Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Tag Archives: Customer Service

Killer Customer Service Strengthens Loyalty

Happy Customers (Photo Credit, Shopify)

In any “relationship” between a customer and a company, there are no shortage of things that can go wrong. I get to see this up close and personal, every day, in my role, at Walgreens. From the item wasn’t in stock, to an extra call to your Dr. needed, a coupon not working the way the customer expected and a line at checkout there’s a lot of ways for us to miss the mark. Granted, I’m biased, but I think we do a great job of listening to customers, understanding their tension points and looking for ways to reduce, or even eliminate those tension points all together. Try the “refill by scan” feature in the Walgreens app, the next time you need to refill your prescription and you’ll never go back to calling in.

Statistically, with so many things that could go wrong and high customer expectations, I always appreciate and in some cases, find it quite remarkable, when companies either:

  1. Proactively address a bad experience
  2. Go seemingly, above and beyond

Generally, if you were to ask someone about their last negative experience with a company, they can answer instantaneously. But, ask them about a great one and it’ll take some time to provide an example. Just look at your social media feed; you’ll see complaint after complaint and negative experience after negative experience. I too am guilty (though less so these days) of over highlighting the bad and rarely shining a light on the good. And yes, there is a lot of good out there.

With that in mind, I want to tell you about 3 fantastic customer service experiences I had in the past month.

Southwest

I love Southwest airlines. I tell people how wonderful Southwest is, so much, I’m sure they think I work for the company or somehow get compensated. They don’t always get it right. And, when they don’t I share that with them and others. Airline travel is tricky. There’s a lot of variables that are 100% out of the airline’s control. For example, weather. On a recent flight, we were 4 hours delayed. This was not a weather issue, necessarily. This was mechanical one. It started with the inbound flight being delayed because of weather in Denver, I believe. But, they were able to make some magic happen and re-route another plane to Minneapolis, leaving us only 30 minute delayed. Much of that, they could make up in the air. But, when that plane landed, they had a mechanical issue. No idea, what it was. But, an hour later, they let us board. We go to take off and…another mechanical issue. Back to the gate. 2 hours later, finally, we take off. All-in-all, we were 4 hours late. This was a 7 PM flight, originally. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled. But, before I even had a chance to complain, I received an email from Southwest, apologizing for the situation. To boot, they even provided a $100 flight credit. Think about that. They knew they screwed up. They knew customers were impacted. They knew loyalty would be tested. And they knew to try and make it right. Bravo!

Verizon Wireless

Raise your hand if you love your wireless company? That’s what I thought. I’ve been with Verizon for 10 years. Yes, I pay more than T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and every other competitor, but Verizon has always had great reserve, that’s reliable and killer customer service. The other day, was a great example of that amazing customer service. I woke up, as I normally do, at 6:30. I picked up phone, which apparently, was blowing up all night. I had 20+ text messages. Well, look at me, Mr. Popular, eh? Not exactly, it was a text message warning from Verizon every time, we, as a family, went over our 12 GB monthly plan. Somehow, we chewed through 20+ gigabytes of cellular data…over night…on just one person’s phone. This made no sense, for a lot of reasons. I mean, let’s start with, that’s a lot of data to go through in 8 hours, over night. Also, it was limited to just one family member’s phone. Then, you have the fact, we’re always under our 12 gigs. Oh, and, we were only 4 days in to the billing cycle. Something was wrong, right? I called Verizon and spoke with Justin. Justin listened to my situation. Offered some help. Reviewed my history. He was mystified and agreed something was off. He connected me with Apple, directly, so they could trouble-shoot. Justin promised to call me back within 30 minutes to see what Apple had to say. Apple did and agreed something wasn’t right. Justin called back. Yes, he called back. When’s the last time that’s ever happened? I filled him in. He then put me on hold, connected with another Apple person and someone else at Verizon. Time on hold, was no more than 5 minutes. When he came back, he said, he didn’t have a solution. But, to make things right, he would up my plan to 50 gigs, ensuring I’d have the data needed for the rest of the month. Then, next month, he would personally credit us for the difference, switch our plan back to the original plan (a legacy plan, by the way) and call me back personally to confirm. We even set an appointment for that call. Mind, blown!

