AT&T is taking holistic approach to their social media strategy

I reached out to the AT&T Customer Service team to chat about their approach to tying collaborative social strategies and tools into their overall business, focusing primarily on their approach to customer service.   I spoke with the leaders of their social support and their corporate communication teams about how a company as large as AT&T started down this road.  The lessons learned from their approach apply equally well to small businesses, the enterprise, and the public sector.  The approach focuses on delivering the right social solutions as part of an overall strategy, not as a silo’d response by one business unit or function.

How did it start?

AT&T feels that social strategies are only useful if they are part of the overall corporate strategy and weaved throughout the business units and job functions.  The entire company must understand the customer.  However, as you shift to implementation, taking an iterative approach within a single function or unit simplifies the effort and improves the chances for success.  For AT&T, social strategies started in  the Corporate Communications through the build out of a Facebook fan page.

Do you remember the uproar from customers when AT&T changed iPhone pricing last year?  Well, lets just say customers found a way to vent anywhere and everywhere they could.  One of those places was the Facebook fan page.    Molly DeMaagd, ATTCustomerCare on Twitter, was pulled into the fray, learning a lot about how to manage support on social channels.

AT&T recognized the need to provide customer service through social media channels.  Molly brought in Shawn McPike who began to strategically plan the rollout of customer service on Twitter.  His goal was to focus on how to deliver the function in a way that supported growth, focusing doing it right versus doing it quickly.  In fact, before they started tweeting, they:

  • Got commitment from the top.  The CEO at AT&T wanted to become a leader with social media and made this a priority.  In most businesses you will need to make the business case and get everyone on board, plan on it.   AT&T was fortunate, however, to have the CEO as the executive sponsor.
    • The CEO support, the executive sponsorship, will make or break any company’s efforts to “go social”.  In the case of AT&T, the CEO had Molly take part in a company-wide town meeting to highlight her team’s efforts.. 
  • With the level of executive sponsorship, Molly was able to hire who she wanted.  With this freedom, who did Molly hire?  She brought in people who had been with AT&T for a long time, people who were customer service heavyweights.  The characteristics that were most important were:
    • The ability to make decisions on the fly.  Social media is real-time, waiting for approvals slows the entire process down.  The ability to respond in a timely manner is critical.
    • Were empathetic to the needs of the customers.  You cannot fake genuine interest, genuine willingness to help.  This team has it baked into their DNA.
    • Were passionate about delivering great customer service.
  • Developed approved policies and practices based upon the practices already in place at AT&T.
  • Developed and delivered training programs for everyone involved.  These programs were created with comments from other AT&T organizatoins including PR and legal.
  • Listened to customers on Facebook, the web, etc..  As they launched their program they knew the general categories of problems they would encounter; they were prepared.

I asked AT&T how they knew the right team size to start wth…. The answer…. Educated guess. The reality is you are unlikely to accurately gauge the volume until you start.  AT&T started with 4 members in their social support organization and quickly scaled to13.  The key was knowing that the need to rapidly scale might be there and being ready in advance to do so.

Now..  How is AT&T handling support issues on Twitter?

Their team of social support, social media managers, monitor the twitterverse for users encountering problems with their products and services.  On an average day, members of this team reach out to more than one hundred people about their problems and work with the traditional support teams to try to resolve customer problems.  

What tools do they use?  I am glad you asked..

  • In addition to Twitter, AT&T has a robust social support community solution, powered by Lithium Technologies, that has 2 million registered members. 
  • For social media monitoring the team is currently making use of  Evolve24.
  • The Wireless unit, where the bulk of the social support is being provided, uses Clarify for their CRM system.  The other business units each use something different and a robust integration between units, and between social media channels and CRM is lacking.  This is an area I would urge AT&T to invest as their will be a large payback for this effort.
  • The primary tool being used for communicating on Twitter is CoTweet.

What about ROI?

The team at AT&T struggled with this answer, in part because they are not called on to answer this, in part because they have not found a great way of measuring this.  If the folks at AT&T want my advice, let me know as you will want to answer this question soon, for the executive team, the shareholders, and the customers.

What else?

I could probably write another post or three from my conversation, but I’ll condense it down to a couple of extra points:

  • The Social Customer service team works very close with the Social Corporate Communications team.  They share training, insights, and best practices.    This provides good insights on customers to the communications team and great insights on messaging best practices to the customer service team.
  • AT&T needs to do a better job promoting their customer service effort on Twitter. They have had no real PR, no real messaging, around their presence here.  Putting more effort here will help them better service more customers and that is what it is all about.
  • AT&T should look to push their support efforts into a place where they can talk with other companies from a thought leadership position.  If the CEO is truly serious about being leaders, set the tone, show the way.

AT&T has done a great job ramping up their social support efforts.  While there is clearly room for improvement they have taken a thoughtful, holistic approach and it will pay off for them in the long run.  Good job.


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Filed under: Social Strategies Tagged: communication, CRM, Social Conversation Monitoring, Social Strategies, SSC, Twitter
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