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Guest Blogger: Esteban Kolsky on Customer Service and Email

Posted by Becky Carroll on August 18, 2008

Today we have a special guest with us, Esteban Kolsky.  Esteban is a VP at KANA where he is very focused on great customer experiences, especially in the area of customer service.  He is also an active commenter here on Customers Rock!, so please welcome him and enjoy the post!

Five Winning Strategies to Excel at Customer Service via Email

Back in the “early” days of the internet (read 1990s) we all thought that email was going to revolutionize the way we do customer service.  Customers were going to send us all their questions and inquiries via email, which in turn was going to be answered within a few minutes – either automatically through a software package or manually by knowledgebase-assisted engineers. This setup was going to do away with the need to use telephones and call centers (after all, emails can be answered from anywhere), and reduce the cost for customer service.

Fast forward 15-20 years and it seems to be not where we thought it would be.  Alas, we did try using email as much as possible yet the results were not as expected: automation was harder than we expected, customers did not like the speed of response (which was down to days in some cases, and non-existent in others), and transactions completed via email were not similar to transactions completed via the phone.  This slow realization of the problems of using email for customer service made the adoption slow down almost to a trickle – pushing customer service automation via email to the point of extinction.

So where are we today?  After 2-3 years of very painful experimentation and working in the lab, we are beginning to discover how to use email properly for customer service.  There are over two dozen best practices and lessons learned that anyone starting to implement email for customer service would do well to read and understand before starting.  However, the following five are the top sure-fire ways to get customer service email to work well in your organization:

1. Classification – customers tend to ramble in free-form emails, posing questions somewhere in the middle of long sentences or paragraphs. That makes it almost impossible for parsing engines to identify the inquiry within the email. Eliminate free-form emails in favor of web-based forms with drop-down menus to allow customers to send emails. You can create a unique answer for each unique combination possible, or a workflow to gather more information or open a ticket if needed. Knowing what customers are asking, what are the variables or terms more often used also assist in improving the knowledge-base.

2. Automation – customer service emails, as with phone-based inquiries, follow an 80-20 rule: 80 percent of the questions can be answered with 20% of the content available. However, with the constraints of email as a communication medium (complex, oddly-written messages, lack of interactivity for clarification or expansion of data), the 20% gets reduced very rapidly to around 5% of content that can be properly expressed through email. Alas, still it can answer a large number of incoming interactions automatically, greatly reducing the dependency on agents to answer those emails, and improving the speed of response for customers. Identifying that 5% of content and questions, creating the specific rules and deploying it can greatly improve the experience for customers, and create a fertile lab for organizations to discover more and more interactions that can be automated.

3. Integration – the best way to add value to an email response is to provide the customer with personalized, custom information that matches the customer intent when writing in. If they want to know the status of their order, don’t send them a link to the page where they can get it – send them the information. This is impossible to do unless the ERMS and the data stores and applications are integrated. In some cases, this integration is done directly and the data flows are controlled via business rules. In others, the integration happens through an existing application feeding data back to the ERMS. In either situation, the customer feels as if the system has been custom-made for their needs increasing satisfaction.

4. Maintenance – the quintessential secret to having a powerful customer service solution via email is the maintenance of the solution. This is nothing new; we learned how to do this while deploying our knowledge management solutions. Yet, email has a complicated set of business rules and workflows that must be maintained. Even if you support a centralized model for knowledge management, the email-specific components still carry a heavy load of maintenance. You could streamline the maintenance by deploying a centralized rules server across channels. Alas, as it is with knowledge, business rules and workflows get outdated as soon as they are deployed – making maintenance THE way to manage the content properly. The mid-life of an improperly maintained ERMS is very short, usually not passing a couple of months before customers stop using due to poor results.

5. Marketing – similarly, marketing is the secret to growing the adoption of email among your customers and within your organization. Customers don’t know you offer a specific solution unless you tell them about it, and they understand the benefits they can get out of it. Your organization does not understand the great job your email solution has done for you unless you tell them about it. Advertise your solution. Extol its benefits. Announce the availability of new and upgraded features. Create a killer marketing plan, target the right people to know about it, and distribute the information.

Where are you with the use of email in your organization?  Are you an early and satisfied adopter? Or are you intrigued by the promise?

About the Author

Esteban Kolsky has over 20 years of customer service, market research, and technology experience. As Vice President and Practice Leader for KANA,  Mr. Kolsky delivers strategic consulting, systems integration and managed services programs designed to help KANA customers deliver exceptional service experiences. Prior to joining KANA Software Mr. Kolsky was with Gartner where he built and managed both the eService and Enterprise Feedback Management practices. He has been featured in television and radio, and quoted in over 400 publications around the globe as an industry watcher and commentator.

