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)

Using Social Media to Build Relationships

A lot of businesses love social media because they feel it helps them spread the word about their organization and what they do. And it does. However, I strongly feel one of the most effective uses of social media is to build and deepen relationships with customers – be they consumers, clients, donors, or constituents. I predict this will be a big focus for social media in 2012.

How can this be effectively done? Let’s take a cue from local government. No, really.

Tweet the Mayor

One of the most interesting stories about local government and social media is that of Newark, NJ mayor Cory Booker. He has become one of the best examples of how to use social media to build relationships with people, in his case, the people of Newark. Last winter, when much of the East Coast was buried in snow from one of the largest storms in decades, Newark’s citizens reached out for help – via social media. And Mayor Booker and his team were listening via Twitter and went into action. Take a brief look at the segment I did on this for NBC San Diego, then come on back after the video:

View more of Becky Carroll’s videos at:

  • Citizens told Mayor Booker where streets were still snowed-in, and he sent trucks out to plow and went himself to help them.
  • Mayor Booker shoveled snow for the elderly.
  • He helped push stuck cars out of the snow.
  • He delivered supplies to needy residents (including diapers!)
  • He directed salt trucks to icy roads.

As anyone in social media knows, not everyone is your friend online. When one constituent bad-mouthed Mayor Booker on Twitter, Cory showed up at his door and helped him shovel out.

A Whole New Era of Politics

This is so different from how citizens interacted with government in the past, when people tried calling, emailing, letters, and even going into the politician’s office, often without much response. Social media, by contrast, provides not only the opportunity for an instant response but also for a personal response.

Mayor Booker has continued to reach out via social media and has recently launched a new program, using Twitter and Facebook, to encourage Newark citizens to become more fit in 2012. Called the Cory Booker Challenge, it encourages Newark residents to share their resolutions online via a social game to help them in their efforts to become more physically fit. The site allows participants to track their progress by checking into activities, uses a leader board to encourage healthy competition, and even has prizes. (Hat tip to The Next Web for highlighting this program.)

Making a Difference in 2012

In this election year, it will be fascinating to see whether other politicians follow Mayor Booker’s lead in becoming more personal with their constituents via social media. Not to have solely an aide or agency respond but to truly build authentic relationships through personal involvement. I challenge businesses to do this as well.

Make 2012 the year you use social media to build relationships with your customers. You’ll be glad you did. Share your efforts to do so here so we can celebrate with you!

(Photo credit: hh5800)

The Bathroom Experience

Once again I am participating in the Bathroom Blogfest. As I have mentioned before, if you have a physical presence, whether you are B2C or B2B, your bathroom is an important part of the customer experience. What does it say about your brand?

I have been on the road A LOT these past few months since my book launched, so I have had the opportunity to stay in many different hotels across the country (and at a variety of hotel brands). I thought it would be fun to post photos of some of the bathrooms I encountered during my travels (mostly in my hotel room). Which bathrooms do you think belong to which brands? The following are some of the brands where I stayed: Marriott, Westin, Ritz-Carlton, and a boutique hotel, Paramount Hotel in New York City. (Answers are at the end of the post.) Do they say would you would have expected about that brand?

Be sure to check out the list of all the participating bloggers, also at the end of the post. A big shout-out to CB Whittemore for leading the charge again this year!

Bathroom 1





Bathroom 2  Bathroom 2





Bathroom 3  Bathroom 3





Bathroom 4  Bathroom 4






Here are the list of Bathroom Blogfest bloggers (answers afterwards):


Name Blog Name Blog URL
Susan Abbott Customer Experience Crossroads Customer Experience Crossroads
Paul Anater Kitchen and Residential Design
Shannon Bilby From the Floors Up
Toby Bloomberg Diva Marketing Diva Marketing Blog
Laurence Borel Blog Till You Drop
Bill Buyok Avente Tile Talk
Jeanne Byington The Importance of Earnest Service
Becky Carroll Customers Rock!
Katie Clark Practical Katie
Nora DePalma O’Reilly DePalma: The Blog
Paul Friederichsen The BrandBiz Blog
Tish Grier The Constant Observer
Elizabeth Hise Flooring The Consumer
Emily Hooper Floor Covering News Blog
Diane Kazan Urban Design Renovation
Joseph Michelli Dr. Joseph Michelli’s Blog
Veronika Miller Modenus Blog
Arpi Nalbandian Tile Magazine Editors’ Blog Tile Editor Magazine Blog
David Polinchock Polinchock’s Ponderings
Professor Toilet American Standard’s Professor Toilet
David Reich my 2 cents
Victoria Redshaw & Shelley Pond Scarlet Opus Trends Blog
Sandy Renshaw Purple Wren
Bethany Richmond Carpet and Rug Institute Blog Carpet and Rug Institute Blog
Bruce D. Sanders RIMtailing
Paige Smith Neuse Tile Service blog
Stephanie Weaver Experienceology
Christine B. Whittemore Content Talks Business Blog Content Talks Business Blog
Christine B. Whittemore Smoke Rise & Kinnelon Blog
Christine B. Whittemore Simple Marketing Blog
Ted Whittemore Working Computers
Chris Woelfel Artcraft Granite, Marble & Tile Co.
Patty Woodland Broken Teepee
Denise Lee Yohn brand as business bites

