Archives for October 2009

Where’s Customer Service in the web design process?

I guess this idea boiled up to the surface as a result of the number of conferences and webinars I’ve recently attended on the subject.  That and the fact that I guess its my job to think about these things.  Things such as where customer service is heading; not next year or in five years but way out there.  Since my Magic 8 Ball seems to be on the fritz tonight, let’s focus on an opportunity for right here, right now. 

A logical place to start is with a definition.  What is web self service?  For purposes here, this is a pretty good definition.  Do you have something better?

To give this post a dash of credibility, I conducted a very unscientific review of 50 websites across various industries.  In over 70% of the cases where the website had some form of self service like FAQs, the most predominant feature of the ‘customer service’ or ‘contact us’ tab was the company’s 800 number.

So whats the message?  “We gave a cursory pass at a self service feature here, but its most likely not going to answer your question.  So here’s the phone number.  You’re going to end up calling us anyway”

On the topic, I had a really interesting discussion recently with the principals at S3 Integrity; a consulting and technology firm with a passion for self service and a focus on customer service as the key stakeholder in the development of technical solutions.

The guys at Integrity use the ATM analogy with me.  To effectively leverage the financial and operational benefits of web self service without sending your customers packing to the competitor, you have to do two things:

1. Make self service the most convenient channel through which to interact with your company so customers will be funneled to that channel.  Then,
2. Create an exceptional self service experience that is far superior to anything you will receive by dealing with a representative to keep customers coming back to it.

So, that got me thinking.  Customer service people know these two things implicitly.  So why isn’t customer service the owner of these projects across the board? 

Who cares about word of mouth? Its my brand!

Ever heard of a pop-up restaurant?  Until today, I hadn’t.  I admit I eat to live, rather than live to eat so I’m not a good barometer.  But, here’s how New York Magazine defines it.  I have heard of pop-up retailers, however.  The idea is to capitalize on the buzz created by a new store opening, ride the wave and then move on to another location in short order.  Restaurants are taking it to the extreme with one night stands based on location, theme or both.

So, after learning about the concept, I was left shaking my head at what is another example of a big company alienating a raving fan and doing its part to keep customer service in the dark ages under the guise of protecting a brand.

The owner of The Underground Restaurant, run out of her home in London, had been planning a Harry Potter themed pop-up night.  That is until Warner Brothers, the owners of the Harry Potter franchise got wind of it and wrote her a very formal, pseudo-threatening cease and desist letter; from its lawyers, of course.  

Here’s the best part of the letter. while we are delighted you are such a fan of the Harry Potter series, unfortunately, your proposed use of the Harry Potter properties, without our consent would amount to infringement of Warner’s rights”.  Translation: “We’re not delighted at all.  We’re actually irate that you would have the nerve to be so passionate about our brand.  So, we’re going to flex our corporate muscles, bully you into submission and drive you away.”  Dumb.  Just flat out dumb. 

In contrast, the restaurant owner hosted another pop up theme around a popular British product called Marmite.  That company sent the restaurant owner enough supply of its product to make all the dishes on the menu, FREE!  (psst…Warner Brothers.  Did you get that?  They embraced their loyal customer, joined the party and got some great free publicity)

So, which company is going to come out of this smelling better? (ok rhetorical question).  What a golden opportunity Warner Brothers missed to partner with a raving fan.   

How many times do these kind of stories need to surface before big companies and big brands get it?


How many times can you alienate a customer in one interaction?

Ok, I’m putting this right up front so you know what’s coming.  This is a rant. One with merit, in my totally bias opinion.  But, if you keep reading to the end, you judge and let me know if you think I’m out of line.  And if you stick with me, I’ll conclude with some constructive stuff.  A cool idea to avoid this whole mess in the future.

For those of you that are regular readers of my stories, you’ll know I try to be positive; report on positive experiences and give props to companies that do customer service right.  If you want a site full of customer complaints, head to The Consumerist.  With all due respect to them as they provide a valuable service, I just try to focus on the positive and offer actionable recommendations for customer service improvement.  So, enough with the justification. Here’s the headline:

USAirways baggage claim at Philadelphia International Airport is a disgrace.


