Archives for August 2010

Measure Twice. Cut Once.

This is one of those times where delay (you call it procrastination. I call it unforeseen schedule conflict) is a good thing.  I heard this story on NPR several days ago about Groupon’s local web-based marketing program.  And I was all ready two days ago to run here to comment. 

My initial take was somewhat in line with Fast Company’s review, in which they portrayed Groupon and other such local and location-based services like Foursquare as evil predators feeding on the weak consumer, powerless to resist a good deal.  Then, while I was tending to other my other chores, Ron Shevlin was writing his take.  And, as he usually does, Ron helped me rethink the issue.  Fast Company totally sensationalized the issue.  Groupon is not running a “scheme” or “classic marketing trick”.  They’re providing a service.  So, what’s the real issue?

From a customer experience perspective, the real danger with such marketing programs, that seem to be producing wildly successful results so far, is that they are getting in the wrong hands.  Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.  For The Gap, with the infrastructure, logistics and operational capacity to handle such overwhelming demand, there really is no problem.  But for small businesses like East Coast Aero Club or Red Velvet Cupcakery, sorry to say, but they’re out of their league. 

The failure of these two companies was not in the execution of the marketing campaign, but in their failure to plan.  I understand its a tough economy.  And businesses of all sizes are looking for customers where ever the can find them.  But, this story isn’t new.  Its a classic case of short term revenue focus, sacrificing the long term customer experience.  Let’s connect the dots:

Short term revenue focus, leads to

Overwhelming campaign response from what is most likely a larger percentage of one-time buyers, leads to

Insufficient production/delivery capacity to satisfy demand, leads to

Disappointed new customers, leads to

Increased demand for customer service and support, leads to

Alienated long-term loyal customers, leads to

“Redvelvetsux.com”

Measure twice.  Cut Once.  Grow your revenue as fast as you possibly can.  Just make sure you plan for success.  Customers rarely give you a second chance to get it right.

Does Influence Matter in Customer Service?

No.  My opinion of that was solidified last week thanks to a band of wikid smat (translated: “really smart” for you non-Bostonians) people led by Wim Rampen.  Wim tossed some tweet chum out there last week with this: 

This whole search for influencers and influence doesn’t sit right with me…what are your thoughts?

I took the bait.  And, this started a fascinating twitter chat about this complex, multi-dimensional issue.  My response was: 

I’m in customer service. I don’t care about influence. Customer has a problem, gotta fix it.

Do we ask callers who they know before we provide service?  Do we respond to emails with “I’d be happy to help you if you could first tell me how many twitter followers you have and how many people subscribe to your RSS feed”.  Of course not.  Being a bottom line kind of person, this is where I jumped to.  But, as others like Prem Kumar, Brian Vellmure and Mitch Lieberman pointed out, it’s complicated.

While I think we are all in agreement, each of these folks came at the topic from slightly different angles.  And there are many.  Case in point:  based on a recent article about Delta Airline’s use of Twitter for customer service, Mitch saw it this way.  Wim pondered the validity of influencers in general in a post that stimulated a great discussion.  Eric Jacques also weighed in.

So you can clearly see, it’s an issue with many moving parts.

My point is this.  Customers need service.  That part is simple.  So, I stand by my assertion that I don’t care about influence.  That is not to say, however, that every customer gets the same white glove level of service treatment every time, all the time.  Economic realities and scarcity of resources dictate that, in order to deliver a superior service experience, many organizations have a need to segment their customers for treatment.  But, what possible value is created by making those segmentation decisions based on influence?  According to Wim, he’s already witnessing this practice.  It’s even more insane in my mind to use this criteria over or in place of other measures like CLV, profitability or loyalty.

So, as I commented to Wim over on CustomerThink, picture this scenario:

Average Joe Consultant, who’s a Delta million miler and flies them exclusively, gets bumped from a flight, is disconnected from hold after 15 minutes or is charged cancellation fees or made to swipe his credit card to use the head because special treatment is being given instead to someone who tweets his request instead of calls, has 5 million followers but has never flown Delta before.

What if that was you, Joe?

…and now for something completely different

There are so many smart folks thinking and blogging and tweeting and consulting and advising every day about customer service and the customer experience; each with a different angle and point of view.  Collectively, all these ideas and concepts, suggestions and action plans surely give anyone charged with this responsibility in their organization the ammo to move the ball forward toward whatever goals they’ve established.  I get so many good ideas myself from the many people I respect and sources I trust.  So, I’m thinking.  Is it too much information?

How does an average brain like mine digest all this great information, consolidate it and make the determination of what will actually move the ball in my business?  Then again, is that what I’m really after?  Moving the ball down the field?  Am I a singles hitter?  Or should I be swigging for the fence? Ok, so if I go for a home run, I know I’m going to strike out more often. So what.  (sports analogies exhausted for now)

So, how about something completely different?  You say you want a revolution?  Well, I’m thinking its high time.  What was the last revolution in the customer experience?  In customer service?  Is it social media?  It might enable a revolution.  But, by itself?  No.  Customer communities? Until superusers unionize and go on strike.  Self service? It’s been here a while and it still basically stinks in many cases.

