Archives for posts with tag: customer service

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Google that question and you get thousands of of answers. Books have been written about it, about any Social Media conference will have a session about this topic and you can find daily new blog posts discussing the organizational model for Social Media. The majority claim Social Media should be centered around the marketing department, a vocal minority thinks PR is best suited for this task, some outliers think customer services are best equipped to deal with individual inquiries.

Some of my favorite experts believe Social Media is so revolutionary, such a fundamental game changer to the future of business that it had to start with the CEO and work down from there, utilizing the power of the whole organization.

Brands can add value to the community through content.

And that is an important skill of marketing people.

Real conversations should be between real people.

And that’s where the customer services team shines.

People desire an authentic dialogue with the whole company, including CEO.

That’s where it’s beneficial to make the whole organization social.

All true. Where do we go from here?

How about starting with the customer?

There’s not one customer in the world who cares what department owns Social Media.

They have their own reasons to visit social properties and, from time to time, to interact with a brand: They might want convenience, reassurance, discounts, exclusivity, etc. Customers only care about ownership when the engagement they are looking for is dysfunctional: When they express criticism on Facebook and get no response from qualified individuals, just the unicorn response: “Look at me, we are beautiful.” When the YouTube video is just another self-indulgent promo. When the Twitter feed is a pure push marketing platform.

The owner of a social platform has to be the best qualified person/department to deliver the best experience to the audience.

Ownership of platforms should not be a departmental/divisional question, it should be a customer experience question. When you want to deliver a press-focused presence on a platform, it makes no sense for the marketing department to own it. A customer services platform shouldn’t be run by PR people.

From a strategic point of view this adds a layer of complexity, particularly when it comes to aligning departmental goals. But, let’s repeat this slowly: Goals shouldn’t be about the department, they should be about improving the customer experience.

The discussion of Social Media ownership will continue for the foreseeable future. And the answer remains the same: There’s only person who really owns the social platform, and that’s your individual customer.

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Let’s face it:

  • It’s hard to reach people on Twitter and Facebook.
  • It’s even harder to get a decent engagement; the platforms are not helping your quest.
  • It’s hard to scale social media and have a decent reach.

Still, there’s immense value for social platforms as simple customer service, community building and listening tools. If you have people that want to connect with your brand, why would you put up barriers to prevent that interaction. There’s a lot of value in talking to 0.98% of your customer base than talking to nobody, and it can make you a lot of money.

Don’t bother doing it part time.

You can’t log-in to Facebook once a day for a few moments and hope to get something out of it for your business. Don’t bother conversing on Twitter for 10 minutes a day and expect any ROI. You will never keep people interested in you or looking for you if you are never there. This means content and persistence. It means having a thick skin and showing a human face for your brand.

It takes a lot of energy and effort to build an online community for your business. We create and manage content for multiple clients. It’s hard work. It’s worth it. We helped brands to extend their reach and awareness dramatically to where now we can actual redirect some of my time to other areas of marketing to grow even bigger.

Social Media is worth it because you get a multitude of value back. Sales. Feedback. Engagement. Customer Loyalty. There’s one caveat:

You have to be all in or not at all.

The good news is there is help. You can learn. It is fun. The resources often are mostly time. But if done right the return on that time can be immense.

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The financial crisis has been with us since 2008, followed by a tepid recovery. You would expect businesses to focus on delivering excellent customer service experiences and overdeliver on every level.

Surprisingly, even though customers value excellence, and even though companies are committed to delivering it, we’re still subjecting each other to excruciating mediocrity.

Why is that?

Great service is not delivered on pure attitude or willingness to please. Great service is part of the business design. Businesses make strategic tradeoffs to deliver a reliable, superior experience:

JetBlue: Low prices, no transfer to other airlines, no business class, no lounges, no special service. In exchange, customers get low prices, one bag for free and convenient locations out of the mega-airports.

iPad: The iPad has no USB, it’s hard to create any content on it, multi-tasking is almost impossible but it’s a great device to consume media, get sucked into the app world or use it as a presentation tool.

My favorite coffeeshop: The coffee is mediocre, the seating is limited and uncomfortable, the Wifi spotty. Still, their kid’s area is superb, a lot of other parents show up on the weekend, they remember my order and have it ready within a minute and everybody is very friendly.

Successful businesses make these choices by design. They know they can’t be good at everything but need to be superb at something, while, at the same time, be bad at other things. For that to work, companies need to deeply understand their customers and design a business that delivers on the most important values of their customers.

