Making Sure the ‘Service’ in Customer Service is Fulfilled

Interactive Intelligence is one of Indiana’s true technology success stories, a leader in internship efforts and, by the way, on the Best Places to Work in Indiana list for the eighth time in the nine-year history of the program.

But this post relates to a very interesting customer service experiment from chief marketing officer Joe Staples. I’ll set up the scenario below (in Joe’s own words from his initial blog post). Then check out the two links at the bottom for the very telling information he learned.

The airline in question here is not the focus; it’s customer service, no matter your organization, and what you can and should be doing whether responding to a good or bad customer experience.

In early January I had one of the most challenging travel weeks that I’ve had in a long time. Snow, ice, cold, all contributed to a series of missed flights, reroutes, and lost luggage. Now mind you, I travel enough each year to go around the world around seven times. I’m a million-miler and proudly carry my Diamond Medallion card like a badge of honor. So, I’m no travel wimp!

During my January travel troubles, I thought overall Delta provided great service. That said, over the space of the week I had good experiences and bad experiences. This got me to thinking …

Here’s the two-part experiment I’m going to conduct. Next week, as close together as I can, I’m going to send an email, launch a tweet, initiate a chat, and place a call into the service desk, all as part of my “desire to share my compliments for the great job Delta did” (I’ll cite specific examples). I’ll be sure I label my communications as a “service compliment.” Then three days later I’ll do the same thing. Only this time it will be to “voice my complaint” (again citing a specific example). I’ll label this set of communications as a “service complaint.”

My plan is to document everything: who responded; how long did the response take; what was the action taken; etc. My hope is that my experiment will show some distinctions between the various communications channels, as well as to show the difference in response to a compliment vs. a complaint.

Blog 2: Compliment

Blog 3: Complaint

Creating Great Customer Service

We’ve all had a terrible customer service experience, and we often dread having to contact that “voice” on the other end of the line when we have a problem. This attitude may soon change, thanks to research done by Indianapolis-based Interactive Intelligence.

The main purpose of the company’s annual survey was to find out what consumers want in a great customer service experience. Some of the findings include:

  • A knowledgeable representative and a timely response are the most valuable components of a great service experience
  • Hotels, online retailers and banks provide the best customer service experiences
  • Live agent remains the preferred interaction type, followed by email. There is a significant drop to web chat, etc.
  • Not being able to understand the agent is rated as the most frustrating part of an interaction
  • Customers are more willing to use social media to praise a good service experience versus complaining about a poor experience

Joe Staples, Interactive Intelligence chief marketing officer, commented on the survey and its results:

“As a provider of business communications software for contact centers and enterprises, we wanted to help our customers maximize the value of our solutions by giving them insight into what makes a great service experience for their customers. The results of the survey accomplished this by revealing a number of interesting findings ranging from preferences about agent behavior, to those about the technology used in a customer service interaction.”

Hopefully, these survey results will help to positively impact the way that companies handle customer service. I know that I would be happier if I knew that contacting customer service would be easy and painless every time.

Full survey results can be downloaded after a free registration.

Celebrating in BKD Style

There are high-fives — and then there are Hi5s.

Both were likely combined when national CPA and advisory firm BKD (a longtime Indiana Chamber member) celebrated a yearlong initiative based on its client service culture. Not only did the Hi5 campaign result in congratulatory hand slaps, but a valuable prize, as well.

The company explains:

BKD’s unique culture is rooted in the five standards of unmatched client service — Integrity First, True Expertise, Professional Demeanor, Responsive Reliability and Principled Innovation — and we expect clients to hold us accountable to these standards.

The Hi5 campaign was meant to encourage employees to heighten their participation in BKD’s unique client service culture, educate themselves on how to better serve clients and each other and celebrate our success. As part of the program, employees “elevated” each other on a Wall of Fame housed on BKD’s intranet. Each employee, excluding partners and directors, receiving an elevation in 2012 was entered into the January 4 drawing.

Leigh Mapes, South Region human resources generalist in BKD’s San Antonio office, was the winner of a new, fully loaded Mazda MX-5 Miata sports car, valued at more than $30,000. The car, emblazoned with Hi5 decals, had been taken to the various offices throughout the year to remind employees of the rewards of delivering excellent client service.

“It really is a blur to me,” said Leigh, a six-year BKD veteran. “When I heard my name, I was in shock. With more than 1,600 people being elevated, I couldn’t believe my name was picked! So many thoughts were going through my head, but above all, I knew I was so blessed to be the winner.”

