Moving Pictures

Any Rush fans out there? Well, if you are, I’m sorry to disappoint. This post is not a transcript of Neil Peart’s YYZ drum part. What it is in fact is a cry for help.

Search “customer service is the new marketing” and Google will feed you back about a half a billion results. Its not a new topic. But I’ve always been more concerned with the subtext of the sentiment. It just screams of the inferiority complex many customer service organizations exhibit within their corporate ecosystem.

A cure for this sense of feeling like the corporate doormat is innovation. Customer service doesn’t usually outrank marketing on the innovation front. But there’s still hope. And the white night is video. In light of twitter’s release of Periscope this week, It seems like a great time to revisit this topic.

Video is driving greater transformation in the way brands engage with their customers. Its engaging, personal and social. And the landscape of tools available is expanding rapidly. So, why aren’t more customer service organizations leveraging it as part of their engagement strategy?

Five Years Retrospective on Social Customer Care

Five years seems like a good milestone to reflect on the impact social media has had on how brands respond to and engage their customers to deliver customer care. Guy Stephens asked some of the leading thinkers on the topic to offer their perspective on what’s transpired and what frontiers are still to explore. Find the eBook here.

Share in the comments whether you think this group got it right

Ten Customer Experience Prediction Posts from 2013

UnknownYes, I know.  This is the time of year…or it was actually last month…for the flood of articles and posts predicting what will happen in the upcoming year.  In every field and endeavor, prognosticators are dusting off their crystal snowballs to give us their perspective on what we should expect in the twelve months ahead.

But I’m not much of a bold, big splash predictor kind of guy.  At the same time, I’m not one who spends a lot of time looking back or dwelling in the past, good or bad.  My approach is more observational.  I take in what I see.  And I set my agenda for what I need to do to stay on the crest of the wave; to continue to create value for those around me.

To know where you’re going, though, it is vital to understand where you’ve been.  If the path you’ve set for you or your business is in dramatic contrast to where you’ve just come from, then how you will get there will be radically different than if that path is just a straight line continuation of your current trajectory.

So, in that light, its always interesting to see how close or distant future projections came to the reality, now that that reality is in the books.  This isn’t to suggest who is any better or worse at reading the tea leaves.  But as interesting reading, here is a list in no particular order of ten of those prediction posts about customer experience and customer service from 2013.

My observation about 2013 predictions, as with most such articles, is that they were all directionally fairly accurate.  And, none of what I’ve read from late 2012/early 2013 is nearly complete.  Its all still an evolving work in process.  And at the same time, these predictions are all general and painted with a broad enough brush as to not provide any secret recipe to follow to the letter.  The hard work still remains in taking such information in as guideposts and implementing what creates value for your specific customer.

So how’d they do?

5 Reasons Why WestJet Trumps Mortons

Maybe you remember.  Or, more likely you don’t.  Unless you happen to be waist-deep in the customer experience profession and follow the variety of hashtags on the topic on twitter.  Or, you might have come across the story on Flipboard or other such aggregator app.  In any case, I’m referring to what was at the time being promoted as The Greatest Customer Service Story Ever Told.  The tale of how a high profile customer experience consultant and author tweeted to Morton’s Steakhouse to bring him a steak at an airport.  And…they did.

And it was a really cool story, no doubt.  But, the opinion I held two years ago, that this was not even close to the greatest customer service experience, is still my opinion today.  A great PR stunt?  Absolutely.  But, there are a multitude of reasons why it was in no way an example by which other brands could or should model their customer experience design.  Why?  Hold that thought.

Flash forward two years to last week.  Along came Westjet, a Canadian airline, to trump Morton’s and Mr Shankman in spades.  Westjet pulled off a Christmas surprise for passengers on one of its flights that was off the charts.  So, while I don’t necessarily believe Westjet earned the title of Greatest Customer Service Story either, here’s five reasons why it is so much more worthy of praise and a special place in the Customer Service Hall of Fame.

