The following is a post I wrote on Econsultancy’s blog recently.
Social customer care has been around for roughly five years and I’m wondering how much it has really moved on in that time, since the first Tweet was sent by Frank Eliason, #Twelpforce, giffgaff and United Breaks Guitar.
Does Amazon’s Mayday and NatWest’s use of Vine videos for customer service give us cause for optimism?
Social customer care 2008 – 2011
The last time I wrote a post on Econsultancy’s blog was in June 2011 I think. Much has happened since then in the area of social customer care; my particular area of focus, both as a past practitioner and now with a consultant’s hat on.
Note to self: must stop living on past glories!
The period 2008 – 2011 saw traditional customer service boundaries, not being pushed, but rather ignored. Ignored in favour of creativity, curiosity and serendipity. Perhaps resulting in the same level of excitement that hadn’t been seen since the introduction of moving assembly lines by Henry Ford in 1913?
The convergence of broadband, access to technology and the increasing ubiquity of smartphones saw a level of creativity that allowed people like Frank Eliason and Dave Carroll, companies like BestBuy and giffgaff to willingly suspend disbelief for a moment.
Their actions challenged existing norms, assumptions and models of service delivery, and in turn, returned a sense of intimacy and humanity, that the assembly lines had over the years eroded away. The pursuit of empathy (it’s all about empathy, right?!) became an aspirational goal for organisations willing to suspend, albeit for only a brief moment, all that Taylorism had taught them.
Even marketing departments tried to get in on the act, and we witnessed a sudden influx of endless ‘customer service is the new black’ type of clichés into the growing lexicon of social customer care.
But customer service die-hards still held sway. Social customer care couldn’t quite shift AHT and Erlang formulas. The exceptions, early pioneers like BT, ASOS, O2, Easyjet, Virgin Trains, The Carphone Warehouse, were just that, exceptions, curiosities.
The die-hards couldn’t quite bring themselves to commit fully to something that might still be a fad (hope, hope!). Postscript: Damn, it wasn’t!
Vine and Mayday
Two things have stood out for me recently. NatWest’s use of Vine videos and Amazon’s Mayday. Both visual mediums.
I wasn’t expecting any organisation to use Vine in that way. But why Vine? Why not Pinterest? Who cares! It doesn’t really matter.
But for me, NatWest’s use of Vine is still very much simply putting a social spin on a traditional story. Let me explain. IMHO, NatWest have taken a social medium, applied a very traditional marketing approach to it, and then dressed it up in social customer care clothes.
Safe, safe, safe. But then organisations play safe, don’t they?! Has NatWest pushed boundaries? Yes and no, but let’s not pat ourselves on the back quite yet.
Yes, the bank has used a new medium, but in the final analysis, it’s just a very short, highly crafted, albeit humorous, video. Don’t get me wrong, I am hugely supportive of any company that is willing to ‘suspend disbelief’ and use the emerging platforms that are out there. It’s scary.
But, what if NatWest had simply said to their agents: Go use Vine to help your customers and each other (knowledge management, right?). What would that have looked like?
I was reading the Techcrunch post about Mayday and what I was struck by was how entrenched the thinking of the author was in the operational minutiae of today’s customer service challenges around scale and cost-efficiency.
While there was an underlying sense of hope, you felt that ultimately Mayday would likely be unable to break free from the shackles of today’s operational challenges: We love the concept, but can’t quite believe it enough to think it might succeed. We will it to succeed, but no more.
Rather than celebrate what Mayday represents – a glimpse perhaps, a primitive precursor or rudimentary first step – we feel obliged to suppress hope in favour of what we know, the comfort blankets and familiarity of cost efficiency, call deflection and scripted responses never too far out of reach.
But we must strike back. We must dare to stand up, to be heard, to be seen. We must dare to challenge the status quo. Not for the sake of it, but because there is something better to be had.
The ineluctable truth is that whether we like it or not, the way we work, the way we engage with each other is changing. It is changing because, quite simply, the people who will be the next generation of leaders, workers, consumers, participants, voyeurs and complainers, have a different way of doing things. We are in a period of flux.