Room & Board

Some people refer to Room & Board as, Room and Broke. Yeah, you pay a premium for their great furniture, white glove delivery and, you got it, great customer service. Last fall we purchased a coffee table. We love this coffee table. Last week, I noticed something wrong with it. The front left corner was separating. Strange. Odd. R&B has great craftsmanship and all their furniture is very durable. I emailed R&B about my situation. Leah responded the same day. She expressed dismay, shock and indicated how bad she felt. She asked for photos to help her understand the situation. What she didn’t do was accuse me of somehow being behind the issue. She didn’t cast blame. She asked for information that would help her, help me. I sent the photos. She asked for a few more, from a different angle. Each time I responded, she responded, the same day. After 2 days of back and forth she wrote me to say:

  1. She felt bad
  2. They want to make it right
  3. She had already conferred with her manager and her manager agreed they should replace it
  4. But, there was a problem, the designer, no longer makes this piece….
  5. However, she was going to write the designed and ask if they could make a 1-time exception, given the circumstances

From there, she explained, she’d back to me in a week. 4 days later, she wrote with unbelievable news. The designer, would in fact make the replacement unit…at NO charge. R&B would handle the delivery and the removal of the defective unit. Again, this was an item that was 9 months old! Think about that. Wow!

Look, there are great examples of companies doing the little things and the big things. But, it’s true, the old maxim about a person with a good experience telling 10 others, but a person with a bad experience, telling 1,000. Of late, I’m trying to celebrate the great examples and pausing before I share the bad ones. Try it.

When Data Leads To Bad Insights – A Social Customer Service Analysis

I hate linkbait. Scratching your head? Linkbait is when someone crafts a headline that designed to get clicks, views, shares, etc…but the content is often misleading. Well, earlier this week, there was some serious linkbait going around with respect to a recent “study” completed by Socialbakers, that looked at the social media customer service habits of companies.

The stat, often being quoted from the study was, “58% of social media users want a response. But only 22% actually receive one.”  That stat is sometimes presented as “70% of fans are being ignored by companies.” Provocative, right? Did you lean forward? Raise an eyebrow? I’m sure lots of people did.

Even the “study” looks legit. I mean check this out:

Socialbakers Customer Service Study

and then this…

Brand Number of Fans Question Response Rate Number of Questions Answered
Personal Argentina 309,968 89.13% 14,306
Claro 415,026 96.99% 10,266
Acer Indonesia 612,837 95.05% 4,992
LBC Express Inc. 58,176 91.75% 4,083
Comunidad Movistar Argentina 385,451 91.67% 3,301
Volaris 335,410 77.92% 3,297
Safaricom Kenya Official Page 130,201 88.52% 3,255
KLM 1,540,788 94.14% 2,843
Vodafone Nederland 82,926 92.27% 2,758
Claro El Salvador 133,270 96.74% 2,758

Real companies. Accurate fan counts. So clearly…the data is right.

Add in the fact that Socialbakers is a “global social media and digital analytics company with customers in 75 countries representing every continent. Socialbakers helps companies measure the effectiveness of their social marketing campaigns across all major networks, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google+.” and wow this is looking good.

Are you concerned yet? With all this data…and all these insights, you should be right? Wrong. This is the problem that happens when organizations who have never actually brought social media to the enterprise at scale, start offering advice and “insights” about social media. Having actually been part of teams or leading teams that were focused on bringing social media to the enterprise at scale, let me drop some reality to balance the linkbait.

Most organizations have some type of response protocol for addressing content and conversations created in the social media space. My personal favorite is the flow that Ohio State created:

Social Media Response Flow Chart

It’s detailed and allows for a very quick assessment of what content is actionable. In Ohio State’s model they have categories called “Trolls” and “Ragers.” Posts/content flagged as such do not get responded to. I know this is going to just blow away the social media pseudo experts, but, not every comment or post should be responded to. Wait, look outside your window…did the Earth stop rotating? Yes, it’s true, your organization doesn’t have to respond to everything, nor should it.

