From Social Selling to Social Service- a new paradigm

This is a guest blog for a company that I personally have a great deal of respect for: Digital Leadership Associates. Given that they are world renowned thought leaders in Social Selling, I thought it would be worth considering the growing role of Social in Customer Service.

In these days of customer empowerment, it is becoming an increasingly common occurrence. Customer frustration or dissatisfaction boils over onto our Social feeds. In the past, we would either have shrugged our shoulders or written to complain. The growth in Telephony enabled us to vent at poor Customer service Agents. However, the Internet now offers all sorts of possibilities to make Suppliers squirm. Social Complaining has now even got a monetary value according to The Spectator.

The example below was typical of many others and the response emphasizes the dilemma now being faced by many organisations.

Facebook social comment

Customers are using the potential for posts to go “viral” to get something done. This method bypasses traditional complaints management processes and has the ability to cause damage right up to the highest levels of an organisation.

The challenge for Organisations is complex and multi faceted. How to save face, how to treat ALL customer fairly, irrespective of channel, how to respond, how to be proactive etc

So what can Suppliers do?

Firstly, recognise the way in which your customers wish to engage you through Social Media. It may not be to complain but to ask questions or even compliment you.  The major UK pub chain, Wetherspoons, recently announced its decision to close its Social Accounts

I do not see that this will help Wetherspoons in remaining engaged with or “connected” to their customers. It is the first public example I have seen of burying your head in the sand. It will not stop people from commenting about the brand whether positively or negatively. However, it will reduce the costs of administering their Social Accounts.

Secondly, identify the Social Channels that you are committed to and learn how to use them professionally. Like anything else, the likes of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are tools that in the right hands can do good, in the wrong hands can harm. Make sure you post appropriately, integrate to conventional channels and “listen” to the noise to detect early signs of an issue.

There was a famous Australian example as long ago as 2009 when a bank turned a customers Twitter rant into a positive outcome. However, this merely encouraged others to get quicker and more fruitful outcomes by taking to Social Media. However, at least they were listening and mitigated any reputational damage to their brand.

Finally, consider how Social can help you create genuine differentiation through service. Why not encourage users to engage with you and use social to get answers to questions, chase up orders and get a more personalised service. The technology exists to do some pretty amazing things and it starts by understanding the persona’s who engage with you and their particular journeys. Design from the “outside-in” and incorporate Social service within these journeys.

My hope is that Social evolves from being a tool used by complainers to getting quick results through “shaming” into a media which is used by organisations to offer outstanding service excellence negating any need for people to rant. I can live in hope….

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The real “X Factor”

What is the X Factor in building a profitable brand? This post argues that it is the Customer eXperience and demonstrates why organisations have to deliver a consistent and compelling customer experience across each and every touchpoint.

Forget your TV. The real X Factor will allow you to perform better than your competitors and achieve long term results to delight your shareholders and stakeholders.

The X Factor is on most CEO’s agenda’s yet it often alludes many organisations.

The X factor is widely known, yet rarely understood.

So what is this corporate X Factor?

The X factor is eXperience. The Customer Experience or Cx as it is often abbreviated to.

It includes the User eXperience (or Ux), whoever the “user” might be, as a user could be a customer, a partner, an employee, a Supplier. It all adds up to a perception gained by an individual or collectively by an organisation which will affect the relationship between both parties.

Every interaction between an organisation and its Stakeholders is a “moment of truth” where these perceptions, either positive or negative, are gained. The sum of these “moments of truth” lead to an overall “customer experience” that can affect the economic relationship. Let me use an example of how this might apply to Financial Services.

It used to be that upon getting your first job, you set up a Bank account (often with your parents bank) and you banked with this organisation for life. When you came to buy your first house, you might visit your local Manager who would interview you and then arrange a loan. How times have changed. These days, Banking is highly competitive and has moved to touch every point of our lives. It is easy to change banks, or have many banks. Some specialise in certain types of products but they all want our hard earned cash. The transactional cost of changing banks has lowered so that customer loyalty is far less than it was in previous generations. Therefore the retention of customers has become more important than acquiring customers to most banking organisations. So how does a bank retain your business? It can make its products more attractive and tailored, but this comes at a high price to the bank and has not always been a unique differentiator. Therefore banks have gradually come to realise that by improving every touchpoint with their customer, it not only makes the bank easier and convenient to do business with but also improves our perception of their brand.

The Customer Experience must be considered across every single touchpoint, across every single channel and needs to be consistent for every single customer. Therefore if a Bank has great, customer centric staff in every branch, this is clearly advantageous but a Telephone Banking service which uses a poorly designed Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) menu, long wait times or is not 24/7 might negate all the good work done in the branches. Similarly, a great Mobile App which allows you to do your general banking might be negated by a difficult to use Online Banking web site.

