Customer-Obsessed Service

Social media has pushed customer service to the forefront for many organizations. Responses are often faster in social media than they are in traditional service channels, since social media makes everything extremely visible. And when things go wrong, customers often flock to social media to air their grievances; a perfect example is the article I recently co-authored for Forbes Online, with Mark Fidelman, about the Southwest Airlines 3 Million Fan Flash Sale fiasco. In my book, I talk about Killer Customer Service. Another way to think about this is as Customer Obsessed Service. But what does it take to make this happen at an organization?


Before we can discuss Customer Obsessed Service, we need to make sure we understand customer expectations. Customers have changed, and customer expectations have greatly changed! Social media has put everything into a new light as empowered customers are taking up their mobile phones and tweeting their distress for all the world to see. Here is a typical customer service tweet:

Does anyone know if COMPANY X has a Twitter? I want to make sure everyone knows how POOR their customer service is!! I’m sooooo annoyed.

If nothing else, brands need to be using social media to listen to the customer conversation for concerns or issues. Sometimes customers may be whining, and sometimes customers may have a real problem that needs to be addressed. Customer Obsessed Service means a company is attentive to what their customers are saying via social media (and via other mechanisms as well, including surveys, comments to sales, feedback to customer service reps, etc.) and then takes action to make sure the customer’s issues are resolved to their satisfaction.

Action: Do you understand the expectations of your customers for your products, and for your customer service? If not, spend some time listening to customer conversations, talking to customers for clarification, and determining the top pain points.


Most employees in an organization don’t understand what it takes to provide great customer service, much less Customer Obsessed Service. Yet employees are a key factor in whether customer service sucks or rocks. This is true whether the employee actually works in customer service or whether they are not customer facing at all!

Customer Obsessed Service starts with hiring the right people – those who are naturally people-focused, have a passionate spirit, are empathetic, and like to think creatively to solve problems. Southwest Airlines, who is generally great at customer service, calls this having “…a Warrior Spirit, a Servant’s Heart, and a Fun-LUVing Attitude.” I couldn’t agree more!

These employees also have to be empowered to do what is right for the customer. This doesn’t mean giving every customer a discount, or something for free when they complain. It DOES mean listening to the customer’s needs and doing what they can to make it right without always having to get a supervisor’s approval. Guidelines need to be clear, and when they are employees are freed up to get the help they need to turn around a bad situation with a customer.

Action: Start with an assessment in your organization. What do your employees think about your customer service? What would they do to make it better?

Customers as Assets

Customer Obsessed Service is also achieved based on how we measure it.

Incredibly, many companies today are still measuring their customer service based on how many calls they can process in an hour. Get the customer off the phone/chat as soon as possible in order to respond to more customers. The end result is usually customers that have to call again in order to finish getting their questions answered. These types of metrics are used when organizations look at the customer service department as something to be measured on a P&L statement. Customer service is viewed as a cost center.

Organizations espousing Customer Obsessed Service view customers as a valuable asset that belongs on a balance sheet. Each customer interaction is a golden opportunity to improve the relationship, and each customer touch could result in a customer who is so happy they become an evangelist for the brand.  Don Peppers and Martha Rogers talked about this in their book Return on Customer Companies that treat their customers as an asset create a very different approach to customer interaction; each customer contact is reviewed to see how it will add to or detract from the value of each customer.

Action: Review your customer service metrics to see how you view your customers.

What About You?

What else do companies need to get right operationally in order to create Customer Obsessed Service? Who is doing it well? Leave a comment with your thoughts, and let’s start a discussion on Customer Obsessed Service!


Social CRM: An Idea Whose Time has Come?

Social Media CRM, or Social CRM, is getting a lot of air time these days. But where does it fit? Today’s post is by Laurie Shook. Laurie is a technology marketer creating solutions that help people communicate and collaborate more effectively. When not blogging, on Twitter, or on Facebook, she is marketing WikiThreads, her small business featuring Dallas t-shirts and logo embroidery. Thanks for chiming in on Customers Rock!, Laurie.

