But what if those changes to the traditional model aren’t enough? (Which they shouldn’t be.) What would be a new customer service model that can meet the needs of the social customer and still be viable to the business?
The new model starts with a very old model.
Bruce Katz is a man you should pay attention to. Aside from being articulate,with a lightning-fast intelligence and a great sense of humor,he has been a business success in a remarkably disparate number of ways. He was the founder of Rockport Shoes,which drove the “casual shoe revolution.” He provided the seed capital for the wildly successful The Republic of Tea,whose products make up roughly 90 percent of all the teas in this house of tea drinkers. He also owned the first online virtual community,The WELL,from 1994–1999. His range is amazing. I asked him what his principles of customer service were since Rockport and The Republic of Tea have been known for that for an incredible amount of time. His answer:
First it starts with the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Would you like to be on hold? Would you like to be sent to voicemail? Would you like to hit 27 different keys to navigate menus and get hung up on? Would you like to wait 45 minutes? No.
There’s this interest in efficiency. Go to the website and talk to a robot. Is that a real savings? It frustrates customers. Customers want to talk to a real person.
This isn’t some old-school thing that no longer applies. This is the single most important observation when it comes to a new customer service model. These precise observations were supported by data released by Forrester Research with their “North American Technographics Retail,Marketing,Customer Experience,and Service Benchmark Survey” during the fourth quarter of 2007. They found that regardless of generation the most important channel was a direct call to a customer service representative on the phone. Even Gen Y preferred that over going to a store or sending an e-mail (41 percent to 35 percent and 6 percent,respectively). Only seniors (age 63 and up) preferred going to a store more than making a phone call. A phone call won with older and younger boomers,Gens X and Y.
It’s the same reason that people used to love to shop. The salesperson would make you feel like the most important person in the world,even for just a little while.
You have to want all the calls that you are getting regardless of why they call. If they are calling to buy something or to complain or just ask a question,it doesn’t matter. All those calls are important. I wouldn’t want to outsource the call because I want to be able to deal with all the calls myself. For example,I remember back in the earlier days of Rockport Shoes that one caller mentioned that if the shoes were made in white,she,a nurse,would wear them in the operating room. We launched a whole line of shoes for nurses that was highly successful.
The foundation of any successful customer service model is going to be actual human interactions—not IVR,not VoIP services,not high-speed Internet connectivity. It will have to do with how quickly a human being can provide a meaningful experience to a customer who has engaged them.
But what does that mean when social communications have transformed the world? Jeff Bezos,CEO of Amazon,being interviewed by Business Week in March 2009,nails a customer service model that should be emulated by companies:
Internally,customer service is a component of customer experience. Customer experience includes having the lowest price,having the fastest delivery,having it reliable enough so you don’t have to contact anyone. Then you save customer service for those truly unusual situations.
This is the core of any real customer service: how to minimize problems and optimize the customer experience an individual customer is having. It also means that when there is a problem there needs to be a resolution of that problem immediately. That implies a first contact resolution.
The new model also anticipates the social customer’s multichannel preferences to communicate. It recognizes your customer service problems won’t only be discovered at your site,but will be lurking in the cyber world via social media channels and social networks/communities.
However,unlike the preferences of some of the more naïve sorts out there,this customer service model builds on the traditional. There are still operational business requirements,cases still need to be opened and closed,data has to be captured,the customer record needs more than just transaction data,and agents need to be human beings who can warmly respond to what could be an irate other human being. The more knowledge that agent has about that individual customer,the smarter they are and the better experience they can provide.
Keep in mind,there are different sets of expectations when a customer complains as opposed to when they request something,and each of them has to be handled. But if you handle them well,whether they are complaints or simply queries,and you provide a customer service that can exceed expectations—which are low to begin with— there is a distinct benefit. In 2009,J.D.Power and Associates did their annual ranking,published in Business Week,of Customer Service Champs. Over half of the top 25 percent of the brands had improved their customer service,despite the recession. Conversely,of the bottom 25,most of the customer service scores had fallen. The willingness to invest in improvements paid off with improvements in commitments of customers to the brand.
