Category Archives: Social Channels

Social Media: Full of Falsehoods and Dangers?

Anything can be used for good as well as evil. History gives us examples of inventions that were designed with one thing in mind but ultimately used for something that hurt people (for example nuclear fission created cheap energy but then used to make bombs).

The Internet, developed to speed communication and share information, was quickly dominated by pornography. Then social media arrived and has now overtaken porn, and continues to grow in use and possibilities. Sharing things with family, friends and the world is a popular pastime which, on the surface, is harmless but now harbors growing threats and challenges.

Want lots of Twitter followers? You don’t need to be a celebrity or have something worth tweeting about to achieve that. Simply pay someone to circumvent Twitter’s rules and you’re there. Want a million followers? It costs only $2450, according to the referenced article. So having lots of followers, and I assume there will be similarities in Facebook, can be achieved the honest way or the dishonest way.

Then there’s TripAdvisor. What started off as a cool portal to share your experiences about a hotel, restaurant or destination is now dogged with claims of falsehood. In this case, it’s claimed, a hotel achieved great ratings because investors were busy posting positive reviews while real guests referenced unfinished building works and similar unwelcome aspects. At the other end, small hotel owners claim that unfair ratings are ruining their business and that TripAdvisor is reluctant to investigate and correct these.

Inaccuracies and falsehoods dog social media sites. Even though they probably account for a small percentage of total transactions, the notoriety a social network or portal can achieve when they fail to do enough to deal with the problem can linger for a long time. Worse, dangers exist out there with people going beyond just using social media for bad purposes to those that are deliberately evil. Young, vulnerable, people targeted by others with evil in mind are a concern to parents and society.

So, what can be done? At an individual level, don’t waste your time and resources following links that may be unsafe. When using Facebook, Twitter and other social channels follow only valuable assets and avoid anything questionable in terms of authenticity or morality. This applies to both adults and youngsters.

At a corporate level, companies must take seriously the threat imposed by falsehoods and dangers. Not just to their corporation’s reputation and finances, but to their fans and followers. How do they do this? There are companies that will, for a fee, review content and filter out the bad stuff – images, posts, video etc. They will investigate false claims and ensure only the legal, decent, honest, truthful stuff remains available for public consumption. Technology can help too, automating much of the volume to speed up review and contain associated costs. Some companies choose to do nothing because in the eyes of the law, they didn’t know and, therefore, can’t be responsible. But the law isn’t moral and companies need to decide if they’re in or out when it comes to social media. It’s a tiger grabbed by the tail. Watch it doesn’t turn around and bite!

 

 

Progressive: Unfortunate name for a backward company

I read this with disbelief. “Progressive settles with accident victim’s family after tale went viral” is a story of amazing corporate stupidity and self-interest that exploded online. Imagine the Progressive lawyers sitting on the defense side of the court as the bad driver is prosecuted. Read the article yet? Now what do you think of Progressive? A company to trust and do business with? Or one to avoid?

Only time will tell how much this case and the buzz created online will affect Progressive’s business. Their numbers may dip briefly but their image is now clearly tainted – at least for the segment of the population that uses the Internet to read the news, find information and transact business.

There are a growing number of examples of people in the public eye, and companies, doing what’s right for themselves and not what is right. In the case of Progressive they wanted to contain their expenses. In the case of British politicians the supplemented their income with spurious expenses, but got caught. Why did they do it? Because the system allowed them to do it.

I’m not promoting a lock-down of the system. More red tape and too many checks and balances just constrains to the point of suffocation. It creates hopeless, impossible situations for individuals and companies, and spawns an industry of smart people that work out what the rules don’t cover. No, I’m not promoting regulation, but I believe individuals and companies should think about what’s right for others.

Here are some customer service examples:

  • My Samsonite trolley bag comes with a detachable liquids pouch for the airport security area. This broke after 4 years, I wanted to buy another, and Samsonite replaced it free of charge. I like Samsonite.
  • I switched home broadband from O2 to BT. O2 kept taking money, telling me that BT hadn’t switched the service correctly. BT explained that they had. O2 hasn’t replied to two letters, or refunded the money. I don’t like O2.
  • My garage, Belmont, misquoted (negative £40) for a service on my car. I said I’d pay the full amount as it was clearly a mistake. They insisted they’d charge what they quoted. I like Belmont.