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? That’s the perspective many customer service experts have had toward social media-based customer service, or social CRM. With so much noise in the social channel, is it worth it to ferret out a few random requests for customer service? And with a sawmill full of fallen logs ready to be processed, few could blame customer service executives for focusing on contact center through-put.

But to a marketer that pristine forest of social media represents opportunity to be harvested. Consequently, many companies leave the task of social CRM to the marketers. Marketing creates the proactive messaging and offers on Twitter and Facebook while attempting to handle service issues as they arise.

But consumers are taking service issues to social channels in ever growing numbers. According to Gartner, the Social CRM segment will double this year, surpassing $1 billion. Included in the growth are those who simply prefer social media to the traditional contact center. According to Mike Merrill, @MikeDMerrill and Director of Marketing at ReachLocal, “I find it more convenient to ask for help via social media, since I’m on line all the time anyway. When I raise the issue via social channels, I’m not stuck on hold. It puts the ball in the business’s court.”

Customer service is better suited to handle social service issues for three reasons:

Coverage. Consumers expect prompt responses regardless of when their complaint is aired. Marketing departments aren’t staffed evenings and weekends, although many contact centers are 7 X 24.

Product Knowledge. Customer service agents are trained on product and service specifics and are better versed in how to handle the issues that arise.

People Skills. Customer service reps trained to handle the wide diversity of people issues and personalities that crop up in day to day business.

So where’s the gap?

Brand Voice. Marketing departments report that there is work to be done to get customer service representatives ready to speak in the company’s “brand voice”. Agents need to understand that since conversations are public, service needs to be delivered with a different tone than would occur one-on-one.

Volume. We’re back to the original issue. Unless there is a corporate fiasco, most companies don’t currently have enough service issues aired via social channels to warrant integration into the rank and file agent’s work queue.

But, if growth is inevitable, how can the customer service organizations get ready for the very logical integration of the social media channel into the service function?

Take it slow.

  • First start by following marketing department responses. Learn “brand voice”.
  • Then, start handling service issues that arise from corporate social media properties with a small, focused group under the customer service function.
  • Next, establish service specific social media properties. This is a big step, since it brings a dedicated staffing requirement to Customer Service. It is important to carefully gauge workload before beginning. Remember this activity doesn’t create new workload—it simply focuses it away from general corporate social properties onto service-oriented properties.

Mainstreaming social CRM into the contact center is a big step. Evaluate the baby steps you may need to take tor prepare for a stronger customer service role in social channels, so you are ready before someone yells “timber.”

(Image credit: ardaguldogan)


Lithium’s Customer Heroes

I recently attended the 2012 Lithium Network Conference (LiNC for short) in San Francisco to hear about the latest and greatest from Lithium Technologies as well as from thought leaders such as Brian Solis, photo left, who shared about Digital Darwinism from his new book The End of Business as Usual. Lithium’s software powers the social customer experience, including online branded communities, for over 300 brands including AT&T, Best Buy, Sephora, Skype, and most recently added Nestle, Aruba Networks, and Guitar Center, among others. I have attended two of these events in the past – as a Lithium customer (Verizon). This year, Lithium asked me to come as an industry thought leader so I could look at their event and announcements from a different perspective. Here are some of my key takeaways.

Good News for Social Customer Service

Having been a Lithium customer for the past two years, when I was the Verizon Community program manager and social media strategist, I am probably a bit different from other “thought leaders” who attended the briefing and the event. I have used many if not most of the functions of the Lithium offering. I was happy to see a renewed focus on both sides of social business – customer service, as well as marketing.

In fact, I had wondered how much new functionality we would see in the area of customer service. In the past, support communities have been Lithium’s bread and butter. In the past year or so, Lithium had put a renewed interest into marketing and had some great successes; Sephora’s Beauty Talk is a great example of how to engage the social customer. With the renewed interest in the marketing side of the house, I was a bit concerned that Lithium would swing too far in that direction and neglect good ‘ole customer service.

