Archives for posts with tag: customer service

I read with interest about O2’s launch of #TweetServe – O2 launch #TweetServe – Customer Service via Twitter. #TweetServe is described as “a new way for customers to find out a range of account information, without having to phone Customer Service.

It’s good to see organisations inching those boundaries forward. The last few months have seen Natwest experimenting with Vine videos and Google launch Helpouts, together with the use of Promoted Tweets as a complaint mechanic. But do these types of advancements, mark in the words of Jay Patel (CEO, IMImobile): “a step forward to the next generation of digital customer services?”

I’m not so sure.

Yes, it is undoubtedly a step forward, but if this is what the next generation of digital customer services looks like, then perhaps we are further away than we might think. I can’t help but ask myself why it’s taken any company this long to develop any kind of Twitter-based service beyond the standard Tweet and respond model.

#Tweetserve reminds me a little of #Twelpforce (or at least the spirit of #Twelpforce), but perhaps more of a second cousin, at least once removed. I remember when #Twelpforce was launched, and still think back with a sense of excitement and anticipation about it. Nostalgia can be a cruel mistress, however. But don’t get me wrong. I will be the first to congratulate O2 on launching #Tweetserve: any organisation that takes bold steps (well, any steps) deserves to be recognised.

I like the use of #hashtags – #charges, #data, #handsets, #android, #text etc. For such a simple mechanic, I think hashtags are undervalued and underused. Hashtags provide a common language across different platforms, as well as the interplay between online and offline. They have the potential to act as ‘social objects’ binding people together. But I’m also wondering when #complaint, #broken, #faulty, #refund, #poorservice … will be added to this lexicon.

Perhaps I should look at this in another way and ask the following question: What does #Tweetserve tell us about the future of digital customer services? I’m still not sure. In some ways I feel that #Tweetserve is trying to cast off, break free from the straightjacket of the last few decades of customer service, but can’t quite do so. #Tweetserve is still built on the solid foundations of a very linear and structured type of customer service, despite its social trappings. I would imagine its metrics are very traditional as well, dominated by operational efficiencies, perhaps with an element of engagement thrown in; I hope I’m wrong. I also sense an uneasy friction exists between marketing, sales and customer service, the choice of #hashtags reflect this. Perhaps, I’m reading too much into it?

I feel mean-spirited, and perhaps on one level I am. But that is not because I don’t want #Tweetserve to succeed. I desperately want organisations to succeed. But I also want organisations to free themselves. To push beyond. To recognise the innate nature and inherent characteristics of the platforms they use. To break free from the structures that have dominated and dictated the way in which they have engaged with customers and employees. Use social as social.

Now if you had said that an organisation had decided to adopt more of a Snapchat-type service approach, characterised by temporariness and impermanence, that really would be pushing and breaking through boundaries. For that would cast true shadows over an organisation’s entire service framework.




I’ve been thinking about the idea of impermanence for awhile now as it pertains to social customer care. Tenuous perhaps, but this train of thought, this idea of – impermanence – has been sitting at the back of my mind, nagging away; I can’t seem to shift it. This nagging thought can be directly attributable to a number of posts written by Nathan Jurgenson, Snapchat’s in-house researcher.

He writes in Pics and It Didn’t Happen [The New Inquiry]: “What would the various social-media sites look like if ephemerality was the default and permanence, at most, an option?”

The thought intrigued me. What would social customer care look like if we pushed it to an extreme and applied the same sense of ephemerality to it? Here are my initial and somewhat unstructured thoughts.


The customer service model as we know it is built on permanence and through this permanence comes consistency and efficiency: the cornerstones of our modern day service experience. Organisations can provide the same experience, the same resolution time and time again, over and over again. Resolutions can be commoditised, packaged up, shipped out. This works because the organisation controls the systems of delivery.

But what happens not if, but when, customers refute the assumption of permanence? What happens when ‘temporary‘ becomes the norm. What happens when ‘temporary’ defines the characteristic of the solution or experience at hand? The solution is experienced once by its chosen audience, and then gone. This impermanence or temporariness of the experience determines how that service is provided (if at all), how the resolution is constructed, the tools required to create, curate, deliver it, and ultimately experience it. What happens if the chosen audience only has 10 seconds to view it, understand it… and then never to be seen again. How do you design a service or an experience that is ultimately self-deleting?


The service model that we know, built around permanence, is self-fulfilling. The knowledge base re-inforces this notion of permanence. Adds credibility to it. Substantiates it. It gives organisations a sense of security and importance.