It is true that different customer segments are likely to use different channels, depending upon their needs but few Banking customers will stick to one channel. Therefore every single touchpoint must be looked at and tested from a customers perspective to ensure that they receive a positive and consistent experience. The loyalty generated will drive longer term financial reward, especially in a Social world where good and bad experiences can be shared and communicated globally in seconds.

I have used Banking as an example but the laws of Customer Experience are universal. Create great and lasting Customer Experiences and the rewards will repay the effort over and over.

“Do what I do, not what I say”

How often do we hear of people who say one thing yet do another?

Unfortunately, for the last year, I have been tasked with developing a CRM product but without being “allowed” to use Social Media. I was not allowed to blog, tweet or even post video’s on YouTube to evangelize my strategy, thoughts or latest updates.

I’m now free from such constraints and will be again blogging about things I’m passionate about:

  • Responding to “The Voice Of The Customer”
  • Developing and delivering mutual value from customer centric processes
  • The use of Social Media to drive value, loyalty and awareness
  • Understanding the best way to deliver CRM
  • oh, and maybe the odd bit of naming and shaming!!!!!

In doing so, I am only intending to pass on a perspective based upon my own learnings and experience. It is not instructional and should be taken as food for thought. In my own business philosophy, I try to inspire and lead by getting others to do what I have done rather than recklessly following what I say without question. Therefore, as always, feedback and discussion is invited and please do continue to share this blog with anyone with an interest in putting the customer at the heart of everything they do.

Social Media stripped bare

Everywhere we turn, the buzz is about Social Media. As a CRM professional, I have observed the feeding frenzy of mature organizations and respected decision makers become gooey eyed teenagers as they tell of their passion for Social CRM and how it is the new digital revolution.
There is no doubt that Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter et al have redefined how we interact and communicate. I have no doubt that the capability will continue to evolve and become a core part of everyday life in the very near future, especially as gadgets and bandwidth are improved and accessible to ever staggering numbers.
However, does this mean that businesses should embrace Social Media and, if so, what are the business benefits that they can attain? This question is proving to be far harder for many organisations. They know that the Innovators and Early Adopters are using Social Media as a key part of their core strategy. However, my take is that many businesses are struggling to comprehend how to use it to the benefit of their customers and stakeholders. They know that they should do something about it, but what, how and why? I have a few suggestions for the early and late majority who have yet to succumb to the roller coaster ride of Social Media.

Tip 1: Treat it as a new channel
Social Media offers a direct and alternative approach to traditional interaction channels. Your customers, employees and partners can tweet, blog and post. The question is how to manage it. As a means of collaboration, Social Media can be a great tool but your organization must be committed to facilitating and enabling the communication. If you were to suddenly open a new Contact Centre that enabled customers to interact with you, how many staff would support the Contact Centre? Would it be open 24/7 or 9-5? Questions such as these highlight the commitment you will need to make to create a solid and positive presence. Ensure commitment to it as if it were a new channel and be there for the long run.

Tip 2: Develop a policy but encourage interaction
Developing a Social Media policy is essential. It outlines your commitment, sets guidelines and defines your objective in establishing a presence. Address questions such as: What are we seeking to achieve? Who will speak for the organization? Which departments will interact or provide content? How can you align content with consistency and corporate standards, yet remain agile? You may not have all the answers up front and further definition will occur over time. However it is important to design and document the policy before taking those first few steps.

Tip 3: Give followers reasons to follow and share.
One of the main benefits of Social Media is reach. Justin Bieber has more Twitter followers than the population of many large countries. Therefore a key objective might be to build an army of new potential customers or advocates. However, what is in it for them? Why would they wish to follow you, retweet you or become a “fan”? You must be prepared to offer something compelling to keep them wanting more. A recent study showed that the vast majority of Facebook fans became fans in order to get product vouchers! This also suggests that the number of fans does not necessarily represent the number of loyal customers. Therefore offer reasons to hold their attention and make them want to spread the word. It could be competitions, incentives, offers or exclusive access. Whatever it is, use it to build your knowledge of your customers which can then be used to your competitive advantage.

Tip 4: Accept new service paradigms or deal with the bloodbath
One of the challenges of Social Media is that it’s audience expect everything now. It used to be ok to set an expectation of a reply within 5 days when filling out a “Contact Us” request form on the website. However, in the Social Media world, you are “live” and people expect immediate responses. If you have Service KPI’s, these are likely to be thrown out of the window unless you are able to manage this expectation. Therefore, why not treat it as if it were a Phone Call? Respond immediately and proactively but then utilize normal Service standards in delivering the required service. That way, people will not abandon traditional contact channels once they realize that the service delivery time is just the same. That said, this pressure is forcing organizations to new levels of customer service to avoid disappointing their customers. It raises the bar for everyone.

