Are “Community Managers” the new call centres?

There is a constant tension in any organization between the need to manage the whole and the need to break tasks down into digestable chunks. The way we handle an organization’s relationships is a clear example. We talk about the need to project a consistent inside-outside voice/experience for all stakeholders, yet there is an increasing trend to have relationship specialists who are separate from content and technical specialists.

There has been debate (and a large amount of griping) for years about the outsourcing of customer relations to call centres. As well as being outside the company, these have increasingly been outside the country. While there may be economic sense in this outsourcing, valid questions can be raised about whether agents in these call centres have the context (business and cultural) to effectively conduct any sort of “relationship” with customers.

I have noted with interest the rise of the new role of “Community Manager” as a coping mechanism to deal with social media. While on the one hand, my logical, process-oriented brain thinks having such a task manager makes sense, another side of my brain is deeply disturbed. Are we not just creating new call centres? Is conducting a stakeholder transaction really the same thing as conducting a relationship? The recent kerfuffle (nod to Neville Hobson) regarding the Nestlé Facebook page is, in my view, a perfect example of the danger of this approach.

There are strong, and, as far as I know, as yet unidentified cultural issues at play. The concept that you can outsource relationship management makes no sense in cultures that are relational and where the relations are with whole people (diffuse relations) rather than with one-facet-of-a-person-in-a-specific-role. The very model of the Community Manager and the call centre seems like a non-starter outside of the dominant “Western” (for lack of a better label) business paradigm. With the rise of major players from countries with very different cultures (Brazil, Russia, India, China, etc.), other approaches will be found and are likely to bring their own sets of advantages and disadvantages.


One response to “Are “Community Managers” the new call centres?

  1. The question is: will companies ask their contact centers to take on some community management functions as well? CC scope of work has grown considerably over the last decade, it will be interesting to see if some form of community management gets tacked on. Maybe it already has…anyone out there with some experience in this?

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