Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Archive for May, 2008

When Things Don’t Work: Tolerate or Leave?

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 28, 2008

Stay or go? All of us have days when things don’t go the way they should.  Companies have those days, too.  Service goes down.  Planes don’t take off when they should.  A chef doesn’t show up for work.  Someone slams a product on a blog. 

When things get tough, the company’s response to the problem can make or break their reputation – and their customer base.

The outcome often depends on what kind of relationships have already been built with customers before the problem occurs.  Has the company had a history of listening to customers and reaching out to them in their own language?  Does the company empower employees to take care of things when they go wrong?  Does the company respond to blog posts and other social media conversations?  Does the company build customer loyalty by understanding their customers, then communicating with them the way they want to be communicated with?  These are all part of a strong customer strategy which will help organizations weather the storms which inevitably come.

If a company does have strong relationships with its customers and has built a loyal customer base, customers may cry foul but will most likely tolerate the issues.  They may be very forgiving, even sticking up for the company when others are trying to pull them down.  The customer base will remain with the company – critical in slow economic times!

On the flip side, if a company is only focused on trying to squelch negative comments, if they only talk about themselves, if they forget to take the customer’s perspective – then any falter or trip can result in disaster.  Grumpy customers and their comments come raining down.  Customers spray their problems all over the place, then leave – and take others with them.

Which kind of company do you want to work for? 

If you work for the first type of company, kudos to you!  Let’s hear some of your great stories!

If you work for the second type of company, I know a good customer strategy consultant that can help you… ;)

(Thank you to Brian Solis for the inspiration on this post!  Photo credit: ccaetano)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customer service, Customer strategy | Tagged: , | 7 Comments »

Friday Links

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 23, 2008

links, card Here are a few links and things to keep you thinking/busy this weekend.

Twitter

Well, I am finally Twittering actively!  Thank you to Doug Meacham, Toby Bloomberg, and Mack Collier for the gentle encouragement.  You can follow me via this link.  It is really cool so far (except for those pesky outages), and I am finding a whole new conversation taking place there.

For those of you not familiar with Twitter, it is kind of a cross between a blog and instant messaging.  Your posts are called Tweets, and they have to be less than 140 characters.  Those people who subscribe to your Twitter stream are your “followers”, and you can “follow” others.  You can then see the conversations taking place between them.  Give it a try!

Free Groundswell Book!

Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff are graciously giving away copies of their new book, Groundswell, to the first 100 bloggers who respond to their post.  There are still a few left, and I highly recommend the book.  Here is my book review on Groundswell.  Go read it and and do your own book review on your blog!

Peppers Unplugged

Don Peppers from Peppers and Rogers Group is starting up a video blog.  Way to go, Don!  Here is some info on the first video:

“Hey, I just returned from a week in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. In Singapore I heard that when a mobile phone company down in that region removed the upper limit on what their call center reps were allowed to spend to satisfy a customer, it actually reduced the average amount each rep spent!

I worked at PRG with Don and his co-founder Martha for 5 years, and they are both great speakers and wonderful people.  Look for more good stuff to come.

(Photo credit: yanc)

Posted in Customer experience | 3 Comments »

Social Media and Engagement, with Brian Solis: Part 2

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 21, 2008

 This is Part 2 of the guest post by the generous and smart Brian SolisPart 1 covered conversations and the use of social media.  In today’s post, Brian helps us take the appropriate steps to really begin listening, then engaging with customers via social media.  Again, many thanks to Brian for sharing his time and talent with my readers.  Brian, you rock!

Social Media Empowers Customer Service to Build Relationships, Part 2

Sociology provides us with an understanding of how human interaction and the ensuing ecosystem shape individual attitudes and behavior. Sociologists study society and social action by examining the groups and social institutions people form. In Social Media, these communities take the form of social networks and the communal groups within them. People establish associations, friendships, and allegiances around content, objects, products, services, and ideas. How they communicate is simply subject to the tools and networks that people adopt based on the influence of their social graph.

Observation, monitoring and listening tells us everything. We’ll learn where the relevant conversations are taking place, who’s participating, what they’re saying and the tone of the discussions, the specific information they’re looking for, impressions and conceptions, as well as revealing the patterns of behavior within specific communities.

The million dollar question that every business executive needs answered is who’s responsible for managing these conversations and how much time and money will it take?
In order to determine the amount of resources, time and money that are required, It all starts with good old fashioned research along with the new tools to help you get to the answers you seek (see below for a list to help you get started). 

First..