5.  Westjet’s gift was unsolicited:  Unlike the Morton’s story, nobody on that Westjet flight made any request remotely resembling what they received from the airline.  Surprise, or as my friend Stan Phelps has spent years documenting Lagniappe, has such a profound and long-lasting impact on the recipients that the financial return is equally profound.  Also, because Westjet’s gesture was unprovoked, there was almost zero downside.  If they did nothing, no foul.  If Morton’s didn’t respond, who knows what fall out could have transpired from the wrath of a disrespected social media star.

4. Westjet wasn’t catering to a famous, influential personality:  I have no idea who made up the manifest of that Westjet flight.  But, since I haven’t seen any blog posts or tweets from any social media customer service rock stars that they were a party to it, its safe to assume that the hundred and change passengers were just regular joes trying to get from point A to point B.  As for downside, see #5 above.

3.  Westjet directly touched about a hundred or so more lives than Morton’s:  While we can argue the merits of catering to digital influencers and the positive network ripple effect that can have for a brand. there is no denying that, online or off, there is a multiplier effect at play here.  Word of mouth is undeniable.  And in a time when consumers are as cynical as ever, word of mouth from your neighbor or co-worker still carries more weight than from the dude with the Klout score of 80.  Who is going to realize a greater return on its investment?

2.  Westjet’s “stunt” required significantly greater investment in time, money and resources:  None of this post is meant in anyway as a slight against Morton’s.  I happen to be a fan.  And, what they did for Mr Shankman was awesome.  However, it was largely conceived and executed by a very savvy group of local employees at one restaurant in New Jersey.  Westjet’s gift required far-reaching resources, investment in technology (the bar code scan match of the passenger manifest was at the core of the plan), and planning and commitment from so many more people within the organization, including I assume from some very senior executives that had to put their necks on the line to pull this off.

1.  And none of what I’ve described in 5 through 2 above would be possible without a pre-existing, broad culture and commitment to delighting customers, regardless of who those customers are.  As I said in #2, while both stories are more PR stunts than anything, the breadth and reach of resources required to pull off Westjet’s stunt demonstrates the core, baseline culture required for any organization to sustain customer centricity over the long haul.


The Real Reason Social Media Has Changed Customer Service

imagesI may as well fire this shot over the bow right from the starting gate: Customer service as an enterprise business function hasn’t changed all that much in the 30 years since the introduction of ACD (automated call distribution) technology. This is when it became practical and cost effective to deliver customer service at massive scale.

For the ensuing three decades or so, the overall focus of customer service has been centered on responding to customer issues with greater efficiency, greater scale, and greater speed at lower and lower cost.

There’s no doubt there has been noticeable innovation in technology and in the introduction of expanding communications channels through which to deliver the service. That includes social channels such as Facebook, Twitter, community forums, and other peer-to-peer networking sites.  And there have certainly been shining examples of companies that do customer service better than the rest.

But the point is that it’s the same service, the same function, driven by the same mission and measured by the same performance metrics as a generation ago.

The Tipping Point

Customer service is at a tipping point. Real change is needed. Real change is possible. Real change is being demanded.  And social media is the catalyst for this change. And, trust me when I say, I’m not a hype advocate, zealot, nor pushing any social media agenda. For as knee deep as I am in social media, I’m probably more pragmatic than most when it comes to adoption and business value, particularly in huge, risk-averse enterprises.

That said, social media is driving profound change in social consciousness, political debate, medicine, government oversight, and virtually every other aspect of human endeavor. The reasons why social media is so able to affect change differ in all these scenarios. But one thing they all have in common is this; the veil of secrecy has been obliterated. And information, accurate or not, now proliferates at the speed of light.

So what does change look like for customer service? While the tactical components are many, and those are probably worth exploring in followup posts, they can all be summed up this way.