(Photo credit: © Yannis Ntousiopoulos | Dreamstime.com)

Posted in Customer experience, Customer service, Customer strategy, Guest bloggers | Tagged: , , , , | 7 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 »

Be My Guest: Red Sox Beat Angels

Posted by Becky Carroll on October 3, 2007

baseball.jpg Today, I welcome a guest blogger, Lewis Green.  Lewis is a great example of building strong friendships and connections through blogs.  Although I have not met Lewis in person, we have spoken by phone and exchanged comments on each other’s blogs.  Sometimes we agree; sometimes we don’t!  That’s what makes an interesting conversation.  I asked Lewis if he would be so kind as to write a guest post for me, which he has done today.  

As the baseball playoffs are starting up here in the USA, Lewis writes about which team he feels will win – from a social media and marketing perspective!  Thank you, Lewis.  You rock!!

Red Sox Beat Angels

by Lewis Green, bizsolutionsplus and L&G Business Solutions

Baseball, like all businesses, depends on marketing for growth and for product sales. And nobody does it better than the Boston Red Sox. So while we Sox and Angels fans watch a battle of equals on the field in the first round of the playoffs, there is no contest when it comes to marketing. The Sox win in a rout over the Angels. Their secret weapon: they turn control of much of their marketing over to the fans.

Both Boston and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have fine web sites, featuring fan forums, players photos, videos and great souvenirs, and of course both teams invest a lot of money and marketing effort in season ticket sales. But that’s where any comparison ends. From that point on, the Sox put the hammer down on the Angels as well as most of MLB.

Sell-outs are not an issue in Boston, so marketing efforts for brand building and souvenir sales are turned over to the fans, who are made to feel a part of the team, whether or not they can get tickets to a game. It all begins with Red Sox Nation.  And if you have ever seen a Sox away game, including against the Angels, you cannot help but notice the impact Red Sox Nation has on baseball. It is not unusual for thousands of Red Sox fans to be in the seats of away games. In some places, notably Toronto, Detroit, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay, Red Sox fans frequently outnumber the home team’s fans. Even in evil Yankee Stadium, Sox fans are easy to find and even easier to hear.

Red Sox Nation is a social media site for the fans. Anyone can become a member, choosing from four tiers of membership, from free to the most expensive, the Ultimate Fan Pack, which along with Monster Memberships quickly sold out, leaving late-comers to choose either the free tier or the least expensive Fan Pack for $14.95.

Depending on the level of membership, fans receive newsletters, membership cards, bumper stickers, publications, free game-day audios,  free access to the weekly Red Sox Video Report, discounts at the team store, their own exclusive gate at Fenway Park, member’s-only pages on redsox.com, and special offers throughout the season for everything from team gear to away-game travel packages, to home-game tickets.

This year’s highlight featured the election of a new President to lead Red Sox Nation. It included a candidates debate televised on NESN, the New England Sports Network, moderated by Tim Russert of “Meet the Press,”  and held at Boston University’s George Sherman Union. Candidates included fans such as Cheryl Boyd, Great-niece of Elizabeth “Lib” Dooley, a long-time, well-known follower of the team; Cindy Brown, Head of Boston Duck Tours; Jared Carrabis, who has worn a Red Sox shirt 1,400 days in a row ; and Rob Crawford. who raises funds for education. Candidates also included legendary baseball Hall of Famer journalist Peter Gammons; former Red Sox relief pitcher Rich Garces; former Red Sox left-handed slugger Sam Horn; and Red Sox Hall of Famer and NESN analyst Jerry Remy. At the time of this writing, fans have finished voting and we now await the results.

The election has been a marketing coup. Because of Red Sox Nation, ESPN and ESPN2 have adopted the phrase to describe Sox fans, and the press, local and national, covered the Presidential race. Fans and Members love it, members come from all over the world, they buy tickets well in advance when the Sox come to their neck of the woods, and they brag on their membership to anyone who listens. You can’t buy this kind of marketing. It is social media at its best and an example for all businesses and consultants to study and mimic, if they can.

In addition to Red Sox Nation, Jerry Remy created Rem Dawg Nation.  Remy’s members receive the very popular Remy report and are the beneficiaries of freebies ranging from tee-shirts to box seats. And because Remy is on the air for nearly every Red Sox game, he markets the heck out of both Nations, adding to the appeal of membership, especially to kids who make up the team’s future customers.

In the Conversation Age of Web 2.0, the Boston baseball team’s marketing model is one we all need to pay attention to. It demonstrates the power of giving up at least some marketing control to your customers and clients. Red Sox and Rem Dawg Nation have sparked an interest in the Boston team and their products that exceed most marketing efforts, whether at multi-national companies, sports franchises, or small businesses. It demonstrates the power of Social Media as a marketing tool.

(Photo: cmillc22)

Posted in Community, Customer loyalty, Customer strategy, Guest bloggers, Marketing, social media | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

 
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