- Identify who your customers are and where they go for information.

- Search for key words: Products & Company as well as competitors and their products and services.

- And, please don’t forget the relationships that exist in the real world. They’re also indispensable for providing feedback and insight now and in the future.

Based on the research results, you can measure the average frequency of relevant conversations, identify the more active hubs and communities, and the context of the conversations in order to determine time and variety of resources required (a community manager is required at the very least.) 

Here’s a formula that I developed based on participation averages over the last couple of years: 

The number of average relevant conversations per day per community.

Multiplied by the quantity of relevant communities.

Multiplied by 20 (minutes required to research and respond and also monitor for additional responses), variable +/- dependent on the case, usually +.

Divided by 60 (minutes)

Equals the amount of time required and in turn, the resources and associated costs required depending on internal labor or external consulting fees. 

Based on the research results, you can measure the average frequency of relevant conversations, identify the more active hubs and communities and the context of the conversations in order to determine time and resources required.

Throughout the research process, you’ll undoubtedly see that relevant conversations occur across disparate networks, are representative of a sweeping variety of related topics that require varying responses, and, that they usually map  to specific departments within your organization (those most qualified to respond), i.e. marcom, product management, customer service, PR, executive management, etc. Having someone keeping a pulse on relevant conversations and in turn feeding them, intelligently, to the right people internally and guiding them on the required response and follow-up makes the interaction more meaningful and helpful and also distributes the responsibility across existing resources. 

Here are some places to start listening (note, these tools are recommended for listening, even though many of them are also used for publishing and sharing content):

Social Bookmarks

  • Ma.gnolia
  • Delicious
  • Diigo
  • StumbleUpon

Crowdsourced Content

  • Digg
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • Mixx 

Conversations

  • Google Alerts
  • Blogpulse
  • Radian6 (paid)
  • BuzzLogic (paid)
  • Ask.com
  • Google Blog Search 

Blog Communities

  • Blogged.com
  • MyBlogLog
  • BlogCatalog 

Micromedia

FriendFeed

Pownce

Tumblr 

Specific to Twitter search:

Tweetscan

Summize

Twemes

TwitterLocal 

Social Networks

MySpace

Bebo

Ning

Facebook

LinkedIn 

Customers Service Networks

YahooGroups

GoogleGroups

GetSatisfaction 

Content

Video

YouTube

Metacafe 

Pictures

Flickr

Documents

ThinkFree Docs

Scribd

Docstoc

Once you’ve conducted the initial waves of research, identified the volume, location and frequency of relevant conversations, and estimated the required resources, you can effectively create an accurate blueprint for engagement. I call this a social map.

The next steps are dictated by the sociological work we’ve done, which reveals the culture within each respective network and how we should participate. Generally, each conversations should be treated as if you were approaching someone in real life whom you greatly respect.

- Start by participating as a person, not as a marketer.

- Talk like a person, not as a sales person or message factory.

- Be helpful and bring value to the conversation.

- Please remember, that during this entire process, you’re contributing to the personality and the perception of the brand you represent.

At the end of the day, we’re all people and thus we should approach conversations as such. It may seem like common sense, but as classically trained marketers, we tend to approach these things with our marketing hat on. It’s the difference between authentic conversations and one-sided talking “at” people we may be used to.

Most importantly, the lessons learned in the field should in turn be fed into the marketing department to create and run more intelligent, experienced, and real world initiatives across all forms of marketing, PR, sales, and advertising. 

In a social world, conversations will take place with or without us and the price we pay for missing them is potentially equivalent to the loss of brand equity and resonance.  Participation is the new customer service and the new art of relationship marketing.  Sincere, informative, and authentic interactions count for everything.  In social media, engagement is the only way to earn customer respect and hopefully their business, loyalty, and referrals as we continue to do what matters to earn their friendship.

Relationships are the new currency in Social Media, and as we all know, relationships need cultivation and value from both sides in order to grow into something of value and longevity.

You can connect with Brian on Twitter, Jaiku, LinkedIn, Pownce, Plaxo, FriendFeed, or Facebook.

Brian Solis is Principal of FutureWorks, an acclaimed PR and New Media agency in Silicon Valley and also blogs at PR 2.0 and bub.blicio.us . Along with Geoff Livingston, Solis recently co-authored “Now is Gone,” a new, award-winning book that helps businesses learn how to leverage New and Social Media.