Answers: Westin, Marriott, Paramount, Ritz-Carlton – how’d you do?

Influencers vs Advocates

What is the difference between an influencer and an advocate for a brand? A lot of people recommend that a brand practice “influencer outreach”; others suggest a brand advocacy program is paramount for an organization. In his recent book, Smart Business, Social Business, Michael Brito discusses these two important points. Michael and I shared the stage recently at the Lithium Technologies “Likes to Loves” event in Orange County, CA, and I had the opportunity to interview him briefly on this very topic.

What do you do at your organization? Do you reach out to influencers in an effort to get them to share about your brand? Do you work with your brand advocates to help energize their natural passion for your brand? What is working for you?

How Zappos Affects Your Customer Experience

Who is your customer experience competition? Those of you only looking inside your own industry need to take a look around, as your competitors are not who you think they are – especially online. Organizations should be asking this question: Which companies have the best practices in customer focus across all industries?

I recently exchanged Facebook messages with Deb Robison, a smart marketing and social media gal. She wanted to share a customer service story with me and get my take on it.  Here is her story:

I got a new computer recently and needed to order some accessories. Around this same time, I needed some shoes and books. I placed orders with Zappos, Amazon, Apple, and a designer’s shop, Jonathan Adler. Of course, the three big guys sent me order acknowledgment and tracking info all through the process. I got an order notification from (ordered a laptop sleeve) Jonathan Adler, then nothing, so a few days after I placed the order, I sent an email asking if my order had shipped. Later the next day I got an email from a customer service rep explaining that they did receive my order and that “my colleague is trying to find your bag at one of their stores.” Once it ships, I would get a shipping notification. That was two days ago. And, I noticed they have already charged my credit card.

So my question is this – are my customer service expectations skewed because I have dealt with some big companies that have solid customer service and shipping systems in place? (Note: Zappos had the best and most prompt services of the three big companies, of course.) Jonathan Adler is a smaller brand, but a high-end one and kind of trendy right now, so is it fair for me to set the same expectations on them?

My expectations have clearly been shaped by the immediacy which other retailers respond & deliver. Is that fair? As customers, we never had this kind of relationship before. We used to get out the catalog, fill out the form, put a check in the envelope and wait.

Yes, Deb, customer expectations are absolutely set based on our experiences with companies such as Zappos and Amazon. In fact, every interaction we have with a company sets our expectation for the next interaction, whether with that business or with another completely different organization. Additionally, the online experiences that customers have with companies, whether on the company website or via social media, are creating a higher degree of visibility. In social media, this becomes even more important as the social customer’s friends and followers are also watching, and sometimes sharing the experience with their network (unfortunately, this is more often the case when the experience has been poor).

Customer Expectations of Service

It is important to understand the needs of your customers, as well as their wants and desires. It is also critical to understand what they expect when they contact your company. Typically, customer expectations of service tend to fall into three areas:

– Customers want fast service: They want their problems solved or questions answered quickly. “Help me get back to what I need to do.”

– Customers want friendly service: They want to feel that the company appreciates their business. “Help me know that you care about me.”

– Customers want it to be easy: They want to be able to accomplish the task in the most efficient way possible. “Help make this simple for me.”

The three areas listed above may change in priority based on who your customer is, what kind of relationship they have had with your organization, and, as mentioned by Deb, what types of interactions they have had with your company and with others. Do you know what your customers want from you?

Taking Action

What can you do tomorrow to improve the experience your customers are having with your company?

1. Ask your customers. Really – go ask them! Find out what they expect from you, what you are doing well, and what you need to improve. Your customers will probably be happy to tell you, and they will also be glad you asked.

2. Look in the mirror. When is the last time you or someone from your organization called into your customer service line? Ordered something from your website? Tried to get help via your social media channels? Find out what it feels like to be your customer; I encourage you to look for both areas of improvement as well as your own best practices to share with your organization.