I was pleased to see great improvements in their customer service functionality, mainly the new Lithium Response offering. It takes the already strong features in the Lithium customer service platform and expands further on them, allowing customer service agents to have all the information they need at their fingertips so they can do what they do best – respond quickly. From what I have seen, it seems to be able to provide the full fire-hose of social media information, prioritize issues that come in to the business, route them to the right agents, and surface content (from both the community as well as from self-service pages) that can help solve customer queries. It also includes case management, which had been lacking. It looks like a great step up from the customer service functionality previously available with an online support community, and it will make the interaction between social media customer service teams and community managers much easier. I look forward to seeing more of it in action soon.

Improving Social Media Marketing

On the marketing front, Lithium announced some new partnerships, such as Shoutlet. This particular partnership will allow Lithium customers to take advantage of Shoutlet features that will help make the social conversation easier, especially in the area of marketing campaigns and CRM. It will be great to watch some of Lithium’s marketing communities take this on and deliver strong social media ROI. Other areas where the focus on marketing is visible include additional opportunities for photo sharing, group spaces/private communities (great for research and innovation), as well as improved single sign-on (much needed functionality) and more robust ratings and reviews (served up via widgets). All around, the Lithium social marketing offering has taken a big step forward, and it will make an impact in organizations that take advantage of it. In the future, I look forward to seeing these two pillars (customer service and marketing) of social business come together, as our customers don’t see departments as they go through their journeys with us. These pillars need to meet up in order to create the rockin’ customer experience that will be vital for business success in the coming months and years.


I greatly enjoyed the conference itself; it was nice NOT to speak at an event for once! There were a lot of new faces this year at LiNC, both customers as well as Lithium employees, and this helped to keep the conference feeling fresh. New faces always means a lot of energy, and that was definitely apparent. I absolutely love the way Lithium showcases their customers at their events, and this one was no exception. Using the theme of Heroes, the Lithium event team had customers share the stage with Lithium executives. They told some inspiring stories of how their companies, including such leading organizations as Skype and Cisco, are using Lithium to get solid returns on social media as well as innovate in their space. I highly recommend more customer sharing at future Lithium conferences as well as throughout the year; hearing from other community managers was always very helpful, as well as inspiring, when I was a Lithium customer.

Thank you for an exciting and entertaining LiNC event, Lithium, and thank you for having me there.

(Photo credit: Top, Becky Carroll; Bottom -Lithium Technologies video from LiNC 2012, Paul Gilliham)


Customer Experience Food for Thought

I want to eat there!

As many of you know, I have been doing quite a bit of traveling lately, speaking about my book and sharing the Customers Rock! message all over the world – most recently in Bogota, Colombia! As most travelers are aware, the customer experience is especially important when you are away from home; it becomes something we are truly living.

So as you can imagine, the sign in the above photo really caught my eye. It was on the wall of a restaurant, Max’s Cafe, at the San Francisco Airport. Here is what it says,

“We run the restaurant for the ENJOYMENT AND PLEASURE of our customers, not the convenience of the staff or the owners.”

Who wouldn’t want to eat there? As customers, isn’t this what we are hoping to find in the businesses we frequent? Whether the business is a restaurant serving hungry travelers or a company providing office supplies, we want things to work for US, the way WE want them to; we don’t want to be inconvenienced.

This particular restaurant has thought through what could make the experience better for their customers, travelers who are rushing past to catch their flights. For example, Max’s Cafe is known for their packed sandwiches. They have thought about travelers who need to grab and go, eating their meal on the planes, and have created a container for their sandwiches which keeps the salad and those juicy pickles separate from the bread. Very convenient for their patrons! Oh, and the man creating my sandwich felt like my own personal lunch advisor; he was very engaged in creating a great experience for me.

Missing the Mark

But this great experience is not always happening, is it? The results of the mis-steps in this area are not positive for businesses. According to the new American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, more than nine in ten Americans (93%) say that companies fail to exceed their service expectations.  One in two (55%) have ditched a purchase in the past year because of a poor customer service experience. Businesses are leaving a lot of money on the table due to their poor customer experiences, including marketing and customer service.