The next generation of leaders, workers and consumers are not in a period of flux, it is us, the generation before who are.
It is our natural inclination to think about telephone calls and contact centres, and the costs associated with each. We find it difficult to think about the implications of Mayday and what it might represent.
Our thinking is so entrenched that we are unable to see Mayday for what it could be. A glimpse of the future, perhaps? It doesn’t have to be right, does it?!
The way I view Mayday is so entrenched and intertwined in the world of today. The sum total of my collective experience only allows me to be the cynic and critic. I am unable to comprehend what Mayday might represent. I am unable to…
But let me try to look beyond Taylor and the Erlang formula for a moment. Let me in a quiet and peaceful corner contemplate Mayday…
- Let me think about the implications of embedding the resolution or the means to a resolution in the product, the device, itself.
- Let me think about a time when the internet is never broken.
- Let me think about a time when customer service simply equals a conversation between people.
- Let me think about a time when cost efficiency no longer exists.
- Let me think about a time when AHT or First Time Resolution are distant memories.
- Let me think about a time when we remember Mayday as pushing the boundaries, as challenging our current thinking.
- Let me think about a time when having support on demand is the norm.
- Let me think about a time … that isn’t that far away perhaps.
The challenge we face is not coming up with products and services such as Mayday, but rather freeing ourselves and our thinking of what we know. And actually, it’s not about freeing our thinking, it’s the cognition(?) to know that we have freed ourselves from the limitations of our current thinking…
So where are we today, roughly five years on?
The die-hards are still there, but I’m more hopeful. Social customer care is going from strength to strength. The curiosity, creativity, serendipity…the excitement is returning. Mayday and Vine point to a shift that is taking place.
There’s still much work to be done. We need to enable our agents to take ownership of the tools at their disposal to create ‘point of need’ Vine videos for their customers; a type of customer service ‘on the fly’ perhaps.
Likewise, we need organisations to accept that their customers also have a role to play, but that only comes from understanding and being confident in what their own role is within an everchanging and ambiguous environment.
But I am hopeful…
I’ve been wondering for some time now why Google [not really sure which bit of Google to link to???] hasn’t made more of a play in the social customer care space.
I seem to start most of my posts with–I’ve been wondering … or–I’ve been reading …
I remember writing a post in 2011 [What's the role of Google in your customer service?] asking the same question and making the observation then that for many people Google was their first port of call when something goes wrong with their washing machine, laptop or lawnmower. I put forward the question then, and to some degree I’m still asking it (perhaps a little tongue in cheek): Why don’t companies simply put a Google search box on their Help homepage?
But perhaps now I’m turning the question on to Google themselves and asking them: Why haven’t you made more of a play in the social customer care space?
If Google chose to make sense of all those search queries people asked around products, or when they use combinations of words such as ‘broken / fix + [product name] + product type’ and instead of simply showing entries for people or companies that might fix such products, actually offered a set of really practical and relevant results that included manuals and videos [YouTube], product information, people who have had similar issues, information in forums [fora?], grouped that information together in some way, allowed the results to show ratings and reviews, and alongside a directory of people who could provide solutions to those problems, together with phone numbers, offer the option for people to get in touch with each other via Google Hangouts to help each other out, then that might really become quite a powerful alternative to either ringing a company up or visiting their website.
Google has the opportunity and ability to make the links and bring them together in such a meaningful way, and in so doing, keep all of us on their web site that little bit longer. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time…
10 minutes after publishing this post: Just remembered why I was thinking about Google as a player in the social customer care space. It was off the back of coming across this upcoming session – Keeping up with the Customer – Digital Service – by Jeremy Morris at the Call Centre Conference in London, 2nd & 3rd October.
Both of these things have got me thinking about social customer care, and customer service more broadly. Or perhaps I should qualify it by replacing ‘customer service’ or ‘social customer care’ with ‘customer experience’ or ‘customer interaction’. I’ve noticed that whenever we talk about customer service now, it very quickly becomes interchangeable with customer experience. Maybe it’s all just about ‘communication’?
As I was thinking about these two things, some questions came to mind.
