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When Social Gets Serious

When Social Gets Serious

By Esther Blankenship, SAP User Experience, SAP AG – July 5, 2012

A multidisciplinary product team used design thinking to create an integrated, end-to-end solution for customer service agents working with social media and traditional online contact channels. The solution, SAP Social OnDemand, delivers user interface innovations to make customer service agents more effective.

Social media. Whether you love it or prefer to ignore it, the fact is that people are using it. A lot of people. Not only are they sharing pictures of their pets and tweeting about what they had for lunch, but they are also talking about which products and companies they “like” and do not like. The call center agent crowned with a headset sitting at a desktop terminal linked to the corporate network is increasingly moving over to make room for an online agent responding to tweets, one star ratings, and thumbs down.


SAP Social OnDemand is a team-based social media solution that enables companies to monitor customer conversations on Facebook and Twitter to automatically identify and prioritize top influencers and key issues, and to collaborate internally to find the best response within minutes. Using pre-built integration, these responses can be pushed back into the original social channel, and tracked as part of an overall CRM strategy. Version 2 was released in June.


Wikipedia, the ever-popular authority of all things modern, defines a contact center (we’ve already moved past call center) as a centralized office used for “… collective handling of letters, faxes, live chat, and e-mails at one location…” Letters? Faxes? When was the last time you wrote a letter to a company to complain? Or faxed a complaint into what probably felt like Nirvana? This is 2012, after all. Let’s look at some numbers: Facebook (over 900 million active users, half of them logging on daily), Twitter (over 140 million active users), LinkedIn (over 160 million members), and Pinterest (12 million users and growing fast). The list goes on…. Every second millions of consumers around the globe are expressing their frustrations, problems, dislikes, and enthusiasm about companies and their products through social media.

The UX Social OnDemand team discussing the design

Figure 1: The UX Social OnDemand team discussing the design

The scary part for companies? Their @friends and #followers are listening to what they say (LOL). And sometimes there are a lot of people listening. The complaint channel is no longer a private affair between one customer and a call center agent. Dirty company laundry is being aired very publicly. Conversations about companies and their products, both good and bad, are going on in social networks whether the company is participating or not. And these companies are our customers.



And what is SAP doing to respond to the phenomena of the “unpaid armies” posting, uploading, and tweeting so openly and boldly? The answer is SAP Social OnDemand.

The team started with a design thinking, multidisciplinary approach. Product owners, developers, and user experience professionals worked hand-in-hand on the project from the very beginning. Additionally, the team started with a very open scope. At the beginning, there were not a lot of detailed assumptions about the product vision. Instead, the first thing the team did was to conduct 360° research.


The UX Social OnDemand team from left to right: Jonathan Calzada, Jaideep Godara, Prerna Makanawala, Janaki Kumar, Janani Sundar, Eliad Goldwasser, Carol Farnsworth

Figure 2: The UX Social OnDemand team from left to right: Jonathan Calzada, Jaideep Godara, Prerna Makanawala, Janaki Kumar, Janani Sundar, Eliad Goldwasser, Carol Farnsworth

According to Rei Kasai, product manager for SAP Social OnDemand, the team first “left the office” and interviewed customers, colleagues from SAP’s industry business units, and industry analysts to understand the current market trends and challenges in today’s customer service business.

Then they looked at real end users. “We did site visits together with User Experience (UX) team members to observe customer service agents’ processes and pain points. And of course we assessed the current market landscape in order to really think about how to be different and better than the competition, with the goal of bringing our customers, and ultimately SAP, the largest benefit,” explains Rei. “We also involved the UX team from the beginning, which helped us focus not just on features and functions, but how to execute them together as a solution that is a differentiator.”


The UX Social OnDemand team

Figure 3: The UX Social OnDemand team

Prerna Makanawala from the User Experience team and the lead user interface designer on the project adds, “Because UX was involved from the beginning, we were able to provide valuable insights on UI trends and together paint the vision with user experience woven into the product roadmap and requirements.” After the initial research phase, the team had a clear vision for a solution that would be competitive and stand out; and so they focused first on the emerging social customer service market for Facebook and Twitter and then afterwards incrementally introduce traditional customer service capabilities. A bold, but telling move.

In addition to research, the team also churned out UI design prototypes, the workhorse of the design process, from the early project stages and throughout the project duration. The prototypes served as an essential communication tool within the team and naturally also for testing the designs iteratively with real customer service agents. The team sketched, discussed, and sketched their way again to a UI with many design innovations, for which there are several patents pending.


The user interface and codebase for SAP Social OnDemand is applied in a related solution, SAP Service OnDemand, which provides the same customer service capabilities but without social media integration. SAP Service OnDemand will launch in August 2012, initially targeted at business-to-business processes with built-in integration to SAP Sales OnDemand. As an example, the plan is for SuccessFactors to go live with a special preview version of the solution to support their BizX customers.


But prototypes are one thing, implementation another. The journey from design conception to code was not without its stumbling blocks, as Prerna recounts, “Midway through the development of version 1, the decision was made to move to a different UI framework. Within a month, the user experience interaction designers had to re-design the interface.” The compromises and design deviations which were made had a big impact on the user experience for the product, especially in version 1. The UX team worked closely with the framework developers so that they could provide the needed patterns and controls for version 2.

And the result is a solution that automates many processes and provides all the information a user needs to respond to a customer on a single screen. Users don’t have to navigate to multiple screens or different applications to resolve a customer issue. These are big productivity benefits for customer service agents. And of course, SAP Social OnDemand has the capability to integrate with other CRM systems, in particular SAP CRM OnPremise.

Now with version 2 released, the team can look forward to finding out how their product is received in the marketplace and how well their designs hold up to the demands of real end users.

Want to keep informed about the progress? Follow the team on Twitter @SAPSocialOD!



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