Tenets and Principles of the New Model
There are broad tenets that govern the new customer service model.
Community-Based Customer Service
It’s very expensive to get technical support for a significant software product for a large company (hear me,Microsoft?). Over the past five years or so,I’ve come to rely on Google search and threaded forums to get the answers to my technical questions. Recently,I had a problem with QuickTime,which kept giving me an error message even though there was nothing wrong. I did a search for the problem and found a number of answers on Mac forums. I tried them,one worked,problem solved in about half an hour. I had nothing to do with Apple. It was Apple customers who solved it freely and easily.
If you’re able to bring that in-house and form a community that your business owns but is for your customers—and you give the customers the freedom to identify and fix problems on the site—there is not only some quant loving ROI associated with it,there is also an incredible amount of good will generated from your customers about you.
Why? Because you’re willing to air the problems,get your customers involved in helping solve them,and at the same time make sure that you’re involved in that too. You begin to see an ROI as fewer service tickets that have to be opened, saving you money. There are more first resolution solutions,which means you have direct cost efficiencies. ServiceXRG did a study that shows that in a typical call center,a first call resolution will cost $49 on the average. But if it reaches 24 hours it goes up to $61 and at two days is $155. Ad infinitum.
Think about it. If the problem is solved by your customers,it doesn’t even reach the status of a first call. Helpstream,one of our two Superstahs! in this chapter,found that implementing their solution,which is organized around customer service communities,led to their customers seeing 20 percent of all customer service issues solved by the community, with 20 percent solved by the knowledge base articles,30 percent by forum threads,and 30 percent by the agents. This is a very significant cost savings. Seventy percent of the customer service problems never needed to be solved by an agent.
In general,the ROI of online service communities is very high. Natalie Petouhoff finds that there is a generic ROI of 99 percent in less than 12 months.
Community-based customer service is not a new idea at all. Threaded forums and user groups did that independently of any company and continue to do it. Now you can find customer service threads in discussion groups on Facebook. What is new and important to the new customer service business model is the creation of these specifically customer service focused communities behind the corporate firewall and the collaboration encouraged by the company with its customers—even if the company has to be transparent about its problems. That leads to customer-developed solutions, often not thought of by even the help staff.
What is technologically new about it is the means to capture the conversation—those customer-provided solutions—and making them part of the knowledge base. Also new is adding the business rules and workflow in combination with sentiment analysis that can alert a company employee to a problem within the community automatically.
But that’s only one part of the equation. Developing alternate service channels is the other.
Alternate Customer Service Channels: Time to Use the Remote
This new business model has ramifications that are already being felt. The idea of community-driven customer service and alternate customer service channels is a direct result of the realization by many companies that they have to create a new model for their customer service interactions.
The customers’ ownership of the conversation that we all have so glibly spoken about here and many other places is vehemently reflected by the social websites that focus on customer/company interaction and others that reflect those service interactions. Let’s take a gander at the growing group of alternate channels that you will have to concern yourself with when developing the customer service part of your Social CRM strategy,and broadly,what the protocol for dealing each channel should be. The caveat here is that handling each channel isn’t necessarily the right thing to do for your company and that how you handle them can vary by company. These protocols are recommended guidelines.
Customer Service Social Sites
These are sites that you can guarantee will be talking about your company,though not necessarily in a nice way. The two most prominent are the Consumerist and PlanetFeedback. Each has a somewhat different take. The Consumerist operates as an aggregator of bad corporate mistakes or mishaps being reported by news and consumers. Typically,there will be a report on something like “Mattel Will Pay $2.3 Million Penalty for All Those Lead Toys,”which will generate about 2,000 views and 30 comments or thereabouts.
The PlanetFeedback model is different,as you can see in below Figure. They are a site for customer complaints and compliments too—though,take my word for it,complaints far outweigh compliments. One apparel company showed up on the 15 minutes of fame section (which should be “shame,” really) and within about 20 minutes had generated 167 comments on what seemed to be their egregious error. Even though after an investigation it turned out to be the problem of the complainant,it didn’t really matter. The damage was done.
