Conversocial is a customer support platform that helps brands-from Google to Hertz to Hyatt Hotels-connect with their customers via social and mobile channels. Conversocial was a pioneer in offering live chat via Facebook Messenger, was the first Instagram community management partner, and has recently launched an exclusive partnership with Twitter. Conversocial's customers include many of the world's most-recognizable brands, and smaller players as well. I recently interviewed Conversocial CEO, Joshua March. [Disclosure: In the past, as a customer service speaker, I've hosted a webinar for Conversocial and created written content for them as well.]

Micah Solomon: What was the spark behind the Conversocial customer support platform?

Joshua March, CEO, Conversocial: I came to realize that, as communication shifts to smartphones, social media, and mobile messaging, these channels were going to become integral to almost every function of how a company does business. This meant that a company's social media team could no longer be a separate island; it would have to be deeply integrated into every business unit, including customer service.

I also started spending time at some big contact centers, watching the customer service teams attempt to deliver service over social media with tools that had been designed for marketing. I sat with agents as they struggled to piece together the background behind a customer's complaint across several different messages, public and private, and with supervisors who were spending days painstakingly trying to create manual reports on productivity and performance without any of the right data.

Observing these shortcomings and frustrations led us to crystallize our mission at Conversocial: to bridge the gap between the rapidly-shifting world of social and mobile channels and the world and needs of the large enterprise contact center.

Solomon: Is working with Facebook a big part of what you do now?

March: Yes. Both Facebook and Twitter are important partners for us, in different ways. In the US, Twitter is the most synonymous with customer service, and there are a lot of major companies who, when they talk about social care, are really talking about Twitter care. But internationally, Facebook Messenger is bigger than Twitter. Messenger, of course, has been pushing hard to get business onto their platform.

We have a lot of customers who've done innovative things with Messenger. We were the first vendor globally to build out the full, live chat implementation with Messenger, 19 months ago, and we have multiple clients who are promoting Messenger as a service channel, as well as promoting DM [direct messaging] on Twitter. We're excited by the customer service innovation happening both at Twitter and Facebook right now.

Solomon: Can you give me an example of some of your customers and what you do for them?

March: At this point, we work with hundreds of major brands around the world who share our vision and who are investing heavily in social care. Some of our big customers include Hertz, Hyatt Hotels, Alaska Airlines, and Google. We work with hundreds of major consumer companies in telco, travel and hospitality, retail, and other verticals. For all of these, we power their customer service through all of the new social and mobile channels. Some of these customer companies employ hundreds of agents whose entire job is just to deliver service and respond to customers through these channels, which they do via Conversocial. We power the integrations with social networks, the routing and the automatic distribution of conversations--taking these issues and delivering them to different agents based on skill sets and availability.

Our agent desktop is often integrated with CRMs, and is designed to enable agents to quickly and efficiently resolve issues, collaborate, and have things approved by managers. Our dashboards and analytics enable supervisors and managers to keep track of their teams, to monitor issues in real time, and to see when something could be going wrong. We help our customers to truly understand agent productivity and how it compares to more traditional customer service channels like phone and chat.

Solomon: One question that entrepreneurs reading this article will have is this: What about my company? If we only have, say, three employees in these functions, can I still hire Conversocial?

March: The answer is, "it depends." We are a customer service tool and so we're going to be valuable once you start having at least one person, ideally multiple people, full time on social care, if you have a business where you're very innovative and you push all of your customer service through messaging channels. There are fast-growing companies today-e-commerce companies and startups-where all of their customer service is through these channels. For companies like that, even with only a couple of seats, we embrace them as customers and we'll support them all the way up to when they have thousands of agents.

Solomon: And what all will you do for them, in the simplest terms possible?

March: For larger companies, we shift from just being a software platform to being a solution and a solutions partner. We work with clients and say, "Okay, how can you make social messaging one of your primary service channels? What are the blockers that stop you doing that, in terms of understanding the real business case and the ROI for investing into social care?" For example, some companies, in regulated industries, may struggle with taking private information, for example, obviously when it comes publicly over social media, but even when it comes in via DM or Messenger. In these cases, we can build out authentication services that will enable them to securely authenticate consumers and be able to resolve the customers' issues through social, without having any regulatory or privacy lapse related to personal information.

Solomon: Do you have a tip or two for businesses about handling social inquiries and complaints that come in via, say, Twitter? It used to be that people would complain about you on Twitter, and there wouldn't be a practical private way to get back to them. You could try to convince them to DM you, to get the conversation out of the public eye, but ultimately, for privacy issues and other reasons, you had to get them on the phone. What's the best practice today?

March: Today, my advice is that you should keep it 100% inside Twitter, or inside Facebook-whatever channel they've reached out on-though, obviously, take it private. What we recommend as the best practices is that you promote [dedicated] private channels, because you can now promote "message us" buttons and "DM us" buttons in your mobile app, on your website. What we've seen for clients who do that is that the volume of private one-on-one issues they get will overtake the volume of public issues. There'll be a shift in volume away from public complaints and onto these private channels, where it's very easy to resolve issues fully.

If there's any reason [for example, regulatory restrictions] that you can't take private information over DM, then there are ways that we can build authentication for you to fix that. Promoting that out to your customers lets them know that that's a channel where they can get quick resolution. This helps a business to move volume away from phone calls, which are often expensive, inconvenient for the consumer and often a not a great experience, yet consumers feel, grudgingly, that they need to get you on the phone because it's the only way that they know that they can get a guaranteed response in a certain time frame, other than web chat, if it's available when they're sitting at a desktop.

But, messaging, if they know that they can get a fast response it's always in their pocket, all the time and so if you tell your customers that, if you promote it out then it's one of the first channels that could start to really eat into phone calls and deliver a much better customer experience, while being easier and cheaper and more efficient for businesses. I think that's the real magic that can happen over the next couple of years.