Social media is the catalyst to move customer service from efficient reaction to value-creating proactivity

I’ve tried to test this overarching paradigm shift against every conceivable example. Every element of customer service as we generally know it today fits: enterprise strategic mission, engagement strategy, operational KPIs, interaction flows, knowledge management, financial measures, talent & skill development, data management, analytics, channel mix, workforce management. And, that’s just a partial list.

Is there anything I missed? Is there some element of customer service as we know it today that doesn’t fit this paradigm? Or am I truly in denial about my zealotry? Tell us about it below.

Syndicated, Social & Customer Service Data

Social-Media-InsightsSpencer Geren, my friend and big data evangelist, made a compelling case for the incremental value created by augmenting syndicated data in Consumer Packaged Goods with social web data.  In Spencer’s example, social data provides the opportunity to understand the “why” behind the sales and consumption numbers.

As background, Dion Hinchcliffe made a very good baseline case here for the value created by combining big data and social media.

While you can make the argument that this root cause level data is already available via customer surveys, focus groups and other such methods, there are key differentiators that make the pursuit of Spencer’s concept worth the investment.  A few differentiators that this strategy provides include:

  • Unsolicited vs solicited consumer feedback: unsolicited feedback especially peer-to-peer, gathered via social chatter is more authentic.  And, by not forcing answers to specific questions, potentially leads to unexpected yet more valuable insights. 
  • Timeliness of insights: social data provides a source of more real-time feedback to brands compared to the typical time delay associated with syndicated data alone.  Actions taken in that time compressed state can translate into significant sales and market share impact.
  • Why is always more actionable than What: As Spencer noted in his piece, social data provides insights on the behaviors and real-time reactions that will drive the consumption numbers in the future.

So, as a customer service guy, I of course look at this issue through that lens.  Multi-channel customer service data provides even greater value along those three elements above.  Multi-channel customer service data, by definition:

  • Is unsolicited
  • Is timely
  • Provides the insight into customer behavior

The point here is two-fold.  First, marketers and market researchers should be tapping into this customer service data as a value added tool in their quest to predict future customer behaviors.  Secondly, as I argued in my recent post on’s blog, customer service as an enterprise function has the opportunity to use social, multi-channel and other big data sets to reinvent itself from traditional reactive processes to a proactive deliverer of customer insights.

Microvideos. What Are They Good For?

This week’s guest post is from my good friend Seth Goldstein.  Seth is an Internet and social media marketing pinoeer based in the Philadelphia area. You can find him online in most places, but mostly on Google+ and Twitter.

imgresInstagram Video and Vine are locked in a massive battle for the hearts and minds of social media users.

Both services offer the ability to record small clips of video and post it online via their individual apps. Instagram Video gives its users 15 seconds, about the length of a short commercial, and Vine allows for 6 seconds. Now you’re probably wondering what you could do in 15 and 6 seconds respectively. A lot. You can do stop motion videos, you can do quick tips, you can record memories and even current events.

But, despite these possibilities, what are microvideos really good for? I was a bit a bit skeptical when Vine made it to Android and Instagram soon followed. I saw some neat stuff being created, but I also saw a lot of really boring, dull and stupid stuff. It took me a few weeks of seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly to finally come up with some good uses for microvideos.

Instagram Video, with it’s 15 seconds recording time, is just enough time to engage with users. It allows for a complete thought in bite sized chunks. I’ve seen it being used by photojournalists in North Korea, giving outsiders a look into this reclusive society. I’ve seen videos of the protests in Egypt. I’ve also see stupid videos of people’s cats sleeping.

There are definite uses for these services. It’s how people use then that either makes or breaks their brand.

Speaking of brands.  Both Vine and Instagram Video are great for brands to branch out and show their customers and potential clients what they’re all about in a bit sized chunks of multimedia.

Companies can use both services to show their creative side, events, offices, and personality.