Multiply this millions of times every day around the world and it becomes clear why customers like or don’t like companies. When companies stand by their customer, even though it costs them on that transaction, they can look forward to repeat business. Customer’s defect when they find out for themselves that they’re paying too much, but they become advocates when the company tells them there’s a more appropriate deal available.

It’s time for corporate honesty, because regulation doesn’t promote doing the right thing. Regulation creates an environment of hair-splitting and legal argument, of blame and game-playing. Mind you, customers need to be honest, too, or this will never work.

What do you think, is honesty the way forward?

Corporate Social Media Activity is NOT Childsplay

Social media isn’t just a young person’s domain, but many senior executives treat it like it is. When I speak to them, the general belief is that you have to understand and be comfortable with it to look after it, therefore it’s best left with a young person. Not so, and shame on senior people for not being prepared to ‘get it’, and their willingness to leave accountability with part-time and under-experienced resources. Some can already look back and see how they erred, while others don’t recognise the unexploded bomb hidden away in their organisation.

This article at inc.com caught my eye. Hollis Thomases condenses nicely the reasons why young people, though talented and engaged with social media, may not be just right to look after your activities there. Here’s my take on corporate social media activity:

  • Marketing usually takes the lead because social networks and Twitter are great for branding, promotion and outreach. It’s a cool, like marketing people, medium and a relatively inexpensive method to get noticed. So do be creative in your online activity without going back to college for the resource. And please don’t be fooled into thinking that customer service and technical support will be easy. And it isn’t cheap. And it isn’t quick. I’ll come back to this in a moment*.
  • Focus attention – there are so many options out there that it’s easy to dabble in everything. But being a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none gets no prizes. Find the areas that get you the most coverage for the least effort and expense. In the consumer world this may boil down to Facebook and Twitter, but in B2B you may find LinkedIn, Focus.com and others are better. And before we get distracted by the young person’s ability to multitask, it’s emerging that they may not be so good at it as we’ve been led to believe. In customer support, I know of companies with multiple forums on their own website, and in Facebook, and elsewhere, with so little activity in each as to make it inefficient to monitor and moderate.
  • Be joined up in your approach. Voice, email, chat and other customer service channels have been around for a long time. Much longer than social channels. But the new kid on the block does provide insights into the customer experience that the established channels needs to take account of. For example, customers have learned that a poor experience on the phone doesn’t mean they have reached the end of the line. Simply tweet your complaint and the chances are the company will bend over backwards to get you back on board, and in public. It’s much better that the experience is always good so customers don’t resort to the court of public opinion for resolution.

Social media deserves a place at the boardroom table rather than in a broom cupboard. But let’s not overhype the medium and believe that business as usual has changed. Sure, it has an impact. Sure, it has an effect. But not many established businesses will close their customer service operation down, or reduce high street branches, because “social” is the way to go. It will continue to mature and contribute to the way business is done but not to the extent that boardrooms are filled with fresh college graduates because they understand “social”.

What impact do you think social activities will have in the future?

 

*I’m indebted to Frank Eliason for a mention he made at a conference in London earlier this year about the cost of serving customers through social media. It’s not cheap and it’s not as quick as you may think. Why? The volume isn’t there, the medium isn’t quite right, and the medium of choice when you absolutely need help NOW is…the phone – invented over 100 years ago. But if I want to get your attention, tweeting may just be my final option.

Customer Service in Social Media – taking baby steps

I joined around 60-70 delegates last week in London for the Useful Social Media event Social Media for Customer Service Europe. The keynote speaker was Frank Eliason of Citi who, frankly, nailed the topic. Social media has been great for marketeers but presents challenges.

For example, “friends” do the most unfriendly things such as say bad things about your brand in public and on your Facebook site. They also ask unrelated questions where marketeers intended discussions around new products and services should happen. And finally, they have stopped calling for assistance and now tweet, asking the world instead. Or they express their frustration through Twitter when they did ask you and you didn’t reply.

