AT&T responds to 100k social media mentions a month

It might sound like answering tweets about limited data-plans and iPhone upgrades might be the worst job in the world, but at AT&T, it’s the most coveted.

The telecom giant’s “social care team,” what it calls the 100-odd staffers who man the company’s Facebook, Twitter and, increasingly, Instagram accounts to listen for mentions of AT&T and respond, is one of the toughest and most desirable jobs at the company, according to Kim Keating, assistant vp, digital care strategy.

It’s not an easy job: The company has about 1 million social media mentions monthly, and about 100,000 of them are dubbed “actionable,” meaning, they warrant a response. Keating said that’s just the average; when a new iPhone is coming out, for example, those mentions spike. That means the internal social care team has to be both flexible and scalable.

The issue for AT&T when it was building out the team was to balance response time with what the company calls “cost per case,” that is, how much money is being spent to solve cases. When the company began its overhaul, Keating said they just weren’t responding “as quickly as we wanted to.”

The obvious answer would have been to hire more staff. More people mean faster respond times, after all. But that would have brought a cost per case up too high. “What we needed was to make the operating channel more efficient.”

The company did two things. First, it developed a “triage” model that used natural language processing and keyword matching on Salesforce to route customer complaints to the right agent. So if someone posts a tweet about upgrading, the platform routes that to the upgrade specialists. If it’s about network issues, it goes to technical support. They could have used automation to answer the questions too, but Keating said she wants to have real humans answering the actual questions but save time in how long it took the right person to get matched with the question they could actually answer.

“It’s really easy for people to tweet or go to Facebook,” she said. “But it’s so complex managing the internal workflow around that.”

The second thing it did was to play to people’s strengths. Keating said that the company used to have a pool of agents that handled everything. But that slowed things down. Now, there are tiers — the first is for simple issues, the second for more complex, and so on. “If someone asks if the iPhone is for sale, that’s a tier one question,” said Keating. “However, if someone asks for help downloading the latest Android operating system update, that’s a tier two issue.”

Since the company ushered in the two changes, response time has dropped 70 percent while cost per case has gone down 35 percent, said Keating. According to SocialBakers, the average response time to AT&T on Twitter is 89 minutes.

Analysis firm Crimson Hexagon, in its annual report on the telecom industry, found that this year, the proportion of negative sentiment in conversations about AT&T decreased 45 percent. Crimson Hexagon also found that that shift has reshaped the conversation AT&T has with its customers on social media to be more neutral and less aggressive.

According to JD Power, AT&T is now ranked No. 1 in wireless providers for social customer care. The report, which the company creates annually, found that more people are using online services instead of the phone for customer care.

“For wireless customers, online chat is an efficient and immediate experience for problem resolution,” Kirk Parsons, senior director of the telecom services practice at JD Power, said in a statement at the time. “This contributes to higher levels of satisfaction, especially pertaining to service issues or questions such as billing or service and device-related issues associated with upgrades.”

AT&T is used to not being popular on social media. It’s a tough gig: “AT&T sucks” and “smh I hate AT&T” are common topics on Twitter. And Keating is aware that “any mistake can go viral.”

Even small things: A grammar misstep or a typo can “hurt the brand,” said Keating. “So we’re very careful about who becomes an agent and how they’re trained,” she said.

The next step for the company is to translate this national-level social care to the local level. Over the last few months, the company has been piloting what it calls “hyper-local social,” a program where local stores will use their local Facebook pages to provide customer care. So if someone goes in, buys a phone and leaves a review of the store’s service, the social care team will route that to the store’s manager, who can then follow up or just use it to motivate store associates. And strong, trafficked local pages also help the store’s search engine results.

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