By Rick Centeno, head of Business Support Systems, Nokia Siemens Networks

The growth of social networking offers operators an unmissable opportunity to enhance customer experience.

Social networks have become part of peoples’ daily lives and the place where they spend their time online. The numbers speak for themselves: Facebook has over 800 million users and counting, while Google+ has attracted 25 million new users in just two months.

Based on early experiences in the market, the adoption of a social media platform needs to be part of an operator’s multi-channel customer self-care offering and targeted at demographics that are already comfortable using these platforms.

For this target market, mainly younger and more internet-savvy subscribers, the advantages of managing accounts via social media are multi-fold. Some of these advantages are related to the efficiency benefits of self-care generally and some are specific to social media.

Facebook is a good example. By adapting the typical Facebook features that subscribers use every day, operators can provide a new level of choice and interaction to their communications services.

Subscribers can use these features to manage their profiles and their accounts, accept new offers and tariff plans and see their account balance. They can also 'Like' or 'Recommend' new offers, which their friends can see.

For subscribers who already manage many of their purchases online, this is a natural extension of their digital presence and lifestyle.

Facebook provides capabilities for operators (when used with the right tool or application) to launch new offers quickly and create demand from cascades of personal recommendations. They can offer special rates to early adopters and incentives to users whose friends follow their recommendations. The benefits for operators also include better insight into what their customers want and much lower costs for customer care.

The immediacy of social networking platforms is particularly useful and relevant for self-care. For subscribers there is no waiting to talk to a call centre agent, no menus to decipher and no cryptic codes to enter before you get any answers.

Operators, too, can move more quickly. Social networks provide capabilities to ramp up new promotions within days, rather than month. Based on immediate feedback operators can create and launch new campaigns and, if needed, re-target them to ensure success.

Social networks also provide operators with a contemporary channel for customer self-care in an environment where their customers have already made the choice to spend their time. Self-care portals on social media give operators greater agility to meet their customers’ needs, reduce their operating costs and differentiate their brand and business.

Looking ahead, self-care on social media could support an even more personalsed user experience with chat tools for direct case support, if needed. Crowd sourcing for customer support, as well as advertising of location-based offerings from third parties, for example, offer further potential for development.

Of course, Facebook is just one social network out there in the web. As new networks and applications are developed and gain traction, they will offer similar opportunities.

With so many potential advantages and opportunities, more operators should and will deploy social networking applications for self-care and other customer interactions in the coming months.

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