3. Look at the competition – from your customer’s perspective. Understand who is competing with you for the best customer experience, keeping in mind that it may not be anyone within your industry.

A world-class customer experience doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a plan that can be executed across all aspects of your organization. Your customer experience strategy should facilitate consistent treatment of customers, cultivate customer trust, and enable meaningful interactions at all points of customer contact. Most importantly, it should meet and exceed customer expectations. Now you have a customer experience that will ignite passion, inspire brand loyalty, and cement relationships.

The Old College Try

Today, I have a special guest blogger, Greg Meyer. Greg and I are kindred spirits when it comes to customer experience, and I asked him to share a recent car rental story and the lessons one can learn from it. Thanks, Greg. You rock!

The Old College Try

“Do, or do not. There is no try” -@yoda

“We try harder” -@avis

It’s really challenging to “speak with one voice” as a company, whether your company is small, large, or anywhere in between. I recently had an experience with a major car rental company that left me appreciative of individual effort and frustrated at the inability of the company to meet the needs of the customer.

So, what happened?

I had a small crisis – a flat tire on the way to an important meeting while traveling on business to Research in Motion headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario. I called Roadside Assistance, and my expectation was that Avis would send a crew to fix my tire. They actually told me to fix it myself and that there were tools in the trunk to accomplish the task.

Lesson #1 – The Company Process Doesn’t Always Benefit the Customer
The representative from Avis wasn’t necessarily wrong – he was following a script that suggested what he should do when someone calls in with a flat tire – but he wasn’t able (or willing) to see things from my point of view. I didn’t want to learn a new process, use any tools, or to do work because my day was already full.

Lesson #2 – Help can come from an Unexpected Place
Lauren (the building receptionist) went above and beyond my expectations by finding a local Avis rep when he was returning another car and escalating the issue to the local sales manager Chris. Chris showed up and brought me a new car – a Kia Soul – and was very pleasant. I was ecstatic and wanted to shout everyone’s praises to the whole world. And I did.

Lesson #3 – Oops, Everyone’s not on the same page
I drove off into the sunset with a new rental car and went along my merry way. Everything’s great, right? Not quite – when I returned home to the states I got a bill to replace the tire. Huh? After a few emails to figure out what was going on, I found that because my corporate office advises me to decline the rental car-provided insurance, incidents like a flat tire are “rotten luck” and need to be paid out of pocket.

I wrote to @AvisWeTryHarder and explained to Ann Smith (the social media representative) that this outcome was silly, that I shouldn’t need to pay it, and that she should fix it. She did (eventually), but she wasn’t able to do so immediately (by policy.) And the overall experience was one of confusion, rather than triumph at great service and heroic efforts by a few people.

What did I learn?
Avis resolved my issue and I didn’t have to pay for the flat tire (yay!) There were a few key lessons that I gleaned from this experience, including:
  1. It’s hard to speak with one voice – even if everything goes right, training your employees to understand the complexities of a situation and how to use common sense is difficult to train, so you’ve got to hire for attitude;
  2. The customer decides if it was a good experience — customers don’t care why it went wrong, they just want you to fix it. Or explain very clearly why you can’t fix it and to offer a good alternative;
  3. There might be good substitutes, but it’s hard to think of them sometimes - I could have called AAA Auto Club, but I didn’t realize that they would cover me while traveling in Canada. In this case heroic effort won the day.
What’s the impact of the “old college try”?
The customer doesn’t care whether you try harder. The customer cares whether you get it done. Yoda wins.
About Greg Meyer: Greg delights customers and tries to provide the best customer experience possible by listening, providing support, and solving problems. He is a startup veteran of several early stage companies including Gist (acquired by Research in Motion.) In addition to his ability to translate simultaneously between English and Geek, Greg likes to draw things and take pictures of signs. You can contact Greg at @grmeyer. (photo by

The Hidden Power of Your Customers is Launched!

I just wanted to share some very exciting news with all of you – my book, The Hidden Power of Your Customers, is now launched! It has been an exciting week with the various launch activities, including an interview on NBC TV in San Diego, a book interview video released by my friends at Lithium Technologies, and the beginning of my book tour/book signing at the US Grant Hotel in San Diego.

The book is now available in bookstores everywhere, at major online retailers, as well as in eBook format. I would be eternally grateful if you would please leave a review on or on another online retail site as well as say a word or two about it on your blog or favorite social network. I will be featured on various blogs in the coming weeks, either as in interview or as part of a review of my book. Be sure to come over to the book’s Facebook page to keep up with the Book Buzz and see the interviews. Of course, you can also go to my book’s website right here on the Customers Rock! blog.

