Tag: Customer Service

A few weeks ago, the privacy controversy surrounding Facebook prompted us to ask whether the brand’s threshold for widespread criticism was disproportionately high simply because of its global ubiquity. In other words, could the brand commit what would usually be fatal errors and still feel no ill effects on its reputation among consumers?

Well, Apple has us asking the same question today, albeit in a different context. Following the long-awaited release of the iPhone 4 yesterday, a swell of media coverage and user reviews picked apart the newest features and functionality. Though generally very well-received, one complaint emerged as particularly troubling: service failures that reportedly occur when users grip the phone with their left hand. The reason for the quirk was immediately revealed to be the new antenna structure, in which both the Bluetooth-WiFi-GPS antenna and the GSM-UMTS antenna are wrapped around the external edges of the phone.

Turns out, this structure has one major flaw: lefties cradle the phone in such a way that interferes with how both antennas come together in the bottom left corner, thus resulting in the service dips and dropped calls.

That’s bad in its own right, but what raised questions for us was the company’s utter dismissal of the issue, first in an email from CEO Steve Jobs to a customer (see image below, courtesy of Engadget), and then in an official statement.

The basic gist of both responses: Stop holding it wrong.

The long-held belief that the customer is always right has been observed with near-religious fervor since social media’s emergence empowered this stakeholder group to assert their “right-ness” so loudly and publicly. Apple’s approach to handling an issue flies in the face of everything we’re taught in terms of customer service and communications, yet we’re willing to bet it won’t put a dent in iPhone 4 sales, let alone the company’s profit margin.

Is this new reality-that brands can disregard customer service doctrine if they are entrenched enough among their target audience-going to become the rule rather than the exception?

The rate at which social technologies emerge and rise to ubiquity is more akin to a full-force fire hose than a gentle ebb and flow. Suffice it to say, tracking the development of new tools on a granular level is all but impossible. However, every so often, a new technology’s trajectory from introduction to widespread adoption is so steep, it commands the full attention of everyone who’s tuned into the digital landscape.

This has been the case for location-based social networking services like Foursquare and Gowalla, whose meteoric rise in popularity has piqued the interest of everything from corporations and media brands to established social media powerhouses.

The advantages for organizations across the board are compelling: these social services allow users to customize their interactions based on their location and their personal activities. By checking into specific venues-a coffee shop, airport, hotel, retail outlet, etc.-they are communicating with their network of friends, establishing their influence over a specific brand (“superusers” are awarded elite status based on the number of times they check in) and collecting rewards, from badges to coupons and freebies. These services present huge opportunities for marketers to identify, reach and reward their most influential consumers in the most tangible way possible: in real time, on their mobile phones, when they are at the point of purchase.

Now, based on how enthusiastically location-based services have been embraced by consumers, other digital behemoths are following suit. Case in point: Last week, Twitter activated geolocation capabilities within its platform to enable users to pull up location-based information from individual tweets. Likewise, according to reports, Facebook is expected to launch a location service in the very near future. Not only would this give users a way to share their physical location through status updates, but it would also give developers the ability to activate the service in their own applications by making the necessary APIs available.

What does this mean for the evolution of social CRM and everything that goes along with it, from monitoring conversations to managing customer service? It has enormous potential to change the game (yet again): Imagine expressing dissatisfaction with a product while engaging with it in a store and then having an employee approach you moments later to address the issue directly.

Is this the future of customer service?

Lately, we’ve really homed in on the booming social CRM trend, which is further underscored by Get Satisfaction‘s recent integration with Facebook. The “instant-on support community for sharing answers, ideas and solutions” just announced that it is bringing its popular social CRM tool to Facebook with the Social Engagement Hub, a new app that enables brands to integrate the entire customer support experience into their Facebook fan pages.

According to Mashable, the app will exist as its own Facebook page tab that includes Ask a Question, Share an Idea, Report a Problem and Give Praise functionalities, which can be leveraged by brand representatives to address consumers’ needs directly on the platform. Plus, Get Satisfaction offers brands the ability to customize the app to meet their individual needs.

From a data and CRM standpoint, the marriage of Facebook and Get Satisfaction’s Social Engagement Hub sounds like a match made in customer service heaven, reminiscent of another “ah ha!” moment in social media history: the realization that Twitter was the new customer call center.