After an eight day trip from Philadelphia to Tucson to Vegas, I arrived back home at around 11pm on flight 1750 and here’s what greeted my already cranky, tired worn out self

The plane parked at terminal A and my car was parked in terminal C.  So, the baggage handlers had no control over that.  But, is it too much to ask to return to the same terminal from which I departed?  Again, probably out of USAir’s control but it just set the tone for the rest of the story (I sound like a pissed off Paul Harvey – RIP).  Did I mention it was pouring rain and terminals A and C don’t connect indoors in Philadelphia? 

I get to baggage claim in terminal A and nowhere is my flight listed on any of the carrousel monitors.  so I assume its the one with all the people standing around it looking as clueless as me.

I wait

I wait some more

I wait until all the bags are gone, the carrousel has stopped and there is just me and one baggage rep left in the area

I ask him where my bag is.  “If you want it, go to terminal C or too bad”. (alienation #1)

So I’m irritated but I rationalize that its ok because that’s where my car is parked anyway.

I walk outside, in the rain, to terminal C

Inside the baggage claim office were three claims reps.  I hand my claim ticket over, granted, with a bit of an attitude,   And I ask for them to do what it takes to get me my bag.  I’m going home.

As one representative looks up my info, her colleague tells her “you can’t file a claim yet.  you have to wait ten minutes”

“Wait ten minutes!?! Are you kidding me?” I snapped back

“Its policy” (alienation #2)

First rep looks up and says “You better lose the attitude”  (alienation #3)

First rep tosses the ticket back in my direction and says “Its right out there!” – (alienation #4)

“Out where?” I asked

“Right out there on carrousel 1”

    Oh right. I should have known that my bag would have come up on a different carrousel than the rest of the entire flight…in a different terminal.  My mistake. I waited another 10 minutes.  My bag came out.  I went home. 

    So what’s the answer?  Apparently for me, its 4 times.

    The cool stuff:  technology can make this whole, all-to-common problem go away; along with the fine folks with whom I had to deal.  Build me “Bag Tracker”.  Every bag gets scanned several times enroute.  Give me the ability to track my bag at a kiosk, from the web and give me an iPhone app.  As soon as I get off the plane, I should be able to know if my bag made it on the plane and if its made it back off the plane and at what baggage carrousel I can find it.  If my bag is lost or misdirected, let me tell the airline what course of action I want through the application. 

    USAirways, please take the idea.  Run with it.  Show me this stuff matters.  The last technology innovation airlines offered customers was on line check in.  How long ago was that?  There is so much more to be done to improve the experience.

    Is this really the most convenient bank in America

    Ted Coine calls himself a customer service crash test dummy.  While this blog relays customer service experiences I and others have along our journey through life.  Ted actually goes out and tries to get himself bloodied intentionally; all for our entertainment and learning.  Thats why I’m draw to read his stuff.  He’s like a customer service super hero.

    So, recently Ted has been talking about his experiences at TD Bank- “the most convenient bank in America”, a tag line they claimed as their own when they acquired Commerce Bank.  Funny, since TD stands for Toronto Dominion.  Anyway, in the latest installment Ted was looking to show how TD Bank is addressing one of the biggest issues in the banking industry today.  And, no its not Ken Lewis’ weekly take home pay.  Its hidden fees. 

    Two lessons I took from Ted’s experience
    1. If you have to drive across the state of Florida to get to your bank, can it really claim to be the “most convenient”?

    2. Banks look more like Ticket Master than what JP Morgan intended; adding no value and charging fees for the prviledge of doing business with them

    Lets face it folks, banks are a mess.  And their reputations are in an even worse place than reality.

    Get back to the basics.  Take deposits, pay a fair return to depositors.  Loan money and charge a fair interest rate to borrowers.  Now that would be convenient.  Don’t you think?

    “My Pleasure” – The passion behind the words

    I was just recently at the JW Marriott Starr Pass resort in Tucson AZ for a Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals (SOCAP) conference, so its appropriate that I comment on a great experience I had because of these two words – “my pleasure”.

    The theme of the conference was all about social CRM and leveraging emerging channels to provide customer service.  The best lesson I learned from the conference however was from a waiter at breakfast on my final day.  I sat by myself enjoying the sun rise over Tucson so I guess I was more in tuned than I might have been otherwise, had I been accompanied.

    At each interaction with my waiter, he would respond to my requests or my ‘thank you’ with ‘my pleasure’.  And I didn’t really notice it until about two thirds through my meal.  But, then it sunk in.  He would use that phrase each time he came to my table; appropriately by the way.  And he really meant it!

