people from many departments across the organization and mobilize them. So he or she has to have the required legitimacy. Moreover, that’s not a job for an intern or a junior, rather a senior who knows the organization quite well. According to Pezzoni, this person must know whom to ask questions and have a strong internal network.

That’s a frequent observation. Many organizations that are good at external communitu management face, one day, the difficulty of identifying the right internal expertises. The limiting factor of external networking is often, once a critical mass and complexity is reached, the lack of internal networking.

3°) The value of transparency

Being good at customer relationship management is key for any business. But when it’s delivered through social media, the work is done “in public” what makes things visible. Being exemplary on twitter or facebook is like having a free communication campaign while serving customers.

4°) Community managers are not here to attract fans

As noticed by one of the participants, the role of the community manager is not to attract more fans or followers but improve the quality of customer relationship. I remember a good friend of mine who was asked to attract a given number of followers (number scientifically explainable regarding to the organization’s capacity in terms of delivery). He refused the job and, in my opinion, was right. In my opinion, the best way to measure a community manager is through the indicators of the processes he facilitates (quality, service, innovation), the measured image of the company but not by counting followers or fans. The numbebr of fans is the consequence of a good service, not its cause.

In fact, it’s interesting to see that the discussion that was about e-acquisition quickly moved to customer e-services.

5°) Don’t add process to process

Even if the community manager delivers support to customers, feedbacks on incidents… it’s not a reason to add validation steps. In this case, if anything was subject to validation “we would deliver answers in 4 months instead of 4 hours”.

6°) Accept exposure and make the most from it.

The transparency brought by social networks make that issues that could be hidden by the customer service department can now be public. According to Alain Pezzoni, if somethings dysfunctions and a bad buzz is generated it’s more than a risk : it’s the opportunity for the organization to learn about itself and improve.

7°) Facebook : the new call center…and the limits of dehumanizing customer relationship management.

According to Pezzoni, Facebook is more than a place for communication but a new kind of call-center. His vision sounds right to me. As he says : everything has been done to automate things and dehumanize the relationship in order to improve productivity. Consequence : if one has a problem that does not match one of the “identified” cases, the system can’t help. This new model of customer relationship management makes it easier to address specific issues and increases the level of service.

8°) Keep it simple and stay humble

There’s a recurring element in everthing that’s said in this discussion : assume the fact people can make mistakes, learn by doing, stay humble, improve relying on experience. In my opinion there’s something behind that : the project was well designed what limits the risks.

In conclusion I think it’s a very promising strategy that has many chances to be very successful. After having seen this video, I can identify a few factors of success :

– a project that’s driven by someone who knows what he talks about. I even think he knows the tools in question quite well. This kind of projects need to be managed by someone who knows these tool, what happens in these social spaces. If not, people will fear the unknown, lock everything and fail.

– a project with a purpose : even if they learn by doing, everything was though and designed beforehand. For instance the switch from push communication to customer service was expected. They made benchmarks, observed and knew how things were supposed to go.

– community management is a means, not a goal. I hear too many discours that defines community management as a goal in itself. Managing a community is a waste of time and energy if it does not serve an identify purpose. Here, the community managers knows his job, his role as a connecter and a facilitator, has the right tools to deliver what’s expected. Too many community managers are isolated and locked into a “Mr Conversation” role without knowing what they can do to help the organization or to what extent they can do things. Here, it’s clear that everything is done to help the community manager find the right people and information across the organization to efficiently solve customer’s problems.

– the community manager is a senior with a strong internal network. Not a junior or an outsourced resource.

– communicators that share the power : obviously, at Air France KLM Switzerland the project is driven by the e-commerce department but, as we can see, this department does not keep the channel for itself but share it with any other department in order to help them make a better work. Not mistaking the channel with what it carries is essential. One department may own the channel but has to be a service provider for the rest of the company.

– trust : I can feel a high level of trust in the whole system, in the community manager etc… that helps delivering great resultst. If people spend their time covering themselves, fear their colleagues etc… things have few chances to work.

To thank you for having read this very long post, I’ll end by shating this great infographic on the use of social media for crisis management found on SymplyFlying. No doubt in can work in many other industries