While Hootsuite has become well-known as a platform to assist marketers in reaching consumers via social media services, its acquisition of Sparkcentral last week means it can now help customer service teams respond to questions or complaints using the same channels.
Based in Vancouver, Hootsuite’s dashboard serves as simple way to manage their activity across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other services. Sparkcentral, which is based in Belgium and has offices in New York, allows consumers use the direct messaging (DM) features of those social media services to seek help from brands they follow. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
According to Hootsuite vice president of corporate development and strategy Richard Hungerford, the acquisition of Sparkcentral follows several years of conversations and reflects the increased digitization of customer care following the outbreak of COVID-19.
While most people focus on the content posted publicly on social media services, Hungerford said DMs represent a highly valuable environment to enhance the customer experience they offer.
“It’s fairly natural, it’s where people are spending a lot of their time on the social networks,” Hungerford told 360 Magazine. “It’s a perfect place to find the brand and start a conversation with them.”
Sparkcentral, which employs approximately 30 people, was a good fit for Hootsuite because its platform allows brands to respond to high volumes of consumer requests thorough social media, Hungerford said. It also allows them to prioritize which issues are critical and require in-depth help versus those than can be quickly triaged.
Hungerford said customers were already asking Hootsuite about its potential ability to assist with customer care. He also cited data from market research firm Gartner which suggests about 23 per cent of digital engagements take place via self-serve channels today, and forecasts that to rise to 60 per cent by 2023.
“We just saw this massive opportunity to extend what SparkCentral does into our customer base,” he said.
For now, customers can continue to buy Sparkcentral on it is own, with hooks and integrations into Hootsuite. Over time, the integration between the two will be tighter, according to Hungerford.
Social teams for marketing and customer service have traditionally been fairly distinct entities. Hungerford said the degree to which the two merge may depend on the size of an organization and the volume of service inquiries it typically sees through those channels.
CX leaders will also have to assess how offering service via direct messaging on social fits into other self-service strategies, such as chatbots. Hungerford said there is plenty of room for both options.
“There’s such a demand for genuine authenticity right now. It’s tough to replicate that with a chatbot,” he said. “On the other hand, there’s also a need for quick responses on things, especially if people want to know when stores are open or if their flight’s been cancelled.”
The addition of Sparkcentral may change business perceptions of Hootsuite, Hungerford added, but its go-to-market strategy following the acquisition will likely be a natural evolution. Hootsuite already gets a lot of inbound interest from potential clients, he said, which is a natural time to educate the market about its expanded capabilities.
The ongoing challenges from the pandemic, meanwhile, could offer Hootsuite a chance to assist companies trying to pivot their contact centre to a remote model, whether temporarily or longer-term.
“Not to oversell it, but these pure SaaS solutions make that transition so much easier,” he said. “There’s very small period of implementation and then you can get teams up and running right away. It doesn’t matter if (employees) are at home. You can have a distributed workforce and make working from home a lot more flexible.”
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.