Tip 5: Use Social Media to get to know your stakeholders and customers
Why is Facebook valued so highly? One of the main reasons is that it knows everything about it’s 500 million subscribers. It knows your likes, dislikes, job, age, contact details and who you are friends with. As a customer database, it is the most valuable one in the world. Therefore, can you use Social Media to get to know your customers? Offer people reasons for them to share their personal or professional details with you. Imagine you are a retailer of car parts. You could offer a free webinar to subscribers on installing car speakers. To subscribe, the members will need to complete a registration process whereby they tell you all about the car they drive, how long they have had it, how old it is etc.

Tip 6: don’t forget traditional channels
Social Media is certainly changing the landscape but you may still have customers who visit you in person, write you a letter, ring up or even buy through indirect channels. You should try to analyze these traditional channels to ensure that you still deliver a consistent level of sales and service through these channels if that is your strategy. It was not that long ago when many High Street banks closed branches because it was cheaper to utilize Contact Centres and the Internet. These banks are now backtracking and having to reopen branches because they forgot that many customers still demand that personal touch.

Tip 7: See it as a tool, but not THE tool
Not all businesses will benefit from Social Media. Even within Social Media, some products will offer greater benefit than others. Over reliance on Social Media could be dangerous. Some products are not global. Some are likely to be acquired. It is difficult to keep up with the ever and rapidly evolving world of Social Media. So go back to basics. What are you trying to achieve? How can Social Media complement that strategy, not reengineer it? As mentioned before, be committed to your new channel but monitor it’s performance very closely to ensure it is supporting your strategy.

Tip 8: employ Gen Y staff to manage Gen Y channels
Social Media is typified by Gen Y. Instant everything. Email is now passé. As a proud member of Gen X, I can appreciate Social Media but I believe that it takes a passionate Gen Y employee to have the understanding and insight to drive a compelling Social Media strategy. The level of engagement should be peer to peer. Gen Y has created a new web 2.0 language typified by the OMG and LOL achronisms. Your organization needs to interact in a fashion that is with the type and with the times.

Tip 9: if you open flood gates, you must expect to manage floodwater
Opening up the floodgates allows the tidal population to come in and tell you what they want, how they feel and how to engage them. Are you ready to hear this? Whether you are ready or not, there are people out there tweeting about you. Don’t believe me? Just search Twitter by entering #your company name. It was this single insight that persuaded one of my previous clients to start scanning Twitter (with software) to identify any tweets that told of customer dissatisfaction. They then contacted the Tweeter and attempted to turn the negative into a positive customer experience. Imagine now linking that Tweeter to their Customer record in your CRM system. Imagine what you could learn!

Tip 10. Don’t wait because you don’t understand it. If you are going to wait, be sure it is for a valid reason.
I have never been an Early Adopter. I would like others to pay the high prices and go through the pain before I jump in and buy a more tested and cheaper product. That’s why I have an iPad 2 but never owned an iPad 1. However, to just wait and observe will punish your business. There needs to be a period of trial and error. Why? Because your competitors will do it and your customers are demanding it. So how to get started? Go back to Why? What do you want to achieve? Better Sales? Improved Customer Service? Better intelligence? Once you know why, identify a small team of Gen Y who can come up with the how and determine your policies.

One final thought. How come you are reading this right now? That’s right. It really does offer benefit!

The DNA of a CRM system

In thinking about a generic CRM technology product, I was recently asked what the common components are. Having recently been involved in a high profile government RFP and Vendor Evaluation, I have come up with the following list of common components. I believe these components represent the DNA of a CRM Technology solution.

In thinking about a generic CRM technology product, I was recently asked what the common components are. Having recently been involved in a high profile government RFP and Vendor Evaluation, I have come up with the following list of common components. I believe these components represent the DNA of a CRM Technology solution.

Continue reading “The DNA of a CRM system”

Customer Democracy

I heard this term recently and rather like it.

As a self appointed “customer champion”, I like the idea of customers exercising their democratic right. In doing so, customers can exercise freedom of choice by churning from one underperforming provider to another. They could exercise freedom of speech by complaining or praising via Social Media. They can express freedom of thought by researching and investigating suppliers, products and services like never before.

So how can organisations respond to the growing democratic spirit of consumers? As with any democracy, its adapt or die. Those slow to truly listen to the voice of the customer and reinvent themselves from the outside-in may find themselves consigned to the history books. I am growing ever more confident that CRM, a term associated with software and, inevitably, IT implementation disaster stories, is finally becoming understood for what it is: It is a business STRATEGY that is supported by people, processes and product to generate MUTUAL value for both the provider and customer. I believe this message is beginning to emerge from the mire of the GFC and is being driven by the need to adapt to the new world of Customer Democracy.