(Photo credit: wds2007)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Guest bloggers, Marketing, social media | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Social Media Empowering Customer Service: Guest Blogger Brian Solis

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 20, 2008

The Infamous Metro Photo Today on Customers Rock!, I have the honor of having a special guest blogger with us: Brian Solis.  Brian and I met earlier this year at the Customer Service is the New Marketing (CSITNM) conference in San Francisco, where we were both giving lunchtime workshops.  Brian is one of the brightest people I know on new media and how to best engage customers.  As Principal of the PR and new media agency FutureWorks, Brian is constantly breaking new ground in PR-social media relations. 

His post is a two-parter, so be sure and come back to get the second half!  With no further ado, here’s Brian!

Social Media Empowers Customer Service to Build Relationships

Customer service is the new, new marketing and Social Media is facilitating the convergence between traditional marketing disciplines, customer service, with a new proactive approach to relationship cultivation and management.

 Earlier this year I published a free ebook with Becky Carroll, “The Art of Listening and Engagement Through Social Media,” in which we explored how companies can listen to and participate in the various and important conversations that are constantly taking place online.

 We’re entering an entirely new paradigm for cultivating relationships with customers as well as the people who may one day become customers.
Social Media is about facilitating interactions between people online. Just because we have the tools to engage, doesn’t make it any easier to do this the right way. Or, on the contrary, just because we don’t have the tools to monitor and engage in these online conversations, doesn’t mean that they’re not important or actually happening.

You’ve heard that old saying right?

If a conversation takes place online and you’re not there to hear or see it, did it actually happen.

The answer is resoundingly YES! 

If you’re not part of the conversation, then you’re leaving it to others to answer questions and provide information that may or may not be qualified, helpful, or accurate. Or, even worse, you may be leaving it up to your competition to jump in to become the resource for the community. 

Many companies are participating in social networks as a form of proactive outbound customer service with a twist of social marketing such as Zappos, JetBlue, Southwest, H&R Block, and Dell. They’re engaging customers on their turf, in their way, in order to help them solve problems, find information or simply engage them in healthy dialog. 

It’s breaking new ground and it’s setting a new standard. 

Participating in social media is not as easy as simply blasting messages, answering questions, or joining conversations.  We’re talking about people here, and depending on the online network where they’re participating, the understanding of the culture, demographics, and interaction, our approach will vary. 

We’ve all heard the mantras that the customer is always right. I think we can all agree that the customer is critical to our success and their emotions, experiences, state of mind and their resulting influence within their community are imperative to our survival.

Instead of top down communications and focusing on the influence and control of messages and perception, we’re learning that those influential groups of people are now more like peers and therefore require respect, honesty, and support in order for us to earn their trust – and hopefully their business and enthusiasm along the way.

The customer comes first, and if we fuse sociology, social media, customer service, relationship marketing, experiential marketing, and traditional marketing, we’re creating a new formula for outbound influence and fueling a new generation of brand ambassadors and loyalists.

Essentially, social media empowers customers to effectively sell and represent our brand as a powerful and influential surrogate sales force. Similarly, they also have the ability to negatively affect it if they’re left to influence freely without input or guidance. 

The future of marketing integrates traditional and social tools, connected by successful, ongoing relationships with media, influencers, and people. That’s right…it’s about relationships and it’s about people. Relationships serve as the foundation for everything, whether it’s traditional or new media, and the constant reminder that we’re reaching people, and not audiences, will keep us on a path of relevance.  And, each social network fosters its own unique culture dependent of the people who are populating the overall community as well as niche micro communities. 

As such, social media is driven by sociology and the study of human behavior and online cultures and not necessarily limited to the technology that is fueling it.
This is where we start in order to effectively identify the cultures of relevant online communities and listen to and respond directly to the people within them.

Sociology – The study of human social behavior, especially the study of the origins, organization, institutions, and development of human society.

Through sociology and social media, we’re learning to peel back the layers of our target demographics to see the people underneath as well as their online behavior. As such, we’re starting to figure out that we need to humanize our story and the process of storytelling.  And, through observation, we’re able to find our real customers and those who influence them. 

The recognition of people independently from the tools is an important reminder that their interests are at the center of what we do.

Borrowing insight, teachings, and experience from the school of sociology teaches us how to observe, listen to, and analyze the online cultures we wish to reach. 

However, many marketers are merely engaging in cultural voyeurism at best. They look from afar and roam the perimeters of online societies without ever becoming a true member of any society. This means, they don’t truly understand what, where, or why they’re “participating,” only jumping in because they have something to say and have access to the tools that will carry their messages into play. 

