Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

Customer Service Begins and Ends in Social Media

social-customer-care-1The last decade has delivered a lot of evidence that the customer experience begins and ends in social media. The digital experience tends to sandwiches the actual in-store or online shopping portion of a purchase.

Expectations exist that if a customer has a question, inquiry or complaint that it will be satisfied on a popular social network. It has become a great risk for companies to not have a presence and be constantly monitoring.

The truth is, that no one is simply throwing complaints into the social media void. They are doing so to be heard and to in a sense be rewarded.

The reason social media can placate our need to be satisfied and appeased by those we give business to, is because as a digital user base we have grown accustomed to instant gratification.

A study by JD  Powers and Associate noted that two-thirds of US consumers reached out to a business through social media in 2013. This put businesses in a very public position where they had to respond and repair almost immediately.

This is not an easy climate for businesses to navigate in. There’s the requirement for resources and technology that can streamline this new customer service model. As of now, it is still heavily reliant on people monitoring almost 24/7.

The hidden issue beyond customer service is brand protection and users know how to use social media to push businesses’ buttons.

In fairness, for a long time businesses use to have their customers spend a long time on hold waiting for a service rep who may have not even been able to help. Call it customer retribution, with social media as the new equalizer.

if customer service was ultimately satisfactory across the board in the old model, then social media wouldn’t have taken over so quickly. It was needed and now it is necessary.

Getting Close to Customers is Easier Said Than Done

By John Sanchez


CloseToCustomersWith Sysomos hosting an upcoming event in San Francisco about the link between social media and customer intimacy, I’ve been thinking even more lately about what “customer intimacy” really means. And it occurred to me that the term is really just the latest incarnation of a time-honored approach to delivering great products and service: Get close to your customers.

During a recent leadership meeting, I asked a group of our executives to stand up, put a hand in the air and repeat the phrase “we’re getting closer to our customers” five times while turning in circles. I’m proud to report that some members of the team took to the exercise with great enthusiasm—predictably, they were the Sales folks. Finance was a bit less enthusiastic. HR played along, but they were keeping an eye on me.

When we completed the exercise, I asked everyone to put down their hands and look to their left and right. Then I asked: “So are we any closer to our customers?” I’m pretty sure it had the desired effect.

The concept of customer intimacy is not new. In fact, you’ll find a virtually endless array of research, books, case studies and testimonials on the topic. While I find it curious that there’s still an endless appetite for even more “new” and “original” thought on the topic when so much excellent work always exists, the main takeaway for me is this: customer intimacy remains incredibly relevant today because it’s an objective companies truly want and need to attain.

I’m familiar with enough of the research to frame up a discussion about customer intimacy using all the usual jargon. But I think it would be far more helpful to share a few practical lessons about what it really takes to pursue customer intimacy—based on what I’ve learned over the years simply by rubbing elbows with the people we in business call “customers.”