However, from a reputation management standpoint, it’s arguable whether companies should air their potentially dirty laundry in a highly social, highly searchable public forum (after all, customer service is often a mechanism for identifying and mitigating potential crises). Social media best practices tell us that every tool/platform serves a specific purpose for individual brands and their target stakeholders, and the best strategy is an integrated approach that effectively leverages each technology’s unique advantages. If your Facebook page serves to engage consumers through an interactive experience, do you really want to throw customer service into the mix? Do the CRM benefits outweigh the potential risk of a full-blown customer service crisis unfolding directly on your brand’s fan page?

What do you think?

As social media’s proliferation added new dimensions to standard customer relations practices, companies began responding accordingly, even going so far as to appoint “Community Managers,” people whose sole (a deceptively understated descriptor, given the complexity of the job) responsibility was managing these online conversations. By 2010, the number of companies with Community Managers titles was high enough to officially make this a mainstream corporate position (as evidenced by this list, compiled by the Altimeter Group’s own Jeremiah Owyang).

The Community Manager role’s formalization is a step towards bridging communications, marketing and even sales, as the conversations these executives moderate have implications on each business function. Likewise, the increasingly robust analytics they can access through an array of online tools are capable of advancing each of the threes’ strategic direction. In essence, Community Managers embody the new generation of customer relationship management: social CRM.

Customer relationship management, or CRM, became popular in the 1990s following the emergence of database marketing in the previous decade. Borne out of the need for a scientific approach to automating sales activities, CRM matured over time to encompass other consumer-facing business departments, including marketing and customer service, but sales data remained its primary engine.
As we all know now, social media and digital technologies would ultimately upend such standardized processes by shifting the balance of power from organizations to their consumer audiences. At the same time, the elements that defined its three core pillars-customers, relationships and management-changed drastically:

  • Customer: from people to communities
  • Relationship: from processes to conversations
  • Management: from data to content

Suffice it to say, CRM underwent major recalibrating to transition from analog to digital, which brings us to its present, “social” iteration. However, with newly adjusted organizational structures (hence the normalization of Community Manager roles) and digitized CRM to match, who owns the ever-growing pool of data? And, perhaps more important, what needs to be done with it to maximize the new opportunities it can create, and the bottom-line results it can deliver?

The short answer, unfortunately, isn’t so short. From an outside-in perspective, who owns it-sales, marketing or communications-doesn’t really matter because, as Owyang put it, “Customers do not care what department you are in.” However, from an inside-out perspective, we know that unaligned, out of sync or feuding departments don’t translate to positive results in the modern business environment.

More than that, though, is the realization that, for the first time, CRM data actually stands to close the proverbial loop and ensure the sales, marketing and communications functions are all working within the same pipeline. Indeed, as consumer data collected on the marketing side becomes more sophisticated and, in turn, can analyze characteristics like influence and intent to buy, there will be a major push to actually sync up with the sales pipeline to identify, monitor, prioritize, triage, engage and report on individuals’ brand interactions. Likewise, the communications activities taking place in social media generate robust metrics that can assess consumers’ preferences and consumption habits, and inform engagement strategies at their moment of interest.

As far as HOW social CRM will bridge communications, sales and marketing, the complete answer remains to be seen. However, communications management vendors are taking steps in the right direction with real-time monitoring services and workflow synchronization capabilities. At the same time, sales solutions are integrating collaboration tools directing into their CRM systems, as evidenced by Salesforce’s recent roll out of Chatter. The key will be finding a meeting point where both data sets can be merged and applied to holistic solutions-surely the new “Holy Grail” of the modern communications era.


 

Last year, every public relations and corporate communications conference wanted to address one hurdle: how to prove the value of social media to a C-suite that was technology averse or hopeful all this friending and tweeting was just a fad.

Too many CEOs were too hesitant to give social media any kind of meaningful budget, particularly in a recession.

As our last post suggested, however, the C-suite is finally starting to catch up. Chances are, your CEO is already on LinkedIn and sees the potential for corporate growth accelerating with the right social media strategy.

The PR department is faced with a new question: should we hire a full-time social media specialist, or should we reach out to a PR agency with proven social media experience?

Listed below are the merits of each option, followed by suggestions of how to leverage the relationship you do have with IT, Marketing, Customer Service, Internal Communications and other corporate functions that may lay claim to social media turf.

