Posts Tagged ‘Customer service’

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.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Customer Service is Dead. Long Live Customer Service!

November 20, 2008

An unsavory customer experience today has prompted me to think of customer service. Here is what happened. I am totally swamped, and didn’t have time to run down to the neighborhood deli to grab a sandwich or to cook my own lunch. So I opted for a delivery of a salad from a nearby restaurant. As a co-founder of HomeShopr, I tend to frown upon takeout, but desperate times call for desperate measures (i.e. too busy and no time for grocery store right now). At least the salad is a healthy option; I get steamed calamari, not fried. I call over there, only to find out that my salad option is not available, as they didn’t order enough calamari. They did offer me fried calalmari instead (yuck!). I inquired about alternative steamed / grilled seafoods, and they told me that the shrimp salad was an option, but it cost $2 more. I asked to speak to the manager, explaining to him that I would like to have the shrimp salad for the price of the calamari salad. The manager wouldn’t budge. I explained that I really want the calamari, and not the shrimp, but I would settle for shrimp, if it was the same price (it certainly is not my fault that I can’t get my preferred choice). He said no again. I reminded him politely that I had been ordering from there for months (I don’t order all the time, once a week maybe, and it’s the only takeout I really order). I also asked him if he thought it was worth it to potentially lose a loyal client over $2. To which he quickly retorted, in a very rude tone: “I don’t care. I have enough business.” After which, I told him that he lost a customer for life, and he told me to go F myself.  He could still reject my plea, but his tone and cursewords were completely uncalled for.

Hmmm!!! He gets more than enough business? Really? If and when this recession gets deeper, I wonder if he would sing the same tune. If another joint with excellent salads opened up in his neighborhood, taking all of his clients, would he sing the same tune still? Does he realize the power of word of mouth, and especially negative word of mouth? He probably doesn’t know that I can quickly ruin his reputation via virality of Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, blogging, etc. Personally, I am not going to stoop to his level and slander his establishment. I am sure another slighted consumer will do that. The point I do want to amplify is that in this day and age of social media, word of mouth can spread like wildfire (just look at what happened with the Motrin ads). The social web is making everything so transparent, and as more and more people go to the web as a resource (especially listening to other users’ feedback), companies can no longer take the lackadaisical approach to managing their reputation. Even though this restaurant is an old-fashioned establishment, and I really doubt that the manager uses too many social tools, and thus not managing the restaurant’s reputation proactively, he should at least be aware of the damage that negative word of mouth / bad will can bring.

Before, bad word of mouth could spread through the neighborhood. Today, bad (and good) word of mouth can spread virally through the whole world in a matter of minutes. If you don’t know what your users are saying about you, please make it your business to find out. And even better, take steps to proactively change it for the better. Reach out to your most local haters and try to make them whole. Most likely, they will stop bashing you. Above all, listen and be authentic in your response. Problem-solve and reach out. Most likely, your haters are just hurt and need to know you care. In this age of social media and rapid communication, every company needs to be a service company. No matter what you produce.

For great examples of companies that do this extremely well, check out Zappos. Even though they sell shoes, they consider themselves a service company. Internally, they say: “We are a service company that happens to sell ________” Service is so deeply part of their culture that their social media approach reflects those values. The channels of communication with customers via Twitter is wide open (click here for all Zappos-related conversations, or chat with the CEO directly here).

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]