  1. A fish rots from the head. Leadership is a privilege, and leaders set the tone for the organization in a million different ways. In the end, every resource a company has stems from the good will—and patronage—of customers. Customers can take their business elsewhere for any reason at any time. A company’s most senior leaders must sincerely understand and humbly demonstrate their appreciation of customers if there is to be any hope of influencing front-line staff to walk their talk.
  1. Common sense is not common. We all intuitively seem to understand what if means to receive exceptional service and how it looks when we deliver it. Yet consistent execution against this standard is the exception, rather than the rule. The path to “that very hot place” in the world of customer experience is paved with the best intentions. It’s true that the best and most memorable service experiences feel spontaneous. But the accompanying reality is that extraordinary, branded customer experiences—the consistent, intentional, differentiated and valued experiences that delight customers so much they’re willing to pay a premium for them—are the product of meticulous planning and hard work.  Companies that enjoy intimacy with their customers and provide exceptional service understand that it doesn’t just “happen.” They’ve worked tirelessly to plan, build processes, track and measure in order to ensure that their product or service meets or exceeds expectations.
  1. Service starts at home. We can’t expect that an organization’s ability to deliver service to customers would exceed the degree to which it regards its own team members and supplier-partners. A leader who walks by a team member she sees every day and fails to acknowledge that person’s humanity probably expects that team member to answer every call professionally and cheerfully. If internal systems for reward and recognition, coaching and feedback, payroll, or benefits are lacking, it’s a good bet that many of the steps along the customer journey—such as new customer onboarding, product sales and service, invoicing, and all the background processes that support them—are flawed as well.
  1. All the lessons learned before kindergarten from people like Dr. Seuss still count. Laugh if you like, but “please” and “thank you” are still the magic words. And if you keep frowning like that, there actually is a chance that your face may stay that way forever. We can find a great deal of wisdom on how we should listen to and try to understand customers in the digital age by reading, re-reading and applying lessons from Horton Hears a Who. Moreover, Yertel the Turtle nicely lays out the consequences for leaders who don’t listen to their team members—and for companies who don’t listen to their customers.
  1. Customers’ needs are simple. Soon after I first started working at Harrah’s Casino, I was assigned the task of observing service levels at our famous seafood buffet—under the watchful eye of a mentor of mine named Paul. We were running a special promotion that night, so the place was packed, and there was a long line of customers waiting to be seated that was getting even longer. Paul, an experienced pit boss who had cut his teeth at the Flamingo back in the early 1960s, had a sharp eye and an even sharper tongue. He immediately saw the problem and motioned for me to help as he quickly stepped in to seat customers and get the line moving. Later on when the line cleared, he set me straight: “Kid, customers only want three things: perfect, now and free. We mostly ain’t going to give it to ‘em free, so we’d better do the other parts great.” There’s really nothing I can add to that.
  1. “Try, try again.” I intentionally left off the first part of this proverb (“if at first you don’t succeed”) because even if you do succeed, it will be fleeting. Just as perfection should never get in the way of better, good is the enemy of great. Customers, competitors, the environment and technology are in constant flux, so solutions must be agile enough to anticipate and quickly change.
  1. Technology evolves to serve people, so it should be used only if it helps your customers. This week, I interviewed a candidate for a role at Sysomos. He mentioned that before his day had even started, he found that he’d been invited to a pub event, noticed that someone had a poor experience on an airline, and discovered that many people were exchanging views about the abdication of the King of Spain. Our candidate received all of this information, and contributed his own perspectives, over social networks. For him, social media is second nature—it’s simply how he communicates. So user, beware: trying to leverage social networks to become intimate with customers before you’ve attended to the basics is like trying to e-mail before you’ve achieved a basic level of literacy. Even worse, it will reveal what you don’t know and increase the chances of poor communication.  What’s clear is the fact that social media makes it much more difficult to “fake it” if you are not committed to customer intimacy and service.

If you’ve read this far, you may be scratching your head, wondering: “How can it be this simple, especially given all of the continuing discussion on this topic?” You may even be tempted to discount these seven principles as obvious platitudes with no underlying value. But as Ockham’s razor tells us, in the absence of certainty, the simplest explanation is often the most apt.

Talking about getting closer to customers while you turn around in circles won’t get you any closer to achieving it. But taking action to bring these seven principles to life in your company is guaranteed to take you a long way toward realizing the goal of customer intimacy.


John Sanchez is EVP of Global Operations at Marketwired—the parent company of Sysomos—where he leads the organization’s customer engagement and lean process redesign initiatives, and also oversees the client support teams that service Sysomos-powered products across the enterprise. A decorated combat veteran and graduate of both the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Wharton School of Business, he has over 26 years of experience in engineering, operational and financial roles in diverse industries.

Customer Service’s Greatest Innovation

Social media might be the greatest innovation the world of customer service has ever experienced.