PlanetFeedback.com: complaints outside your firewall
What makes the PlanetFeedback model even more sensitive for a company is that they will become advocates and investigate the complaints by trying to contact the company. Woe to the company who has an “ignore the inquiry” policy.
The existence of this kind of channel for customers’ angry conversations requires a protocol for response,because the damage can be great. Keep in mind the reason that people are on the site is because they are already most likely very angry to begin with. So they are prone to go viral on something if they sense they can.
Outreach program should include not only monitoring the sites,either via the use of social media monitoring applications or direct daily human monitoring,but there should also be an immediate response to the issue raised by someone who is authorized to do it.
Additionally,if contacted by the site,openly respond to them. Make sure there are clear rules for the authorized responders on what they can offer and what they can say,but not how they can say it. Do not try to do any up-selling or cross-selling here,which may sound obvious but,believe me,given the silliness that I run across at sales-driven companies,bears mentioning.
This is the type of site we’ve discussed in prior chapters,review sites like Yelp or CitySearch.com or Epinions.com. These are a much trickier proposition. The primary reason that people write on review sites tends to be positive. For example,on Yelp,the first 1,210 restaurants listed get 4 or 5 stars before a 3.5-star review shows up,though there are higher ratings after that again. Don’t get me wrong. There are 1-star reviews,which are complaints in a different format. But what makes this kind of site interesting is that there is valuable customer service data buried in even good reviews that should be monitored and gathered.
Social review sites tend to be positive.
Here are an example of a customer service matter (not issue) that is buried in reviews of San Francisco’s Crème Brûlée Cart:
These are positive reviews—the last one very positive. But there is a customer service “problem” that runs throughout them: how do you even find the cart? That’s something that needs to be addressed not by responding to a comment,but by listening to the customers.
First,when it comes to egregious customer problems that are creating bad reviews,you need to do what you would expect here: resolve them. But this isn’t necessarily the value proposition for dealing with review sites. For example,the two positive reviews above indicate how difficult it is to locate the cart. This can be resolved by changing the location—a cart can move with a new permit.
On the other hand,there are often problems to address in the 1-star reviews. While there are typically ways of directly addressing them,they can be tedious and awkward. For example,Yelp forces you to sign up for a business account which then allows you,as the owner of the business reviewed,to comment directly on a review. But that has limited value because the comment is isolated to the single review,not to a thread. That means that if there are 30 reviews that point out the same problem and you as the authorized respondent want to reply,you’d have to reply to each and all of the 30. Which you might have to.
However,these sites still need to be monitored for customer service. Start by handling problems that require an individual response. Actually by doing that,you can gather valuable customer service data on improvements that can be made,which provide action items that speak louder than a comment if you proceed to fix the concern.
The threaded forums I’m speaking of here are not the ones that are on customer communities,but the ones that are externally owned and run. The forums are typically organized around products like Windows 7 or ares of interest like astronomy or specific groups like the Enterprise Irregulars,of which I am a proud member,who cover the enterprise software industry. What makes them valuable is that they carry out organized conversations with a thread that someone starts,then a response to the thread,then either a response to the response or another response to the thread. In other words,they can group substantial conversations and make them easily accessible.
An example of a customer service issue in a discussion that is outside the company is this one from the everythingiCafe (www.everythingicafe.com) on one forum member’s iPhone 3G:
my iPhone stopped working! WTF?
Yeah so I think the touchscreen went out for like no reason at all the phone has never been dropped and it’s never seen water. I bought the phone end of February will apple cover this? What will ATT tell me if I take into their store? Also there is an apple store about 30 mins from my house at the local mall will I possibly have to make an appt out there to go and get it fixed or do I just send it in to apple and they will send me a new one? I’ve never had a iPhone that crapped out on me so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
The response from another forum member,Europa,not an employee of Apple.
What happens when you connect to iTunes?
Put it in DFU mode and restore to factory settings. If the problem persists after a restore,you’ll have to have to take it to the Genius Bar. You could also send it to Apple,but I’d say just take it in since you have one fairly close. That way,you don’t have to go without a phone all week. It will certainly be covered as long as there is no visible damage or water damage. Just be sure not to take it in jailbroken,if it is jailbroken.