Here is the video interview that Lithium Technologies was kind enough to put together. Thank you, Lithium. You rock!

The Hidden Power of Your Customers – Interview with Author Becky Carroll from Lithium on Vimeo

Killer Customer Service, or Customer-Killer Service?

A friend of mine has been a member of a particular airline’s frequent flier program (we will call this major US airline, AirlineX) for a number of years. He even has a credit card linked to that account to help accrue points. This friend had earned enough miles for a free trip to Europe but hadn’t been able to fly AirlineX for awhile since his company now required him to fly the cheapest option (which this airline never was). Knowing that his hard-earned points would expire soon, he called the airline to see what could be done to retain them. AirlineX told him that he had to fly a “qualifying flight” in order to retain his points. Unable to do that due to the aforementioned company policy (and with no other potential trips on the horizon), my friend lost his accrued points (and a future flight to Europe).

Now, this happens all the time; that is the part of the formula for points-based loyalty programs. Keep customers coming back so they will continue to earn points and hopefully continue to spend money with the business.

The real pain in this case is the monthly emails that my friend receives from the airline. Each month, AirlineX sends an email showing how many frequent flier points he has (or at this point, doesn’t have). This is most likely intended to help the airline stay top-of-mind with the customer and gently encourage them to book their next flight with the airline. However, in this case, the monthly email only serves as a reminder that this particular customer doesn’t have any more points with AirlineX – and that hurts.

Customers are watching the actions of your company. Every email they receive, commercial they view, social media site they “like”, and direct mail piece they read (or not) affects their view of your business and their overall customer service experience. It may be something that seems small to your organization which pushes the customer out the door.

What do your marketing communications say about your company? Are they helping your customers to buy more from you? Or are they painful reminders of a damaged relationship, resulting in customer-killer service?

(Photo credit: marco)

Announcing my first book: The Hidden Power of Your Customers

I am so excited to share the news with all of you that I have a book coming out in July! And it is thanks to you, my faithful Customers Rock! readers, that it is happening. The book is called The Hidden Power of Your Customers: Four Keys to Growing Your Business Through Existing Customers, being published by John Wiley & Sons. The hardcover edition will be released on July 20, with eReader versions to follow.

This book has actually been a long time in the making – not so much from the perspective of how long it took to write it (see The Story below) but from the perspective that I have had this book in mind since before I began this blog in December of 2006. In fact, one of the reasons I started Customers Rock! blog was that I wanted to see 1) whether I enjoyed writing (I do) and 2) whether anyone else would enjoy reading what I wrote (you do!). So in a sense, this book has been over 4 years in the making!

This book is also one of the main reasons that I have been so quiet on my blog the past few months. I have definitely missed writing for all of you, and many of you have been encouraging me to get back out here and post. I am finally ready, and what better way to start back up than to introduce you to my book.

The Book

The Hidden Power of Your Customers is a book about how to focus on your current customers so that you can lengthen and strengthen your business relationship with them, thus bringing about increased customer loyalty, customer advocacy, and ultimately increased referrals. It is not a social media book (more on that in The Story below), but social media is woven throughout the book (as it should be woven throughout a company’s marketing and customer service strategies). It is also not a customer service book (but that is an important tenet). It is a book about growing your business through one of your company’s best assets – your existing customers.

Here is a short excerpt from the introduction:

It has been my experience that many companies spend most of their time and budget focusing on selling to new customers and end up neglecting their existing ones. This might work in the short term, but eventually these companies will find themselves losing more customers out the back door than they bring in through the front door. Additionally, the onset of social media is driving a major change in customer behaviors and habits, making it highly risky not to focus on existing customers. Social media has brought the customer experience to the forefront of discussions, so it is important for companies to be more vigilant than ever before.

As a result, some people will tell you that you need outstanding customer service. But customer service is not enough. You also need marketing that connects with your current customers. In fact, you need to consider the entire customer experience, and support it with a customer-centric culture, one that promotes an equally exceptional employee experience. And, of course, you do need outstanding customer service.

The Hidden Power of Your Customers is based around the principles of Customers Rock!, and the sections of the book follow the ROCK acronym:

R: Relevant marketing – Organizations need to market to their customers in a way that is relevant to them, including recognizing them as customers, using their language, and meeting their needs.

O: Orchestrated customer experience – Every place a customer interacts with a company needs to provide a consistent, planned experience for the customer that is beneficial to both parties. We can’t leave the customer experience to chance.