As a digital marketer, you have experienced the impact of social service professionally and personally.

Customer service can be viewed as the greatest measure of a company’s success, both in the offline and online worlds. It positively affects the top and bottom lines in many ways.

The important thing to remember is that regardless of how amazing your product and/or services are, there will be problems. Some customers will not be pleased, and frankly, it’s their right.

Social media is where this complaint will most likely live and be seen and read by others.

You have to constantly monitor social networks to see who’s happy and unhappy with your brand. Most importantly, you need to act fast and directly.

For some reason, negative opinions travel fast in social media. A bad experience with your brand can cause a tidal wave of opinion in social media. As well, brands of all sizes have dealt with this in the digital arena.

It is also your responsibility to foster and help spread the good opinions and experiences that get shared on social media.

Never have brands been given such an opportunity and, at the same time, had to shoulder such responsibility. Take it seriously and make it count.

The Now Of Social Communication [Infographic]

You’ve already heard a lot this week about the evolution of our company. Our CEO, Michael Nowlan, wrote about what this change means and our COO, Jim Delaney, wrote about how these changes reflect a changing landscape for our customers and how we’re here to help you. Well, today we thought instead of telling you more, we’d actually show you.

Below we put together an infographic that shows how certain industries and business functions have changed over the years. Things like PR, marketing, customer service and reputation management have changed significantly just in the past 10 years alone. In order to help you do these things better, we as a company had to evolve as well to grow with you.

Take a look at the infographic to see how the industry used to operate (Then) and how our Marketwired suite of products, powered by Sysomos, can help you do your job better today and make smarter decisions for the future (Now).

We’ve evolved from a wire company to a wired company and we want to help you do the same.

Social Media and the Age of Instant Customer Service Gratification

twitter unitedWe live in a world of instant gratification. It means we want things now, and we have a growing lack of patience when our demands aren’t instantly fulfilled.

This new reality is being fuelled by social media, which has provided a global platform for consumers to put pressure on brands to provide them with not stellar customer service but almost instantaneous response.

While this is a great landscape for consumers looking for a way to publicize their problems, complaints or issues, it has also put tremendous pressure on brands to react in real-time, often without the luxury of being able to ascertain what is happening.

The question is whether instant gratification when it comes to customer services is a good thing for consumers or brands. Does it make sense for a brand to respond to a tweet within minutes or even hours after it’s posted? Should consumers realistically expect brands to respond right away, or should brand respond at all?

These are challenging questions because social media has obviously changed the consumer-brand dynamic. Before social media, a complaint by a consumer would get swallowed by a 1-800 number or email; today, a complaint is a public and transparent creative that has the potential to quickly spread.

In many respects, the pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other. With social media, consumers now have the upper hand, while brands are scrambling to figure out the new customer service paradigm and the rules of engagement.

Is this a good or healthy situation?

My take is it’s not a long-term proposition because the expectations among consumers are sky-high, and there is too much pressure on brands to dance as fast as they can.

Is Customer Service Better in Social Media?

Is it just me or are brands more pro-active doing customer service in social media than they do in their actual brick and mortar stores or through their websites?

Dell (@DellCares) and Rogers (@RogersHelps) are great examples of a social media trailblazer and a late comer getting it right. Their social media teams are really showing other customer service reps how it is done.

Recently, some Twitter users were experiencing poor customer service at a bank. Soon after, tweets about the experience were posted, and very quickly calls from branch managers (who was notified by the social media team) were made. Social media works.

Social media lends itself to better customer service than your average website: I don’t see how filling out a “Contact Us” form can ever beat the one-to-one connection on Facebook or Twitter.

Why do brands listen on social media listening while many in-store representatives are tuning customers out? This is not an indictment of employees; it is a tough job dealing with people who sometimes don’t want to compromise.

If we can learn anything from social media, it is that listening really pays off. The other lesson is people will publish their bad experiences for their social networks to see, but not always publish the good moments.