I can live with mediocre coffee as long as my kid plays happily for an hour and I can catch up on my Instapaper during that time.

I can live without special service offerings from JetBlue as long as they get me to m destination without any frills and paying for the first bag.

We don’t want to buy from brands that can do everything fairly well. We want to buy from companies that do something exceptionally well and other things exceptionally bad.

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Many brands feel the need to be on Social Media. Competitors do it. Other successful enterprises do it. Everybody does it. Whenever I meet with brands, they tend to think they HAVE to be on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn. They should have a blog and start developing ideas for Google+.

An armada of consultants and agencies tap into the culture of fear: If you’re not part of the Social Web, you’ll be forgotten soon. Why wouldn’t you be on Facebook, the third biggest country in the world? Is there a reason you don’t think about Google+, the platform with the fastest adoption rate of new across all social platforms? Or better: If you’re not on Twitter, you don’t have a business. If you don’t have a blog and create content, you’re not alive.

Don’t make it about numbers. Make it about your audience.

It makes sense why consultants peddle Social Media stats: It builds an impressive case for Social Media. However, it builds an impressive case for generic Social Media. Sure, Google+ has millions of users and Facebook will reach 1 billion customers soon.

The problem is: your customers are not stats or pure number. They are individuals.

The case for individuals.

It’s a common media practice to segment people. You make determinations in advance who will be your most likely customer: Baby boomers with 4 grand children, teenagers with their first car, parents with newborns.

Still, your segments are just a bunch of individuals all grouped together.

How do you know millions of teenagers driving their first car will love your product? What about the 100,000 baby boomers you expect to buy your service?

As human beings, we’re not that predictable. Why are we approaching our business that way, assuming people are extremely predictable? Just because these amazing numbers (3 trillions on Facebook!) blind us?

Think like a customer. Walk in their shoes.

You have a small restaurant. Do you think some generic blog will attract new customers?

You run a plumbing business. Do you think a Facebook page filled with renters that live close to your shop will get you new customers?

Here’s the truth: a solid and well-defined social presence will get you new customers. But you have to do a lot of research, define your new customers and find ways to reach them. You could reach a gazillion customers on social platforms but you only need the ones that will drive new business.

Social Media is not easy. It’s not some magical potion. Otherwise the world would be flooded with case studies of businesses making a lot of money through their application of social platforms.

Social Media is not the aspirin for your marketing headaches.

It’s not a quick fix or some magic that a consultant will deliver on a silver platter. You need to dig in and get your hands dirty:

– Research: Find out where your audience/prospects are active participants: Message boards, Twitter, Review sites, LinkedIn, etc. Are they open to listen to you on these platforms or do they want to be left alone?

– Plan: Once you know where they are and you feel they wouldn’t mind having you join the party, make sure you understand the culture of the platform and evaluate how others are trying to approach their customers/prospects.

– Strategy: You clearly don’t want to sell coffee to a tea drinker or the newest iPhone accessory to a rotary phone user: Look at the research and all the data you accumulated over time and make a determination how you can apply this information to develop various strategies and promotions.

– Experiment: Don’t think one strategy is the only way to go. Start small, scale up once it works or come up with new ideas when it doesn’t.

It’s not that complicated but many business owners are overwhelmed just running their business and now we added more to their workload. That’s where agencies and consultants come in. They have experience developing roadmaps, initial plans and strategies, can help you with guidelines and even execute everything for you. There are some fabulous marketers out there (Plug, plug) that understand marketing and how social platforms can complement your overall marketing initiatives. Just like you do with all your vendors: make sure to align with a good, battle tested partner.

You’ve developed your business over time because you were smart and made the right decisions. Why would you change that path just because somebody tells you there are gigazillions of people on social platforms? As far as I know, there’s no law requiring your business to be on Facebook.

You should participate on the Social Web when it can help you to reach new customers, help promote a new service/product, add another customer service channel, or help you to aggregate information. Or you’re just wasting your time and taking a placebo with no effect.

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The idea that customer is always right has been around for more than 100 years.

It was coined by Gordon Selfridge who worked for Marshal Field’s department store between 1879 and 1901.

A customer slogan that became a mantra for customer service.

It’s time to throw that mantra into a big pile of outdated rules.

The majority of companies still believe that if you don’t please every customer, you can’t be successful in business.

The truth is that if you go above and beyond for every customer your business will fail.

