The Social Media Buzz; Time for Decaf?

I was part of a great ACCP event last week sponsored by Avtex and hosted by Pella Corporation at their headquarters. There was a wonderful presentation made on the subject of monitoring and responding to customers through social media by Spindustry and their clients from Omaha Steaks. Then, this morning, the Wall Street Journal dedicated an entire section to the subject of Social Media and IT.

In case you’ve had your head buried in the sand for the past year or two, the buzz in the call center world is currently “social media.” The very mention of the term seems to get call center personnel wound up like they’ve just swigged a triple-shot-chocolate-sugar-bomb-espressiato with a Red Bull chaser. Everyone wants to talk about it. The big call center conferences have been scrambling for the past two years to fill their keynotes and workshops full of social media gurus, how-tos, and software vendors. All the buzz has prompted great conversation with clients and colleagues.

For years, I’ve been advocating that every client listen to what customers are saying on the internet and through social media outlets. There is a huge leap, however, between keeping your ear open and diving into a full scale social media task force within your customer service team complete with the latest, greatest social media monitoring software. One of the questions that came up in the ACCP meeting last week was whether our group was doing Customer Satisfaction research for customers who use social media to contact a client company. The reality is that, for most of our clients, the number of customers using social media as a means of communication is still very small. So small, in fact, that they must be regarded as outliers and not representative of the general population of customers.

That does not mean that social media will not grow in importance and influence. It definitely is growing in importance and influence (But, how far will it grow? How influential will it become?). It does not mean that social media is not a critical piece of the marketing and customer service picture for some companies. I simply want to make the point that the time, energy and resources that an individual company invests in social media efforts should be considerate of how many customers they have actively engaged in the medium. Our group is helping some clients determine that very fact. By investing a little money in a survey to find out how important social media is to their customer population as a whole will help them wisely steward their resources when it comes to making an investment in their overall social media strategy. I begin to fear that clients will throw a lot of money and resources to engage a small number of customers in the social media arena when a much larger segment of customers are still encountering significant service issues through traditional channels (as boring and old school as those traditional channels may be).

In the meantime, I’m sure the social media buzz will continue unabated. In the call center industry there always seems to be a buzz where there is software, hardware and/or workshops to sell. Please do not misunderstand me. I’m not against social media in any way. I’m a blogger, tweeter, texter and Facebook junkie. I think social media is great and have led the charge in getting clients to “listen” to what customers are saying via social media. Social Media is here to stay and will continue to evolve. I am, however, dedicated to helping my clients make wise, measured decisions when it comes to their customers and their resources. So, when it comes the social media buzz, make mine decaf, please. Remember, there was a lot of buzz about betavision, too.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and thetrial

Would You Make Your Customer Experience Public?

This commercial from Zappos! was picked up in our group's internal weekly Items of Interest (IOI) email  [thanks, Wendy!] which she picked up from Service Untitled and AdGabber. It's a method originally used successfully by On-Star in which actual customer service calls are utilized to showcase the power of the customer's experience.

Is your company delivering a customer experience that you'd be willing to make public? Is your company delivering a customer experience you're praying your customer's won't make public?

Does Premiere Service Match the Price?

Can_you_get_premium_serviceDoes your company offer a higher level of service to customers who are willing to pay? Can you consistently deliver on the promise? Does the customer actually receive a higher level of service? On a recent business trip I had two experiences that left me asking this question.

  • Lately, I’ve rented a lot of cars from Hertz. Paying for the #1 Club Gold is supposed to afford me a higher level of speed and expedited service. At least, that’s what they market. Recently, I walked to the Gold Members "express" line in the Atlanta airport to speak to the Hertz associate with a question. The problem was, they had one associate serving the Gold Club line and about five associates serving the regular line. The customer ahead of me had a major issue and the Gold Club associate got tangled up helping her. I stood in the "express" line and watched as people who got into the regular line after me were served as I stood there still waiting for the "premium" service for which I paid. I was stuck in that classic dilemma. Do I go to the regular line (because Murphy’s Law would stipulate that as soon as I did the express line would open up) or stick it out? This wasn’t the first time this has happened to me in the Hertz line.
  • Being a frequent business traveler, I also pay a premium to use United Airlines Red Carpet Clubs. This lounge provides a bit more comfort, leg room and few more outlets (though not many) than the general concourse so I can get some work done during layovers. One of the perks that United markets in enticing you to pay for the Red Carpet Club is that you’ll receive a higher level of personalized attention from a live Customer Service Representative inside the club. On a recent trip our flight was canceled and everyone was asked to queue up at the gate to receive new flight/seat assignments. Rather than stand in the back of the line with some 70 other passengers, I walked down the concourse to the Red Carpet Club to get my personalized service. There was one Customer Service Representative in the club who was both checking people in and helping passengers with their travel needs. There were two people ahead of me and one of them had a major issue. After a loooooooong time waiting, I finally walked away and returned to the gate, where only two passengers were left in the queue. So much for the higher level of service for which I paid.

When you offer customers the option to pay more for "premium" service, can you really deliver on the promise?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and plequere

What Does it Mean to Be “Customer-Centered”?

