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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 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, 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.

SYKES Recognised by TSIA for Sales Assist

Technology Services World (TSW) continues to grow from event to event, this being testimony to its sector relevance and audience engagement. I hope that TSIA’s focus will broaden to other technology sector segments such as consumer.

SYKES’ Sales Assist was named a finalist for the Services Innovation Award on Monday, providing an opportunity to describe the product, approach and benefits to a sizeable audience. Competition was tough though, with ServiceSource named the other Services category finalist. As their submission was centred around their core service and platform I felt that they were likely to win. It’s difficult to present a process and methodology on paper and doesn’t always compare favourably with screen shots, dashboards and charts.

At the award ceremony, I sat somewhat nervously as the Innovation Awards part started and was knocked over when Sales Assist  was named as the category winner. SYKES is a people business and representing what we do on paper and in presentation slides is really hard, as it is for any contact center outsourcer, but when visitors meet with our people in-centre it all comes alive. They see for themselves the commitment and passion to deliver service to customers and with this it all makes alland is the thin line at the front of customer engagement.

Sales Assist is a great product, giving companies the method to build sales-through-support activities. So many companies seem to attempt this but fail to achieve a meaningful outcome. I believe it’s because the commitment to succeed is not full and badly prepared programs result in pilot program failure, leading to agents being unenthusiastic and customers disaffected.

Expo Theater Poll Result

TSW Expo Theater Poll result

I presented Sales Assist once again during the lunchtime session on Tuesday when we did a deeper dive into the five components. At the end I ran a poll to identify which components, in light of what we discussed, delegates felt failed their company’s efforts. The outcome was that 50% or more felt that four of the five (Hiring, Training, Management and Incentives) were major contributors to failure. A little way behind was Measurement with only one-third of participants identifying this. This isn’t a surprising outcome given the amount of measuring that takes place in a typical customer support program. I think Sales Assist can help companies perform better and create or improve a revenue stream.

I’ll be presenting Sales Assist again on Thursday with TSIA’s John Ragsdale. Please join us if you can.

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.

United Breaks Hearts

Does every cloud really have a silver lining? My Continental (now United) Airlines customer experience.

Bad weather happens, period. Aircraft have limitations, and one of these is that they cannot safely take off, fly or land in severe weather conditions. On Saturday 29th October my flight from Las Vegas, where I had attended the Technology Services World conference, to Newark was diverted to Rochester, New York State, because we needed to refuel after bad weather and a failed landing system had prevented us from landing as planned. I had around four hours between connections so felt relaxed about the delay, and reckoned that my Newark to Edinburgh flight would be a bit delayed anyway.

As it happened, my comfort turned to discomfort as the delay in taking off from Rochester, and the length of flight to Newark, and the holding pattern we were put in, ate away the available time. We landed around twenty minutes before my next flight was due to leave and then experienced further delays getting to our parking gate caused by departing aircraft queuing to be de-iced.

Once I disembarked I found there was a delay of two hours and forty minutes on the Edinburgh flight, which suited me nicely and allowed time to have dinner before we boarded. I let everyone at home know about the delay so there would be no concerns.

Then the real tale begins. The new 10.15pm departure time came and went with only a “there will be a gate change but I don’t know what the new gate will be” announcement. Then the screens showed that departure would be at 11pm from the same gate. Then it changed to show that the flight was going to London at 11.05pm, and no mention of Edinburgh. No announcement either, and this caused a bit of concern with passengers taken by surprise.

A look at the main screens showed that CO37 would leave from the same gate at 11.30pm, but the gate staff hadn’t announced this. In fact, the ground staff didn’t know about this. The flight crew had arrived earlier and were as keen as the passengers to know what was heppening.

Well, the London flight departed and 11.30 for Edinburgh turned into midnight on the screens, and then the screens stopped saying anything. This resulted in a small crowd gathering at the gate desk, somewhat alarmed at the fluid and unannounced nature of events.

Then 1pm was shown, then 1.58pm (nice to know that departure accuracy is so important), then anger started emerging. There was no plane, no announcements, confidence was drying up and questions were being asked. The gate staff, ear glued to phone, didn’t have answers and couldn’t get them. There was a bit of yelling, out of frustration, and choice words said. Then we were told that the plane would be at the gate within thirty minutes and then we’d depart at 3am.

