Inside the Quality-First Contact Center

How General Motors Built a Great Social Media Program

This month I had a rare opportunity to see General Motors' customer care operation in Detroit. GM has won awards for customer care (I saw them hanging on the wall) and from what I could see the praise is well deserved.


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As one of the largest automotive manufacturers in the world, GM (@gm) manages a large volume of customer care interactions through social media (see @gmcustomersvc). They have the right tools and the right metrics to monitor what is happening and evaluate how well they are responding to customers and meeting their needs. There is always room for improvement, but it was an exciting visit with the two members of the team that I got to spend time with.

Command center

The facilities were best in class, particularly the command center for Onstar, the GM division that provides interactive emergency services, security, navigation and other ways to manage a vehicle. The team in the command center can see what is happening at every level of their contact center operations around the world. You can tell that GM has put the customer at the center of its universe.

It's hard enough on the phone to express empathy, a desire to help, and the ability to listen. In social media, you have to achieve the same goals while limiting yourself to 140 characters at a time.

Special talents

One of the take-aways for me was a new respect for specialization. I used to think that a good customer care rep should be able to handle any channel — phone, email, chat, social media, whichever the customer wanted to use. The GM tour highlighted the opposite. The people on the GM team handling social media are very, very good at what they do (see #generalmotors). I don't think a phone rep would automatically fit in and produce the same quality.

It takes a certain aptitude and special training to "speak" well in social media. Establishing rapport is a bigger challenge compared to some other channels. It's hard enough on the phone to express empathy, a desire to help and the ability to listen. In social media, you have to achieve the same goals while limiting yourself to 140 characters at a time. A person's non-verbal skills have to be razor sharp.

It takes a certain aptitude to "speak" social media. Establishing rapport is a bigger challenge with this channel.

Also, social media starts as a very public interaction. The customer's words and the company's initial response are there for the world to see, both immediately and for years to come.

Incongruity can work

Not surprisingly, the GM crew was a very young group. There were no gray heads there. They have a lot of energy and fresh ideas. (Oddly enough, the customer demographic doesn't mirror the GM crew. Facebook is popular with people into their 50s, and the same with Twitter. In fact, millennials aren't really using Facebook and Twitter much any more. They've moved on to Instagram and other platforms.)

As it happened, I left a notebook behind after talking with the live chat group. I didn't even realize it was missing until the team leader of the group contacted me. She overnighted the notebook at GM's expense so that I would have it for the next business day. When you have a team leader willing to go a couple of steps beyond what is expected, it shows that she truly cares about the people she interacts with.

Social media is no longer the future of customer care. It's the present. It was inspiring to see it done well by a large corporation with more than 100 years of history behind it. -Neal


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Topics: Social Media Customer Service