In Part 1 I looked some bad customer experiences. Here are some companies who understand how they can fulfill their brand promise through customer service.
Every week I drive through two towns and past ten supermarkets to get to Whole Foods. Not only is the food better and healthier, but the service is impeccable. From the guys behind the meat counter to the friendly cashiers, customers are always treated with respect and professionalism. I look forward to my trips there for what could be a chore. It really hit me when I stopped into a major chain to pick up a few items. To get my deli order I had to bust up a complaint session among the workers about the break schedule. At the check out I was treated to a conversation between the cashier (Brittney) and the bagger (Courtney). Brit and Court completely ignored me while yapping back and forth about a classmate who had the temerity to brag about owning an $80 shirt. In all the commotion over the pricey top several of my groceries were smashed as they were thrown into flimsy plastic bags.
Comcast is another company that understands customer service. They understand they are a big ugly utility that overcharges for their service - a service that does always work as advertised. To compensate, their phone customer reps and field service employees go out of their way to be courteous, knowledgeable and helpful. I made the cardinal mistake of getting the first rev of their TIVO box and the software was buggy. Every time I called ready to cancel, I was sweet-talked into staying. They acknowledged the service needed work and offered me discounts to stick with them. How could I say no? Whenever something didn’t work – it was replaced at no cost, no questions asked and with a smile. That kind of service buys patience as they work out some bugs.
I have also encountered great service at Mercedes Benz, Best Buy, Amazon.com and at dozens of small local companies/stores. In almost all cases it’s worth a premium. I wonder how many grand marketing plans are undone by bad customer service or an impersonal phone system or a balky web site. How many CMOs have customer service reporting directly to them? If they don’t they should, it’s just as important as any other aspect of their marketing plan.
Customer service is one of the most important elements of your brand promise. It is where you and the customer come face to face. All your slick web sites, social media programs and ad schedules can be undone by bad customer service. Companies such as Zappos (a King Fish client) have made great service their differentiator and even built an ad campaign around it. I’ve had some recent experiences that illustrate how front line customer service can have a bottom line effect.
No business does more to turn off their customers than America’s airlines. They talk the talk, but rarely walk the walk. My wife and I went to Florida on vacation via Jet Blue – we could have checked two bags of 50 pounds each; but we had one bag of 54 pounds. We were given the option of holding up a huge line and pulling out four pounds of stuff or paying $50 extra. Given the hassle we already went through with airport parking and the charming TSA agents, (it appears their sole purpose is to monitor the toiletries of law abiding citizens) I paid the $50 and just went on my way. I tried to explain that we were 46 pounds under as a family, but no dice. Rules are rules, pay up.
Last week I was with a colleague in Washington DC at the US Air Shuttle – we had tickets for the 2:30 shuttle but were at the gate in time for the 1:30 flight and they had seats available that were going to be empty when the plane took off. We asked if we could switch to the earlier flight – the gate agent/prison guard snapped “$50 change fee per ticket”. Keep in mind there is absolutely no hard cost to letting us sit in these empty seats, but rules are rules, pay up. We declined and my colleague wrote a strongly worded email to the CEO of US Air. A few days later a reply came back that apologized for our dissatisfaction, but no explanation of why a $50 charge to get on a flight an hour earlier that had empty seats.
Recently I called United Mileage Plus to ask if there was any way I could get my “lifetime mileage” reinstated that expired last year. It took 10 minutes of pushing different combinations of phone buttons to even get a human. Their automated call system had no choice for speaking to a customer service rep. I finally got a guy with a shaky command of English. I told him how I had earned the miles over 15 years, but haven’t been traveling on United lately and would love to reengage as a customer. Sorry, nothing he can do. In the interest of marketing science, I came right out and said “you won’t even consider it if it means that I nor my company will ever fly United again and I will tell everyone I know not to fly United”. His response: If I take their Visa card I can get 50,000 miles. My response is unprintable in a family blog.
Three companies in a struggling industry had a chance to make a friend and possible loyal customer. Imagine if any of those situations went in another direction, how happy I would have been and how my perception of that airline would have changed. Instead I am writing this post and will push it out to the many people I am connected to via social media.
In part II on Monday – companies who truly understand the value of customer service.
The artificial division between internal and external communications is crumbling. With the emergence of flatter organizations where knowledge and relationships speak as loudly as rank, and where the ‘professional’ and ‘personal’ lives of employees are increasingly blurred, communications hierarchies designed to segment or stovepipe information are losing their relevance. More than ever, employees are taking control of the channels and communicating not just with their superiors and their immediate colleagues, but with peers, friends and strangers down the hall, in the next city and across the world. The smart companies—the ones most likely to engage, empower and energize employees and companies in support of the company mission and brand—have taken note and are providing platforms to support the conversation.