This sense of permanence, however, makes it difficult to re-invent, renew, re-invigorate. It makes it difficult to question the past. It makes it problematic to move forwards, to create new experiences. We feel the weight of it bearing down on us.

In his post, The Liquid Self, Jurgenson writes:

“My worry here is that today’s dominant social media is too often premised on the idea (and ideal) of having one, true, unchanging, stable self and as such fails to accommodate playfulness and revision. It has been built around the logic of highly structured boxes and categories, most with quantifiers that numerically rank every facet of our content, and this grid-patterned data-capture machine simply does not comfortably accommodate the reality that humans are fluid, changing, and messy in ways both tragic and wonderful.”


But what would happen if we turned our back on this sense of permanence? What would happen if we rejected the burden of having to create something durable and lasting? What would happen if we could disentangle ourselves from equating authenticity with permanence? The knowledge base as the sacred source of truth. This isn’t about being forgetful either.

What if we accepted the elusive nature of impermanence? Accepted that the context of the knowledge base should not be the sole determinant of authenticity. The service experience like some kind of convenience food, consumed in the moment, experienced in the moment, resolved in the moment? Isn’t that enough?

The temporariness of the experience makes it by default personalised and contextual. This sense of personalisation is heightened by the fact that the audience for whom it is created is chosen. The choice is deliberate, intentional; in many ways this sense of impermanence is far more restrictive than our current service model. The fact that the experience will shortly be gone raises the level of acuity through a heightened sense of urgency.

The irony of this, however, is that in creating ‘disposable experiences’, it may actually force organisations to redefine, reconsider, rethink what truly needs to be permanent in the eyes of their customers. In the act of creating experiences that are impermanent, organisations perhaps, create value by default in those things that are then considered to be permanent. Without this, permanence becomes a playground for the mundane, the routine, the complacent. In this context, apps like Snapchat should not be instantly dismissed, but rather heeded as a warning to what the future of customer service might hold.

This question stems from a response Lyle Fong gave to Ray Wang in an interview back in 2011. In the interview, Lyle posed the question: “What happens when we treat customers as part of the company?”

Seems a simple enough question. So, playing on this theme I pose another question in this way: “What happens when you let your customers design their customer service?”

What does this mean for you? For your customers? For your existing customer service? What does this mean for all the systems you have in place? What does it mean for your agents? What does it mean for your knowledge base? What does it mean..?

What would happen if you asked your customers to design the service that they want to receive?

What would happen if you asked your customers to decide where to put the touchpoints?

What would happen if you let your customers use your systems, or decide which systems you should provide?

What would happen if…?

Imagine. Imagine if you only built the customer service that your customers needed

Imagine if you only designed that bit of customer service for where your customers needed it

Imagine if…

But actually, the point is not in the asking of the question, although that reflects a boldness that the majority of organisations simply do not possess. The point is neither in the imagining. The point is in recognising that your customers are doing this to some degree anyway already.

Are they doing this because they can? Are they doing this because of the current service they receive? Are they doing this in spite of you?

It doesn’t really matter what the reasons are.

The point is that your customers are doing this. They’re doing it because they can. They don’t need to ask your permission anymore…

The point is that companies like Google, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Vine, even Snapchat, are helping your customers simply do this without you. They are helping your customers create a type of customer service that is on the fly, reusable, personal, local, always available, scalable. A customer service of intimacy that meets their needs when they need it.

There is no operational efficiency involved. No AHT involved. No business case to make. And yet it is the most responsive, efficient and personalised customer service that exists.

Perhaps it’s worth asking the question: What happens when you let your customers design their customer service? Because in the end it’s their customer service. Isn’t it?

I want my agents to be the same

I want my agents to say the same thing, time and time again, over and over again

I want my agents to think the same

I want my agents to give the same experience time and time again

I want my agents to conform


Same, bland, mundane, impersonal

Is that what your customers want?


Social customer care challenges the same. It challenges being identical

It challenges the processes and systems that make your agents the same

It challenges the way you have thought up to now

It challenges you to think differently

It challenges you to do things differently

It challenges you to be different

It challenges you to be you

It challenges you

It demands that you be you

But do you know who you are? What are you hiding behind?


Social customer care demands that you turn your back on uniformity. It demands that you undo, unlearn, dismantle

It demands that you confront the unfamiliar, the forgotten, the overlooked

It demands that you relearn, re-do, rebuild


We have the most powerful engagement and publishing tools at our disposal that we have ever had

They are not going away

It is not a fad. Get over it

Your customers are leading the way, and so too can your agents if you only let them

But do you dare or do you hide behind operational efficiency?