Did you notice in the nice colorful chart from Socialbakers, the response rate for the Alcohol category is ONLY 5.2%. That looks really bad right? But, take a closer look. Use insights, not raw data. You know how whenever you visit a website from an alcohol company you have to provide your birthdate? They do that to make sure you’re 21 (in the USA) and/or of age. Do you know why they do that? They do it because they are legally obligated to not communicate/market to people under the legal drinking age. The penalties are extremely stiff. Unfortunately, even “age-gating” pages or profiles in an attempt to only allow drinking age adults to enter is not a perfect science. People can lie. People can skirt the system. The tools/options provided by social networks are generally weak. Then, add in the fact that there are significant number of people who choose to omit critical pieces of info, like their birth date, from their profiles and you can start to see how complex this problem is.

So…combine the flow chart from Ohio State with what I just shared about the legal ramifications of communicating with people under the age of 21 and is it any wonder that the average response rate for the Alcohol category is so low?

I could do this all day and poke holes in just about every single data point in this study. But, here’s what I think would be more productive. Check out the total mentions of “AT&T” on twitter here. Scan the first few screens and keep track of how many of the mentions deserve a response. Feel free to do the same for Bank of America on Facebook here. When you look at them or any other brand’s page, what’s the percentage of comments that deserve a response based on the Ohio State Social Media Communication Flow? 30%? 40% I can tell you this, it’s not 70% and it’s not 100%.

Look, we can all improve. We can all be better. We can all be more effective at turning frowns into smiles. But, let’s also be realistic. Let’s not be so Chicken Little. Let’s not fall for the linkbait and scare tactics. Let’s be pragmatic, not just as marketers, but as consumers. The spirit of what Socialbakers was getting out I can support all day long. The letter, the details and the specifics are just so misguided that I can’t possibly endorse the data or the insights.

Look, it would be great if we could scale social across the enterprise and response to every single person’s tweet, blog post, comment, etc. But, that’s not reality. Of course, most social media consultants, wouldn’t understand that…because they’ve never really been knee deep in a large enterprise, trying to scale social. It’s not easy. If it was…anyone could do it….then again, right now, it seems like everyone thinks they can.

My Relationship With A Black Box

TiVo

Ever since I watched the Super Bowl in 2002 at my good friend, Reed Roussel’s, house; I was a TiVo fan. For months prior, I had been trying to sell my wife on the idea that we NEEDED a TiVo. Now, need is an important word. If you recall back to grade school, the only real needs are water, air, food and shelter. Well, in the early 2000s, I was looking to add TiVo to that short list. Up until that Super Bowl evening, it was a weak argument, and frankly I wasn’t even 100% sold. During the game though, something changed. We were all watching, talking and eating. A commercial had played. Most of us had missed it. But, like magic, Reed was able to rewind the game, letting us watch the commercial…then again, like magic, he fast forwarded back to the game. Wow. I was sold. More importantly, the wife was sold. True Story: the very next day, we picked up 2 TiVos and had them up and running a few days later.

So, for more than 10 years, I’ve been a TiVo guy. How much of a TiVo guy you ask? Well, when DirecTV ended their relationship with TiVo and came out with their own DVR interface, we switched to cable. When Comcast tried to give us their version of a DVR, we purchased new TiVo’s instead, and had Comcast put the cable cards in the TiVos. When I moved back to Chicago, my 2nd purchase was a TiVo XL. When I moved to New Jersey, the first purchase was a TiVo XL4. It was this purchase and the subsequent experience I had “activating” it, that lead me to tell this story.