Conversational marketing requires observation, which will dictate your engagement strategies. It starts with a combination of social and traditional tools to discover, listen, learn, and engage directly with customers to help, not market, but indeed help them make decisions and also do things that they couldn’t, or didn’t know how to do, before.

Be sure to come back for Part 2, coming soon!

You can connect with Brian on Twitter, Jaiku, LinkedIn, Pownce, Plaxo, FriendFeed, or Facebook.

Brian Solis is Principal of FutureWorks, an acclaimed PR and New Media agency in Silicon Valley and also blogs at PR 2.0 and bub.blicio.us.  Along with Geoff Livingston, Solis recently co-authored “Now is Gone,” a new, award-winning book that helps businesses learn how to leverage New and Social Media.

(Flickr photo credit: joekerstef)

Posted in Customer service, Guest bloggers, Marketing, social media | Tagged: , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Defining “Customer-Focused Strategy”

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 14, 2008

Focus on the customer My blogging friend Glenn Ross has put forth the following challenge to some of his fellow Customer Service bloggers (including me): How do you define “Customer-Focused Strategy?”  Great question, Glenn!  Glenn has posted his definition of a customer-focused strategy, and has included ideas and definitions from other excellent customer service bloggers, including ServiceUntitled, CustomersAreAlways, and CustServ.  There are many good ideas there, and I encourage you to check them out.

Customer strategy is the main focus of this blog as well as what I do (and have been doing) for a living.  I still like the paragraph I wrote on customer strategy last year at about this time; here is the excerpt from the post Rockin’ Our Customer’s Experience Online:

Customer Strategy

Does your organization have a customer strategy?  Most companies have a product strategy and a marketing strategy.  Customer-centric organizations also have a customer strategy.  Put simply, a customer strategy is a proactive plan for how we want to acquire, retain, and grow our customers!  Too many organizations leave it to chance when it comes to retention and growth of customers, focusing most of their resources on customer acquisition.  Why would we want to leave the management of our most valuable asset, our customers, to chance?

In order to align our customer experience with our customer strategy, we need to consider how we have created that strategy.  A strong customer strategy is built around the interactions we have with our customers, and we are able to maximize the value of every customer touch.  In other words,  we make each impression with the customer count.  Customer service and support may have several opportunities to make customer impressions, and it is often where the rubber meets the road.  How do we handle our customers when there is a problem or a question?  The goal of all these interactions is to increase customer retention and loyalty, which ultimately leads to repeat business and referrals.  Done right, a customer strategy will also build customer trust, strengthen the relationship, and add value to both the customer and the company.

In other words, a customer-focused strategy is a planned approach to how we handle our customers at every touch point.  It is more than just giving great customer service.  It is more than marketing with certain customer buzzwords.  It is more than a great customer experience.  It requires a strategic plan to be put in place to address all of those areas, plus the metrics to ensure the success of the strategy. 

I have been part of creating a customer-focused strategy for several clients, and this is no small undertaking.  It requires agreement and consistency across all functional areas in order to be most effective.  No silos allowed!  The customer doesn’t look at a company as individual departments, so we need to be “one brand” to the customer.  The customer-focused strategy helps make that happen.

Great Examples

Glenn also asked for examples of companies who do this well.  There are a few competitions out there for this type of award; a great one is coming up from the team at Peppers and Rogers Group and Gartner.  Called the Gartner and 1to1 Customer Excellence Awards, it will be showcasing those companies that “get” customer strategy – and how to execute it.  (By the way, the contest is open until May 23, so if you are reading this and want to submit your company, you can go here and enter.)

At this blog, I have listed several examples of companies that are doing customer strategy well.  They include FreshBooks and their customer roadtrip, Bungie and the way they are fans of their customers, Element Fusion and their web concierge, Disney and customer delight, and Xerox and their dedication to customer experience, among others.  I don’t think any one of them is perfect, but each of them do many things well across several areas. 

OK, out to you, readers!  How would you define “customer-focused strategy”?  Do you agree with me or am I missing something?  Who is doing it well?

(Photo credit: redbaron)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Customer strategy, Customers Rock!, Marketing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Re-Experiencing Starbucks: Update 6 – The Card

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 12, 2008

Starbucks card collection - flickr photo by mightykenny Part 6 in the ongoing Re-Experiencing Starbucks series in partnership with Jay Ehret at The Marketing Spot.