    Then I decided to really pay attention.  And I realized it wasn’t the words.  It was the sincerity behind the words.  He truly believed it was his pleasure to serve me; to provide great service.  Like any person-to-person interaction, it was his actions and behaviors that made the words have meaning.  That’s what made me take notice.  I’m thinking now as I write this that, even if I hadn’t been in tune to it, if I was with a companion and focused on something else, those words and the service that was delivered with them would have subconsciously elevated the experience.

    In customer service, we spend huge amounts of time and money training people on the right words to say, and even how to say them.  And, I assume my waiter had some great customer service training upon joining Marriott.  But, this experience confirmed something we probably all understand at some level.  You can’t teach passion.  You can’t train people to love what they do.  It’s that passion that made those words have impact. 

    As a customer service leader, the challenge you have to solve is how to identify that passion up front in the hiring process; even in its most subtle forms.  And then, build an organization and culture that nurtures it and fuels the fire.  

    My first Twitter customer service experience – well done @Linkedin

    I had heard the rumors; read the stories about Comcast and Best Buy but hadn’t had the experience of being on the receiving end of a Twitter-initiated customer service exchange….until recently.
    Background: I recently migrated to Firefox (yes, I realize I was a little slow on the uptake on moving from IE to Firefox.  But it was on my work laptop so I sort of had an excuse).  After the migration, one of my first activities was to check my LinkedIn account and connect with a few new business contacts.  I was getting errors in completing the process and realized that the technical FAQs on LinkedIn suck. So I threw a tweet out there to @LinkedIn.  And presto! It worked.
    @LinkedIn responded within 30 minutes.  And very effectively moved the conversation off line and solved my problem.  Actually I solved the problem as it was a Firefox issue.  I tweeted my satisfaction and they @replied.  Point being they demonstrated an effective social CRM process of moving the on line interaction, off line to solve the problem.
    Seems like basic basic.  But thats the point.  It seems like many companies I talk to are over analyzing, over complicating and over stressing about social CRM.  Heed the words of Nike.  Just do it.

    Caili AAA has the blow out on customer’s flat tire

    Thanks so much to Christina Bentley for the guest post (@CBentelyTXGirl)

    One rainy Saturday afternoon about two weeks ago, my sister takes my oldest niece into San Francisco to shop for school clothes.  Somewhere along the 101 North just inside the San Francisco city limits, one of the tires on her Nissan Murano blows out. Somehow, in the sleep-deprived haze of  6 years of motherhood, she managed to get the car into the left shoulder of the freeway.

    Her first call is to California AAA for assistance.  The customer service rep advises the membership has expired, even though her card clearly states the membership is valid through February 2010.  It Seems CAA delivers updated membership cards about 45 days in advance of the membership expiring, assuming the member will send in a renewal; my brother-in-law must have forgotten.

    Vowing to throttle her husband later, my sister asks if she can pay the membership fee over the phone and get assistance.  No, CAA doesn’t do that.  The best they can do is contact California Highway Patrol (CHiPs!) on her behalf.


    At lease this was only a flat tire, not a disastrous accident on the freeway.  Thank whatever higher power you choose, sister and the kiddo were safe.  But what the hell kind of service model is AAA implementing these days when it seems riddled with every possible obstacle or reason to NOT provide service during one of the most universally stressful situations: car trouble. I don’t doubt that a lot of people will contact AAA with car trouble, and expect to start a new membership to get service.  But no options for a current member with a recently lapsed membership to renew immediately?  I don’t get it …

    Fast-forward through one incredibly nice California Highway Patrol officer and one incredibly overpriced and scammy tow-truck driver to the local Nissan dealership in Mountain View. My sister phoned ahead to let them know her car with flat tire (and possibly damaged wheel) will be arriving sometime in the next couple of hours, and would they be around?  “Of course, when will you be here, do you need us to contact a tow-truck for you, I’m sure your daughter is really upset can we prepare anything for her?”

    Total 180 from CAA.  The Nissan dealer gets it: anticipated her needs, set expectations, empathetic to her situation, and went above and beyond what most of us expect as typical service from a car dealership.  When they arrived, the folks at the dealership were waiting with a snack for my niece, coffee for my sister, took the car in immediately to change the tire and had them on their way home in less than an hour.

    Two very different service models for one very common problem: who do you call when your car breaks down or you blow a tire in the middle of the 101 North?