For those not in the know…let me take a second to explain the nuts and bolts of TiVo. TiVo is both the box and the software that runs inside the box that you see on screen. There may be other companies that have more impressive boxes (storage size, speed, etc.), but none can remotely come close to offering “software” as great as TiVo’s. So when you buy TiVo, you’re paying for both the box and the service/software. The cost of the software…or rather the cost to use the software, comes in one of 2 flavors:

  1. A monthly subscription model. Think NetFlix…you pay $x a month to license the software/service
  2. A 1-time fee that would grant you access to the service FOREVER. But, that access is based on a per box model. Confusing? If you have 2 TiVos and you wanted a lifetime subscription, you would need to pay the fee for each TiVo you own.

Now, for as long as I can recall, this was always TiVo’s pricing model. You could pay month to month or pay one lump sum up front. Because of my penchant for upgrading, a lifetime subscription just made no sense. These pricing models never made any sense to me, but I’m not privy to TiVo’s financial data…so take that with a grain of salt.

This past weekend, I had my first negative TiVo experience in 10+ years. When I purchased my TiVo XL last year, I signed up for a 1 year commitment. Honestly, I’d forgotten about this. TiVo now has 3 pricing options:

  1. Month to month: $19.99 a month
  2. Year long commitment: $13.99 a month
  3. Lifetime: $499.99 (equal to just over 2 years of month to month service)

So, when I signed up las tear, I apparently took option 2. Before I go any further…let me say I’m completely responsible for having chosen TiVo, purchasing the box, signing up for the service and understanding the terms. With that said…this past weekend, I called TiVo to signup for monthly service for my new TiVo XL4 and to discontinue service on my TiVo XL. The XL4 was going to take the place of the XL in my living room. When I called to make these changes, I was reminded that I had signed up for a year of service on the XL and that canceling would cause me to incur early termination fees. I did the logical thing and asked, can’t I just transfer the commitment to the new XL4? I mean, I’m not looking to break up with TiVo…we’ve had a 10 year+ relationship. The answer was no. And that’s when it hit me. This brand that I love. This brand that I’m a fan of, doesn’t want to have a relationship with me. They want me to have a relationship wit their box. And honestly, that’s just silly.

Look, there’s no shortage of pricing models out there when there’s a physical device and a subscription for service. For example, when you purchase a car, you’re often give X years/Y miles worth of service. When you buy a new car from the same manufacturer, your remaining service isn’t transferable…similar to TiVo. The relationship between customer, phone and phone service is quite similar. Your 2 year commitment is not transferable to a new device or a new number. But…with AT&T, Sprint, Verizon or the like, there’s always going to be a monthly cost to access the service. So, what TiVo is doing isn’t out of the ordinary. But, like I said, it was the first time I realized that I don’t really have a relationship with this product I love or this software/service I adore.

No, my relationship, is with a black box. And that’s just sad.

Southwest Airlines’ Strange Interpretation Of Loyalty

I love Southwest Airlines. If you follow me on twitter or have been a regular reader here you know I’m not exaggerating. But, just because I love them doesn’t mean I won’t criticize them.

On March 1st, they overhauled their loyalty program. They call it the Rapid Rewards program. In many respects the program is a leap forward. For example:

1. There are no black out dates. Granted that doesn’t mean there aren’t blackout flights on those days.
2. Points never expire so long as there is some account activity in the past 24 months. Very cool.
3. As soon as points are earned they can be used. The old program required you to accrue 16 points before you could redeem.

So far, so good. But, here’s where I think they made a mistake. Under the old program you earned the same number of points (1 to be exact) for every flight you took regardless of destination or mileage. Thus, a flight from New York City to Boston earned you the same number of points as a flight from New York City to Los Angeles. With the new program, you earn more points for the longer/greater mileage flights. Incidentally, these are of course, also the more expensive flights. I know why Southwest did this.

As a marketer, I genuinely understand it. Too many people were earning too many points too quickly, thus generating more free flights than Southwest preferred. In essence the new program is a traditional miles program, that’s really no different than what American, United or Delta offer. That’s disappointing when you consider how different Southwest is from those airlines.