This forum response is the typical way the new service model—community-driven customer service—is actually working,though that has other implications as we shall see. The members of the community solve the issues or at least suggest solutions.
It is entirely smart to monitor and respond to threaded forum issues that are buried in the thousands of threads and hundreds of thousands of views that some of these forums get. First,to show that you are as responsive as customers are now expecting. Second,for the invaluable answers that you may be haven’t thought of yet. Third,for quality control,since there is no guarantee the answers that your customers are getting from other customers are good.
Responding as an authorized company representative in one of the forums outside your firewall is the way to go. Your authorized representatives should identify themselves as such. They don’t promise an answer,they answer the question. “I’ll get back to you on this” doesn’t wash in this situation. Threaded forum members are looking for answers—period. If your reps see an incorrect solution being proposed,they should respectfully point out that there is an official solution that will work. The customer may always be right (not),but the solution provider may not be.
The blogosphere of course gets the most PR when it comes to flaming because there are more than 100 million blogs. Plus the nastiness of the bloggers when it comes to customer service issues can be clear,and their projected power is frightening,especially because the mainstream press is now committed to not only blogging but covering blogs. The Dell Hell incident mentioned earlier in the book is a perfect example of how damaging this channel can be on the one hand,but how beneficial it can be if you don’t just react to your detractors but actually listen to them. That also means,don’t just solve the immediate problem,but actually see if what they are complaining about has merit in the bigger sense.
This is simple. Presuming you are being flamed on the site,and that comments are open,respond as an authorized representative immediately,before the thread gets out of hand. If you have to follow up and you don’t have an immediate answer,this is a place where you can speak to the raucous crowd,calm them,and tell them you’ll get back to them. Then get the answer you need and respond to them publicly and privately. Depending on the problem,your public response can be “I responded to you with the answer via e-mail” or it can be entirely public—your call. But follow up and respond as soon as possible.
It’s also been called Social CRM by some of the social media mavens.Suffice it to say,if it takes me 800 pages to write about Social CRM,and Twitter is maybe 5 of those,then it isn’t. What it can be is an effective rapid response channel for customer service. What makes Twitter important is that the complainant’s conversation can be picked up quickly and responded to in real time. The existing Twitter third-party tools are sophisticated enough to find the problems and to provide a mechanism to respond quickly,even if multiple customer service representatives are involved. For example,CoTweet is a young but good enterprise-oriented Twitter tool that allows internal staff groups to communicate and collaborate via Twitter so that they not only can identify and broadcast a customer service issue but can notify the appropriate group members to respond and handle the response.
Twitter can also function as a proactive customer service channel. For example,DirecTV has its own group (which is characterized with a # mark prior to the group name) that you can “tweet” with your problem (i.e., bring it to their attention). But the company is monitoring you in real time too. They are using Tweet Deck and other free clients with strong search capabilities to find as many problems as possible to respond to as quickly as possible,with the knowledge that this rapid response is so refreshing in comparison to ordinary response time,it can easily go viral—a huge plus for your organization. You’ll see what the rock star of Twitter customer service,Frank Eliason,is doing with #ComcastCares on Twitter later in this chapter.
The second you complete this paragraph go to www.twitter.com and register the group names or the twitter IDs that you are going to need to reflect your company’s presence,because if it’s not already too late,it will be soon. For example,AT&T is simply @AT&T. Their customer service group is #AT&T. Then make sure you have at least one authorized representative using Twitter search capabilities to see what people are saying about you. When you run across a problem,respond to their tweet publicly (in 140 characters or less,remember?) by asking them to elaborate or contact you. Then solve their problem. But also make sure that your authorized representative is empowered to do random acts of kindness. That means that if you find something that someone wishes could happen,make it happen. I’ve seen one apparel company who saw someone who wished for a particular clothing item,in the “just a thought I’ve tweeted” category. The company surprised them and gave it to them. The result? An advocate for life for less than $100.
