Customer Experience – Where the Rubber Meets the Road

I just spent 40 minutes on hold trying to talk to a TV/internet company. Chances are you have been in a similar situation where you have been waiting while you hear a recording (over and over) like the one I was hearing “Due to higher than expected call volume you have waited longer than we would have liked to. Your call is important to us”Phone - Customer experience

It seems the call volume is always higher than expected. Saying this sounds like a lie. It starts eroding trust before I have spoken a word with a “customer service: representative. Dear company: If my call is important to you , why don’t you hire more people to talk to customers?

With all the talk about customer experience and loyalty, you would expect companies would know better. Especially in a space that is fairly commoditized and in decline: cable TV is probably going the way of the landline phone and movie rentals,  it’s a matter of time until we get all our TV on demand.

I have four or five companies I can choose from for internet and TV service. Their service is pretty much the same. All of them offer VoIP phone, HBO, 200+ channels, HD, DVR, etc. Looking at their advertisements and promotions it looks like they are all competing on price. I asked around the office, and most of my co-workers shared stories of poor service with their current provider. It was pretty uniform. This seems to be a market where a company that focuses on service could stand out.

A great customer experience would be a good strategy to differentiate in a commodity market and to keep more paying customers. Over the last 5 years I have spent more then $7,000 with this company. Add wireless service and the average lifetime customer value is probably much higher than that. Right now I am about to cancel my service and take may business elsewhere.

If the waiting message was completely truthful it would probably say something like: “Due to our executives being unable to understand and quantify how wait times and customer experience correlate with customer loyalty and revenue, we have not hired enough staff to respond to customers in a timely manner. Your call is a cost to us, one that we try to avoid, not an opportunity to engage and satisfy customers. Thank you for waiting and keeping our costs low.”

That’s where the rubber meets the road. Over the last 10 years there has been a surge of companies who have Chief Customer Officers, customer advocates and other organizations who are tasked with transforming the organization. I was one of them – for a few years I was the SME in charge for Broad Customer Connection at a Fortune 50 company, even if it was not my full time job.

The problem is that while companies who create these teams have the best of intentions, often times the customer experience teams are not really empowered to make the transformational changes in the organization and end up doing surveys that no one reads. Even when there is a level of empowerment, when it comes down to dollars and cents it takes a real commitment to customer experience to make the hard decisions. This only happens when the people in charge fundamentally understand and believe in the financial mid and long-term benefits of customer experience.

For customer experience to be successful, it needs to drive the company strategy. From defining the culture (look at Zappos) to making financial commitments to go beyond the customer expectations. At Rackspace, for example, there are no call centers, no ‘hold’ music, and no customer service representatives. Customers wait an average of 6 seconds to talk to a technical person who will take ownership of solving their problem.

You don’t want to have a customer experience team that ends up doing stupid surveys as David Meerman points out in his latest post. Providing an acceptable customer experience is no longer optional. Building a company to deliver great customer experiences can be a source of sustainable competitive differentiation and a successful business strategy.

Are you ready to become a Social Business?

What is a Social Business

What Exactly is a Social Business?

Here we go again – we have a new buzzword, all the social media experts are talking about the “Social Business”

Peter Kim defines social business [link ] as “a social business harnesses fundamental tendencies in human behavior via emerging technology to improve strategic and tactical outcomes” – interesting but it sounds like something a consultant would say.  IBM defines it as an agile, transparent and engaged organization (of course, they sell collaboration, community and social listening tools).

I don’t think it is that complicated. What does it mean to be a social business? To me, it is not about having a team of people monitoring Linkedin, Twitter and, if you are in the ‘leading edge’, Google+ and Pinterest. Those are tools, communication channels.


Photo courtesy of Tobym under the Creative Commons license

What it means to be a social business can’t be relegated to a small rapid-response, crisis-prevention team. The social strategist should be a customer interaction strategist, not the leader of a support team that is trying to move quickly to avert a Comcast-like crisis or a United breaks guitars viral video incident. There is no formula to make content viral either.

To me, running a social business has a much deeper meaning. I say ‘deeper’ because it requires a fundamental culture change that spreads across the business and changes the way the business operates.

Social Business is about being sincerely interested in listening to customers and empowering employees to have an open conversation with them.

What do I mean? On one side Marketing is paying (struggling) to reach to customers to tell the company message while ‘customer service’ is trying to reduce call volume- that is, trying to talk less to customers. Does that make sense to you?

Why would a company provide better service via the social media team on Twitter than via the 1-800 phone line. [link!/augieray/status/187539854303838209] Figure it out. Previously I talked about how Social is not a strategy [link } and how companies need to develop holistic customer interaction and customer service strategies that span traditional and social channels.