What are some of the great customer service experiences you have had on social media? Has it outweighed your experience in store or on parent websites?

More: Check out this Mashable post looking at nine ways that top brands are customer service for better customer service. Dave Fleet has a good post on eight ways that brands can scale their social support efforts.

Why So Much Complaining on Social Media?

It used to be that if you were upset or disappointed about a product or service, you’d have to send a letter to someone or call a 1-800 number. Niether approach offered much satisfaction, including the fact it made the consumer make a concerted effort.

Today, complaining is a snap. Not happy about an experience with a brand, just fire up a blog, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, and tell the world about your displeasure.

The low barrier to entry and the opportunity to reach a global audience has turned social media into a complaint central. Whether it’s a major issue or simply an aggravation, consumers have embraced social media to complain.

According a recent MarketTools survey, 34% of companies said consumers use social media to make a comment or complain about their products or services. What is more interesting is complaints made on Twitter or Facebook get a fairly high response.

It means that brands are listening to consumer complaints and reacting, which is exactly what consumers want them to do. For brands, social media can be a busy, challenging and sometimes treacherous medium for consumer complaints.

On other hand, they have to pay attention to what’s being said about their products or services. But there is so much activity, it can be impossible to engage with everyone.

Another issue that makes things more complicated is the high expectations by consumers who do complain. Since social media is a public medium, many companies have bent over backward to make consumers happy.

While this has pleased consumers, it has also encouraged more people to complain because they realize consumers are likely more willing to do more if a complaint arrives social media.

In many respects, however, it has created a vicious circle that many brands can’t escape.

So what do brands do about social complaining? How do they effectively respond to complaints without consuming too many resources or encouraging more people to complain because brands do too much to resolve a public issue?

One of the key is having well defined policies in place that identify, categorize and prioritize complaints. This will make it easier for companies to identify the most critical complaints so they can respond quickly and appropriately.

At the same time, there needs to be ways for companies to manage minor complaints in a way that not only lets a consumer know their complaint has been identified and acknowledged but leads to a forum to resolve their problems. It could be a forum, an FAQ, customer service representative or an e-mail address.

The bottom line when it comes to social complaining is it’s a fact of life that companies have to address. Often, the best approach that companies can take is make it clear they are listening, which is what many consumers really want.

For more insight into social media and customer service, the Marketwire/Sysomos Business Library has some free whitepapers.

Is Twitter an Effective Customer Service Tool?

Twitter has a great reputation for being a good way to improve customer service but it is receiving too much credit?

It’s a question that deserves some attention in the wake of a survey by Evolve24/Maritz Research of 1,298 U.S. consumers who had complained about a specific product, service, brand, or company.

While just over half (51%) of the respondents said they expected to get a response about their complaint, only 29% said they were contacted by the company. Of the people who did get a response, 83% said they “liked or loved” hearing back from the company.

The 29% corporate response rate is surprising because you’d expect it to be significantly higher given Twitter’s reputation as an effective customer service vehicle.

It begs the question about why the low engagement rate.

Is it because companies are listening and monitoring social media activity?

Do most companies dismiss complaints as the vocal minority or not want to engage publicly about a problem or issue?

Do many companies not care about complaints on Twitter, accepting them as part of the social media landscape?

Or are there simply too many complaints for companies to respond to many of them?

It is difficult to determine why companies wouldn’t respond to a complaint on Twitter given it is public forum.

One of the challenges facing companies is figuring out which complaints deserve a response. In the scheme of things, complaints fall into several categories:

1. Rants, which are passionate but made by people who appear to be constant complainers. In some situations, responding may only encourage someone to complain some more rather than address their problem.

2. Minor problems that may not want or need a response. This requires a company to make a judgement call on whether to address the problem or not.

3. Major problems that definitely deserve a response but require a company to determine how, who and when to do it. Some of these complaints can be handled on Twitter, while some should be handled via e-mail or by phone.