Bigstockphoto_business_focus_568024Glenn Ross has been asking Customer Service bloggers to chime in on the question "How Do You Define a ‘Customer-Focused’ strategy?". I’m late to the party, but I wanted to get in my two-cents worth – especially since our in our group’s mission is to "design and implement customer-centered systems to measure and enhance service quality."

To be simple and direct, I believe that customer-focused means that you’ve invested the resources to listen to your customers and discover what they want. Too many businesses follow what their gut tells them customers want. Others will listen, but only to the customers who call or complain. There’s likely a silent majority out there that have never contacted you and since they’ve never landed on your radar screen you’ve never talked to them.

If you truly want to be customer-focused then it starts with getting to know your customers. A small, statistically sound, directed survey of all your customers can be done economically, can assure you that your strategy is truly focused on your customers’ desires, and will increase your odds for success.

If you want to know how, email me and I’ll be happy to put you in touch with our customer research team!

QAQnA Top 10 Posts from the Past Two Years

In celebration of two years of blogging, here from the home office in Des Moines, Iowa, are the All-Time Top Ten Posts from QAQnA:

1.       The Geek Squad Posts

2.       Ten Things Your Customer’s Don’t Want to Hear

3.       Internal Customers are Still Customers

4.       Successful Calibration Basics

5.       Upselling Basics

6.       World-Class Service: The Greeting

7.       Your Calls Can Be Monitored to Ensure Service Quality

8.       Zero Tolerance QA Elements

9.       World-Class Service: Managing “Dead Air”

10.   Pros & Cons of 3rd Party QA

QAQnA Celebrates 2nd Blogoversary!

2nd_blogoversaryIt was St. Patrick’s Day in 2006 when I first sat down and wrote my first blog post. It was a free blog on Blogger called "The Call Center QA Guy" and it was sort of an experiment for me and our group. Would this "blogging thing" be a viable marketing tool for our consulting business? A month later, our group moved the blog to Typepad and it became QAQnA (Quality Assessment Questions aNd Answers).

It’s two years later and this is my "State of the Blog" post:

From the beginning, I approached blogging with the mantra "slow and steady wins the race". I have never been out to be #1 in Technorati rankings. I’m not about winning the award for the most posts, the largest number of subscribers or about generating lots of ad revenue. I have tried to post regularly, provide valuable content for readers, and cultivate profitable relationships. To me, "profitable" encompasses relationships that benefit me spiritually, relationally, emotionally, and intellectually as much as it does those that may ultimately benefit me financially.

So where has two years of blogging brought me? For those of you who like to crunch numbers, here are my humble stats – gathered from a combination of Typepad, Feedburner and Google Analytics:

Posts: 382
Comments:  1,000
Page-Views: 83,000*
Absolute Unique Visitors: 65,000*
Percent of Visitors who Return: 25%*
Average time spent at site: 2 minutes 10 seconds*
Links/references to our site from other blogs/sites: 550
Trackbacks: 114 (a linked reference to a particular post within another blog post)
Technorati rank among 4.5 million blogs world-wide: 74,992 (top 2%)
Subscribers: 389


I’m not exactly burning up the blogosphere, but I haven’t been stagnant either.

What’s the Return On Investment (ROI)? That’s always the million dollar question people ask about social media. I sat down and calculated the total amount of money our group has invested in QAQnA. I then made an estimate of the time I’ve spent blogging and translated that into the total amount in billable days, had I charged a client for it. To this day, our group has generated new client relationships directly attributable to the blog and has billed over twice the amount invested in projects.

Of course, that calculation does not include the potential client relationships and written proposals that have not (yet) been accepted. It also does not include the number of speaking engagements or PR opportunities (being quoted in SmartMoney magazine; featured on the cover of The Des Moines Business Record).

What can’t be calculated is the number of friends and networking contacts I’ve gained through the blog. These relationships may never put pennies in my pocket, but they have refreshed my spirit, fed my brain, sharpened me as a person and have a worth that is beyond value.

What have I learned from blogging? Blogging has been a constant reminder and practical illustration of timeless truths:

  • Give and you will receive.
  • If you want to lead you gotta serve.
  • Slow and steady wins the race.
  • The only way to have a friend is to be one.
  • Treat others the way you want to be treated.
  • Be yourself.

A special thanks today to all my fellow bloggers, readers, subscribers, co-workers and associates.

Here’s to the next leg of the journey!

Consistency Lends Comfort to Customers

Bigstockphoto_customer_support_centCustomers like to know what they are getting – and they like to know that they are getting something good when they interact with your company.

I was talking to one of my team mates yesterday about a report he was working on. In the spirit of practicing what we preach and of continuous improvement, we were discussing some positive changes we could make to the monthly Service Quality Assessment report for our client. When you report data on a regular basis, it’s easy for the data, the charts, the graphs, and the issues to feel stale after a while. We were discussing ways to bring a fresh approach to the report for the client. At the same time, I don’t want to make a complete visual overhaul, either.

One of the reasons for having a quality program, for monitoring your customer’s experience, for coaching your employees towards a common service delivery is that you create a customer experience that the customer can count on. The customer feels safe interacting with your company. They know what they’re going to get.