Vine is better for stop motion videos. So brands need to think about what they can do that will make their Vine videos pop. On Instagram brands can expound more and can because of that be less disjointed. You can tell more of a story.

Regardless of the service, microvideos are here and will probably be around for a while as a tool for both the marketer, journalist and average user to use and build on.

Through the Lens of a Social Customer

[The following is a guest post by my friend and colleague John McCabe.  John gives an honest, no fluff look into how consumers really view brands and the experiences they deliver to their consumers.  We should all listen closely.]

imagesSo, I am sitting here thinking about my daily customer experience & interactions. What is it that I like? What do I dislike that will completely turn me off from your brand?

  1. First, I am a social consumer.  In other words I love being social. For example, when I begin a search to contact a company, there are some things that immediately get me “hooked”.  If the company offers me multiple options aimed at my convenience, I am intrigued, excited, and genuinely grateful that they understand that not everyone operates on a 9 to 5 schedule.   If I can contact a brand 24 x 7 by a live person answering the phone (yes, I do occasionally make phone calls) and the representative answering the phone is able to resolve my issue, I will make it a point to give that company more business.  In addition, if I can Tweet, text, IM, share, your company has it figured out.  Also, I will tell my  friends and family about your company and provide a very positive post on a host of various social platforms.  To all of those companies that allow me to interact with you on a 24-hour basis, I deeply thank you!
  2. To those companies who are the opposite of that which I described above, as a conscientious consumer, I will conversely post my feelings on a host of social platforms. Remember that old adage “a happy customer tells a friend, but an angry customer tells everyone?”

To those of you confused brands, the ones who do not understand or are unwilling to change, I will choose not deal with you. In fact, I hope brands understand that they are serving me (and all consumers).  That I drive their success or failure.  And, that I will tell people via multiple channels about my experience.  Companies with antiquated customer service operations, offered between the convenient hours of 9 – 5 pm will not survive in a social market.

The genesis of this post was an interaction I recently had with a local produce market.  The store is open 24-hrs.  But their customer service was not.  I was perplexed by this situation.  If you’re going to be sell 24-hours, why not service your customers 24-hours? I was so baffled I won’t go back.  To be fair, I did speak to someone behind the so-called customer service counter. But they couldn’t resolve my issue.  Let us not mention their poor attitude and shock when I asked a question regarding organic products.  In response to my inquiry was a feeble “that is a separate & outside vendor, you would have to express your concerns with them”.  Let’s remember that when we choose to sell services and products, we are also responsible for all experience integration points.  In short, consumers are not difficult to please.  It just takes some understanding of the buyer’s journey in one’s respective market.

High Flying Customer Expectations

[From my post on blog]

imagesI had an experience with one of those in-flight Wi-Fi services a couple of weeks ago that got me thinking of the concept of meeting customer expectations versus exceeding them. And, is continually exceeding customer expectations sustainable?

I’ve been in the thick of enough Twitter chats, hangouts and customer experience think-tank kind of events to realize that the popular rhetoric is to stand on the desktop and revolt against any notion that contradicts exceeding customer expectations by a long shot; knocking their socks off; giving them x times the value they were actually seeking; and so on.

And, in fact, a friend of mine Stan Phelps has spent the better part of the past several years documenting little surprise acts of customer delight through his work at the Purple Goldfish Project. The stories of lagniappe he tells are truly special. Check them out.

Unintentional Customer Delight

But what happens when a customer is delighted in such a way that was unintentional? When a product or service was rendered that was the result of some error or an unsustainable process?

This is what happened to me with the Wi-Fi service. I’d used the service several times. And I was able to do pretty much whatever I wanted online, including stream Netflix to catch up on my obsession – The Walking Dead. This last time though, all that changed.

I proceeded with my online session like the times before. But this time, the service was poor. It was very slow. And several minutes into my session, the browser on my iPad froze. And, if you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, having your stream freeze in mid zombie attack stinks worse than the rotting flesh of those pesky walkers.

