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’.
The following is a post I originally wrote for MyCustomer.com (22 April 2013).
After the pioneering days of Frank Eliason, has social customer care become outmoded? Guy Stephens poses questions we must answer.
As I travelled in to work on the train this morning I was thinking about whether things had really changed in the social customer care space since I took my formative steps there. That was 2008 and I was @guyatcarphone. I’m not sure how many social years equate to one year of the Julian calendar, but 2008 seems a long time ago now.
Social customer care was making its way across the Atlantic on the back of people like Frank Eliason – the first social customer care poster pin-up perhaps! I doubt he’s ever been described in that way. But his was the name that we all bandied about, like some magic talisman. If Frank could do it, then there was the possibility that any of us could do it as well.
This was BDC – Before Dave Carroll. On 6th July 2009, United Breaks Guitars was uploaded to YouTube; the rest, as they say, is history. Dave – I hope you don’t mind if I call you Dave, but we’re all friends here, right? – told a simple story: the underdog strikes back against the might of the monolithic corporate machine. Dave struck a victory blow for the downtrodden, for the individual. He suddenly gave us hope. Our voice was important, and not only was our voice important, but we could actually do something about it, and finally be heard. Dave gave us sight of a customer service that could be better, should be better, demanded to be better. And Twitter, seemingly, could deliver that hope to us on a silver tray.
Companies could no longer hide behind the façade of the monolith. We had believed they were impregnable, and they did nothing to change our views, they fuelled that belief. Without a post code, a telephone number, a fax number, an email address communicating with the monolith was at times impossible, frustrating, deflating… The IVR was another fortress or perhaps labyrinth to contend with.
The pioneering days
This was a time of exploration and discovery. It was fun. We made it up as we went along. We wrote the blueprint on a napkin, and then still made it up any way.
I like to think of that time as the ‘pioneering days’, but perhaps that reflects a sense of self-aggrandisement; certainly nostalgia, a time past. Everything seems better then somehow. I’m already starting to feel like one of the ‘old ones’, hanging longingly onto the coat tails of a forgotten story, that seems like only yesterday in my mind.
Those were the days when companies like Virgin Trains, EasyJet, BT, ASOS and The Carphone Warehouse paved the way for what exists today. Those were the days when responding via Twitter was a novelty, Facebook as a customer service channel was just a thought, and YouTube ‘How to videos’ were in their infancy.
Those were the good old days when strategy was not something associated too closely with being a social pioneer. When you could roll in to work and try something out that might work or it might not – that was the extent of a strategy session. Give it a go, if it works keep going, if not, stop and try something else.
But we’ve grown up a lot since then. Trailblazers like Warren Buckley at BT were far-sighted, but few and far between. Warren wasn’t afraid to let people Tweet him with their complaints, and yes, he did respond and get it sorted out. I think someone like Warren is still a rarity. I wasn’t alone at Carphone Warehouse though, there were others such as Richard Baker (Virgin Trains), Graeme Stoker (BT), Paul Hopkins (EasyJet), James Hart (ASOS) and Alex Brown (Virgin Media). They were experimenting and pushing boundaries, Tweeting with customers directly. We were learning off each other, sharing ideas via Twitter.
We were uncovering the challenges back then that many now face – how do you industrialise and scale social, what’s the ROI, what will customer service look like, what’s the future of the contact centre… and it’s these questions that got me thinking this morning: has social customer care moved on?
Ask the big questions
I know people like Esteban Kolsky (ThinkJar) was asking this same question and holding up the mirror to social at least two years ago. I’m not sure how much he’s changed his position since then, if at all?
I look at the state of social customer care now and I question how much it has moved forwards. Yes, it’s moved forwards in the sense that more and more companies are now doing social customer care, but are those companies celebrating the fact that they answer customers’ Tweets in less than one hour, or are they celebrating the fact that they have resolved the root cause of the reason for Tweeting them in the first place?
- Have organisations adopted an integrated approach to customer service, or is it still organised along channel lines – telephony, inbound email, social?
- Have organisations tried to understand how they could transfer their success in social across their other channels?
- Have organisations figured out how to offer social at scale? If you can offer telephony at scale, what is different about social?
- Have organisations figured out what metrics to use or is it about transferring traditional customer service metrics into a social space?
- Have organisations thought about what the impact of social is on customer service itself or are they still thinking in traditional terms that customer service is done by a team of agents that sit in customer service, marketing is done by marketers…? The technology has been updated but not the underlying business model.
I get the fact that social customer care is growing up, is having to grow up, but I’m fearful that what I am starting to see is that rather than being the catalyst to the provision of a more meaningful, more intimate, more sympathetic type of customer service, we are simply seeing social subsumed into a customer service that is increasingly outmoded, willingly ignorant of the changing landscape around it, and blinkered to the possibilities of what could be.
Organisations need to be asking the big questions in the context of today, not in the context of the business models that the decision makers grew up with. I’m certainly not advocating a wholesale clearing out. We need to be mindful of what was, but we also need to be open to what could be, might be, will be. Because that is the inevitable future that we will live through.