Now, I started this post talking about how this program is a loyalty program. That’s really what it is. Great loyalty programs reward their most valuable members better than casual members. Under the new program, Southwest isn’t really rewarding loyal behavior.

Loyalty, when it comes to air travel, really is about frequency. The big question being, how many flights will this customer take on my airline. Think about it, if you fly 50 round trips a year, that’s 50 opportunities for you to choose Southwest or the competition. Under the new program, a very frequent flyer like me, is penalized for flying short flights. I travel from Chicago to Pittsburgh and Chicago to Minneapolis at least 6 times a month in total. But, I earn less points than the person traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles twice a month.

Aren’t I a more loyal customer in this scenario? Is not my frequent patronage more valuable than the longer trips flown by a more infrequent flier? I think so. What do you think?

Imitation Is Flattery

Full disclosure: I loathe Delta Airlines for so many reasons.

I was strolling throughout the Minneapolis – St. Paul airport this evening on my way to a Delta Airlines flight that was of course 2:30 delayed, when I saw this new sign. It sorta struck me. Delta has implemented these signs and charging stations throughout their gates at the airport. The reason it struck me wasn’t because it was new. No, it struck me because it’s a direct rip off of the charging stations Southwest has been offering for years. And, while imitation is certainly the most sincere form of flattery, you can’t help but be struck by the massive gap that exists between Delta and Southwest when it comes to customer service.

Tonight, I arrived at the airport 70 minutes before the scheduled take-off. I had checked the flight status before leaving and the flight was on time. Some how, in the 10 minutes between when I checked and when I arrived at the airport, we were now 2 hours delayed. No notification (Southwest offers this) and no warning. When I arrived at the gate, the gate agent couldn’t offer any information about why we were delayed (this never happens on Southwest). Finally, we learned why (the inbound aircraft was delayed coming from St. Louis), but the agent wasn’t sure if the current scheduled time was accurate (again, never happens with Southwest). While we were all waiting for the flight an automatic notification played every 15 minutes or so over the intercom; it was reminding us that the flight was 2 hours delayed and we could purchase food on the plane (Southwest doesn’t do this period, and usually when there’s a significant delay they hand out free adult drink tickets). Think about that. Hey, not only are you delayed, but by the way you can overpay for crappy food on the plane; cool? When the flight finally arrived, there was more great news: we would be flying on a regional jet, so we’ll all need to gate-check our baggage (this never happens on a Southwest flight), which just adds to the delay when you land. The flight attendants lacked empathy and were robotic (never happens on Southwest). Talk about a hell of an experience. But, honestly, this isn’t an isolated incident. This is Delta airline at it’s norm.

They can try to change the signage, they can try to copy, but the gap between them and Southwest is Grand Canyon wide.

Heck, even the visual is a demonstration of that they just aren’t “plugged-in” or “connected.”

Platinum

When you travel as often as I do you look forward to the perks you get with “status.”  Southwest does a great job of providing real value to their most frequent flyers.  From their A-list program to their Companion Pass program, they understand how to reward frequent loyal travelers.  Starwood does a great job as well.  I look forward to my stays at a Westin, Sheraton, aLoft, etc. because they understand how to take care of their valued guests.  I’m on a first name basis with all the people who check me in at the Sheraton Station Square in Pittsburgh, PA.  I always get to avoid the standard line for checkin and use the platinum line.  I always get my upgrades and I always get the types of rooms I’m a fan of.  The 15th floor is the platinum level and is reserved for only platinum members.  Their club lounge is on this floor and it’s a great epxerience.  The view is great, the seats comfy, the food and drinks very good and the service amazing.

It’s good to be platinum.

So I Was Held Hostage By Yellow Cab

This isn’t a work of fiction.  This isn’t a lie.  This isn’t a stretch of the truth.  This is, in fact, a 100% completely true story of how the Pittsburgh Yellow Cab Company essentially held me hostage for roughly 30 minutes.