Nothing destroys customer loyalty like an inconsistent experience. If I call your company today and get your best CSR on the phone, I’m going to walk away feeling GREAT. I might even give you some positive world-of-mouth to my friends, family and colleagues. But now the bar has been set. I have an EXPECTATION of the service I’m going to receive when I call again.

Now I call your company back and get one of your worst CSRs on the phone. Not only have I had a poor experience, but you have DISAPPOINTED me by falling far below my expectations. That’s a double-ding to my customer satisfaction.

Raising your service delivery to a consistent, World-class level requires:

Blogging Can Deepen Customer Relationships

Blogging I still get a lot of quizzical looks when I speak to clients about blogging. For those who are not involved in the blogosphere, there seems to be a shroud of mystery about this rather simple form of communication. The mystery leads people to assume that it is complicated. The old paradigm of cob-web developers who charge big bucks to do simple tasks is still cemented in people’s minds.

There has been a great conversation on the blogosphere recently about keeping customers at the top of your mind through communication with bloggers sharing their own thoughts on keeping yourself top-of-mind with your customers.

For me, blogging is a simple, effective way to improve communication with my clients:

  • By listening to what other bloggers are saying, you can provide useful resources to customers and clients. Instead of waiting for your customer to engage you, you can engage them. If I run across a blog post that relates to a client or read of a blogger talking about a client, I immediately forward it. It took me a few seconds to click on "email this post" and enter the client’s email address and a short message, but the client has received important information and knows that I’m thinking about them.
  • By posting on your blog, you develop an archive of useful information that will benefit your customers. If a customer is dealing with an issue that I’ve discussed on my blog, it takes me only a few seconds to pull it up and e-mail it to them. Not only have I helped them, but I’ve introduced them to a valuable resource that they can tap into at any time. I’ve now become a go-to resource for my clients – a resource they can use 24/7/365.

When I first heard about blogging and decided to give it a try, it literally took me 10 minutes to sign up at blogger, set up my blog and write my first post. If you can follow simple directions and write an e-mail you can blog. It’s that simple.

creative commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Sue Richards

‘Branding’ the Call Often Backfires

In an effort to promote ‘the brand’, companies will sometimes ask their CSRs to utter a tag line in each phone call. Commonly this is done at the beginning or end of the phone call. While I applaud a companies efforts to differentiate and build their brand, these tag lines are often a source of customer irritation. The tag sounds robotic, forced, out of place and leaves the customer (who just wants their issue resolved) annoyed as they think "Oh pleeeease, just get on with it!"

For example, Radio Shack used to (maybe they still do – I don’t know, I stopped calling) have their employees answer the phone:

"Thank you for calling Radio Shack. You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers. My name is Tom. How can I help you?"

It was such a mouthful that the employee usually rushed through it so  quickly that it became a jumbled up mess. Instead of a warm, personal, inviting greeting, the customer received a long, confusing first impression. That’s not the way you want to start the customer interaction.

Other companies commonly insert a tag line into the close. While it may work conversationally on some calls, CSRs often find themselves forcing it into the conversation like a round peg in a square hole. Most often, the customer is left with an impression of a CSR awkwardly trying to fit an out-of-place tag line into the call. Instead of building the brand, you’re chipping away at it and sending customers away scratching their heads.

Front-end IVR or hold messages are a much more appropriate place to put these branding efforts. The branded line can be recorded so that it comes across positive and professional, and the customer isn’t left with a negative impression.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and velo_city

Exclusivity Does Not Exclude You from Service

Meikah Delid over at CustServ recently had a negative shopping experience at Louis Vuitton. The up-scale retailer displayed a rather snooty attitude towards Meikah, and apparently it isn’t an isolated incident. Sampson Lee at Customer Think wrote a post detailing how customers "hate" the experience shopping at the LV stores:

"What is the ‘pain point’ at Louis Vuitton retail stores? Besides price,
from the responses I received, it’s the ‘attitude’ of the
salesladies—unless you’re a celebrity or dress and look like a ‘rich’
person—they usually ignore you. I’ve been told this is a consistent
experience across the globe, not country or region specific."

LV is an exclusive brand providing an exclusive product to an exclusive customer base. Sampson points out that women will put up with the snooty experience to receive the emotional reward of buying and owning the exclusive product. My question is: if your customers want your product so badly that they will endure a hostile shopping experience to acquire it, does that justify delivering a hostile shopping experience? It would seem that Vuitton has decided being snooty, prejudiced and judgmental is an important part of their brand.

One of our group members, Bene’ Zehr, used to be a successful sales associate at a dealership selling exclusive brands of autos. She often relates her lesson of never judging a customer who walks through your door. The well appointed customer with a George Hamilton tan and killer smile may just be a con-man. The dirty, poor-looking slacker may be a dot com gazillionaire. You can’t tell by looking. Bene’ learned to treat every person who walked through the door as though they were her best customer.

I wonder how many potential customers have chosen not to buy at Luis Vuitton because they were snubbed by the sales people?

The most profitable course is to treat your customers – all your customers – with respect and to serve each one well.