Or, at least, your profitability decreases.

Dramatically.

The new rule: My ideal customer deserves 100%. The rest can eat dirt.

There are a tons of customers who make it their goal to get as much as they can out of a business.

They make your life miserable.

You have to give them discounts, freebies and engage them constantly.

Here’s an idea:

The business owner is always right.

The business owner determines the ideal customer.

And the business determines the rules.

Scary?

At first.

Not when you think about it.

You just can’t serve everyone and make everyone happy.

It’s not possible.

When you offer a premium product, a customer looking for deals is wrong for you.

If you sell cheap airline tickets, customers can’t expect premium service.

The customer isn’t always right…for you!

In the end, it’s about the business owner.

You run the business.

You have to make sure to run it profitably.

And be around in 10 years.

If your customer isn’t right for you, you can’t deliver on your promise.

You can’t be loved by everyone.

But you should be loved by the right customers.

The ones you chose.

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I filled up my car a few days ago, emptying the interior from all the trash. Having a little kid, there’s a lot of trash. Icky, sticky trash. Just like my hands when I was done with it. To my delight, the gas station offered hand wipes to their customers. Just like you see it at Whole Foods or other grocery stores. I was grateful for their thoughtfulness.

The little things that can make or break your business. Will I return to this gas station? When I’m in the neighborhood, absolutely. I don’t care if their competition across the street charges $0.15 more, they don’t have hand wipes.

What little things are you doing for your client that communicate thoughtfulness and provide real value without breaking the bank?

When are you going to start doing them?

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Are you still trying to integrate your marketing channels, working on that huge “Integrated Marketing” deck? It’s hard to keep up, new marketing channels are opening up each day and your deck gets bigger and bigger.

Here’s a little piece of advice: Stop what you’re doing. You sound like a dinosaur when you talk about integrated marketing, discussing things that should have been completed years ago. Integrating marketing channels will remain an important task for decades to come but it can’t be your corporate/divisional goal.

You have more important things to do.

When was the last time you talked to your Customer Service department, spend a few hours listening to people solving problems for customers? I bet, it’s been too long. (Actually, I bet you never did it.)

Fact is: Customer Service and marketing need each other to succeed. On a corporate level, marketing must be integrated with customer service. The one can help to enhance the other one, and if not planned carefully, one can easily distract from each other. All your marketing dollars can go down the drain with one bad tweet, one bad phone call, one bad customer experience.

Where to start

These are just initial ideas how to develop more synergies between both departments:

  • Testimonials: No, not the fake ones from people that never used your product. There are people out there that love your product or the service you provide. They might have left a message, wrote an email or even a letter. Give these singers of your company’s praises a megaphone. Marketing is good at handing out megaphones. (Sometimes too good, but that’s a different story.)
  • Customer Service as the marketing campaign: Your customer service reps are the best in the world, they are solving problems and helping people? Why are you hiding them in the basement? Put them on a stage and make them your stars. They deserve it. And your customers deserve to hear about it.
  • Market turnaround-stories: I’ve had many experiences where I picked up the phone full of anger and ended the conversation with a customer service agent 5 minutes later with a smile on my face. It happens a lot. The bad dinner that turned into a second, brilliant visit. The cancelled flight that changed into a first-class seat. People share these stories with others. Why don’t you share them, too. Nobody is perfect, only your resolution process needs to be perfect.
  • Listen to your loyal customers: You drive a car for many years and there are always things that annoy you. The navigation screen, the placement of cup-holders, the rear window visibility. Stop sending out these faceless surveys or interrupt my day with a call how satisfied I am with my car. Ask me real questions, give me time and space to explain my concerns. Once you see a pattern: fix it. And then market it: We listen and learned. We changed because of you. A powerful tactic.
  • Combine marketing and customer service: Why keep both departments apart? Merge them, since both of the departments are marketing to people. Integrate marketing into your resolution processes. (No, not THAT marketing: “While I put this information into the system, let me tell you about offer A.” THAT marketing: “You’re an important customer to us and we would like to understand you better. Can we discuss with you how to make our company even better and serve your needs?” or “Would you mind sharing your experience with your friends?”

It’s a mystery to me why marketing departments deploy expensive focus groups, research and other studies to understand their customers better while the department next door gets real insights about the needs and desires of people one call/email/tweet at a time.

Integrate marketing into your overall customer experience path. Suddenly, marketing works.

