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On-demand CRM vendor RightNow is expanding the range of social networks its software can interact with in a bid to help companies avoid embarrassing experiences like Southwest's recent run-in with film maker Kevin Smith.
Smith made headlines internationally after revealing via Twitter his experience of being told to leave a Southwest flight because he was overweight. Airlines have often found themselves the subject of fierce criticism via social media, an experience which is likely to become more common for companies of all kinds.

"They sometimes get it wrong because they're businesses with old habits and also because it's a new frontier," said John Kembel, vice president of RightNow's Centres of Excellence for Social Experience. "It's hard to know until after the fact how to deal with each incident. What that kind of situation calls for is a visibility between those responsible for support and operations. You need internal visibility across those processes. We're stubbing our toes; everybody is."

One change Kembel foresees in the future is a shift from having a small group of individuals assigned "Twitter monitoring" responsibilities in favour of a more integrated approach involving entire contact centres. "It's a new capability inside the service organisation so, just as when email and chat were launched, they'd spin it up to a frontline person who understood it. But sooner or later it becomes part of the overall workflow for everyone.

"Brands are moving to the point of not just thinking it's a fad," Kembel said. "They're now trying to figure out how to deeply integrate the experience of social into the fabric of business operations of our business. Social is new, but you can handle it like any other channel." But what tools can help avoid a Smith-type bad publicity incident?

The most recent update to RightNow's platform has expanded its capability to monitor individual forums and route potential issues to support workers, as well as widely-utilised services such as Twitter. "Brands care about tracking and monitoring those specific social sites tuned to their business area. EA, for instance, knows which five gaming forums they need to monitor. As of February, Cloud Monitor can monitor any RSS-compliant social site," Kembel said.

Further extensions will continue throughout 2010. "On the Cloud Monitor side, we'll be adding the ability to monitor Facebook and Myspace later this year," Kembel said. "Deepening the integration will be a continued theme."

"The opportunities there are almost endless because social is so new. It's really weaving together support and insights and innovation -- that's more of a market shift than a technology shift, but we see it coming. With the social shift, we're driving the business differently. Loyalty happens by doing those things well."

"We're on the right road, and we have a platform that can help people get there," Kembel said, while acknowledging that further customer service scandals were likely: "It's going to be a fun organisational learning experience for the next couple of years."

HiveLive, a company Kembel founded which focused on customer insights from online networks, was acquired by RightNow in 2009.


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