Is your Business sincerely interested in listening to customers and empowering employees to have an open conversation with them? To help you find out, here is a short Social Business test

  1. You are not a social business if you leave people on hold for 30 minutes. If you do that, the message to customers is ‘we don’t want to talk to you’. I am proud to work at Rackspace where on average it takes customers 6 seconds to connect with a person who cares.
  2. You are not a social business if the emails you send to customers come from ‘do not reply’. Think about it: you are talking to customers and telling them, “Please don’t even try to talk to us, we don’t care, your email won’t even make it”.
  3. You are not a social business if you don’t publish your contact information on your site and encourage customers to contact you. How many times have you as a customer navigated nests of pages to try to find an email or 800 number? How many buttons does it take in your phone system for a customer to speak with a human?
  4. You are not a social business if you don’t have a formal customer feedback process, that gives the team designing products and services the opportunity to understand what customers want. A system that makes it easy for front-line customers to pass feedback, makes it easy for customers to volunteer feedback, a system that collects and summarizes it, and a product development team that reads the summaries and acts on it.
  5. You are not a social business if at least everyone in marketing spends time with customers every week. When I was responsible for social strategy for a F500 company back in 2004, every single employee in a division of many thousands was required to spend at least 4 hours interacting with our customer community. Ask your team, when was the last time they spoke with a customer (and listened)?
  6. You are not a social business if you don’t empower front-line empowers to help customers. If you don’t allow them to have an honest conversation with customers.
  7. You are not a social business if you speak to customers in a different language: you can’t connect with customers if you talk to them in consultant-speak, corporate-speak or marketing-speak (I am trying, it is hard). Talk to people like people, like you would if you were having a conversation between two humans (you are).
  8. You don’t have a social business if your social media team spends most of their time fixing customer problems via Twitter and broadcasting self-centered communications and discounts via Facebook.

To drive the point home, you can have a social business even if you don’t have a social media team and if you don’t have a Twitter account. Think about the small business that talks to customers every day, where employees know customers on a first-name basis and not only know about customer’s personal lives but they actually care about them. Everyone in the business understands what customers want, and there is a relationship with customers that goes beyond transactions. To me, that’s a social business.

Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are only tools to interact with customers. They are awesome tools that have incredible potential to transform your business and the relationship with customers. But you may want to start by simply answering the phone and talking to customers.

This post originally appeared at MarketingProfes as a contributed article.

Update: based on the comments I received to the MarketingProfs post, I want to add that I am not against the philosophy aof social business as expressed in the social media and collaboration circles. I am a fan of Peter Kim and many of the contributions from the Dachis Group. In fact, I have been an advocate of taking advantage of social media for almost a decade as well as empowering employees with enterprise social collaboration (now thwe Enterprise 2.0 conference calls itself the Social Business conference – how quickly buzzwords evolve).

The key point I am trying to make is that we marketers are too quick to chase the shiny object and pursue ‘advanced’ marketing technique when we have not really though about the basics. Markeitng is common sense. Becoming a social business is part of a business strategy that is centered around empowering employees to share knowledge and a personal interactionw ith customers, it is not about a set of ‘social media’ tools that a company can license.

Looking forward to more comments.

Social Listening, Customer Service and Social Blackmail

Social Listening has empowered organizations to listen to customers and respond in real time, primarily on Twitter. Here is an example where Southwest Airlines (from back in 2008) responded to a customer who had a bad experience. The mere act of listening to customers and showing some empathy can turn a very unhappy customer around.

A few weeks ago an industry expert shared his experience with a bank. He was having some trouble, called customer service and after becoming frustrated with the nonsense policies for the bank, suggested to tell his thousands of followers on Twitter about the experience with the bank. This story, and further discussion via twitter, led to a couple of thoughts:

  • Maybe, the people who demand better service via extortion, threatening to tell their followers about the bad experience, are using a form of blackmail. I know it is the new world of social. Just think about this before you do it.


  • In most cases, this influence is overstated. As I stated in a previous post, popularity is not influence. Further, If a user with 5,000 followers tweets a bad experience with a brand, only a fraction of those 5,000 people will read the tweet.  Even if 50 people read the tweet it is bad, I am only stating that not all 5,000 will be exposed to the tweet.


  • In any case, it would be unfair if people with more followers received better customer service. If this is the inevitable future, we should all create dummy Twitter accounts and use unorthodox (but common) methods to get a large number of followers so that we can get decent service.


  • Brands should realize twitter is simply a form of customer service. The teams monitoring twitter (or Facebook) for customer service issues and responding to those issues are not that different to the teams with a headset responding to the same type of problems for the same customers via phone or email.


  • Brands should therefore have consistent customer service policies that apply equally to situations independently of what channels you choose to connect with the company or how popular you are. Imagine if I called an 800 number to complain and told them I have 2,000 people in my Rolodex threatening to call all of them if they don’t help me.


  • Brands should be smart enough so that it does not take a social media crisis (á la United Breaks Guitars or a Comcast Technician Sleeping on My Couch) to fix basic customer service policies and pay attention to what their customers want. Delivering great products and great service is the way to become a great company. Solving customer issues won’t get you there.


  • Brands should encourage customers to address their concerns, problems and feedback via a private support channels such as email, online chat or phone. Using your Facebook wall as your customer service center does not help anyone but your competition. Other channels are much more efficient at providing customer service, for example, with clear connection to your customer transaction record, no 140 character limit. Just today Fortune published an excellent piece titled “Can I help you? On Twitter, the answer is no” that compares actual experiences on twitter vs. phone vs web for top retailers.

If you think about it, your team that is helping customers via twitter should not be part of the social media team in marketing, maybe this function lives in customer service, in the cal center, where customers can get a consistent experience across interaction points.

If you are a social media marketer, I am not suggesting you move to the customer service department. Instead I am suggesting you consider your career path. As Jeremiah points out, Social Media Strategists are at a critical point where they can either become the ‘social media help desk’ or customer engagement marketers.