See these articles (Hubspot’s argument for PR firms, Rise’s questions to ask social media consultants, and Jennifer Van Grove’s qualities to pursue in social media candidates) for in-depth discussion of what kind of professional can make or break a social media initiative.

 HIRING IN-HOUSE

 -Their attention to your business’s goals will be undivided; there are no other clients to distract them from your company’s goals.

 -In the short run, an in-house social media specialist can cost less. They usually bring a mix of PR and technology experience to the position — enough for some content creation and enough for some basic coding.

 -In a world that values authenticity, a customer will want the person they correspond with on Facebook to be a full-time employee and may even feel cheated if they find out their online conversation is with a PR firm and not the company they thought.

HIRING A PR FIRM/SOCIAL MEDIA CONSULTANT

-A PR firm will have more experiences to draw from and may bring a broader understanding of your company’s industry to the table.

-A PR firm may cost more, on average, but will bring in a greater number of deliverable results — sales leads, business partnerships and other “measurables that matter” (not just how to measure social media, but how to link its success back to the company)

-It’s possible for a PR firm to address the “authenticity” concern by being upfront with customers.  Many will appreciate the broader experience of an agency representative rather than someone with a narrow focus. 

Of course, there is a third option that we haven’t addressed: spreading the duties of social media across the company.  Zappos and Best Buy are two retailers that have embraced this approach.

I’d argue that, while it’s feasible (even encouraged!), to make every employee of a company a brand ambassador, it’s best to have one entity in charge of the messaging strategy. Otherwise, it’s too easy to lose sight of the company’s goals. 

Of course, the greatest danger of any public relations initiative is to jump in blindly without setting measurable benchmarks or delegating responsibilities at all. 

Why have a conversation with someone who's bored to death?What’s the difference between PR and IR?

Public relations pros gravitate toward Scrabble while investor relations officers treasure a nice solo game of Sudoku.

I’ll admit to being oriented a tad more to the word game Jumble and other left brain activities. For that reason, it was no surprise that I fell in love with an ad campaign pitched a few years back by Caryn Englander.

The premise was simple: One word would be presented – in a very large font — in print and Web ads. Within that word, we’d draw a box around an embedded word. For people who write for a living, the campaign was a clever conversation starter. (As an added benefit, we didn’t have to spend money on stock photos!)

Long retired, that campaign is still as relevant as ever in a world where thoughts need to be synthesized to no more than 140 characters to achieve social media penetration.

As I was thinking about the problems that dna13 solves for communications professionals, I realized that the verb Listening was only the most obvious advantage a brand achieves when subscribing to a platform that monitors TV, print, online and social media.

The embedded word – and benefit — that jumped out was List. Brands that install the tools to catch chatter about their brands, people and issues also gain insight into those who are initiating and fueling important conversations. These influencers form the basis of the Web 2.0 equivalent of a VIP list.

Lists are at the epicenter of business. Sales reps guard their Rolodexes in the same way publicists don’t let anyone near their iPhone address books. But the lines of who qualifies to be on a list are blurrier more than ever before. Bloggers and Twitter users may have as much impact on a brand’s reputation as the reporter of yesteryear. Likewise, the decision maker behind a brand’s largest deal ever might be that “fan” who just wrote on your Facebook wall.

Gone are the days when static target lists are created and used to spam analysts, media and business prospects. The word “target” itself has fallen out of favor (the word in the word there is “tar”). No one wants to feel like they are in a hunter’s sights.

The solution to making your prospective customers and fans feel less stalked and more appreciated is listening.

In coming posts, I look forward to becoming part of the discussion about how best to structure and manage corporate communications — and even sales and customer services functions — around the ongoing flow of real-time conversations affecting every brands’ reputation.  Please join me.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/clearlyambiguous/ / CC BY 2.0

When Heather Armstrong‘s Whirpool washing machine broke down, she was yet another stay-at-home mom with an appliance problem. That is, until she logged onto her Twitter account, where over 1 million people have registered to follow each and every of her 140-character-or-less tweets.

Armstrong has run her popular blog, Dooce, since 2001, when she began writing about the single life and trappings of a real world job. But Armstrong’s popularity ramped up considerably after marrying and having two daughters, to the point where dooce.com has become an easy way for family-friendly advertisers to reach tech-savvy women with buying power via the Internet.

So when Armstrong began advising her legions of Twitter followers against buying Maytag last week, it was a matter of hours before both Whirlpool Corp (they own Maytag) and The Home Depot‘s Twitter accounts were trying to contact her through responding tweets and phone calls.


