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Online communications can make or break your reputation for customer service

This is the next entry in our “Best of” series, in which we venture deep into the vault to replay blog opinion and insight that has withstood the test of time. Today’s post hails from December 2010. We welcome your feedback.

By Linda Forrest

Customer service is an area of keen interest for us, as those who regularly read this blog will know.

It’s clear that the increased adoption of social media in recent years has had a tremendous, we think positive, impact on customer service. The fact is that online communications can act as a logical extension of effective customer service programs, but can also fail miserably if the organization doesn’t have a solid strategy in place as well as the systems to support that strategy, the people to run it and a commitment to ongoing success in this area.

Am I a customer service expert? No, but I am a life-long consumer, and an adept marketer of technology products and services. These two things combined give me a well-rounded perspective on how online communications, including social media, can be the lynchpin or the undoing of your reputation with customers, prospects and the industry in which you operate.

Let’s first examine the systems that drive your customer relations efforts.

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Online communications can make or break your reputation for customer service

By Linda Forrest

Customer service is an area of keen interest for us, as those who regularly read this blog will know.

It’s clear that the increased adoption of social media in recent years has had a tremendous, we think positive, impact on customer service. The fact is that online communications can act as a logical extension of effective customer service programs, but can also fail miserably if the organization doesn’t have a solid strategy in place as well as the systems to support that strategy, the people to run it and a commitment to ongoing success in this area.

Am I a customer service expert? No, but I am a life-long consumer, and an adept marketer of technology products and services. These two things combined give me a well-rounded perspective on how online communications, including social media, can be the lynchpin or the undoing of your reputation with customers, prospects and the industry in which you operate.

Let’s first examine the systems that drive your customer relations efforts.

Over the years, through various clients and prospects, we’ve been exposed to a variety of technologies that make the back-end of customer service systems more effective and efficient. Knowing that technologically there is a better way than the impersonal, automated, aggravating methods that many companies deploy, and suffering through these inferior systems is especially painful. We’ve all had the phone ring, only to pick it up and hear dead air while the predictive dialer connects you with an agent. We’ve all started a customer service session on one channel – phone, email, Twitter, chat, etc. – to then move to a different channel and have to reiterate all of the basic information all over again, as though the first part of the session never took place.

I know for a fact that there are effective technologies you can adopt that will make support sessions run smoothly. It’s a rare case when a customer calls your support center to report that everything is on track; rather, it’s usually when there’s a problem that they reach out. Why ruffle feathers further with ineffective systems that just add to the aggravation? In a word, don’t.

The fact that in our media-centric world the consumer is empowered to share their thoughts on a product or service, instantly, without barriers, over social media, is both exciting and terrifying, isn’t it? If someone has a great experience, they broadcast it and everyone knows it. If someone has a terrible experience, the same is also true. How you respond to customers – those with kudos and those with complaints alike – is what will determine your reputation at large.

So, you’ve got the right customer support technology in place. The next piece of the puzzle is people. This is a critical part of the equation, especially in this citizen-journalist climate where everyone has multiple broadcast channels of their own, be it YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or the like.

You need to have sufficient team members monitoring these channels for mentions of your brand, good and bad. With a cohesive strategy in place, your team is empowered to respond to brand mentions and engage in reparations where appropriate.

These comments may reside on your own communications channels – forums on your website, comments on your YouTube channel, posts on your Facebook wall, Tweets to your handle, etc. On owned channels, monitoring of the discussion should be an obvious task that’s already taking place. There should be clear customer support mechanisms on your online properties. Don’t make it difficult for your market to interact with you. Obscurity is a fraud to hide nothing.

Savvy companies know that negative feedback is nothing to shy away from. If your customers are not shouting in your ear, they’re shouting in someone else’s about how crappy you are. Better that you know what’s being said about you so can make steps to fix whatever is wrong.

There have been some great posts written about this topic, that I would highly recommend reading if this topic is of interest to you, and it should be, regardless of if you’re in B2B, B2C or a consumer.

B2B Social Media and the Customer Service Funnel

A Loyal Follower Is Hard To Find (And Keep)

Why Social Media is Inseparable From Customer Service

Picture from: Yackie Mobile Blog

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Everything I know about customer service, I learned from a mouse

By Linda Forrest

Mickey Mouse, that is.

I just returned from another glorious vacation to Walt Disney World, our first trip with our toddler. We had an absolute blast. The weather was great, the food incredible, our accommodations spacious and affordable, and as usual, the customer service we received was outstanding. This is our fourth trip to Disney since 2004 and every time, we’ve marveled at the incredible customer service and impressive systems in place at the parks, restaurants, cruise ship, hotels, even the parking lots to ensure the best experience possible for the guests.

In fact, Disney has written a (the?) book on customer service called Be Our Guest that details all the elements of superior customer service that the company works so hard to achieve. Most of the time, it succeeds.

Traveling with a little one, you’ve got a lot of gear to lug around. Inevitably, things will get left behind or misplaced. So exceptional is the lost and found system in the parks and on the entire property that even though we lost several items over the course of our stay, most of them came back to us – from our son’s beloved stuffed animal to our rental car keys (thank god!)

It’s the systems that the company has in place that make it almost impossible to do the wrong thing.