Let’s start with the definition of “hostage,” just to make sure we are all on the same page.  Webster defines a hostage as:

  • a person held by one party in a conflict as a pledge pending the fulfillment of an agreement
  • person taken by force to secure the taker’s demands

My trip into Pittsburgh was going amazingly well.  The flight from Chicago took off on time, arrives 15 minutes early, there was a cab waiting, no line for the cab and we made it into Pittsburgh quickly.  I was just praising the gods for all this great fortune, when things took an abrupt turn toward crazy town.

The cab driver stopped at the MARC USA Pittsburgh office and read me the fare; $34.00 and change.  I pulled out my Discover Card (it’s my card of choice and I’ve used it for every cab ride I’ve ever taken from and to the Pittsburgh airport) and handed it to the driver.  The driver snapped his head back at me, pursed his lips and in a clearly irritated tone said to me, “I don’t take Discover, only Visa or Mastercard.”  I mumbled under my breath, that this was ridiculous and the said to him, “well, that’s the only card I have.”  This was technically a lie.  I had my Visa CheckCard that’s tied to my banking account; however I never use that card for cab rides.  In the past I’ve witnessed and heard of stories where a vendor/service will run up charges once they have your CheckCard info.  I should also mention that the Yellow Cab website clearly indicates that they do in fact take Discover Card.  But, I digress…back to the story.

The driver snapped back to me and said, “Bullshit, I want my money now.  You’re not going to rip me off.”  Woah, this totally caught me off guard.  I was completely confused.  At this point, I said, “Well, there’s an ATM over there (roughly 15 feet away), I’ll go there and get you your money.”  That seems fair, right?  Well, not to this guy.  No sooner had I put my hand on the door handle to exit the cab, the cab driver locked the doors and yelled to me, “no, no, no, I’m not going to fall for this trick.”  Huh?  So I was literally locked inside the cab and couldn’t get out.  Perplexed, I tweeted, “I’m locked in a cab. My cab driver wont let me out because I gave him Discover Card.”  While tweeting, the driver told me that he’d be calling the cops.  I was getting more confused by the moment.  I once again reiterated my request that he let me out so that I could get his money from the ATM.  But, he ignored my commentary and proceeded with dialing 911.

Well, I guess not to be outdone, I tried calling the Yellow Cab customer service line from my cell phone 3 times.  However, each time, my call automatically was sent to voice mail.  There was no one, not one single person, actually manning the customer complaint/service line.  Well, so much for customer service.  15 minutes went by and I realized he had not turned the meeter off.  I pointed this out and was then cursed at and told that it was not my place to tell him how to use his cab.  WTF, right?  Ok, it gets better.  I then said to him, “look, just let me get out so I can get your money and we can then both put this behind us.”  At this point, the driver of Yellow Cab 159 went further into crazy town.  He, said that he was going to sue me for lost wages, because I was the one causing this situation.  Huh?  No, seriously, huh?

I continued to ask to be let out of the car and finally he agreed.  Great, I thought, I grabbed my bag and attempted to leave the cab.  I should point out, the cab was a mini-van with sliding doors on each side.  I attempted to exit from behind the driver’s side.  The driver then demanded I leave my bag with him.  Ummm, no.  The bag had an iPad, Mcbook Pro, a few expense checks and some other personal items.  I declined and that’s when he grabbed me and tried to pull the bag off of my shoulder.  I then slid back into the car and exited out of the door behind the passenger’s seat.  I made my way to the ATM, grabbed $40.00 in cash, brought it back over and asked for a receipt.  He refused to provide a receipt unless I gave him the money.  Again, strange, but at this point, nothing was phasing me.

