Archives for February 2011

Socialology 101

So, before you click away from here thinking this is a rehashing of the social CRM definition debate, stop.  It’s not.

After I was awoken by my son last night at 2:15am, I laid back down and this thought popped into my head.  I tossed and turned until five this morning, spinning it over and over and hoping I didn’t fall asleep where the thought would be lost.  I suppose I could have gotten up and wrote this post then, but, hey I don’t have a white board in my bedroom.

So for argument’s sake, lets start with Paul Greenberg’s definition of social CRM:

“…the company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation”

Ok, as some of you might know, I’m a technologist.  I build stuff.  But, the problem is I can’t build a “response”.  Then I had a vision…at 2:15am.  And, because I’m a right-brained techie (a rare breed), this vision wasn’t an architecture diagram, it was of an open book.  A book as the platform.  And not this platform.  This platform:

Books contain stories.  So, this book is the platform for communicating and engaging; customer with customer, customer with brand.  Within those conversations are stories.

With me so far?

So what is contained within those stories?  What do we get out of books?  Knowledge, information, data.  This information about our customers, their wants, needs desires, is taken into our corporate brain.  And hopefully, we become smarter about those customers.  We get to know them better.  We establish a relationship based on mutual understanding.

Then what do we do with all that knowledge that our customers have shared with us through those stories and conversations?  We create stuff – products, services, solutions and experiences.  And, because that stuff is more relevant to our customers’ needs, those customers are happy customers….and they all do the wave in tribute to us.

Uh oh…have I just described good old CRM?

The Greatest Customer Service Letter Ever

This letter from came to me from my friend Christina Bentley and I just had to share it with you.

Why, you may ask, is this the greatest customer service letter ever?
1. The company knows its customers.  This approach wouldn’t work for Hart Schaffner Marx
2. They get that every touch point is a chance to enhance the customer experience; to engage.  Even a form letter doesn’t read like a form letter


Are Customers Just Plain Fickle?

I must admit.  Now I’m totally confused.  Or, maybe it’s not just me.  Or, maybe it’s not me at all.  Maybe it’s the customer that’s a bit confused.  Fickle maybe a more appropriate term?

There have been reams and reams of studies, blogs and articles reporting customers’ sentiment in general about the sorry state of customer service across the board.  In many of those writings, the customer has indicated a strong preference for self service.  And, the trend towards that preference is growing rapidly, due to many factors such as demographic shifts.  But, as important, is the feeling that, if live customer service stinks and, like a box of chocolates, you never know what or who or from what remote corner of the world you’re gonna get, people would just as soon have a DIY option.

Now granted, self service has had a rocky history as well.  By no means is it optimized.  Just look at the track record of bank ATMs.

Then along came a question posted on LinkedIn from my friend Justin Flitter. who asked:

“What will customer service and a great customer experience look like in 5 or 10 years?”

And the responses Justin received confounded me.  They all fall into the bucket of, in Justin’s words, “robotic, impersonal customer service must die”.  Well, I can’t argue with that.  And, I think this is a hangover from the less-than-stellar deployment of self service options to-date.  A couple other quotes from Justin’s post:

“I predict that high-tech over high touch will experience a severe consumer back-lash.  The self service, online transaction with little to no human contact will reach a tipping point of frustration”

“Self service transactions completely void of any human interaction and IVR…once seen as innovations in customer support, are now the bane of customers”

So, wait.  Live customer service stinks.  Self service stinks.  Now what the hell do we do?

Here’s what I read into all of this.  Is it that we as customers don’t know what we want?  Well, not exactly.  We know we want a great experience when we interact with a brand.  I think that’s the underlying message.  As for how we get it, I think that’s the part where we collectively as customers are grasping at straws out of pure frustration.  If self service rocked, studies have shown that people would prefer that.  It combines the great experience we desire with ultimate control, which by the way, enhances the experience for many.  Unfortunately, there are only a handful of companies that have solved this equation.

Here’s the deal folks.  That train has left the station and it ain’t coming back.  Self service provides huge cost benefits to companies.  And, it will continue to be a strategic focus in terms of customer service channel development.  Because, high-touch human capital-based service costs dough.  A lot of dough.  Who’s going to pay for that? 

There is a balance that needs to be struck, however.  As Amazon has done, its based on a three-part strategy, the combination of which I believe offers the best win-win for companies and customers.

First, redefine the role of the traditional customer service function in the enterprise.  Make its mission to identify and fix the broken processes that drive, as Bill Price from Amazon calls them, “dumb contacts”.  These are the product defects, billing & shipping errors and other upstream flaws that drive unnecessary volume into customer service, stretching it beyond its capacity and forcing the function to focus on wringing efficiency out of its own processes rather than on delivering world-class service.

Next, focus on developing world-class self service and community based support channels that give customers that combination of flexibility, satisfaction and the sense of control.

Finally, invest in agent-based channels that focus on high-touch contacts that truly demand that level of service and engagement.

From a cost perspective, this is the only way companies can consistently justify and provide the level of high-touch, human capital-based customer service that it appears some folks are after.