- What do either of these examples tell us about the approach that customers and organisations will take when engaging with each other in the coming years?
- How will customers express their satisfaction or displeasure?
- What do these things tell us about the continuing relevance of today’s metrics?
- When we look at the use of Vine or the purchase of Promoted Tweets to complain, how will organisations account for these types of interactions in their metrics? What is it that they will actually measure?
- Will not responding become a measure? And if so, of what?
- Will organisations recognise the effort someone puts in to the way in which they interact with them? Is a complaint via Vine worth more or less, in terms of the effort expended by a customer, than a complaint via a Promoted Tweet or YouTube or Facebook? Does it matter? Do you only compare like for like ie. Vine with YouTube, Tweet with Facebook comment? How many Tweets equate to a Vine video equate to a Facebook comment equate to…?
- If a customer RTs, is that more or less meaningful or impactful than Joe Public RTing? Does being more or less meaningful or impactful depend on who is in your network?
- In the same way that an organisation tries to understand the ‘strength’ or ‘impact’ or ‘reach’ (I’m trying not to use either of the ‘k’ words there) of a customer, what happens when customers themselves start to truly not only understand the power they wield individually and collectively, but also understand how to use it?
- What happens when customers themselves start to create and share their own leaderboards indexing brands in a way that is meaningful to them?
In the end, how much of this really matters, as long as the customers lost baggage is found or their broken guitar fixed?
I was reading a very interesting post by Harold Jarche a moment ago – The Social Imperative. In the post, Jarche writes: “The fundamental lesson that Sopolski came back with was that “textbook social systems that are engraved in stone” can be changed in one single generation.” In this instance, a catastrophe – the spread of tuberculosis (which wiped out all the alpha males within a troop of baboons) – became the trigger for the ensuing change – a troop that was ‘much less aggressive and more social’.
So what I’m wondering to myself is whether we are currently in that ‘one single generation’ that will see a fundamental shift take place in the way customer service is provided. Is social customer care the ‘catastrophe’? Not social customer care in terms of the technology – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc – but social customer care as a mindset, a philosophy, a way of doing, a way of thinking. Social customer care as a key that helps to unlock the ability for companies to actually deliver on the many promises they made in the name of customer centricity,
I know there are those who say social customer care isn’t working, but to me, that’s interpreting social customer care within the constricting paradigm of customer service as we know it. Social customer care represents something that can be different, is different. It affords companies the opportunity to willingly disrupt their ‘systems that are engraved in stone’. It affords companies the opportunity to be bold. [Do they dare?]
It is also a warning: if companies choose not to do so in this ‘one single generation’, others will do it on your behalf. In fact, they have already started…
I read an article the other day by Neil Davey (Editor, MyCustomer) – Measuring the Effectiveness of Social Customer Service. I’m always interested in anything to do with social customer care ROI, metrics and KPIs.
In the post Neil kindly included something I had said at some point about measures: ‘A lot has previously revolved around process efficiency – how quickly calls are answered – they’re not about the experience or resolving an issue.’
As I read through the different types of metrics, how they should be interpreted, and how they relate to ROI, I was struck by one thought: who do these measures benefit?
I put together a quick table drawing the different metrics, categories and ROI together. The image is a bit blurry, but if you click on the table you can see where I take the different metrics, categories and ROI from in the original article.
The next column is ‘Company benefit’, followed by ‘Customer benefit’, followed lastly by ‘Will this resolve the customer’s issue’.
a) Quality is one of the categories that Walter Van Norden (Telus) proposes. Interestingly, there are no metrics for Quality.
b) It is obvious from the last three columns – columns that I have added – that these metrics only benefit the company. They address issues of process efficiency and customer satisfaction, but do not actually address whether or not a customers issue has been resolved.
In the article, I went on to say:
A lot of the metrics reflect that focus on processes, and this is an outdated way to look at something. You still need to understand the processes but now experiential metrics are more important. So now you should see a different type of metric, in addition to the process metrics, that put the resolution or the issue first. You still need to understand the processes but now you need more experiential type of metrics coming in…’
I wrote a post the other day about a response to a Tweet I came across from @NHSDirect – @NHSDirect and empathy? Or is it me?The post got me thinking about empathy and tone of voice, and it was one of the first times that I started to realise and think about the importance of tone of voice.