This is when it got even stranger…the cops showed up.  Yes, I said cops.  See, he had apparently called 911 twice.  The first officer on the scene was alone.  He was quite helpful and very cordial. I wish I had taken down his info, because he deserves a medal.  He asked me what happened, I explained the situation and he apologized.  He then went over the cab driver, got his story, came back and agreed to procure the receipt from the cab driver in exchange for the money.  Not a problem.  I gave the officer $1.25 (I’d already given the cab driver the $40.00 from the ATM).  The officer provided the cab driver the $1.25, got me my receipt and again apologized.  This is when a police van showed up with 2 or 3 (I can’t recall) additional officers.  They were a bit late to the party 🙂

The officer advised me to call the cab company, talk to a supervisor and explain the situation.  I called again and again was dropped right into voicemail.  I’m sending a link to this post to the cab company and will let you know what happens.  Talk about a crazy Friday; and it wasn’t even Friday the 13th.

The Expectations And Implications Of Real Time

Do we need a bit of a reality check?

I was in a client meeting a few days ago where we collaborating on their 2010 social strategy. The social strategy ultimately is tied to the overall marketing strategy and thus the well defined business objectives. As we were plotting out a fairly robust and comprehensive plan, our client paused and asked a great question, “We don’t know if what we have behind the door is a drip or a flood; how will we scale to meet their real time expectations?”

Think about that question. It’s profound really. When we mailed in comments to companies we might have accepted a 30 day turn around for feedback. When we email customer support, it’s reasonable to expect anywhere from 24 to 48 hours for a response. When we call the 1-800 number, we’ll tolerate 15 minutes to hours (depending on call volume and your need) to connect with a real person.

But, in the social space (twitter, Facebook, etc.) we demand, not expect, INSTANT feedback. So, again, I ask, do we need a bit of a reality check? I even find myself expecting immediate feedback when I tweet a company, comment on a post, or make a request via a forum/message board. Is that right?

Let’s consider a few things:

  1. Customer service is important and consumers expect great customer service
  2. Providing great customer service is expensive – technology while an enabler, still requires REAL humans to deliver on that great customer service experience
  3. Customers want value…and by value I mean they don’t want to spend a lot
  4. Quality customer service is derived from both what is said/done and how quickly service is provided

There seems to be a gap here, no? Let’s assume you’re a company that offers a service. If you have 10 customers and 1 customer service person, you’re probably ok. But, if you have 1,000 customers and still that 1 customer service person, you’re going to be stretched. Ok, so what happens if you have 1,000,000 customers and still only 1 customer service person? Well, you aren’t going to be able to provide great customer service. Hmmm…ok, so we’ll just hire 99,999 more customer service people to bring us back to our ratio of 1 customer service person per 10 customers. Cool, but we’ve got to pay these people. For the purposes of round numbers let’s assume each person costs the company $100,000 in salary, benefits, and operations. Well we just went from $100,000 of customer service overhead costs to $9,999,900,000. That’s a big jump, no?

Is the company going to eat those costs? Of course not. They’re going to pass those costs on to you. If amortized equally, each customer will now be paying at a minimum $9,999.90 more. Guess what’s going to happen? Yeap, we’re going to have some pretty ticked off customers.

Look, that’s an extreme situation, but the round numbers show us that customers like you and me need to be willing to do 1 of 2 things:

  1. Pay more for better service
  2. Have more realistic and lower expectations

Surely, there’s a middle ground. Companies like Zappos, Comcast, Southwest and others are showing us the way. But, you can’t simply copy someone else’s model. If you’re a company you need to find your own model; one that works for your culture and customers. And as companies are developing these models what are we to do as customers? Should we change our expectations? I think we should. If we don’t, companies will be reluctant to enter the social space. After all it’s easier to keep us using older and more familiar tools for customer service, like email, letters and the phone.

There’s a reason Apple isn’t in the social space. Part of it is arrogance. But, the other part is they don’t have a model for how to make it work. Think I’m wrong? Consider the Genius Bar. Have you ever tried to walk up and get help at a Genius Bar? If you’re like the majority of Apple customers, it’s a rare occasion when they’ll simply help you on the spot. A more likely situation is the Apple employee will ask you to schedule an appointment at the Genius Bar. Granted, that appointment could be for a time 15 minutes in the future. The point is, they schedule, slot and meter your ability to get customer service. And, while they’re doing that, they’re also getting major kudos for offering amazing customer service. Not too shabby, huh? Imagine if Apple was on twitter and using the platform for customer service…an extension of the Genius Bar, if you will. Do you really think customers would accept an exchange like this:

Customer: “Hey, having a problem with 15″ MacBook Pro. The screen keeps shutting off randomly. Any thoughts? Thanks.”