Screenshot via Twitter – how’s that for customer service?

Interestingly, by the end of the incident, Bosch, an uninvolved, competing appliance company ended up donating a washing machine and dryer to a shelter in Salt Lake City at Armstrong’s request.


Bosch Appliances, not Whirlpool, ended up donating appliances after the Twitter incident.

That’s when the focus of the story switches to Whirlpool and Bosch. Because Armstrong used her Twittersphere influence to complain about her Maytag machine, Jeff Piraino, manager of Whirpool’s executive offices in Michigan, phoned Armstrong himself to coordinate the arrival of a new repairman (and yes, the machine got fixed). Through relatively little effort, the company was able to fix a problem with a blogger with potential to turn her readership’s buying power elsewhere – all this took was a tweet and a few phone calls to get back into Armstrong’s good graces.

In an age where tweeting is rapidly becoming the new word-of-mouth advertising, this public response should be considered a victory on Whirlpool’s part. Intriguing though, is Bosch’s position in the situation. Although Armstrong could have accepted the washer and dryer Bosch offered as a remedy to her broken Maytag model, she suggested they donate the appliances to a shelter. It was a good move by Bosch, which garnered the company attention without even having to remedy what was ultimately a problematic appliance complaint. You could ask, did they have an option at that point? In any case, the potential backlash against Armstrong for receiving special attention was neutralized, Whirlpool made an important customer happy, and another appliance corporation received a bit of buzz in the blogosphere for getting involved.

This all begs the question of whether or not this “problem” was a product of companies not quite knowing how to interact with customers through social media. Are corporations going to battle it out when a well-placed tweet endangers a brand reputation? Washing machines fail. It’s a fact. And even if the customer happens to be a popular Internet figure, the truth is that there are hundreds of other people on the hotline waiting to hear word about their own appliances. Since the solution took relatively little effort – especially on Whirlpool’s part – the situation was cleaned up nicely.

Ultimately, the responsibility of those in charge of maintaining a brand image comes in picking and choosing whether or not a consumer complaint has enough strength to be damaging.  In reality, many of such complaints rarely have a lasting impact, even if placed by someone like Armstrong.

So if handling complaints through the traditional methods still seems to work, why is the company’s Twitter account manager getting involved?

Branding through social media is a relatively new concept, and we can see how the dooce/Whirlpool/Bosch situation emphasizes the point that no one really knows what the solution is to handling unhappy consumers through Web-based applications. The trick is to recognize potential volatility of dealing with an angry, albeit influential, customer through social media applications. In many cases, a solution will not be as urgently needed as it might seem. Knowing what you are “listening to” in social media becomes vitally relevant.

CNN reported Monday that while only about seven percent of people older than 65 have online social-networking profiles, Facebook‘s popularity is growing most quickly among women older than 55. Facebook has become the first social networking site that effectively reaches out to the senior citizens.

Simultaneously, Denise Shiffman wrote an excellent tutorial on corporate social media engagement and the importance of a steady plan for companies to launch a social media campaign. She uses Nutella, Coke, and Wal-Mart as examples of companies that have successfully leveraged social media to create relationships with customers, particularly on the popular social networking site Facebook.

Coke and Nutella have attracted over three million fans to their Facebook pages alone. With the right strategies and tactics deployed, social media can be used to change a company’s competitive landscape. But that only happens when a company understands that social media is more than a set of tools and tactics. It is a set of behaviors and approaches to communicating, interacting and engaging your customers.

Shiffman also touches on an interesting point – how does Facebook fit into customer and public relations for most companies?

What we’ve seen is that a company can create a community of loyal customers through sites like Facebook, but the company must cater to the needs of consumers:

  • Companies must be willing to reward loyal customers with real, tangible rewards and news that would affect their buying habits.
  • Companies must be willing to act upon the outcome of the conversations, for there is a significant possibility of unwarranted or irrational negative comments.
  • Companies must be willing to step beyond their level of comfort. This is not the space for B2B interactions. Companies must take risks through humor and illustrate the humanity of their business through the community they create on Facebook.

As Shiffman suggests, it is possible for corporations to get involved in the social networking space, but it needs to be deliberate and community-based. Once companies leverage Facebook, they need to be a listening ear to their consumers, not just a selling agent.