You want a real revolution?  You truly want to turn your organization on its head?  Inject some radical thinking into the board room?  Make analysts and shareholders sit up and take notice?

Promote your head of customer service, whatever that title is today – Chief Customer Officer, SVP of Customer Service, Director of Customer Support.

Make him or her your next CEO.

Who Needs Customer Service Anyway?

One group that shouldn’t is our customers.

Now, I’m not talking about customer engagement, service delivery or the customer experience in general.  What I mean is the first thing people usually think about when they think about customer service – “the call center”.  That phone number you have to call when something went awry.

What customers need and want are companies to satisfy their specific issues.  I’ve been reading a bunch lately about service-dominant logic thanks to folks like Wim Rampen and Graham Hill.  It is an experience economy.  Customers don’t buy products or services.  They exchange something for something.  Most often, its money in exchange for satisfaction of a specific need or issue.  A car satisfies emotional needs, ego needs and the need to get from point A to point B; among others.

So, while I’m hearing much lately about customer service becoming the new marketing, I take issue with this for a couple of reasons.

First, this statement assumes as fact that “customer service” is a function or department, connected to which is usually a call center.  It discounts the real value of customer service as a business strategy, a corporate philosophy and a culture that permeates an enterprise.  And, so this leads to issue number two.

Companies that have a deep-rooted foundation in a customer-service oriented culture focus on the customer experience.  That experience starts with the very first interaction with the brand; through advertising, word-of-mouth, entering a store or any other of myriad methods by which customers get introduced to brands.  This process often starts even before a need is identified by the customer that requires attention.  Many of these companies consider it actually a failure of the experience delivery if a customer need the customer service department.

This failure, in those companies that really understand the drivers of customer satisfaction, loyalty and superior experience, represent an opportunity to do something; to fix a problem internally.

What customer service (in the departmental sense) should focus on evolving into is the hub for business process reengineering within the company.  Yes, good old BPR.  I’m sure some of you remember Michael Hammer from B-School.  His claim was that most of the work being done in an organization (answering customer calls) does not add any value for customers.  And, this work should be removed rather than accelerated through automation – where we spend most of our “BPR” efforts within the four walls of the contact center.

Start with this.  Run a simple report from your contact center CRM system on contact reason codes.  How many of them say things like “billing inquiry” or “shipment error” or “product spoiled/damaged”.  Those codes mean there is something going on elsewhere in the company that is causing that customer to need customer service, to pick up the phone.  I know many contact centers produce these reports and distribute the information.  But, how many actually take ownership of these issues. 

What’s the potential impact, both in real dollars and on the customer experience if customer service became the new corporate BPR consultants rather than the new marketing?

Run that CRM report, and I think you’ll have your answer.

(oh, and read Bill Price’s book The Best Service is No Service. He’s the authority on this subject)

Twitter Follow Friday #9: Defending the Tribe

So, I had my (most) weekly post ready to go on Friday; with recommendations for other folks with whom I’ve connected and think you should too.  A series of events at the end of last week however gave me pause and made me put that on hold in favor of this.

This whole social media thing is based on a couple of simple themes in my opinion: trust, collaboration and mutual respect (not my themes, but ones others like @ThisIsSethsBlog and @ChrisBrogan have demonstrated that I buy into).  25 years in business and I’ve longed for the day when these principles permeate more of our business culture.  Just like in any area however, there is bad behavior; shameless self-promotion, taking more than giving and thinking too short term and myopically.  Misguided, some of it well-intentioned but still, misguided.  Some of this bad behavior is a result of growing pains.  I get that.  We’re all still trying to figure this thing out.  @BrentLeary wrote a post about some of these learning curve missteps that we’ve probably all been guilty of at one time or another.

On the other hand though, there is behavior, whether on Twitter, other social sites, in business or in our personal lives, that just has no place and shouldn’t be tolerated; whatever the justification, valid or otherwise that drove one to such a point.  I had a front row seat to such a scenario last week.  And, while I’m not going to throw fuel on any fires, nor do I seek to turn anyone’s retribution on me, I want to use this forum to recognize a community of which I’m honored to be a part.

The #custserv hashtag community on Twitter has evolved as one of the most active.  And the weekly Tuesday night gatherings to discuss various topics related to customer service have been collaborative, sharing and open to anyone with an interest in the subject, regardless of expertise, resume or credentials.  Within this group, a core contingent of folks demonstrated this past week how to professionally defend your tribe against bad behavior.  And for that, you should follow them all:

@JeffreyJKingman

 @MarshaCollier

@RoyAtkinson

@TedCoine

@KnowledgeBishop

@RussLoL

@mommysbazaar

@action_jay

@ajbombers

@ty_sullivan

@JoeSorge

@Shelly_v3

Heck, follow the entire #custserv crew.  Even if customer service isn’t your  thing, if you share the same values as I’ve tried to describe here, these folks are definitely your thing.