Apple: “Thanks for your tweet, unfortunately all of today’s, tomorrow’s, and the rest of the week’s slots are filled up. I can tweet you back in about next Thursday. Thanks.”

No customer would dare accept that. After all, if you have time to tweet me that, you should have time help me out. If Apple, instead ignored the customer’s tweet until next Thursday, the customer would still be irritated because of the time lag in getting a response. See, it’s the expectations of the medium. Almost feels like a no win situation.

So, what do we do?

Every Block And What Every Site Needs

I was visiting Every Block today. If you haven’t checked their site out, definitely find some time. Every Block represents the future of the web…well at least it does for me. I’ll spend more time in a future post talking about Every Block, similar sites, and why they are the future of the web.

For now, I just want to cover something very specific. Check out this screen shot from Every Block. It’s the footer of their site. How cool is that? The footer’s role, in my opinion, is to make sure you never end up at a dead end. It’s a method for driving people to other sections of the site or to illicit a response. Well, Every Block, really gets it. Feedback from consumers is critical. Active feedback is even better. By having a call to action for consumer feedback on every page they’re clearly demonstrating a willingness to listen to feedback.

With all the talk about Web 2.0 footers like the White House’s site, it surprising we haven’t seen this treatment more. I’d like to see every site offer this type of a feature. Sure, most sites offer a contact us page, but this is “Contact Us” on steroids because it isn’t relegated to just one section of the site.

This is so encouraging and I hope we see more of it.

At The End Of The Day It Comes Down To Human Capital

Time ran a very interesting article about Wal*Mart’s new initiative called “Project Impact.” Sounds cool and somewhat ominous, huh?  So what is “Project Impact?”  Well according to time it boils down to 3 things:

  1. One goal of Project Impact is cleaner, less cluttered stores that will improve the shopping experience.
  2. Another is friendlier customer service.
  3. A third: home in on categories where the competition can be killed.

The first goal makes sense.  Where as Target’s store environment are friendly, open, and inviting, Wal*Mart’s are dingy, dark, and down right scary.  I can’t tell you if making the stores less cluttered will lead to more sales, but it makes sense.

The third goal is a pure prioritization move.  Essentially, why put money and effort behind business units and categories that aren’t in your sweet spot?  Instead focus on areas where you can excel.

So let’s focus on the goal #2; friendlier customer service.  It’s sorta funny when you think about it.  You can optimize your shipping, choose cheaper suppliers, update the store layout, and even decrease the pricing.  But, none of that matters if the in-store experience is underwhelming.  And the biggest contributor to the in-store experience is the people.  But, nobody ever wants to invest in people.

Think about it.  How often have you recommended a program to a client only to be told, “well, we’d love to do it, but we can’t ask the people on the floor to do that.”  It happens all the time.  To really make the customer service friendlier you’re going to need new people.  Why you ask?  Because, changing the personality of people is nearly impossible.  Either you’re friendly or you’re not.  Seriously.  There’s a reason Target has an entire behavior profile driven set of testing that all employees have to pass before being hired.  It’s so they can get a person who embodies the Fast, Fun and Friendly mantra that is the Target culture.

When you’re corporate culture is “VALUE” are you really going to get people who are top notch performers that are excited to come to work every day?  Well given that Wal*Mart has made it a priority to have friendlier customer service, I’d say no.

Make no mistake, the most important asset is human capital.  You can have a great business plan, killer advertising and operational excellence, but if you don’t have the right people in place to carry out your vision, you’ll lose every single time.  Maybe it’s time we start investing a little bit more into human capital from the beginning.