Archive for the ‘Customer service’ Category

LEER: Listen Engage, Empathize, and Respond

June 19, 2009

(this post was first conceived 1.5 weeks ago, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to complete it until just now, due to my heavy blogging commitments at the Good Wine Journey blog, which I as part of my application to A Really Goode Job by Murphy Goode).

Last Sunday night, I went shopping for two airline tickets to Russia.  After I found my desired flight, I was all ready to check out. I input my credit card, and was one happy camper until… my card got rejected. What?? It certainly wasn’t my credit limit or the price of the ticket. “Ah, it must be because it shows up as a foreign vendor, and Bank of America (my card company) just wants to make sure that I  am cool with this transaction,” I thought. After receiving horrendous customer service online and via phone, and unable to unlock my account, I ended up losing my airfare deal. Within 30 minutes, the price went up, as is often the case, and 3 hours later I still couldn’t get BofA to unlock my account.

twitter_headerWhy am I telling this story and why should you care? While all of this was going on, I tried to find BofA on Twitter, but wasn’t successful. So I sent out a couple of tweets mentioning BofA, hoping that anyone monitoring Twitter from BofA would find my rants (note to readers: that is a practice of the best community managers). But no such luck. What did happen amazed me. I was tweeted and retweeted around 50 times, until someone pointed me at the BofA twitter handle. What amazed me was how quickly other tweeps jumped in with their negative sentiment of BofA and we formed a conversation around it. If BofA was watching these exchanges, they would know that they need to spend some time getting back to these disenfranchised customers, because there was quite a bit of dissatisfaction out there. And because the brand wasn’t interacting with us, we formed our own “BofA hate club”.

listenAs I am writing this, I am sitting at the 140 Characters Twitter Conference produced by Jeff Pulver. An earlier panel was discussing how brands are working with their consumers on Twitter, and how great customer service is the new marketing. Just take a look at the following customer service accounts from some of the most beloved companies: @zappos_service, @jetblue, @askseesmic, @comcastcares. These companies are so well-loved on Twitter because they provide excellent customer service and they have their “ear to the ground and “finger on the pulse” of the Twittersphere. If you are on Twitter, it is not enough to just broadcast your company news and blast all of your followers with product information. Twitter is not the right channel for that. Rather, Twitter is about creating and encouraging a 2-way conversation. Because word or mouth spreads virally and lightning-fast, it’s imperative to establish delightful experiences for clients by discovering conversations, taking part in them, jumping in with helpful answers when there are questions, addressing issues and making upset customers “whole” again, as well as rejoicing with happy ones. The truth is, your customers are out there talking about you, not necessarily to you, and it’s up to you to join the conversation in an authentic, empathetic and non-spammy way.

As a voracious student, observer and participator in social media, I am always watching how companies are responding to these customer service issues: are they turning the possible liability into an asset and are they doing it in a way that’s authentic, helpful and empathetic? Just today I was lucky enough to listen to and capture conversations about this very topic at the #140Conf, including a keynote by Gary Vaynerchuck (or @garyvee as he is known on Twitter). The resounding bottom line that Gary drives home is that you need to listen, you need to care and you need to engage. You need to stop obsessing about the number of followers and focus on the quality of the conversation.

So what happened with my BofA episode? Well, I sent a @ message to the BofA twitter account, and they eventually responded the next day (during normal business hours of course), and the only reason they responded was because I @ replied to them, i.e. they weren’t actively monitoring the sentiment. A true community manager would be able to pick up these rants via Twitter search tools and would respond to “tweeps” beyond the ones who send a direct message or an @ reply. Moreover, a good community manager doesn’t tweet between the hours of 9 and 5; a community manager is on whenever people are talking about their brand, all over the world.

cotweetFor some companies, there is so much twittering that has to be done, that they may need to hire an additional person. Do it! It’s worth it! Especially with tools like CoTweet, you can have more than one person “listening” and tweeting on behalf of your brand. As a rule of thumb, any brand that wants to be successful in social media, must listen first and talk second. Just like  individuals, businesses should act as if they have 2 ears and 1 mouth. But first, you need to make listening part of your corporate culture and provide the right infrastructure for your employees to be effective community managers.

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Importance of transparency

May 19, 2009

transparentCompanies can no longer afford to not communicate the reasons why they are doing / not doing something to their users, or to not communicate fast enough. Not to beat a dead horse, but this was very apparent in the Twitter @ replies episode from last week. Biz Stone of Twitter took the time to explain why the changes were put in place, but unfortunately it was too late. People had started talking about it, and before too long, tweittersphere had heated up to epic temperatures. Users were angry, and since they didn’t have information to help them understand what was happening and why, they took it upon themselves to fill in the blanks. Turns out that technical scalability issues, as well as reduction in noise were the primary reasons (you can read Biz’s view here).

Where Twitter went wrong, in my opinion, was the lack of communication to its end users on the reasons why this was happening. Twitter has successfully created this amazing communication platform, but in its first iteration it’s very much like drinking from a fire hose. Fine-tuning to reduce the noise and increase relevance is the natural next step, and I welcome it with open arms. Twitter is fine-tuning now by giving us options in which we can produce @ replies (to be seen by some or by all of our followers), as well as reducing the noise from the people we follow (by fine-tuning how much of each person’s @ reply stream we see – this feature I wanted since day 1!). But even though all of this is done for our (users’) benefit and with the long-term vision in mind, things can go very askew if you don’t take the time to educate and communicate upfront. Because of how virally sentiments spread on Twitter (especially when they are about Twitter), preemption and anticipation, in a very transparent way, are key to managing sentiment and expectations.

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How much should you listen to your customers

May 14, 2009

The recent upheaval in the Twittersphere regarding the new Twitter update dealing with @ replies has got me thinking over the past couple of days (in case you are not familiar with what the new Twitter update does, please read @whitneyhess’s blogpost which does a great job explaining it). Even though I am not going to rehash the details of the new update here, I will briefly mention that as a result, Twitter no longer shows you @ replies directed to people you don’t follow, even though you follow the writer of the tweet (this only happens when the handle of the person you don’t follow is the first word of the tweet).  I am not sure why Twitter did this; perhaps they were helping us reduce the noise that is produced by following everyone’s @ replies. However, this makes little sense, as you can adjust your settings from inside the Twitter.com site. What Twitter should’ve realized that a lot of users find @ replies beneficial to discovery of new users to follow. If someone I respect and engage with replies to someone else, I will take notice and at least click through to that person, and if I like him / her, make a decision to follow. Yes, there are ways to still explore these tweets via setting up a search in TweetDeck and other tools. However, by having everything come to my main feed, it was just that much easier. By taking the option away, Twitter has taken the ability to decide from its users.  If you give me an option to adjust what @ replies I see via settings tab, why take the decision away from me?

The above example shows that Twitter wasn’t particularly listening to its users and how they use the site.  Some companies pursue their strategy without paying much attention to what its users want. And sometimes it’s for good reason. This @ replies episode reminded me of a talk by 37Signals Jason Fried at last fall’s Web2.0 conference in NYC. Jason talked about how each product person / company needs to be a curator, carefully reviewing user suggestions for improvements, while implementing only those that make sense given the company’s strategy. This makes complete sense, especially as a company grows and acquires more users and thus more user feedback. And secondly, users don’t even know what they want most of the time. When they say they want something, sometimes it’s just a symptom of a larger problem they have to solve. As a business, you must figure out this larger problem and solve it, instead of solving by implementing piecemeal modules.

So the question still remains… When do you listen to your customers and when does not listening translate to anger (as in the Twitter example) and possible attrition?

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