It’s little wonder that senior company executives are wary of social media. Nevertheless, social media is here to be embraced, not least because customers like it and use it. As time passes late adopters will adopt, and laggards will lag (losing touch?), and generation Y and Z folks will dwell in cyberspace looking for near-instant gratification and help from peers.

The message I took away from the conference is two-fold:

  1. Don’t ignore or constrain social media – embrace it. You can’t contain, prevent, or avoid it but you can work within it to get the best and right results. It’s encouraging to see that social media roles are appearing at very senior levels in large organisations. A sign that engagement is happening.
  2. Customer service departments need to get involved. I was struck by how many marketeers were at the conference. Clearly this is where the early budget has come from but, as I expect there’s a lot for CS professionals to learn from what people say unhindered in social channels, they must get involved and wrest control of CS interactions from marketing. Otherwise, who know what advice and guidance customers will be given?

ROI was also under discussion and various points were made about the return companies gain on their investment. Universally, everyone said it was tough to conform with traditional company ROI calculations. I’ll probably post on this again in the next few weeks as the topic continues to appear. Part of the justification is finding the right format to satisfy the needs of executives, and ensuring that the arguments stand up to scrutiny.

What else did I take away from the conference? There weren’t many dyed-in-the-wool CS people there, so I expect that interest is from people with a CS role and an interest in social media. More people needed that see social media as a customer service channel, methinks!

If you have an opinion, please comment

3 Steps to Successful Vendor Management

I don’t manage vendors much these days but I know a lot of people who manage client accounts. On what makes for a successful client/vendor relationship (seen from the vendor side), they are unanimous on the following three things:

  1. Keep focussed, make things simple – big organisations are complicated and when internal conflict spills over to the vendor their desire to satisfy amplifies the conflict, making vendor success virtually impossible to achieve. So, simplify without dumbing down, prioritise – be reasonable (but ambitious) and don’t boil the ocean, stretch is good – but don’t break.
  2. Communication – not the contracted, structured, reporting stuff. The sharing type of communication. Tell your vendor what’s going on in the company; how the business is being affected by economic conditions, or competition; changes in management and corporate style; where the business is headed, and how things may shape up in the future. Naturally, you can’t share confidential information but you can speak with a trusted partner, can’t you?
  3. Share something of yourself – what’s your own goal? What are your interests and aspirations? Contracts and statements of work, though very necessary, are like a wall. If the parties stand either side then sharing is like lobbing bricks (or worse) over the top. But if you can open a door and share something then opportunities open up.

It’s in your vendor’s interest to do well for you. Turning in a green scorecard isn’t really it – that’s contract. A good vendor will go beyond the scorecard to find the other stuff that makes you, the vendor manager, shine. There’s nothing dishonest or immoral about this – a good working relationship with trust and understanding works for both parties and incorporates honesty and integrity. I’m not promoting under-the-counter payments or foreign holidays. There’s no place for that today and no need for it.

You’ve probably heard the saying “people buy from people”. I like this phrase because the four words contain so much. The key is relationship. This is supported by the pillars of understanding, trust, confidence and integrity. These stand on the foundation of “people serving people”Relationship Pillars Foundation

TowerGroup Conference – progress in a conservative world?

Banks don’t fare well in the Temkin Group’s recent UK customer experience survey. None are placed in the top 10 and only one makes it into the top 20. In fact, banks haven’t fared well for a while with anyone, being blamed for the last 4+ years crisis around the world and are the kicking boys for every aspect of corporate and personal greed. The media loves having such an easy target to point the public’s attention to.

I attended last week’s London TowerGroup conference (February 8 & 9). This was my first exposure to a banking event. I noticed conflict.

On the one hand, banking is, by breeding, a very conservative sector with structures and processes that remain largely unchanged for decades – perhaps even hundreds of years. Banks, card issuers, and the like, handle your money on your behalf. They bear little or no risk and you pay for their services either through fees (whether you realise it or not) or by allowing them to use your money but not pass on to you the full benefit. It’s quite simple really.

On the other hand, the world is moving much faster than they are. Technology enables instant, long distance, wireless, secure communication and transaction. Bank customers are pretty savvy and aspire to do lots of cool stuff using their mobile phone, mobile internet etc. But few banks are ready yet. Some are progressive, relatively speaking, but trail behind retailers and grocers (who, incidentally, dominate the Temkin rankings table).