Is this one of the emerging metrics we need to start thinking about in terms of social customer care? I’m wondering what some of the others are? Is this more about working through the convergence of marketing, PR and customer service metrics? No matter what, I’m wondering whether we’ll still end up overlooking measuring whether a customer’s issue has been resolved…
I was looking up the Twitter handle for NHS a moment ago as I wanted to add them to a leaderboard I created – UK Twitter Social Customer Care Leaders. As I was reading through some of the Tweets from @NHSDirect, something struck me about their tone of voice. Whilst it appeared personable on the surface, there was something that grated away at me, almost as if the ‘best wishes’ here, and the ‘take care’ there, were somewhat formulaic; someone attempting to be empathetic but not quite knowing how. We talk about social being in your DNA, about ‘getting it’: @NHSDirect almost gets it, but not quite. It’s as if they have simply transferred their contact centre mentality to Twitter, adjusted the way they might have responded via email by reducing the number of words to 140 characters.
I don’t often put organisations under the spotlight, as I think they have an incredibly hard challenge to try to navigate their way through the internal complexities and myriad customer expectations that social presents to them. But the following brief exchange left me feeling disappointed at @NHSDirect‘s response. And as I read on, there was something about the tone of voice throughout their entire Twitterfeed that simply left me disappointed and disheartened. This exchange brought home to me the importance of tone of voice, of the one word that has been associated throughout with social customer care: empathy.
For so long, within a social customer care context we’ve talked about how Twitter has brought a sense of intimacy and empathy back into customer service. We’ve talked about the opportunities it presents for organisations to engage with their customers. We’ve associated words such as openness, authenticity, trust with social. We’ve talked about how Twitter is shifting customer service from a transaction to an experience. We’ve talked about the increasing importance of stories and storytelling and the key role social plays in this.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ll leave you to make up your own mind about @NHSDirect’s story and whether they ‘get it’…
I came across a post by Tony Reeves on his blog – Techtrees – a moment ago – Global Fluency and 21st Century Skills. What interested me was the model he had adapted from elsewhere, which I have copied below (I hope you don’t mind?).
The fact that he had taken and adapted someone else’s model reminds me of Wikinomics and the idea of ‘a shared canvas where every splash of paint contributed by one user provides a richer tapestry for the next user to modify or build on’. I love, that’s a strong word to use in connection with the internet, the idea that in this age when we start to create, when we start to write, the idea of the ‘shared canvas’ is built into the very fabric of what we are creating. To think otherwise is naive. We create for others to build on, to create something new, to take something and refresh it, add a different perspective, sometimes to even make it better.
But back to Reeves’ adapted model.
Reeves went on to write: Business and the global economy need workers, managers and leaders who can organise information and work collaboratively to find rapid solutions to complex problems.
This got me thinking about the skills needed for social customer care, or indeed, using Reeves’ terminology – ’21st century interaction skillset’. I’m slowly moving away from the phrase ‘customer service’. Someone yesterday mentioned it’s all customer experience anyway. I’m using the phrase ‘customer interaction’: ‘interaction’ as a placeholder (interaction is an ugly sounding word, but you understand what I’m talking about), and actually I’m also wondering whether we need the word ‘customer’ either. I think it was Lyle Fong (Lithium) who said in an interview with Ray Wang (Constellation Group): What happens when we treat customers as part of the company? I’m not sure yet what’s coming next, what ‘customer service’ will look like, but I do feel the underlying model is changing.
I’m thinking less about service as a fixed entity: fixed set of people, fixed location, fixed time period, fixed resolutions. I’m thinking about all the different interactions that could take place by all the different people that could participate. I’m thinking about something that is more fluid, flexible, ‘on the fly’.
So what I’m wondering is whether at a time when the way organisations have provided ‘customer service’ is so obviously shifting and changing, to what degree these same organisations are thinking about the different skills, literacies and, to use Reeves’ word (albeit in a slightly adapted way) ‘fluencies’ required for 21st century ‘customer service’.