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Aspect Social, the product it is introducing based on a partnership with Lithium Software, represents the beginning of that strategy. "We believe the contact center is going to be increasingly at the center of this activity because that's where you have the discipline to be able to solve issues for customers," said James Freeze, SVP and chief marketing officer at Aspect Software. To deliver on that promise, contact center workers and their managers need tools to route and prioritize social contacts. Aspect believes the process for managing social contacts also needs to be aligned and integrated with the process for managing contacts through other channels -- and in most companies, that hasn't yet happened, he said.
Lithium Technologies is best known for enabling self-service social communities that provide peer-to-peer customer service and support. Aspect will offer a version of Lithium Social Web, which comes from Lithium's acquisition of Social Dynamx in October. Social Dynamx had already attracted customers like Dish Networks and Time Warner Cable with its contact center software for managing social interactions. The product was designed with contact center operations in mind, including the ability to automatically prioritize and route social messages and allow supervisors to manage the queues and workloads of subordinates.
Freeze said the Aspect's deal with Lithium is an exclusive one among the major contact center software providers.
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Aspect says this alignment is something organizations are calling for. According to a study Aspect commissioned through Forrester Research, 58% of customer service strategy decision-makers see managing social media inquiries as their top challenge. Just 4.6% say their ability to measure the overall impact of social media is excellent -- that's according to the 2012 State of Social Media Marketing Report by Lithium and MarketingProfs.
Aspect's partnership with Lithium was just announced this week, so the process of technical integration has just begun. However, Aspect says it has already achieved some preliminary integration with the workforce optimization component of its platform -- allowing supervisors to see how productively contact center workers are spending their time interacting with social contacts and starting the feedback loop for ongoing improvement. Future updates will tighten the integration to provide a more unified view of social contacts and contacts in other channels, said senior product marketing manager Jane Hendricks.
Although other contact center software makers have introduced social media extensions to their suites, Hendricks said she thinks they often try too hard to fit social messaging into the mold of phone or email contacts. Social interactions tend to have a more "staccato" pace, she said. "It's not same as a phone call and not even the same as an email."
Freeze said Aspect had been talking to Social Dynamx previously, although those talks "slowed down for a bit" while the acquisition by Lithium was being negotiated. But once the new owners were in control, "Lithium proved to be very anxious to work with us on it," he said. "Their focus hasn't necessarily been the contact center."
Since unveiling this strategy, Aspect is seeing "significant interest amongst our customer base, not just in the capabilities of Aspect Social as an independent product but also coupling and integrating it with the breadth and depth of our portfolio," Freeze said. There's particular interest in the product's ability to filter social traffic because "not every posting necessarily needs a response," he said.