One of the interesting things about people who complain about company, product or brand on Twitter and other social media services is how quickly a problem can disappear by simply responding to someone. In many cases, someone who tweets about a problem simply wants to be heard.

The challenge for many companies when it comes to complaints on Twitter is being prepared to handle different situation quickly and effectively. This means being able to identify complaints as they are made, determining which ones deserve your attention, and then providing the appropriate response.

– Jay Baer has a post on the survey at Convince and Convert. Jay believes the two biggest factor that stop companies from responding to complaints are fear and a lack of resources.

Is Customer Service Social Media’s “Killer App”?

As more companies start to embrace social media and look for tangible ways to get results (aka ROI), there is bound to be a more focus on how it supports and enhances customer service.

For all the talk about engagement, conversations and community, customer service is a juicy piece of “low hanging fruit”.

By monitoring social media activity and listening to what existing and potential customers are saying or thinking, there is lot of potential to boost customer service by providing answer to questions, providing information and highlighting relevant products and services.

The results of these efforts can often be visible, effective and significant. By simply responding and reacting to what is being said, companies have the ability to change how an existing or potential customer thinks about a product or service, as well as influence or change their behaviour.

Companies such as Comcast, Zappos, Dell and JetBlue that have taken a customer-centric/customer service approach to social media have enjoyed a lot of success and, at the same, attracted plenty of attention for their efforts. It’s a win-win scenario.

It is important to keep in the mind that using social media customer service involves a lot of time and effort. It has to be done on a day in, day basis, you need to engage quickly, honestly and transparently, and you have to deal with the positive and negative.

If customer service is an important corporate goal, it makes complete sense to leverage social media. While it may not be as sexy as creating content that generates a lot of buzz, doing a good job of providing social media customer service can provide tangible and solid dividends.

Social Media and Customer Service Over-Kill

One of social media’s “killer apps” is customer service because it provides a way to engage with people in real-time about their problems, concerns and questions.

Companies such as Comcast and Dell have embraced social media to drive customer serviced to new levels and, in the process, validated social media a valuable tool with healthy ROI.

Before social media emerged as an option, many of these people wouldn’t have bothered to complain because it was too much of a hassle to call a 1-800 number, or send a letter or e-mail to the customer service department. As well, many of these problems weren’t really big enough to warrant a call, e-mail and letter anyway.

But complaining via social media is quick, easy and a pretty good way to capture the spotlight, particularly if you’re a high-profile person such as Jeff Jarvis, who thrust himself and customer service into the spotlight with his “Dell Hell” diatribe a few years ago.

One of the issues, however, with how customer service has evolved within social media are the unrealistic expectations of consumers who have a problem with a product or service. What often happens when someone has a bad or less than stellar experience is they quickly turn to Twitter, Facebook or their blog to complain about it.

If their public complaint gets any kind of traction or publicity, most companies quickly cave in by immediately making things right with a refund, exchange or other compensation. This happens even if the problem is fairly minor because there seems to be more upside when a company is seen as being responsive in a public forum.

In the real world, a company may have come back with a polite response that they appreciated the feedback and will make sure the right people or department is notified. Or a company would offer some compensation but not provide something that is over the top.

The problem with caving in on social media is it does more harm than good by encouraging more people to complain as well because they see how easy it can be to get results. This has created a landscape in customer service has gone from productive and constructive to whining and complaining.

You could argue that social media is compelling companies to react appropriately because having things in the public realm make it more difficult to simply brush aside complains with a polite but curt letter or e-mail.

On the other hand, customer service on social media is becoming a monster that is becoming more difficult to tame. The more companies that concede defeat at the first sign of a complain, the worse it going to get. If this happens, the downside is customer service via social media will no longer be a “killer app”.

What do you think about social media customer service? Are companies going too far in responding to complaints? Are consumers taking advantage of having a public forum to gripe?