Kudos to BKD and congratulations to Leigh.

Customer Service as Important as Ever

I was at a marketing conference a couple years ago when a presenter asserted that a company’s top marketers are really its customer service people. I found that to be one of these really simple, yet complicated concepts. We are lucky to have a great customer service team in place here at the Chamber, and they are often the face of our organizations both via phone and at our conferences. Fast Company delved into this notion in a recent interview with Thor Muller of San Francisco-based Get Satisfaction:

1. Re-humanizing consumer interactions

For Muller, it is simply not enough that companies use their tools. "We really want people to change their whole approach to what it means to talk to customers," he explained. "For a long time, maybe a hundred years, we’ve been gradually squeezing the humanity out of our interactions; scripting it, automating it, scaling it." Instead of asking people to take a number, "Companies now have to revolve themselves around individuals." Muller noted, adding that in doing so, "we’re making the world a better place, certainly more human!"

2. Elevating the conversation from transactions to aspirations

While traditional customer service is often about addressing transactional issues like resetting passwords, Muller believes that community-driven customer support can go much further. "Customer communities at their best are really tapping people’s deeper goals, their deeper desires," explained Muller. This requires companies to, "rise above writing help documentation and be more of a good cocktail party host." Muller links this change with the new staff post of Community Manager who is part therapist, part help desk and part cruise director.

3. Reducing the costs of the traditional help desk

For years, companies have sought to drive down support costs with automation and the ironic goal of minimizing human interaction with their call centers. Part of the reason Get Satisfaction has grown so quickly is that it flips this notion on its head, increasing human interaction but decreasing costs by making support more peer-to-peer driven. Noted Muller, "we’ve seen with our communities at scale typically reduce the number of [service] tickets that go to [call center] agents by 75% or so." Muller referred me to case histories for Mint.com and Yola, both of which reduced "repetitive support by two thirds."

4. Extending support beyond your website to Facebook

While most companies recognize the need to engage consumers on social media, only the savviest have begun to offer customer support on platforms like Facebook. For these enlightened marketers, Get Satisfaction offers a Facebook application in two distinct versions, "one for enterprises who have a lot more demand for customization/controls and one for everybody else," noted Muller. Having a support tab on Facebook gives fans one more reason to "Like" a brand and get the information and support required to encourage and enable over-the-top evangelism.

5. Turning customer support into searchable content

Given the fundamental importance of search to customer acquisition, finding ways to improve organic search results (SEO) is a top priority for most businesses. That said, few have recognized that content generated via customer communities can do just that. Explained Muller, "somebody asks how they can use a particular camera to take better pictures, that is then indexed by Google and then next person who searches finds that conversation. Get Satisfaction] is taking something that used to be a cost center, customer service, and turning it into lead generation."

6. Listening builds trust in and of itself

Dell famously solicited customer ideas and ended up producing a Linux based laptop that no one bought. This kind of listening and responding is not the ultimate intent of Get Satisfaction. While community members are encouraged to offer ideas, Muller does not advocate, "design by committee" or conclude that the customer is always right. "Even if [a brand doesn't] build what I want them to build or do what I want them to do, I may be less likely to change to another product because I feel close to them," explained Muller.

7. Integrating customer conversations with your CRM system

Many sophisticated marketers, especially in B2B, rely on well-honed CRM systems to track leads through the funnel. Get Satisfaction allows these companies to take this one step further by connecting the social web with workflow systems, trouble tickets and project management tools. Explained Muller, "Knowing who a customer is, what their buying history is, and what they care about is important to servicing them well." Suddenly a customer complaint becomes "actionable within an organization," given the CRM integration concluded Muller.

8. Measuring C-Sat on both a qualitative and quantitative basis

While some pundits strive to simplify customer satisfaction to one basic metric like Net Promoter, this may not be the ideal approach for your particular business. Having witnessed thousands of customer comments and complaints, Muller encourages clients to take a "more holistic approach" and "measure satisfaction in various ways." Having developed something called a Satisfactometer, that explained Muller, "might be something fun like an emoticon and other times might be something more structured and numeric," Get Satisfaction is delivering both sides of the measurement equation.
 

