gem: The Social Network – Philip Cassidy

The growing popularity of online social media has opened up new opportunities for companies and their target markets. gem CEO Philip Cassidy explains how analysing and learning from the way your customers operate online can help facilitate a better, more optimised service.

The customer experience has always had a direct effect on a company's reputation and, by proxy, its profits. The rise of the internet and increased popularity of social media has, however, made it more important than ever.

Today, the customer has many channels through which to share information and opinions. The freedom of expression afforded by blogs, message boards and review websites means that companies do not just have to consider what customers are saying to them, but what they are saying to each other.

Founded in Belfast in 2000 as an email handling services provider and already one of Europe's leading independent providers of outsourced multilingual contact centre services, gem has embraced social media with both arms.

"A growing population is using social media and also a much broader demographic," explains Philip Cassidy, CEO. "In the past, if you had a bad experience at a hotel, you may have phoned them. Nowadays, you can go online where a lot of people are talking about your brand and others."

The gem social media offering is two-fold. As well as delivering customer service through these new channels, the company looks to analyse the information that is out there and ascertain how it affects the brand reputations of its clients.

"The reactive piece is our key strength," Cassidy says. "We feed back information about what customers have been saying. In some cases, we will agree together to do something about it, in other cases we will engage directly with the customer. Either way, a good conversation has taken place."

When gem does opt to engage with the customer, it will often abstain from the traditional one-to-one model in favour of a more collaborative approach. It has spent the past year building a customer community, which can take an active role in the problem-solving process.

"The gem social media offering is two-fold. As well as delivering customer service through these new channels, the company looks to analyse the information that is out there and ascertain how it affects the brand reputations of its clients."

"We are trying to move away from the tech-support queue that we had in the past," Cassidy says. "We want to build a community, allow it to grow organically, and let our customers be a part of it."

Encouraging the growth of this new model took time. The company had to switch off its old method of support and usher its customer down the new route, using web resources and FAQs to encourage discussion in the community. A year down the line and the benefits are really beginning to show.

"We were one of the first to put together a European support forum model, and now we find there is a real clamour across the industry for similar solutions," Cassidy explains. "After encouraging and incentivising customers to be part of this community, we realised we could allow it to provide its own answers."

In Cassidy's view, gem's strength lies in a willingness to embrace new challenges. The company works closely with its clients to identify their requirements and pain points, with many of its new business developments springing from client consultation.

"When we started out, we saw a real opportunity in email outsourcing and we moved into other channels from there," he explains. "We now have strengths in areas such as business improvement and lean methodologies, and we are multilingual. All of these things have been driven by client demands and allow us to stay one step ahead."

The company offers multi-channel services in 31 different languages, with 80% of its employees operating in their native language. This is representative of a broader recruitment strategy aimed at maximising the strengths and interests of gem's staff.

"To achieve quality, you need to make sure you have the right people for the role," Cassidy explains. "You want people working on tourism, for example, to have a real interest in the countries they are focused on; if you have people on gaming, the same thing applies. It's about passion."

Cassidy is bullish about the future. For all the economic difficulties of the past few years, he sees the return of a sense of entrepreneurialism that can drive the market forward.

"I think that important decisions are starting to be made now," he says. "Our pipeline is very strong. We've just had our best ever quarter, so we're certainly feeling positive about the future."

With the growth of social media showing no sign of slowing and with new opportunities for customer engagement emerging all the time, Cassidy's positivity seems justified.