I logged off and back on and engaged in a customer service chat session where the agent, politely enough, noted that how I was using the service was not advisable. And, these activities, like streaming shows or YouTube, would cause the precise problems I was experiencing. It’s all right there on the login page, you know. Like I read that.

Ok, fine. But I was able to do all these things on my last trip, I explained. In response to which, I was told essentially that I got lucky. It was an anomaly. Unintentional. Unexpected.

Well, the problem is that this was now my expectation going in. I expected this level of service. This experience. Intentional or not. Sustainable or not. This was the bar that had been set. Now that was being taken away.

Now I get the fact that sometimes crazy errors happen. Like when your bank credits your checking account with a few million that isn’t yours. In those circumstances, it’s a reasonable person that would not expect to benefit from such an glitch. But, when the error is within the realm of reality but unsustainable, when it creates an expectation that a reasonable person would believe to be probable, and then is taken away, what then?

Managing vs Exceeding Customer Expectations

Here’s the thing about expectations. Human nature dictates that the more you provide, the more is generally expected. Forget about the erroneous benefits like I had in-flight. Are companies in fact training customers to expect more and more for the same or lower price? Is this a sustainable business model? In fact, is this a sustainable foundation for any relationship?

So, what’s the right answer? Continue to deliver experiences that are unexpected? Or, manage expectations? Under promise and over deliver? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

How Individuals Personally Impact Customer Experience

imgresI really relish the moments when the cosmos work in my favor, when the planets align.  This is one of those times.

I had an experience last night that I thought would make for a good story here.  But, I was struggling with the title.  What was the message?  Then, I saw a tweet from my friend Roy Atkinson announcing the topic for tonight’s #custserv twitter chat.  “How Do You (personally) Make a Real Difference with Customer Service”.  Worlds collided (in a good way).  Planets aligned.

I had my story.  I had my message.

So, how can individuals, whether they be employees or soloists, really impact the customer experience?  First of all, in my opinion, that’s the only way.  Customer experience is a person to person endeavor.  At any and all touch points along the customer/buyer journey, the connection between people is what the experience is based upon.  And, this is regardless of what function that individual is performing as part of the customer experience journey.  So, that being said, on with the story.

I usually end these types of posts with a question.  This time, lets start with a question.  Have you ever thought about how your hours of operation impact your customers’ experience?  More to the point, have you considered how much this constraint can negatively impact your customers’ experiences?  Even more, what criteria do you use to set your hours of operation?  And finally, how are your employees implementing that policy?  (ok, that’s four questions)

Here’s the point.  I was out and about with my family last night.  And after dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, we were on a mission to get long overdue haircuts for my son and my father-in-law.  We drove up to the place my son usually gets his style on, a national chain that will go nameless.  We saw that it was open until eight pm.  As it was currently 7:50, we parked the car and headed in.

Setting the scene.  Two stylists working, each with a customer in her chair.  As we walked in, they both looked up with clear expressions of displeasure on their faces.  As we made our way back to the reception counter, one of the employees left her styling post and quickly informed us that they were closing in ten minutes.  And, we could not be served.

Ten minutes.  They were closing in ten minutes.  Which means, according to my simple logic, they were still open for business.  Hours of operation were until eight o’clock.  It was ten minutes until eight.  Are you with me?  I don’t need to spell it out.  But, to complete the equation, what this encounter equalled was that we will not be returning to that particular establishment in the future.  And, while I’m not going to bash the national brand here, if a local should ask me, they will get my opinion.  Oh, and I can only assume, because hair stylists typically depend on tips for a portion of their income, that these two particular employees do what they do for the altruistic benefit of their unkempt fellow man.

So, when one thinks about how individuals can personally impact the customer experience, how about this?  They can put the customer at the center of everything they do.  They can give a hoot.  They can, at the very least, provide your customers the minimum service and value to which you have committed.

It’s not that complicated.