During this period I had texted home to keep family informed w, and calling the taxi company with updates – my 6.30am collection time was pushed back to 1.15pm eventually.

3am, it turns out, was an important milestone. If we went beyond this the crew would be out of time and unable to legally fly the plane. I found this out at 3.10am after I’d been sitting on the plane for around thirty minutes. I was starting to close my eyes and planning to sleep when a Continental manager came on board with two “heavies” (policemen, just in case) and announced that the crew was now “illegal” so the flight was cancelled.

This isn’t the end of the story, however, as we were told to go to a desk outside of security where we would be assigned new flights. This obviously meant that I wasn’t going home as planned and would have to stay overnight. It also transpires that a few other flights were cancelled and the same instructions given to other passengers. We stood for nine hours on a hard stone floor, first of all waiting for staff to arrive (“will be there within thirty minutes” we were told when we disembarked at 3.10am but actually began at around 5.45am with one person to look after three hundred people wanting flight re-assignments), and then shuffling extremely slowly forwards. The queue went down mostly because people gave up or made arrangements by phone with Continental or their travel agent. It takes a long time to find new flights for parties of three or four family members travelling together.

As I stood in line, I received an email from the airline telling me that I would be able to fly home on Tuesday night, so I called Continental and was told a flight via London on Monday was available. I was also told to stay in line to get my checked bag sorted out and because the ground crew might be able to find a better flight for me. Eventually, with very sore feet, some of us were peeled off and told to “follow me” to get attention more quickly elsewhere. It was now almost 1pm.

The outcome was a seat on a flight to Glasgow on Sunday, so I’ll be home on Monday morning which is a big improvement on where I was a few hours earlier.

This is a customer experience lesson for Continental and every other company that must handle large numbers of tired and inconvenienced customers, and where patience will help them figure out what to do to get things moving again. Some points:

  • People got angry because they didn’t know – no-one even had the courtesy to try and explain what was happening both before we got on the plane and especially after we disembarked and stood in line
  • I spoke to a number of passengers and the belief that the airline knew much earlier that flights were not going to leave was firm. Right or wrong, perception is an individual’s reality, no matter how far from the truth it may be
  • As we stood, no-one offered us water, snacks, advice, information, or allowed us to ask questions

I appreciate that staff were working hard to get people moving but having a small number help customers feel more comfortable and address real needs and concerns before they got bigger would have paid dividends. A little kindness goes a long way, the saying goes.

There was a palpable sense of relief as people eventually arrived at the front of the line. Some even punched the air in joy. More so when they found that a same day flight was available.

It was quite an experience. Not one I would choose to repeat soon. I could be feeling a lot more positively towards the airline with just a little more information and being made to feel more comfortable.

Have your customer experiences been better or worse than this?

Welcome to my blog!

I’m fascinated by the hype around Social Media, Social Channels and Support Communities. I work in the Customer Contact Management business. So a connection between the two must exist, right?

So, my first post!

The Social Media hype reached a crescendo in 2010 that almost equalled the dotcom boom of earlier this millenium. Back then, many investors had their fingers burnt and lost a lot of money. This time around the hype reached a frenzy that is summed up in the market valuation placed on Facebook, the money paid to acquire bright new companies that not many people had heard of and even fewer understood, the interest of marketeers in exploring and exploiting social networks and twitter for brand and product promotion, customer support executives eyeing peer to peer support communities and the promise of vast audiences reached through virtually costless media. Take a look at this video on YouTube.

The intersection with customer engagement is at the point where the ‘push’ is joined by facilities such as ‘likes’, ratings, rankings, discussions and comments. The moment a discussion or comment is enabled, a platform is provided and people like a platform. People also like to help people. And that is what this is all about. People.

Social channels are about people expressing themselves, people reaching out for help, people joining in. They are a force for good and, sadly, for evil. And social channels need to be managed.

The Customer Experience needs to be managed, too. It’s not just the transaction instore, over the Internet, or on the phone, but the other pieces either side. Customer Experience is not just customer satisfaction, whatever that means (tick a box and move on, in my opinion), but is about brand loyalty and engagement, and word of mouth, and…people.

My future posts will be less philosophical. I hope they hit the spot!