Next Best Action in Social Business

Big Data Evangelist, IBM

Social business has such a broad scope that it can be difficult to break it down into component initiatives. The same might be said of next best action. But many organizations have identified both of these as business priorities. So it’s only a matter of time before we all begin to wrestle with the question of overlap.

I’ll take a crack at it. Can next best action further your social business objectives? The answer is yes, and it’s not a huge stretch.

Social business is all about agile stakeholder engagements. These engagements may be between various, shifting combinations of stakeholders: between you and your customers, between your various employees, or between your employees and your partners. What makes any engagement “social” is that it takes place, partially or entirely, on one or more online communities that embody the core principles of social networking.

The core social networking principles are threefold:

  • Does the community rely principally on user-posted content?
  • Does it facilitate engagement through asynchronous publish-and-subscribe interactions among users?
  • Does it support persistence of user posts on a continuously updated shared site?

Ignoring the many differences between real-world socials, these principles underpin the diverse offerings of public socials—such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn—as well as most enterprise, industry-specific and otherwise specialized social communities.

Next best action can indeed be a central component of your social business strategy. Next best action refers to an analytics-powered automation infrastructure that optimizes agile engagements.  In a person-to-person context, agile engagement refers to dynamic human conversations, which can take place across any customer channel, including call centers, retail outlets and, of course, social networks.

In practice, next best action powers social business in either of the following patterns:

  • Outbound engagement: This refers to the practice of monitoring social network traffic for stakeholder intelligence (awareness, sentiment and propensity) and using that feed to trigger next-best-action models that send finely targeted outbound response messages. In a business-to-consumer (B2C) social, inbound intelligence might be used to trigger next-best-action models that target outbound marketing promotions or respond to specific product issues. In an employee-to-employee (E2E) social, the next-best-action models might generate reminders to take particular HR actions by a specific deadline or to address a specific technical issue that an employee is having with a piece of equipment. In a business-to-business (B2B) social, the triggered messages might provide guidance to partners inquiring about the delivery status of particular shipments. In any of these scenarios, the outbound response message might be transmitted inline through the same social where the stakeholder generated the triggering message, or through existing non-social messaging options.
  • Inbound engagement: This involves tuning social-channel conversations through automatically generated scripts, screens and apps that shape how employees interact with external stakeholders and with each other. In a call center environment, for example, customers interact with channel personnel who speak from online scripts and other guidance that is auto-generated by the next-best-action infrastructure. In social channels, you might have diverse human and automated agents handling diverse interaction scenarios that span a wide range of customer, employee and/or partner segments. Furthermore, you might be orchestrating these social interactions in order to achieve diverse business objectives, such as reducing customer and employee churn, boosting sales and profits, and achieving greater efficiency throughout the supply chain.

Regardless of whether it’s an outbound or inbound engagement scenario, it’s not truly social if it feels like there’s a robot on either end of the conversation. To the extent that you can humanize your next-best-action-powered social channels, you’re likely to boost experience, satisfaction, retention, productivity, efficiency, influence and loyalty all around. The next best action of social engagement must always be to humanize the next thing you say to any stakeholder at any time, even if in reality it’s a bot pretending to be a human or a human reading a bot-scripted response.

How will you individualize, personalize and naturalize every utterance, even those driven by embedded statistical models, business rules and other algorithmic logic? Please read this prior blog for tips on how to keep the human feel in your social business engagements, even as you automate more of the interactions through the power of next best action.

Read James' other posts on next best action


Photo: alexherhead