“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers…”

If your company is called 1-800-Flowers, you should probably be ready for an influx of business on Valentine’s Day. Perhaps understandably, the company was overwhelmed with expected deliveries on Feb. 14, but instead of notifying customers, it appears the business simply didn’t deliver the flowers. Needless to say, there were some very disappointed wives and girlfriends. 

If there is a takeaway from this, it’s probably that those of us in the business world should be aware of the dangers of over-committing. Styleist.com reports:

So this caught our eye when visiting our Twitter feed: A chorus (which may be an understatement) of angry customers directing their ire towards 1-800-Flowers. It turns out that for potentially hundreds of customers, their Valentine’s Day orders were left unfulfilled…and customer service isn’t proving to be the most helpful option. Calls to their complaint line have reportedly resulted in 20 minute-plus wait times, abrupt hang-ups and little resolution.

However, tweeting @1800Flowers seems to be the most helpful–customer service agents apparently are resorting to direct messaging to resolve the epic fiasco. Though resolutions seem to be coming forth, it doesn’t make up for a disappointing Valentine’s Day. (And we wonder how many people got in trouble with their significant others, honestly.)

Angry customers did take their messages to Twitter with posts like:

  • @1800flowers #flowerfail. Order guaranteed for 2/14 not delivered AND on permahold to get live person. Customer service not your strong suit
  • @1800flowers failed to deliver yesterday, won’t take calls, and is unresponsive to e-mail. I’m relegated to tweeting.
  • @1800flowers it was the worst Valentines day I’ve ever had :( my flowers never showed up

PR Lesson: FedEx Wastes No Time Addressing Embarrassing Video

Over the holidays, a video went viral showing complete negligence by a FedEx employee, just tossing a computer monitor over a fence rather than properly delivering the item. See that video below, as well as the company’s response, which has been viewed rather positively by communications critics.

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Holiday Shopping: How to be Nice — Not Naughty — this Season

With Black Friday quickly approaching, gift giving is on my mind. As visions of loved ones opening their presents dance in my head, a less heartwarming thought creeps in: how to deal with poor customer service.

I’m not talking about retailers’ professionalism – I’m referring to impolite (and often downright rude) – customers.

I’ll never forget the year that a new employee was working the day after Thanksgiving at one of my favorite stores. As I stood in a long line for what felt like an eternity, I enviously watched shoppers in the other lines pay for their items and leave. Was I frustrated? Yes. Was I envisioning cookies from the food court as lunchtime approached and my stomach started growling? Of course. But some of my fellow shoppers were acting like they wanted to take a bite out of the rookie!

I’ve never seen so many people angrily rolling their eyes or folding their arms at once. I wanted to shout, “’Bah humbug!” at the top of my lungs. Fortunately, I refrained.

As the holiday season gets underway, the following tips on how to be a good customer may enhance your shopping experience and make an employee’s workday a bit more merry:

  • Do your homework and ask questions. Check out consumer recalls before purchasing toys and gifts for children. Know what the warranty covers, learn the store’s return policy, make sure you will be able to pay off a cartful of merchandise you put on layaway and check out online reviews.
  • Practice patience. Holidays and resulting crowds can put even the most patient on edge. Rather than attack a store employee because a product is not in stock or because the checkout line is a mile long, remember what your mother taught you about always being polite. "Please," "thank you" and "have a nice day" are words that can never be said too much.
  • Be courteous. Those long checkout lines often arise because customers are not prepared to present items for check out or have their credit card or check ready when it’s time to make payment. Do not get mad if the store will not honor competitors’ coupons; check before you go to the store.
  • Do your part: Standing at the cash register is not the time to suddenly realize you have neither wallet nor checkbook. It is definitely not the time for a conversation on your cell phone.

Twitter Me This: Positive or Negative Rules?

Of those many tweets floating around regarding business products or customer service, do more fall in the positive or negative column? According to recent research, it depends on who you ask. The customers say they are offering more praise, while the companies are measuring more criticism.

Many companies are under the impression that opinion about brands on Twitter is mostly negative, but a new survey conducted by Econsultancy and supported by Toluna shows evidence to the contrary. The firm’s Twitter for Business Guide, published this week, includes findings from consumer research — which indicates that a higher proportion of consumers have conveyed positive, rather than negative feedback on the social platform. The survey found that 26% of consumers say they have complained about a brand on Twitter compared to over half (58%) who have praised a brand on the site.