Let’s briefly compare the banking and retail/grocery sectors

  • Banking: slow, steady, careful (?), big salaries/bonuses, not trusted/liked by customers, big profits, rarely go out of business (and when they head that way are often bailed out by government)
  • Retail: quick, dynamic, progressive, average salaries/bonuses, lots of loyal customers, low margins, go out of business or are taken over by competitors when they get it wrong

Why is this? What do banks need to do to be loved? Clearly, they need to change. TowerGroup analysts gave superb presentations about trends and the like in the industry but I wonder if focus within the sector is entirely healthy. Comparison with the outside world comes in two flavours:

  1. What are other businesses doing?
  2. What do customers want?

The best banks are showing a more retail/grocer-like face to the customer, and are making better progress as a result. Take a look at the efforts of Co-Operative Bank (#15 in the UK Temkin rankings) and First Direct (a very well regarded UK internet bank). Customers favour them. They clearly didn’t do what the others are doing but have made a difference that customers like.

“We listened to you and…” is quoted a lot by institutions. I say, thanks for the apps, and Saturday opening hours, and clear English T & Cs. But what took you so long? Customers have enjoyed internet shopping and communities, 24×7 opening hours and simple, honest words from retailers for years. Are banks catching up quickly or doing this grudgingly?

My closing comment – I joined one session that looked at Retail Banking in 2020. This was largely a focus on technology-enabled possibilities. Technology is exciting because of what it enables. I know because I provide insight and comment on the sector for my colleagues at SYKES. But I heard no prediction of changing attitudes and practices in the banking sector. This is troubling because without this banks will continue to be trundling behemoths, unloved and untrusted, and playing catchup at the customer’s expense.

PS – I met some really nice, super people and acknowledge their conversations and thoughts

PPS – what do you think?

Social Customer Service | Need to Scale the Team or Not?

Most company social media (SM) activity is promotional – brand, profile, product, offer. So the majority of available help is focussed in this area. Emerging, though, is the need to engagement with customers in a service and support, not promotional, environment.

In many cases, marketing departments are handling customer enquiries like a discussion, which isn’t good. Or are ignoring them, which is really bad. So, companies need to be customer service consistent at least, and this will soon be joined by the need to scale engagement team because social customer service will grow over time and as channels mature and companies succeed.

Therefore social customer service and support is not the domain of the creative team. If your service/support need is small now, ask yourself the question “will it remain small?”

Answer “yes”, and your design/creative/marketing department, with input from customer service will be fine. Answer “maybe not” or “no” and you could soon find yourself with a collection of small, disparate teams, dedicated by country, language or product line.

Is this a bad thing? For many companies it is because poorly regulated, inconsistent interactions is the least effective way to support customers and, in social channels, carries real risk of embarrassment or adverse (public) reaction.

How can consistency and scale be achieved? By design and deployment of the social service engagement to complement the creative and promotional aspects. This is not a creative agency/department core strength and is, perhaps, the unglamorous face of social media activity.

What’s needed for social programs that are established and need to be brought into alignment, or will scale as milestones are passed, is an approach and structure to provide a platform for the aims and culture of an enterprise social program. I’ve created an image of it here:

Social Team Infographic
Key Features for Establishing and Scaling the Social Support Team

The corporate steps every company should follow are on left side of the image. I may have over-simplified as it’s not my area of expertise, however, companies such as AntsEyeView, Radian6, Lithium and others are well positioned to advise or provide.

On the right I’ve summarized the key team elements. Excluded from this are corporate community management and creative resources because these sit on the left, but day-to-day community management and customer engagement is covered.

Many organisations manage with part-time and small teams working within or side by side with creative and customer service teams but, once your team grows beyond a single location or skillset, or gets to 10 or more people, a lot more structure and focus is needed maintain control and focus on what you doing. This doesn’t diminish the ability to adapt and flex to meet changing needs but does, however, require attention and process to prevent things becoming unwieldy and deliver consistently.

