Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Insider Interview #3: Erica Strother

A Conversation with Erica Strother- Community Specialist, ICMI

By: Brooks Webb

I recently had a chance to speak with ICMI’s Community Specialist, Erica Strother.  As the Community Specialist, Erica has special insight into contact center trends and the thought leaders behind them.  We were thrilled to pick her brain for insights of our own. 

As Community Specialist at ICMI, what are your primary responsibilities? 

I wear many hats, but my main responsibility is to engage our community members and provide them with relevant, high quality contact center resources.  I manage our editorial calendar, ensuring that we publish new and engaging content every day. I serve as a project manager for the insights programs we produce-- including webinars, educasts, research, and more.  I also help to monitor and drive the conversations that take place on our social networks. 

One project I’m particularly excited to be working on right now is our new #ICMIchat tweet chat series.  This weekly series will kick off on Tuesday, February 4th at 1pm ET.  The one hour chats will take place every Tuesday and serve as an outlet for members of the contact center community to discuss some of the hottest industry topics.  This chats will also be a great opportunity to network with industry peers. 

I take it you’ve worked with a lot of call center professionals.  What causes the most influential and successful individuals to stand out?  What do they have in common?

I have had the privilege of meeting a lot of brilliant leaders in the call center industry!  Networking with our community members is one of my favorite parts of this job.  Throughout my interactions with contact center leaders, I’ve noticed several factors that lead to success, but many of the most successful individuals that stand out in my mind have one thing in common. They understand the importance of empowering their agents. Time and time again, ICMI research shows that happy agents= happy customers.  The contact center leaders who are committed to engaging their agents and investing in the proper technology are usually the ones who excel.  In fact, that’s something all of our Global Contact Center Awards finalists and winners had in common last year.

In your opinion, what works best when it comes to engaging employees?  Are there any tips or tricks that you can share with us? 

A lot of leaders are under the opinion that pizza parties, contests, and pay raises are the ways to boost morale.   All of those things are nice, but I think it’s actually simpler than that. It sounds cliché, but I’m a big believer in the Golden Rule.  If you want to build loyalty and trust, you have to treat your employees the way they want to be treated.  Respect them, challenge them, and trust them.

Are you a proponent of Social Support?  If so, can you tell us about a time when you’ve used it and what your experience was like?

I am a HUGE proponent of social support!  I personally use it pretty frequently, and have had both positive and negative experiences.  I’ll share an example of each, starting with the positive.

I love to vacation in the Outerbanks, so last summer I planned a trip there for my boyfriend’s birthday.  I needed to find a place big enough to accommodate 15 people, but we began our search a little last minute.  His birthday also happens to fall during 4th of July week, which is probably the busiest beach week in NC.  Needless to say, finding the right place at an affordable price was challenging.  I ended up sending a tweet out soliciting help or suggestions.  Within minutes, Seaside Vacations responded to my tweet and asked for my contact information.  They sent me several listings that were a good fit and we booked a place that night!  We had a great time, and Seaside Vacations even sent me a welcome tweet the day we arrived.  They’ve since kept in touch with me via Twitter, and the next time I plan a vacation they will be top of mind!

What stands out about their social service:  they were actively listening for potential needs, they promptly and proactively reached out to me, and they continued to follow up and engage with me even after they had my business. They now have a loyal customer! 

As for the negative experience, traveling home from Christmas vacation (on a short, direct flight) my airline lost my bag.  No one was available to assist me in the airport, so I went home and called their customer service number.  After two hours, I was still unable to speak to anyone who could help me.  The IVR kept bouncing me to the wrong person, and when I finally got a live person on the line they instructed me to call a different number.  I called that number and got a recording about a free cruise.  After 3 hours of runaround I was frustrated.  Desperate for a response, I turned to Twitter.  Unfortunately, I never got a response.  Eventually, I did get my bag back, but the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth.  The most important rule of social customer service: always, always, always respond to customer inquiries! 

Do you think customers are hesitant to use Social Support?  Why?

I don’t think customers are hesitant to use social support.  I actually think agents are the more hesitant ones when it comes to social support.

Customers want social customer support.  Most people have access to their social accounts on their smartphones, 24/7, and social customer support can be more convenient when the phone’s not an option.  ICMI research shows that 67% of contact centers now believe social is a necessary customer service channel.  The problem is that agents aren’t always empowered to manage the channel properly.  Our research indicates that agents are comfortable using social in their personal lives, but still prefer the phone as their primary method to provide customer support.

Contact centers must properly train agents to support the social channel, and then arm them with the necessary tools for success.   Ashley Verrill and Jonathan Russell address this in the ICMI webinar “5 Steps to Superior Social Customer Service” and they offer the tools and techniques that can make social customer support more effective.  If you’re looking for ways to implement or improve upon social customer support, I’d definitely recommend checking it out! http://www.icmi.com/Resources/Webinars.

Erica is the Community Specialist at ICMI. With a background in marketing, public relations, and social media, she brings more than six years of community management experience to ICMI, and is particularly passionate about  the convergence of marketing and customer service. Erica graduated Cum Laude from Campbell University in North Carolina.  In her free time she enjoys traveling, watching sports, attending concerts, and drinking coffee.  She’s also a self-professed Twitter addict. Follow her on Twitter: @ens0204.

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