Screen shot 2011-04-21 at 11.22.42 AMHootsuite has been down all day. It’s an important tool for my business and we all had to scramble to make up for their failure. Sure, things happen. Nobody is perfect.

You need to communicate

Hootsuite didn’t. They left all their customers hanging. They posted updates on @hootsuite_help but these updates were useless. They covered their butt. They did the minimum. Nothing else. People run businesses based on their platform, people need to get answers. And they acted like a company in denial. Hootsuite wasted a huge opportunity. They could have shown the world how Customer Service 2.0 is done. Instead, they showed the world they can’t even figure out the basics of Customer Service 1.0.

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Maureen Dowd published a piece about verbal abuses and the sprawling gutter of our Internet experience.

“Evgeny Morozov, author of “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom,” told me Twitter creates a false intimacy and can “bring out the worst in people. You’re straining after eyeballs, not big thoughts. So you go for the shallow, funny, contrarian or cynical.”

“Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” says technology amplifies everything, good instincts and base. While technology is amoral, he said, our brains may be rewired in disturbing ways.

“Researchers say that we need to be quiet and attentive if we want to tap into our deeper emotions,” he said. “If we’re constantly interrupted and distracted, we kind of short-circuit our empathy. If you dampen empathy and you encourage the immediate expression of whatever is in your mind, you get a lot of nastiness that wouldn’t have occurred before.”

Brands have real problems dealing with the bottom feeders

It’s easy to filter out $%#@#@ words, delete spammers, racist and sexist comments. But it’s hard to deal with a disgruntled customer that turns into an abuser once he hits the keyboard.

While I believe that customer service is the new marketing by being public and transparent, I also believe strongly that nobody has to put up with abusive behavior.

Lifetimes ago, I worked as the Station Manager for United Airlines at Heathrow. At last 5 times a day, I had to deal with First/Business Class passengers that assumed they bought the right to turn into a combination of Omarosa and Nikita Krushchev when they purchased an expensive ticket. I saw affluent, normal-looking people open up their suitcases, throwing the content all over the terminal. I saw adult men with beautiful business cards taking off all their clothes because they were enraged that we dared asking them questions about their luggage (Years after Lockerbie.) They weren’t allowed to board. And they swore to call the CEO of United, the US president and the Pope. And they claimed never to fly to United again. Just to show up next day, answering all questions, being polite, doing everything to get on that plane. Because they needed to go from A to B. They had status. And they realized they acted like jerks.

It’s easier being a jerk on the Web

Insert the Social Web. Suddenly, anybody can create a blog about their negative experiences. You can slam brands all day long. You can use your social Klout to get your way. Brands should react to justified complaints. But they shouldn’t run scared of their loyal customers when they turn into jerks.

When disgruntled customers turn your Facebook page into their playground of negativity, block them.

When angry people own your Twitter stream by spamming it with their bad experience, block them.

Make sure to develop procedures in advance to deal with these customers. Things happen. Get in touch with them and offer an opportunity to resolve their issue in a more appropriate environment. But don’t become the hostage of your own social platform.

You didn’t develop a Facebook page to get abused. You developed it to engage with people, understand their concerns, help them. Don’t let others turn them into their abusive playground.

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2011 will be the year when co-creating and collaborating through Social Media will begin to become more important than using the channels or people as messaging tools. And Customer Service will be become the transformative force to deliver on this promise.

Many enterprises we talk with consider this as their highest priority. They understand the need to improve quality of their Customer Service.

Changing from defensive to pro-active Customer Service is a natural adjustment to the changes in our daily behavior. We don’t care where service comes from (Customer Service, Marketing, Clerk, etc.), we just want good service.

One of the key changes will be pulling Customer Service out of the dark alley into the light of transparency. While many companies started to listen to customer expressions, they still try to take the conversation “off-line”, “off the grid”. They treat customers like parents their kids when they have an adult conversation: “Nothing to see here.” This paradigm will be reversed in 2011:

  • Customer Service will become public. Utilizing the channels to spread the word about good experiences. And providing a psychological barrier for each stakeholder to deliver sub-par service. It’s tough to perform badly in public.
  • Enterprises will reverse their strategy from passively waiting for customer feedback to actively looking for it.
  • Customer Service will be moved (figuratively and literally) from the edges of the enterprise to the center. This will require organizational changes that will impact each division and stakeholder.

All these changes will finally help delivering on the promise of “Service as Marketing”.

It’s going to be an exciting 2011.