With scale comes the need to specialise. “Super-moderators”, natuarally skilled across the whole environment, are already becoming difficult or expensive to hire. Finding individuals with potential, and developing them through coaching is the way to increase capacity and deliver consistent outcomes.

More to come on related topics in the near future.

Industry certification in Social Media? Not a bad idea, but not necessary in my view

Jeremiah Owyang recently posted on this topic. I agree with what he wrote, but believe that certification is needed to achieve consistency and not expert status. To explain…

Industry-level certification won’t deliver much value in my view, as each company’s need, each program, each project and each channel is different. Additionally, social customer service is not yet established or consistent enough for such certification to be meaningful. Industry certification is like trying to hit a fast-moving target at half a mile with a bow and arrow. Fun setting up but hitting the mark is difficult.

He speaks of experience, which is a vital ingredient, but the demand for talent and experience could well have the same effect that the Y2K issue had on IT sector pay 11 or more years ago. Young, inexperienced people with little more knowledge than a regular IT user were paid a lot of money as companies screamed out for resources to help save them from the meltdown. The current demand is, I confess, a bit different but experience takes time and there isn’t enough time available to allow talent to mature at its own rate.

So, what’s the answer? Well, outsourcing could well be. I have a vested interest which I am happy to declare now. My employer is a contact centre outsourcer, employing around 45,000 people around the globe, and does a ton of recruitment, training and development every week.

Why is this relevant? Well, contact centre outsourcers focus on managing customer interactions and are not burdened with other company stuff such as research and development, marketing, managing channels, and fighting off the client’s competition (though the services delivered are a component in doing this). We focus on the conversation and taking it to the customer’s (and hopefully client’s) desired conclusion. To achieve this, at a cost that the client will pay and to the required standard, we have incredible resources to identify, recruit, train, develop, retain and manage the right talent. People are taken from little or no knowledge to “capable” in just a few weeks and continue to develop with regular coaching.

We do this on a huge scale for regular voice, email and chat programs, and on a smaller scale for social programs. Even though smaller, we still have more people engaged in social customer service and support than many specialist companies employ.

The result is that every client program has social-certified agents. No need to adopt someone else’s standards, or create from scratch. As every program is different, a key element is customising to satisfy the unique needs while leveraging experience from elsewhere. Success is achieved without running the risks brought about by limited capability and exposure. This way, no one goes online without achieving the agreed basic standard and what they are allowed to do is determined by their level of experience and achievement.

Why would a company develop their own program when they can leverage the experience and best practices of others? Which is better?

I’ll post again with more details on this topic over the next few days.

The impact of customer service in social media is a rounding error, Customer Response Summit 3

I attended CRS3 (Scottsdale, AZ) last month as a sponsor and speaker, and was impressed by the very open way in which delegates discussed their drive to improve their understanding of customer service in social media, and the ways they’re establishing and improving their existing activities.

For me, There were two standout presentations. I’ve added a few sentences to summarise the highpoints:

Jeff Russakow of Yahoo started proceedings. “Looking ahead,” he says, “the current is not sustainable in the future. The proliferation of devices with all the associated interoperability and configuration issues, and the much narrower margins achieved by companies, are a good indicator that the cost of supporting a customer has to change.” Clearly Jeff says this from his own perspective, however, the writing is on the wall for all businesses as consumer expectations shift and cost pressures build. So what does the future look like? Most likely customers will be given much better self-help and peer-help options such as online knowledge and community forums. Additionally, companies must do more to prevent the customer from needing help. Jeff called this “Tier -1”.

By building more features into products, companies increase their complexity. This increases the gap between what a product can do and the user’s ability. Much complexity needs to be hidden away and, as pioneered by Apple, the user interface will be simpler with individual applications designed around a task rather than a range of tasks. Similarly, the shift towards the cloud (and (applications installed there) will result in fewer installation help calls (because installation is replaced with configuration). As this type of call accounts for around 25% of help requests the impact is significant. I’m indebted to Jeff for his insights.

Carol Borghesi of Telus followed with a challenge to the claimed importance of social media, stating that “the impact of social media on customer service costs is so far a ’rounding error”. Additonally, “the future must be established by companies delivering against expectations they set with customers”.