For example, when they’re filling the massive parking lots for the parks, there are dozens of staff in the parking lot directing traffic so that the cars coming in single file are parking in order, side by side, with no room for error. There’s no parking willy nilly, instead it’s an orderly process and makes things easy for the staff and the guests. Clear signage makes it easy to remember where you parked and trams shuttle guests from their cars to the front gate on an endless loop.

Another great example is the proliferation of garbage cans on the property. Extensive studies were done to see how far a guest would be willing to walk to deposit trash in the proper receptacle, rather than just throw it on the ground. Subsequently, trash cans were placed at these specific intervals and this, paired with the many people cleaning the park, results in an almost impeccable environment. It would be more difficult for guests to litter than to just place their garbage in the trash can.

How does Disney do it?

The company works tirelessly to gather visitor data, with researchers at the entrance to the park surveying the guests, and now even some touchscreens in rides that ask questions, ostensibly to enhance the rider experience, but clearly to also gather market data.

The amount of staff it must take to operate a park on a daily basis is bewildering, but there’s always a friendly “cast member” whenever you need one. I have yet to encounter someone there who doesn’t seem to love their job, though a quick search on the internet sees that some ex-staff refer to it as Mouschwitz, which doesn’t exactly communicate happy images. Still, I can only speak to my experience as a guest, and that, on the whole, has been wonderful.

The magic one feels at a Disney park takes a lot of work, but no company does it better and you’d really have to try hard to have a bad experience on those grounds. It’s a well-oiled, well thought out machine and what it produces is nothing short of, well, magic.

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Customer service worth a laudatory blog post

By Francis Moran

I write an awful lot on this blog about customer service, mainly lousy customer service. Like most consumers, I run into my share of companies whose customer-service posture screams at me that they just don’t give a damn about keeping me as a customer. Having a blog gives me a soapbox from which to rant about them but given that this is supposed to be a blog about marketing, merely ranting would not meet our editorial mandate.

So my preoccupation with customer service is based on what I have come to call my first law of competitive differentiation, the proposition that, in an age when almost any technological or cost advantage will rapidly and inevitably be eroded, the only sustainable competitive differentiation for most companies is to treat their customers like the centre of the universe that they actually are.

Sadly, far too many companies pay only lip service to this.

Last night, my wife and I had an experience that showed us the other side of the equation.

It was our ninth wedding anniversary on Wednesday but my wife was in Houston at a trade show so we planned a belated celebratory dinner for last night. We chose to go to Play Food and Wine, an Ottawa eatery we had heard a lot about, whose chef and founder we liked, but that we had not yet managed to try. Reservations were made, nice clothes were donned and off we went.

The first bit of unusual customer service should never have been noteworthy at all. We were greeted immediately upon arrival — a rare enough occurrence at restaurants these days — and they offered to take our coats! I know, that used to be standard operating procedure at restaurants but, upon reflection, I had trouble remembering the last time that had happened to me.

Upstairs we went, drinks were ordered and we looked over an imaginative menu of tempting dishes fitting Play’s tapas-style approach of small plates designed to be shared. We made a few selections, and our waiter brought out the first two, reserving the third one until we had finished off the first two.

Unfortunately, my wife, who had risen at 4am and had been spent much of the day traveling home on bumpy little planes, unexpectedly developed a wonky tummy just as our first courses were being served. She bravely tried to eat a bit but I ended up clearing off both plates as she waited in vain for her stomach to settle. Since it was clear she wasn’t going to be feeling better any time soon, we explained the situation to our waiter and asked him to hold off on our third plate if he had not already ordered it. Clearly thinking that I still deserved to have dinner, he said he could get it on our table within five minutes but I declined, saying it really would be best if we just grabbed our bill.

He was solicitous and attentive at every stage, occupied solely with our well-being, and so he should have been, given the consummately service-oriented business in which he worked. But then he went above and beyond, and here’s why I must sing the praises of Jordan, our waiter last night at Play.

He brought our bill, telling us that he had not charged for the glass of bubbly my wife had barely touched. Very nice gesture.

But wait, there was more.

When he brought back my credit card and slip to sign, he also brought me a small sampler of the hanger steak I had been very much looking forward to having as our third dish. Just enough for me to relish the dish; not so much that my wife had to wait more than a few minutes for me to finish it off.

With a few small gestures, Jordan raised our experience at Play, disappointingly foreshortened though it might have been, from the merely satisfactory to the extraordinary. As soon as I publish this post, I intend to call Play and bring all this to their attention. Meanwhile, my wife has made us a fresh reservation for Saturday night, when I hope we get Jordan again. Although, given the generally fine service we received from everyone else at the restaurant plus the fact that Jordan was empowered — that’s the key word, by the way, when it comes to superior customer service — to go the extra mile for us, I’m sure that whomever is our waiter at Play will deliver the same exemplary customer service.

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Kudos for empowered customer service

By Francis Moran

Regular followers of this blog will know that lousy customer service is one subject certain to get my rant on. My consistent points are that the cost of acquiring customers is almost always far higher than the cost of keeping them, that effective customer service is the only sustainable competitive differentiator, and that most customer-service operations fail by forcing their agents to be powerless automatons more interested in getting the customer off the line than actually servicing them.

So while browsing through the WhyHire.Me blog of my pal Andy Church today, I was delighted to come across his happy experience with what he called empowered customer service from Canadian cellular carrier Rogers Wireless. The fact that he gives a shout-out to what, in my experience, is one of the least helpful categories of customer-service providers in existence, cellular telephone companies, makes it all the more necessary to give his experience a broader airing.

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