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"We're the first built for high volume," Social Dynamx COO Jan Ryan said in an interview, citing large customers like Dish Networks and Time Warner Cable as early adopters of the software-as-a-service product, which offers role-specific user interfaces for agents, managers, and supervisors. "We'll be announcing two or three very big household brands later this spring."
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Social Dynamx does not necessarily replace other social media monitoring tools. Although it offers its own "listener" software, it can also integrate with other products like Radian6--an important tactic, since many large companies have already bought into one or more of those products and might not be inclined to change.
Instead, Social Dynamx concentrates on the requirements of contact center operations. "What we're seeing in the first generation of products is that they were built for marketing," Ryan said.
Social Dynamx concentrates on more efficient handling of social media contacts that require a response from a company--identifying them, routing them to the right group of agents, and allowing agents to "check out" and handle specific social posts.
That last item--making sure that multiple agents aren't responding to the same tweet, just as you wouldn't have multiple call center agents picking up the same phone call-- is not necessarily addressed in competing solutions, Ryan said, but it's essential to keep members of a large team from stumbling over each other.
Mark Cohen, director of operations at Dish Network, said that is one of the reasons he became an early Social Dynamx customer. "Social media is a growing communications channel for our customers, and it's grown to the point where we thought we could benefit from a more robust tool than we had in the past," Cohen said. "Other tools don't actually let you get ownership of an issue. Unless the tool checks the issue out to someone, you end up with double posts--and if you're working directly through Twitter or Facebook, it's chaos."
Dish was willing to take a chance on the startup partly because of the strength of the Social Dynamx leadership team and also because it liked the tool, Cohen said. "I think one of the important things you should do when you pick a tool is pick one you like," he said. The tool's ability to integrate with the social media listening tool favored by the Dish marketing department also simplified its adoption, he said.
Most companies with ambitious social media service and support programs are working with "multiple products duct-taped together," according to Ryan. Established contact center software makers are working to build support for social media into their products, but they are not moving as fast as customer expectations are, she said.
Despite her concern about duct tape, Ryan said Social Dynamx does not expect to displace all the other products organizations may have adopted for online customer service. "We actually want to be the best citizen in that way and let it revolve around the agent," she said. "If you have a Lithium or Jive or some other knowledge base, when a question comes in we want to see if it's already been answered someplace, and if so drop the URL [web link] into the conversation."
Where Social Dynamx will distinguish itself is by fitting better into the contact center workflow--for example, by providing managers and supervisors with the means to track agent performance and the quality of their interactions with customers, Ryan said. The software automates the routing and prioritization of social posts that require an agent's attention, but it also allows agents to make a judgment on which of those posts merit being logged into the CRM system for follow-up and which ones represent idle chatter that can be safely ignored. "The truth is, a lot of these things don't belong in the CRM system."
When the social channel is flooded with dozens or hundreds of queries on the same topic, a supervisor can also broadcast out a boilerplate response to many contacts at once. While that wouldn't be good to do on a routine basis, Ryan explained, it's the kind of thing that makes sense for a crisis—for example, a utility company responding to questions about an outage.
Certainly, other digital contact center products from companies like Kana are also integrating social channels alongside email and chat. Still, there remains a perceived gap between CRM and social software.
"No social enterprise transformation strategy can succeed unless Customer Service plays a central role," said Michael Maoz, vice president and distinguished analyst for customer strategies research at Gartner, in a prepared statement. "Current structures are inadequate. The challenge for senior management is to engineer the necessary process and technology changes that will allow customer service to evolve to embrace social trends. New concepts of recruitment, measurement, and outcomes are necessary to allow for the increased agent participation in social media. When this happens and the right supporting technology is deployed, businesses will see increased customer engagement and higher overall customer success."
Contacted for an interview, Maoz gave a more qualified endorsement, saying that Social Dynamx has "the right idea" and that "taking a more comprehensive approach to social and customer care is very good." However, he added that the company was likely to have a hard time winning against entrenched competitors in the CRM and contact center markets, even though competitors like SAP and Salesforce.com have so far taken only "baby steps" toward integrating social media. ` Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and facebook.com/thebyard
IT's challenge in dealing with social networks comes on two fronts: How to interact with would-be customers on big social networks like Facebook, and how to provide employees on internal networks with collaboration that's as powerful as their Facebook experiences. This virtual event, Social Business: Marshaling Expertise, Engaging Customers, Building Brands, will help IT leaders sort through their strategic choices. It happens April 26.