 Carol also shared the following phrase “customer service is the drip tray of the organisation”. This resonated with me. The vast majority of customer interactions are necessitated by something that happened outside of the customer’s expectation. Whether this be a software installation that failed, or a credit card statement showing items you didn’t buy, or an abnormally high mobile telephone bill, the customer’s need to interact is not always as they wish.

Then, of course, it can get worse when the customer calls to make a change to an arrangement and has to get in touch again because the transaction was not carried out as agreed. Imagine the impact if a company always did what it said it would – the cost of customer support would reduce dramatically, customers would be happier, and margins would be healthier and customers happier.

Customer preference is important in the choice of communication channel, and this is where social media has a part to play. Before social networks, Twitter, community forums and chat came along the customer was able only to have a conversation or correspond by telephone or e-mail or in writing. The proliferation of online channels has opened up wonderful possibilities for the consumer but created a nightmare for the organisation. The best companies are those that are thoughtful about the customer’s preference and manage and meet customer expectations. These are the companies that will succeed!

There were a number of other thought-provoking what helpful presentations made. Full details will be available on the CRS three website. I met a lot of very good people this week and wish them all success on their journey in social media and improving the customer experience. The conference was held at the Western Kiel and resort and spa in Scottsdale which is a lovely location, and provided the perfect atmosphere is delegates sought to learn and contribute and improve.

Get Started with Your Online Support Community in Four Steps | A How-To Guide

Establishing your own website community may seem like a big undertaking, but following a few simple steps will make this a success.

1. Be objective – decide why you want your own online support community (OSC). Typically there are two goals associated with this

a. Reach a new audience – people who would be reluctant to contact you through traditional channels, or savvy users who have no need to contact your company themselves but will share their knowledge to help others

b. Cut support costs – by leveraging the altruism of community members, the majority of questions asked are answered for free

Unlike social network communities, OSC are designed to help customers rather than promote products or influence consumer decisions. But the positive impact on your brand through the relationships built with fans or followers is clear.

2. Plan for success – ensure the following elements are in place

a. Time – establishing a healthy community can take as much as 12 to 18 months, so relying on a pilot to gauge success is inadvisable. Start small and simple, and build out from a single forum or category to cover your entire product range at a pace that feels right, and as milestones in community participation are reached

b. Platform – the choice of software available to host your own community is immense, ranging from free open source applications to SaaS available for monthly subscription. When choosing, plan ahead to take account of future capacity and capability needs.

c. Performance – people ask questions because they want answers. Unanswered questions either disappoint users or drive a call to your company, or both. So decide how long to give the community to provide an answer, and how long the enquirer needs to wait. Twenty-four hours is a good guide.

d. Resources – your community manager will ensure that day to day issues are addressed and that the plan is adhered to. Your community, like a garden, needs to be tended. A team, starting small, of moderators, responders and analysts will do this (see #3 below).

e. Promotion – search engines love regularly changing content so healthy community participation will increase visitor traffic and enhance the value of your web presence. Positioning your community in an easily found place on your website will achieve the best results. If it is key for your customers to find your online resources before they contact your company by phone or email, then make it easy to do this.

3. Community team – a popular misconception is that no community maintenance is needed, that it will be self sufficient. This is not so. In a well kept garden, the flowerbeds need to be weeded, the lawn cut, and fertiliser applied to everything. Having paid a landscaper to create a beautiful garden, no conscientious owner would stand back and admire the view as nature takes its course and it becomes a jungle. Your community is like a garden and needs regular attention to be at its best.

The great thing about your own OSC is that it is what you make it. Most community members contribute to the environment through their participation, however, like a garden where weeds get in bad contributions need to be founded and removed to maintain beauty and value.

Similarly, really good content is provided by community members for the good of all. This can be gathered and repurposed, For the benefit of all and as a compliment to the provider.

4. Patient approach – communities rely on people, and in the right environment people will give. There comes a tipping point where the community has sufficient mass and participation to accelerate and deliver the value planned. Watch your garden grow.

Customers value the convenience of online resources to answer simple “how do I?” questions. OSC provides a new kind of interaction, satisfying these and perhaps more complex questions and being an outlet for contributors who want to help others. As part of a multichannel support model, OSC adds immense value for both businesses and their customers.