Facebook and Other Social Locations
This is very different than all the other channels. Remember,we are talking about external social networks here—locations that are not specific to your company or behind your firewall,nor are they focused around a particular interest or practice. For those of you who have just returned from the 1977 version of the Dharma Initiative,Facebook is easily the premier location for social gathering on the Web as of today. It’s also the most complicated. It’s used far more often for branding and marketing than for customer service,yet at the same time is a repository for a lot of “hate groups” for companies that already have customer service issues. Communication on Facebook is via private messages or on The Wall,which are public messages. Additionally,the nexus for a lot of the frustrated customers are groups they’ve created—rather easily I might add. For example,in mid-2009 there are 11 Facebook groups called “I Hate Bank of America” ranging from 164 members to one member. There are also 16 “Bank of America Sucks” groups and 15 “Boycott Bank of America” groups. Don’t think because a group has only a single member that it’s not a potential magnet for a customer service disaster. On the other side of the equation are a large number of neutral or positive Bank of America organizations that number in the hundreds all told. One of the problems for customer service when it comes to social locations is that monitoring the content isn’t simple.
This is somewhat complex. Not only do you have to monitor the groups that hate you,but also the groups that love you or are related to you in a neutral sense. Additionally,you need to create your own group(s). But what complicates this even more is that you have to distinguish your group from the other groups.
TiVo is an instructive example. In mid-2009,they had over 15,000 members in their Facebook group. They built a discussion board within the group—a threaded forum,really—where any issue can be raised by a member,including “TiVo customer service is terrible,”which had about ten people venting and a few more supportive. TiVo deserves a big thumbs up for being transparent and providing a forum that unblinkingly allows irate customers to have their say. They have a couple of thumbs down though—they don’t respond at all to their angry customers,leaving it for their more supportive customers to respond. This is not wise. Response from the company is still necessary.Additionally,monitoring the other groups and responding to concerns there also matters.
Case Study:@ComcastCares:Now They Really Do
I’ve been a Comcast customer for well over a decade. When they were just starting to provide Internet service in the Manassas,Virginia,area,I was a beta customer. I’ve used their high-speed Internet service ever since and pay a bloody fortune monthly for it,but it is a genuinely high speed Internet service,not just one that claims it is.
Over the years,I’ve had a lot of problems with Comcast,though bunched at the front end of my passage with them,including a twoweek downtime and an errant customer service representative who wiped out my entire customer history. Even though the history remained buried in their records,they had to rebuild the account from scratch rather than just simply reuse it. In fact,that accounts for my e-mail address of firstname.lastname@example.org. I used to have paul-greenberg @comcast.net. Know why I don’t anymore and have to use the one with the 3? Because someone else had the email@example.com after my account got wiped out. Know who that was? Me. So I couldn’t get firstname.lastname@example.org back after the slaughter of my account,because I had the address already,which I couldn’t use.
You see what I mean? Unfortunately,this was not unique for Comcast. Their customer service reputation was so bad that it drove one Manassas resident (not me—an elderly lady by the name of Mona Shaw) to take a hammer to the Comcast office here,which got her a suspended sentence and national headlines.
But then along came Twitter—and Frank Eliason. Frank is the customer care poster….man of the 21st century. By developing a Twitter channel to respond to Comcast customer concerns,he changed the way that the company and companies in general do customer service.
It didn’t start that way exactly. In late 2007,Comcast had a reactive and somewhat random customer service policy. They would find blogs that mentioned Comcast and then pick up a phone and call the bloggers who did negative posts. The strategy was “apologize and fix.” They didn’t respond to all briefings,just the ones that made sense to them— not necessarily for them. They really weren’t solving customer problems,they were marketing,attempting to create some buzz around Comcast doing “good things.”
In December 2007,public relations asked Frank to address negative criticism somewhat more systematically and write on websites. Note it was PR that asked him to do that,not the customer care department. Frank turned that opportunity into a successful venture and within two months,Comcast realized that this was more than just a PR effort and decided to create a Digital Customer Care department that Frank would direct.