Update!  I was just at my local Starbucks and had the opportunity to speak with two Starbucks partners (employees) who were there to review that store and its customer experience.  I was very impressed by the questions they were asking their customer (me) about the experience, as well as how they were seeking out my opinions for improvement.  Kudos to you, Starbucks, that you have great people working for you like Kevin and Marcus who really care about their customers!  :)

Now, back to the post:

What is the latest on the Starbucks experience?  Let’s listen in to the Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz.  Per Schultz’s latest Communication (#14),

I would like to reiterate that we are still in the early stages of our transformation and efforts to enhance our customers’ experience.  There is still much work to be done, but we will succeed.  Our summer, fall, and holiday promotional periods are coming up, which, I believe, will be enthusiastically embraced by our customers and partners.

I would tend to agree here with Mr. Schultz.  The Starbucks re-experience is still in its early stages as evidenced by the inconsistent execution of their revamped loyalty card program.  Now, my long-time readers know that I focus on the positive here at Customers Rock!, so I am reluctant to criticize.  However, I have not had good experiences with the new Starbucks card program, and I am not alone. Both Leslie Price at Racked and John Blue at InnovationCreation have recently blogged about some frustrating card experiences.

The main concern seems to be the process by which Starbucks partners (employees) apply the discounts that should be available to the owner of a registered Starbucks card.  According to the Starbucks website, benefits of a registered Starbucks card include free shots of syrup, free brewed coffee refills, and free coffee with a whole bean purchase.  I was pretty excited about this, since I like to add syrup to some of my coffee drinks.

However, I also discovered that, unless I inform the barista ahead of time that my Starbucks card is registered, the discounts are not applied.  In other words, the Starbucks card database is not tied to the cash register system.  In one case, I told the Starbucks barista that my card was registered before I ordered my sweetened Iced Tea, and her response was, “Well, it doesn’t make any difference with your order.”

I do know that if someone has a problem with their drink or transaction, Starbucks will fix it for you; often they will give you a free drink coupon for next time.  However, this doesn’t always make up for the inconvenience for the customer doing the ordering (or the customers behind them in line who have to wait).

Recommendations

As with any new program, there are always kinks to be worked out.  However, it does seem a little short-sighted to implement this type of program and expect the customer to take full responsibility for reminding the store about the discount.  For this very reason, it is always recommended to think through a new customer-facing program (especially a loyalty program) before implementing.  This should include goals for the program, operational details, the stages of the customer’s experience, and the measures of success.

I would recommend that Starbucks quickly have each barista ask a simple question of each customer using a Starbucks card: “Is this card registered?”  They may have a few people that sneak in, but for the most part, customers are honest and will do the right thing.  It would certainly make the customer experience much better.

Also see Jay Ehret’s blog The Marketing Spot for more Starbucks insight.

Related Customers Rock! posts in the Re-Experiencing Starbucks project series:

Re-Experiencing Starbucks

Part 2: Transformation Starting

Part 3: The Training

Part 4: Little Things

Part 5: MyStarbucksIdea

(Photo credit: mightykenny)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Marketing, Starbucks Project | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Coldwater Creek Gives Customers the Royal Treatment

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 6, 2008

Tiara I love the way Coldwater Creek keeps their customers engaged through their marketing.  Of course, there are the regular catalog and emails that come out; nothing too special about those.  However, I just got an offer from them to be treated like royalty, and it made me smile.

I received a note card from Coldwater Creek with this on the front:

“Fashion and relaxation fit for a queen.  Without those annoying hats.”

The graphic shows pictures of crowns and tiaras, along with their brand.  Inside, I find that my friends and I are invited to Coldwater Creek’s version of High Tea, along with a product demo and drawings.  This particular store is well suited to this, as they also have a Coldwater Creek – The Spa at the same location.  The copy inside the card is “royal”, talking about “courtly prizes” for you and “your entourage”.  Very nicely done.

Of course, I called the store to find out more.  Between the hours of 4 and 7 pm, they are basically holding an open house for customers with lots of goodies to eat (pastries, cakes) and drink (tea mostly!), along with the chance to show-off both clothing and spa products.  It is not just for those who received the invitation; anyone shopping that evening can also partake.  But only existing local customers received the invitation.

Royal Treatment

This particular mailing was refreshingly different.  It made me feel special.  It made me feel noticed.  Too many direct mailings are to push products or send invoices.  Coldwater Creek did a great job of standing out with a fun direct mail piece that caters to their customers.  Yes, “old school” techniques still work in this social media world!

You rock, Coldwater Creek.  Cheers!

(Photo credit: Scanty)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer loyalty, Customers Rock!, Marketing | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

 
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