C: Customer-focused culture – We can’t just expect that a company will become customer-centric because it hires a few great customer service personnel or states that it cares about customers in its marketing. We need to ensure that customers are part of everything that our company does so that customer-focus becomes part of the company DNA.

K: Killer customer service – Companies need to take customer service to the next level, and it needs to be an integral part of the customer experience. Customer service is where the rubber meets the road, as many buying and renewal decisions are based upon this critical touch point. It has to ROCK.

The book is also supported with many case studies (based on personal interviews I conducted with company leaders), lots of practical tips, and fun personal stories – all written in the Customers Rock! style that you are familiar with here on this blog.

The Story

This past summer, at the end of my Marketing via New Media class which I teach at UC San Diego, my students were encouraging me to take what I know and write a book. I told them I had a book in mind already, I just hadn’t made any inquiries about it yet. I went home that evening and tweeted out that I was thinking about writing a book. Less than a week later, I received an email from an editor at John Wiley & Sons. In it, he said that he was interested in working with me on my book. He said he enjoyed this blog and felt that I had good material, and good credentials, to write a book. I actually had already written a book proposal the year before but hadn’t tried to do anything with it. I asked the Wiley editor whether this should be a social media book, and his recommendation was no, it should not be; he felt there were already quite a few of those out there (and I agree).

So, after giving Wiley’s offer some thought, I agreed and signed the contract. The book was off and running!

I then spent the next four months doing interviews, pulling together information, and writing the manuscript. It was completed on February 1 (I think I missed out on most of the family holiday activities this past season). Since then, I have been working with Wiley on a few rounds of edits, approving cover artwork, seeking “blurbs” (endorsements) for the book, and getting a top-notch thought leader to write the foreword (Thank You, Brian Solis – author of Engage! for being so gracious).

The book is now just about ready for prime time, so I felt it was high time to share about it with you all. The attendees of my recent session at SugarCon got a sneak preview of some of the concepts, and I will be giving more talks in the next few months before the release where I will have the opportunity to sign some pre-release booklets and get the word out about the book.

Will You Help Me Share About It?

I am thrilled that the book releases in just a few months (July 20), and I plan to continue blogging, speaking, and sharing about it on my social networks. Will you help me? Here are a few ways you can get involved in sharing the Customers Rock! philosophy that is in The Hidden Power of Your Customers:

  • Share about the book on your own blog or social networks. Here is the link to the book on Amazon.
  • Go to the Amazon page and click Like (right under my name, at the top of the listing)
  • Pre-order the book
  • If you are in San Diego, come to one of my Book Launch Parties (more info on these as it gets closer)
  • If you are not in San Diego, you can help sponsor me for a Book Signing/Event in your city. I will gladly come to your city for a signing if you help arrange the event; please contact me for details.
  • Submit to write a review of the book on your blog! I will be reaching out to bloggers for reviews to take place in early July; please leave me a comment or drop me a note at becky at petraconsultinggroup dot com if you are interested.

Again, thank you all for your support, encouragement, and loyalty over the past 4 1/2 years of this blog. Customers DO rock, and I can’t wait to show you more about that in the book.

Let me know what you think!


Customer Experience Conference: NetPromoter


I was recently contacted by the team running the Net Promoter Conference in Miami Beach, February 3 and 4, 2011. If you are a customer experience or other customer-centric professional, this is one event you should consider attending. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Richard Owen, CEO of Satmetrix (who I have interviewed previously on Customers Rock! Radio), and John Abraham, General Manager of NetPromoter Programs, about the event, the speakers, and why a focus on customer experience is so important.  Take a few minutes to grab a cup of coffee and have a listen to our brief conversation. Sounds like a great event!

Here are some of the speakers:

  • Andy Lark, Vice President, Large Enterprise, Dell
  • Brian Scudamore, CEO, with Simon Lowe, Director of Operations, 1800-GOT-JUNK?
  • Dan Cathy, President & COO, Chick-fil-A
  • Lara Wise, Vice President, Customer Experience and Customer Care, tw telecom
  • Mary Currier, Vice President, IT Relationship Management, Allianz Life Insurance NA
  • Michael McOmber, Customer Experience Manager, Siemens IT Solutions and Services North America
  • Richard Owen, CEO, Satmetrix and Author, Answering The Ultimate Question
  • Fred Reichheld, Bain & Company Fellow and Author, The Ultimate Question

Have a listen to the interview, and for those of you who attend, come back here and share your key takeaways!

Satmetrix interview