What Frank was then able to do was to develop a serious customer service strategy for the digital channels that were available. “Customers don’t change because of numbers,”he says. “Analytics don’t drive change. The story drives changes.” But he saw the unprecedented opportunity that the Web provided to a customer care department like his. “Finding stories is easy. The blogosphere is nothing but stories.”
By 2008,he realized that it wasn’t just the blogosphere that represented a viable channel for his digital care operations. Twitter was growing rapidly. It had reached the 1 million members mark in March 2008. So on April 5,2008,Frank Eliason,under the TwitterID of< @ComcastCares,began tweeting—an effort noted by the powerful influencer site TechCrunch and its owner Michael Arrington almost immediately. What made it notable was that it was among the very first efforts by a large enterprise to break down the formal communications barriers around customer service. It not only directly engaged the customer,but attempted to solve their problems as immediately as they were discovered and provide the customer with a place to go to deal with those problems.
Was it perfect at first? No. As a result Frank began to see critiques of the approach he took on blogs. Rather than ignore them or react to them,he listened to them and made changes where appropriate,which proved to be valuable in how he approached the Twitterverse and customer service generally. Some of the points raised were as simple as “Is your picture there?” or “Make sure that you are personal in how you deal with your customers with something like ‘Hi,this is Frank speaking. How can I help?’”
Frank initially had three members on his team to handle Comcast customer queries and complaints. He had to make sure that while they were all associated with @ComcastCares (the group) each of them had their own TwitterID. The success rate was astounding. In their first five months,they had already reached out to over 1,000 customers who were having problems or who were about to.
Brian Solis,who not only runs FutureWorks,a social media focused public relations firm,but also writes the ubërpopular PR 2.0 blog,said,“Companies like Comcast are taking what was an inbound call center and turning it into an outbound form of customer relations,which can spot problems before they occur.”
But the customers were not all that Frank had to concern himself with. He knew that Comcast management had to be on board and Comcast culture had to be aligned with the initiative in order to make it succeed. So he did something that is both simple and exceptionally smart simultaneously. He started an internal newsletter.
The newsletter,which goes out internally to 2,000 of their “closest and dearest friends” at Comcast every business day,covers the customer conversation about Comcast. They find 7,000 mentions a day for Comcast one way or the other (to be fair,including references to the e-mail domain comcast.net). But the most important ones are on the sites like the Consumerist or ZDNet—the highly trafficked sites. To add to the conversational spice,each day they highlight a different channel or feature. For example,Monday is YouTube; Tuesday is “Compliment Tuesday,”which draws attention to the good things being said; Wednesday is executive complaints day,and so on. The circulation of this internal newsletter keeps the staff and management engaged with the Comcast customer crowd out in the ether that they otherwise would have no connection to.
What does @ComcastCares look like today? There are 11 members immediately responding via Twitter to the customers who are having problems. They have garnered praise for their innovative approach to customer service. They are considered one of the paradigms for the alternate service channel—one for businesses to emulate.
Have they stopped receiving complaints? Hardly. Problems still occur and there are still plenty of customers who are frustrated and hate Comcast. But @ComcastCares provides not only a great success story,but a model to learn from. So,spend the time,talk to Frank,read this,learn lessons.
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Customer Relationship Management Tutorial
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Crm,cmr,vrm Or . . . Who Cares?
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A Company Like Me:new Business
Do You Have The Ring? Tools For Customer Engagement
Love Your Customers Publicly: Blogs And Podcasts
Wikis Are A Weird Name For Collaboration, N’est Çe Pas?
Social Networks, User Communities: Who Loves Ya, Baby?
Movin’ And Groovin’: The Use Of Mobile Devices
The Collaborative Value Chain
Sales And Marketing: The Customer Is The Right Subject
Customer Service Is Our Name—and Our Game
The Difference:crm,the Public Sector,and Politics
Soa For Poets
At Home Or In The Clouds-and In Open Spaces Between
Big Picture,big Strategies
Mapping The Customer Experience
Process And Data Go Together Like…crm Operations
Value Given,value Received
When You Buy The Application,you Buy The Vendor,though You Don't Implement Him
Waving To The Future
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