As more and more people are using social media as a means to communicate with their favorite brands, the lines are becoming increasingly blurred between organizations’ social and customer service channels.

Staff who once were tasked with building an online community are now just as likely to field incoming customer inquiries or complaints. Conversely, customer service agents, once trained in the most expedient means to disengage with customers (by quickly answering or resolving their questions or complaints) may now find themselves responsible for continuing these relationships with customers even after issues have been resolved.

If these challenges were not significant enough already, try adding the necessity of interacting with your customers in every language known to humankind, across 15 offices spread throughout the world. That is a daily reality for the multinational translation and interpreting firm Day Translations.

We spoke with the company’s CEO, Sean Hopwood, about the challenges and opportunities of integrating his social and customer service teams. Even with a company of this size and scope, there are lessons to be learned in the best ways to integrate your social and customer service teams for the benefit of both your organization and its customers.

Training Is Key to Transparent Interaction Between Teams

Day Translations provides legal, medical, business, patent, immigration and all other document translation services. Given the nature of its clients and the sensitivity of the services they require, Day Translations’ offerings go far beyond what’s available on online translation websites or free translation services. Because of this, Hopwood says that privacy of customer data and information is paramount. His company goes out of its way to train staff to ensure all information is kept private, whether a customer is interacting with its social teams or its customer service teams.

“I have an MBA, I speak six languages, I’ve lived in a number of different countries, and even I find it a challenge to be sensitive to the cultural and localization challenges when dealing with people from all over the world,” says Hopwood. “This is why staff training is so important across functional groups,” he adds.

For example, he says if an inquiry comes in from either the social media or customer service side of the business, each channel needs to know how to interpret the message and respond in a culturally appropriate way. “If we get an inquiry about our pricing from someone in Munich, we need to quote that person in Euros, not dollars,” says Hopwood.

Although that may sound like an obvious statement, when you have team of over 15 social media staff, and 25-30 customer support staff spread all over the globe, you can’t take anything for granted. “We have a training manual that outlines all the possible or likely scenarios our staff might have to deal with,” says Hopwood, adding “we make sure that everyone knows what everyone else in the organization does.”

He says both social and customer service staff are trained to work within these guidelines. But since you can’t train everyone for every scenario (especially with the nuances of culture and language), staff are given more flexibility to use their own judgement and experience after about six months on the job.

Tools and Task Management Are Also Necessities

Day Translations has an active presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare, and even international social networks like VK. “We find social media to be a great reputation builder for us. When you’re dealing with sensitive issues like immigration documents, international patents, and so on, trust is a huge factor in how our target audience decides who they are going to do business with.”

Hopwood and his social media team constantly post information and links to articles that are relevant to its audience. That helps create loyalty with existing clients and word-of-mouth advertising to attract new ones, according to Hopwood. His teams use social media management tools to effectively keep track of incoming and outgoing streams of information, such as how often a post was shared on Facebook or how many Foursquare check-ins resulted in offers redeemed through the company’s customer service channels.

Hopwood says that individual team members’ task assignments, such as how to respond to customers and through which channels, is largely done manually by direct supervision of highly skilled managers. “For example, one of our managers closely monitors a Russian social media site, and then physically translates those message for others members of the team.”

Other managers keep abreast of what their teams are doing through email, phone calls, and instant messaging applications. Hopwood acknowledges that there are probably more automated, integrated ways for his two main functional teams (social and customer service) to interact. He adds that in his company specifically, finding new and more effective ways to communicate is a core function, so he’s always open to new ideas, tools, technologies, and the right people to make that a reality.

Know any other enterprise companies effectively integrating their social and customer service teams? Let us know in the comments.

[Image credits: USFWS Pacific, CTBTO, VFS Digital Design]