Tips for Improvement

How can you go beyond just customer service and generate more opportunities from your existing customers? I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Mike Stelzner of the popular site Social Media Examiner. Watch the interview to get some tips on how to exceed your customers’ expectations and create a ROCKin’ customer experience.

What about you? How do you create a great customer experience? Are you struggling to keep your current customers at the forefront of your business? What tips do you have for others on how to get more opportunities from your current customers?


Measuring the Impact of Social Media

This post is part of the Social ROI Blog Carnival at Think Customers: the 1to1 Media blog. Visit the blog carnival post at the link above to check out the full list of posts from numerous well-known social media thought leaders.

There are many ways to measure the success of social media at an organization. Some of these metrics are often focused only on tactical results (ex: number of followers or fans). Other metrics tie directly back to the bottom line (ex: value of sales coming directly from Twitter). On occasion, we see true ROI calculated from social media initiatives.

Most companies, however, view social media ROI in the same way they view the legendary pot of gold. They believe that it is there, and they keep looking for it even though it eludes them. Finding ROI in your social media initiatives doesn’t have to be imaginary. As we move into 2012, I fully believe this will be the year that executives begin asking the difficult questions to their social media teams, including what kind of returns they are getting on their social media investment. In order to answer this question, one must consider the true cost of managing a social media program.

What are the costs?

In order to consider calculating ROI, one must understand the costs involved with social media. Some of these are fairly clear, including cost of the platforms (such as community software or social media monitoring tools), cost of social media consultants or agencies (to help create strategy or execute campaigns), advertising spend (yes, you probably need to spend money advertising your social media efforts), and cost of personnel involved in social media (community manager, customer service social response team). Other costs are not quite as obvious. These include the opportunity cost of personnel that may be involved with social media in some aspect (ex: an executive spending time writing a monthly blog post is not spending time doing other things), the cost of training employees in social media (even those that are not executing social media should be trained on it), and the cost of social media influencer programs. I encourage you to understand these costs for both social media campaigns as well as your overall social media program so ROI can be calculated on both.

Measuring the gains

There is more than one way to measure the gains from social media. The first area that usually comes to mind is revenues; this is often a bit difficult to determine from social media, much as it can be difficult to determine from other marketing programs. However, the fact that social media is a web-based activity gives companies (especially those in the Business to Consumer space) the opportunity to measure actual product purchases coming from social media. Dell is one of the most commonly cited examples of this from their Twitter Dell Outlet account. Sanuk is another example. Per social media manager Rachel Gross (shared in an interview I did with her for my book, p. 44-46), even though Sanuk doesn’t often post direct links to their website from their corporate Facebook page, they are able to track conversion rates. They do this by looking at how many visits to their website (via Facebook) result in a sale, thus measuring their return on using social media as an engagement tool.

The other side of the coin from revenue is cost savings. One of the largest areas where companies can find significant returns on their social media investment is in customer service and the use of online branded communities. Most brands that host a peer-to-peer support community find that they are able to directly measure the number of calls deflected as a result of the answers provided by community members to each other; this occurs for both B2C as well as B2B businesses. Companies such as Best Buy and Verizon (where I was most recently actively engaged in this as the community program manager) see these gains and are able to use them to calculate an ROI on their communities. While we are on the subject of online communities, there are other benefits that can factor into the ROI equation. For example, Verizon’s residential community also has an Idea Exchange, where customers have the opportunity to help Verizon improve their products and services, as well as innovate around new products. The returns for such a community can include additional sales from new products as well as improved uptake of existing products with current customers due to improvements made via the idea site.

Finding the Pot of Gold

While you may not find the elusive “pot of gold” in your social media programs right away, more than likely you will see both direct and indirect benefits by engaging with customers and prospects via social media. Hopefully this post has helped you get past thinking only about the numbers of followers and fan your sites have. Read some of the other posts in the Social ROI Blog Carnival to learn how you can better answer your executives when they ask you what your company is getting out of social media, and let me know what your key takeaway is from the carnival.

(Photo credit: DNY59)

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