“Providing platforms” in this context means more than incorporating social media (which are really just new channels) into the company communications plan, it means embracing and responding to the seismic changes taking place within the communications space itself, including the ubiquity and power of technology, the desire for community and a recognition that a successful brand must be built from the inside out.
The genie has been let out of the bottle, if he was ever there in the first place. Email allows any internal message to be launched into public view with the tap of a ‘send’ button. The lesson here is simple: don’t prepare or circulate anything for internal use that you wouldn’t be comfortable seeing outside the firewall.
The inverse is also true: Technology means that employees can no more be shielded from company news reports (ever heard of Google alerts?) unpalatable to top brass than they can be shut off from information floating around the water cooler. And technology itself is of limited use when it comes to regulating the online activities of employees. That nifty filter put in place to block employees from accessing Facebook and other social media sites? It may keep the lawyers happy, but it doesn’t stop employees from accessing these sites through their (often as not company-owned) PDA’s and smart phones, which in turn can be used to blast information outside the company.
But technology isn’t even the central issue. The opportunities and challenges presented by portable hardware simply underscore the cultural shifts taking place in the workplace and in society in general, and the failure of most organizations to meet them. These shifts can be summed up in terms of employees’ desire for community in an increasingly atomized world and the parallel pursuit of authenticity and meaning in work, a search largely undiluted by the effects of our most recent recession.
Jaded audiences—employees among them—are looking for sources they trust. These audiences long ago became immune to advertising, which now functions as an expensive tool with which to build a brand, and are skeptical of the news reports fed by public relations practitioners. They are seeking guidance from like-minded people they trust (virtual communities or ‘tribes’, in the parlance) which can be physical (word of mouth) or more likely, virtual (a LinkedIn group, for example). Increasingly, these virtual groups exist as proxies for the physical communities— family, friends, customer, the car-repair guy—that have long served companies as a source of customers and or potential employees.
Positioning a company internally more often than not amounts to cursory efforts to sell a company’s brand promise (often modified for the employee audience) to employees. Traditionally, this function was left to the HR department, which often as not responded with a dreary listing of benefits and ‘employee-friendly’ policies.
Now, thanks to the gusher of information and tools at their disposal, employees can fill that vacuum and to an increasing degree, define that brand promise themselves. This requires demonstrable “proof points”: if a company defines itself as an innovator, it better not have decade-old computer systems. But the most important step for our newly emancipated employees is to take the reins of social media and other communications channels to create a culture (for example, team-focused, curious, service-oriented, optimistic) that reflects their own work spirit. To a great degree, it matters less what that culture is that that they can express it.
Savvy companies realize that employees are their best ambassadors, not an embarrassment to be hidden behind a brick wall. In this environment, companies are wise to direct increased resources (human, financial and otherwise) to their communications functions, so as to better educate and empower employees. This means building a robust, interactive communications platform led by innovative and holistic thinkers able to put social media and other 21st century channels to use in today’s communications landscape, a landscape that’s not artificially divided into traditional internal and external categories, but that is truly dynamic and integrated.
As director of internal communications for BBVA Compass, a top 15 U.S. bank based in the Sunbelt, Will Trout seeks to inform, energize and empower employees in support of the bank’s vision, strategy and mission. In his free time, Will heads up a Houston-based discussion forum for marketing and communications executives in the financial and professional services industries, and enjoys sharing ideas and best practices on a range of topics from brand-building to employee engagement to stakeholder outreach.
Last year we partnered with HubSpot and Junta 42 for the first in a series of three studies on media and measurement. This year we’re partnering with them again for the second study in this series: Social Media Usage, Attitudes and Measurability: What do Marketers Think?
Whereas the 2009 survey asked marketers about their use of custom content, the future allocation of their marketing dollars, and if they planned to ditch traditional marketing methods for shiny and new social ones, this year’s survey launches from a very distinct vantage point: marketers are most definitely investing in social media. But while we may know that many companies have jumped on board, there’s still a lot to learn about the usage habits, attitudes and future plans of marketers and other corporate executives.
That being the case, the questions this time around revolve around how marketers are measuring social media’s effectiveness—qualitatively, quantitatively, or otherwise—as well as the design and management of their social media programs, and the different social media services/networks they’re engaging with.
Needless to say, there’s still a lot to learn, and we hope that with your collective feedback, we’ll end up with a lot of useful information to share with you.
So, without further ado, we introduce you to Social Media Usage, Attitudes and Measurability: What do Marketers Think? Please take a few minutes to offer your insight and feedback: www.KingFishMedia.com/socialmediasurvey/