The findings contrast with research from Brandwatch’s Customer Service Index, which indicates that the majority of tweets about brands are negative. Brandwatch surveyed brands that are using Twitter for customer service, and used reputation-monitoring software to look at how customers were expressing their views and how brands responded. The contrast in results is explained by a difference in the approach to the research and user perception about how they tweet. While the Brandwatch study analyzed the volume of existing tweets using reputation monitoring software, Econsultancy’s research looks at how consumers observe their experiences of giving feedback.

For now, tweets are king in the social media world. As for tomorrow (or a little further down the road), who knows? 

For Customer, Airline Soars High Through Customer Service

Customer service in any field or job is one of the reasons companies either succeed or fail. Good customer service can help you soar, as people want to continue to work with you even when something doesn’t go quite as planned. Bad customer service can be detrimental. Especially in this day and age of "status updates" and "tweets" that can cause PR nightmares.

Here’s a story of a good experience in an industry riddled with a bad reputation.

We’ve all had the experience at the airport where the man or woman behind the counter could care less about whether or not you reach your destination. They just want you to move along and go on to the next person. This is typically my experience. And it wasn’t until recently that I’ve seen a glimmer of hope. Even if it was just one person at one company (Delta Air Lines) – sometimes that’s all it takes.

My wife and I were flying to New York (via LaGuardia) to see her family. We had our 9-month-old daughter with us and after lugging four suitcases, a car seat and a stroller through the parking lot and up to the counter, we were told our flight had been cancelled only minutes before. You can only imagine our frustration, to say it lightly.

We were sent to another line at the ticket counter, seething and wondering how and if we were going to get through this.

We stepped up to the counter and the woman who now had our Fourth of July plans in her hands smiled and said hello to us and our daughter. We hoped, "Somehow, there must be a way out of here!" She searched for what felt like about a half hour, finding flights going through Detroit and that was about it. But with a baby, layovers can be tricky, especially if you have precious few minutes to get to your connection. She could see we were not happy with that solution and continued to search.

Minutes later she exclaimed, "Got it!" My ears perked up as she told us that there was a flight going to New York (JFK). That’s what we wanted to hear; we were back on track. She also informed us that we would be upgraded to first class, free of charge – indicating they may not be happy with her for doing so. Could it be? Could this woman really have been so nice and helpful to find a solution for us and our daughter that would be in our best interest and not the airlines? It could and she did.

I’m sure my smiling daughter (mixed with our comment about how she wouldn’t get to see her grandma) helped a bit, but it gives me hope that there are good people out there committed to doing the right thing for customers.

Customers’ Online Struggles Prove Costly

Many customer service nightmare stories involve the visible "mistreatment" of a person in your store or office location. When the problem is online, too many organizations fail to recognize they have a problem — and they’re paying for it.

A new study estimates 23% of annual online revenue is going by the wayside as the result of poor online customer experiences. And about four out of five survey respondents indicated they have little or no understanding why customers leave a shopping cart (78%) or exit a site (81%) without completing the purchase.

According to the study, limited understanding of the overall online customer experience, lack of multi-channel approach, and hard-to-diagnose site usability issues are all contributing factors to the poor consumer experiences that lead to billions of dollars in lost revenue. Most are reactive and rely on other channels to discover customer issues, with 76 percent most likely to learn about site problems as a result of calls to the customer service team or through customer emails.

The report, Reducing Customer Struggle, reveals that nearly one-fifth (18 percent) of businesses rate their understanding of the online customer experience as "poor" or "very poor," with only four percent classing it as "excellent."

When asked to identify the single most common problem that customers might encounter on their websites, bad site navigation/poor ‘findability’ was considered to be both the most common (57 percent) and most serious (55 percent) problem. 29 percent cited lack of information as the second most common and serious (31 percent) problem that might drive customers away from websites. When it comes to effective approaches for understanding the customer experience, only 11% of respondents said that they use session replay technology but an astounding 95% of those found it to be quite or very effective.

Linking online and offline channels and sharing insights across both is also a major challenge for businesses, with only three percent describing the multi-channel experience they provide as "excellent" and nearly a quarter (24 percent) rating it as "poor" or "very poor." Sixty percent of the companies polled admit that the offline parts of their business have little or no understanding of the experience a customer might have at their online store. Currently only 49 percent of companies have processes in place to prioritize and rectify the problems and issues customers face online; this practice will become even more critical as companies add a new channel into the mix, as 52 percent of those polled plan to invest in the mobile internet this year.