Do you dare let your agents speak the same language as your customers?

Your customers are getting on their own camels, creating their own marketplaces … do you even know what I am talking about?!

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.

NatWest: Vine

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?

Mayday: Amazon

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.

Over the last day or so I’ve been reading a number of different posts about @HVSVN and his purchase of a Promoted Tweet to complain about the service he received from British Airways.

Last week I read about @NatWest_Help and their use of Vine videos.


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 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.

Social Customer Care Metrics

The next column is ‘Company benefit’, followed by ‘Customer benefit’, followed lastly by ‘Will this resolve the customer’s issue’.

Two observations:

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.

21st Century Skills - Tony Reeves












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 (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.

I’ve been following the development of leaderboards for awhile now, and have recently, on the back of a Leaderboarded/PeerIndex campaign, set up a UK Social Customer Care leaderboard featuring a variety of household UK brands across a number of different sectors. Although my choice of companies are random (or at least taken from a Twitter list I created a couple of years ago), I have tried only to choose those companies which offer a dedicated Twitter customer service account, rather than one that adopts a broadcast or hybrid approach (marketing, customer service, sales all rolled into one). Whilst the leaderboard, in this instance, uses PeerIndex to drive it, my interest is less around what data is used to drive it, and more around the implications of a leaderboard itself. Subsequent posts might address the different types of data leaderboards can use to drive them.

UK Social Customer Care leaderboard

UK Social Customer Care leaderboard

So here’s a few initial thoughts on leaderboards:

Anyone can create a leaderboard. What this means is that anybody ie. any customer with a few moments to spare can create a leaderboard (using a platform like and feed any data they want into it, whether that is PeerIndex, Twitter hashtags, Twitter activity (Tweets, RTs), LinkedIn activity, blog activity (posts, comments etc), as well as traditional crm, sales or customer service data .

As a customer, I can create a leaderboard based on a combination of the Twitter activity of the brands that I commonly engage with, together with one of the social influence scores (PeerIndex, Klout or Kred) for example. The corollary to this is that I could equally create a leaderboard based on the hashtag #fail+[company name].

The fact that I can do this so quickly has implications around the fact that I could quickly set up a leaderboard for example as part of a research or pre-purchase phase when deciding which product to purchase.

On an individual level, I could use a leaderboard to track my and my network’s social activity over time or for a specific event. I could equally use it to track a sports team I support, as well as their competitors.

Leaderboards could be used to publicly (or privately) track how customer service agents were performing based on criteria that was both transparent and open. Indeed the criteria or data used could be different for each agent, but weighted to ensure a level playing field. In this way, an agent could directly link their action to their performance, and the result of it tracked moments later.

Social customer care teams could also create a Leaderboard of all their influencers (advocates and detractors), and start to understand their influence or activity over a period of time based on how much they Tweet or get Retweeted for example. They could go further and weight the different data points, so that an RT might be worth more than a Tweet for example. A leaderboard could be set-up of known detractors to track their activity on Twitter or other channels. But equally a leaderboard could be used to track advocates combining social data points and purchase history for example, to understand the value an influencer brings to a company and how their activity compares to other known influencers.

Leaderboards could be used to indicate (or perhaps even validate) a company’s or a group of companies social activity and used to understand how active (or not) they are; in turn it might be used as a proxy for how socially engaged they profess to be.

If I was looking to buy a smartphone I could set up a leaderboard of the telco companies using Twitter I was interested in and track their activities. Fortunately, most telco companies have set-up a dedicated Twitter customer service account. I could track these dedicated accounts for a period of time to see how active and responsive they were to customers and this could be used as a proxy to understand the quality of their customer service: what are some of the issues they face, how responsive they are to their customers, their tone of voice etc.


With regards to the UK Social Customer Care leaderboard I have created, what’s of interest to me is that ultimately I can create the leaderboard. I can choose which companies I wish to track. I set the criteria that is important to me. The leaderboard is specific to me. I understand the context in which it is created. It is meaningful and relevant to me. It is not some company telling me or broadcasting at me their official figures that 98% of their customers are satisfied with their service.

I’ve only touched on a few possible uses for leaderboards here, and I’ll be continuing to explore how I can apply different data points to the UK Social Customer Care leaderboard such as Twitter activity. If you are interested to read more then please read the following post by Toby Beresford, Founder of Leaderboarded – Why we love building lists and why an influencer list matters.

Please note that I sit on the Advisory Board for, in a non-fee-paying capacity.