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Tim Peter


September 11, 2008

What?!? You mean there's more to customer service than social tools?

September 11, 2008 | By | No Comments

David Armano is a rock star blogger, big thinker and bastion bonhomie. I’d originally planned to include David’s recent experience dealing with Comcast in my roundup of social tools yesterday. But, I, um… forgot. I’m glad I did. Because when re-reading David’s excellent post I found the even more excellent comment from Alan Wolk I’d missed the first time through. To wit:

David: While I agree with your points on this, I can’t help wondering why the non-Twitter/Frank customer service experience has to be so awful. I mean if they’d put you through to a live person (versus an endless phone chain) or given you accurate information in the first place, would Franks’ intervention have seemed so magical?

It can’t be a good thing for a brand to have such wildly divergent customer service experiences. I’d suggest they look at the benefits of what Frank is doing on Twitter and build from there.

Oh, Mr. Wolk. You, sir, receive highest marks. While so many of us wrapped up in the Interwebs sometimes forget it, online is only part of the total customer experience.

Once, in a past life, I was confronted by a young brand manager and asked why our e-commerce site didn’t better reflect “the brand experience.” I asked the young manager to describe the brand experience. HIs answer: a blank stare. Looking to your website – or a social media channel, or an on online campaign, or what-have-you – to sell an experience that doesn’t exist is like using Kleenex as an umbrella. You might get away with it once. But it won’t last.

Obviously, the Web is a critical component of the overall customer experience. And social tools play an increasingly strong role, especially, as David’s post illustrates, in the area of customer loyalty. Failing to address these in the long-run will cost you dearly.

But, what Alan Wolk reminds us is customer experience is the sum of your customer’s interactions with your business. Sure, you might do well in some areas. But each failed interaction provides your competitors an opportunity, a toehold, a beachhead towards providing your customers a better experience. It’s great Comcast gave David an alternative way to get help. But it would be better altogether if they didn’t need it.

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  1. While I totally agree with Alan that the entire customer experience is the issue, that’s simply pointing out an obvious issue that requires very intricate solutions which most of us are not prepared to solve.

    So the positive interaction on Twitter in my mind becomes the main story. Think about it, most big companies suffer issues that never get resolved because of their size, then one day employees start taking matters into their own hands. And it actually makes a difference.

    That’s how change happens. That said, “taking a look at what Frank is doing” is a good start—imagine if he never “did it”.

    Thanks for the nice words by the way, Your check is in the mail. 😉

  2. @darmano Cool! I knew this blogging thing would lead to money eventually! 😉

    At the risk of deflating controversy (and killing any chance of huge traffic… damn), I agree with you. Frank’s story is a great story, one absolutely worth highlighting. But suggesting that folks can do more isn’t so obvious, I’m afraid, else we’d see more action towards.

    In fact, the answer to the very intricate solutions you mention is contained right within your comment: employees taking steps to make a difference in their customers’ lives, just like Frank. While I’m not suggesting individual employees can reprogram ACD lines, they can lobby their managers when they see a better way to help. Twitter is one example (and an awfully fine one at that) of how to accomplish that. But does it need to be the only one?

  3. Hi Again Tim!

    Mobilizing employees in a huge company to take responsibility involves massive cultural/infrastructure change and has legal ramifications.

    It’s easy to identify that this is HOW to solve it. Solving the problem I just articulated is yet another thing.

    And no, it should go beyond Twitter, beyond Web 2.0, beyond the Web right? But again, easier said than done. So let’s point out the baby steps. 🙂

  4. Thanks for recognizing the brilliance Tim, even if Armano doesn’t 😉

    The problem here is really quite simple: Comcast has a horrible reputation for customer service, one that they are regularly mocked for.

    And while one guy on Twitter is certainly a step in the right direction, at another level it serves to point out how awful the non-Twitter experience is for people. And as Tim points out, it’s clearly not that obvious to Comcast that this is a problem, otherwise they would not have let it get to the place it has. Your experience also raises the point, in consumers minds that “if they can provide me with good customer service here, then they do understand how to provide good service. So the fact that they’re not doing it elsewhere must be a conscious decision.”

    I know you have this whole theory about how micro-interactions lead to greater change and it’s a very valid theory. It’s just in this case, the positive microinteraction is dwarfed by the magnitude of negative interactions. Rather than feeling like I found Comcast’s first step in the right direction, it’s going to feel like I just stumbled on a fluke.

  5. Hi David,
    Again, I’m with you on this. You are right, in terms of celebrating the baby steps (yeah, baby steps!), in terms of the needed culture shift and with regard to the operational and legal issues such changes often require. They’re not trivial.

    At the same time, speaking from my experience at Charles Schwab and Cendant Corporation (neither tiny companies by most measures), change can bubble up from line-level employees. Too many employees at large corporations assume their voice doesn’t matter. And that need not be the case. Schwab moved from pricing online vs. offline segments differently in 1996 at least in part due to the efforts of people in customer contact roles. Cendant Hotel Group customer service agents have contributed frequently and positively to changes in the company’s Best Rate Guarantee program by providing feedback on trends they see in customer claims – and never once have been asked to do so.

    We need to encourage every effort employees make at improving customer service. And, as you suggest, we must encourage employees to act in ways that don’t expose those companies to risk. Notice, neither story above led to the customer service person directly changing/implementing/ignoring policy. So, Frank’s Twittering has earned its kudos. But, we must also challenge the notion that large companies can’t change for the better in all areas. It’s self-limiting for the company and the employee both.

    Thanks again for reading and for the insightful dialogue. Keep up the great work.

  6. Hi Alan,
    Thanks for the kind words. And, at the risk of sounding like a wuss, I think you and David are both right. Some customers – likely the lion’s share unaware of Comcast’s (or Frank’s, anyway) embrace of Twitter – still think of Comcast as unresponsive and difficult. I suspect far more of their customers have seen that notorious YouTube video than have interacted with Frank.

    But, as someone who rarely had nice things to say about Comcast, which led to my own positive Comcast/Twitter experience, their service – or my perception of it, at least – is getting better. For instance, I had a terrific phone call with one of their customer service folks today who explained two different options available to me to save me money. So, either they’re getting better at customer service. Or Frank is rubbing off on people. Or maybe it just feels that way. Each of these micro-interactions is clearly influencing my viewpoint. You’re right that one small positive won’t offset many negatives. But, it’s a start. And, if Comcast continues to improve, eventually those negatives will fade. And that’s definitely worth recognizing.

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