The Element of Surprise

Shocking Awe!

Shocking Awe! (Photo credit: The Opus)

I think I may have surprised someone today. I just reached out. I picked up the phone and called a consumer that had a concern.

At large organizations we implement practices and procedures and protocol to make sense of the many varied activities requiring attention. The intention is pure: help people understand what they should do, how they should do it, and under what circumstances. But sometimes all of these measures that inform and protect can simply be a barrier to doing the right thing quickly. I know this because I am sometimes the “we” that designs the afforementioned practices, procedures, and protocols.

Today I had a consumer ask a valid question on Facebook about an advertisement. My team reached out to me to find out what the answer was and how we should respond. Well, we want the consumer to have correct information, and we want him to get the right message from that information. And so we think about what should be said before we respond, to make sure the answer correctly states the company position, the steps we are taking to investigate his question, all of that. I happened to be running late for a meeting with my team but wanted to close the loop for this consumer. Once I had the answer, my normal course of action would be to word the answer responsibly and send it on to someone that sends it on to the person that will answer the question. But all of those people were in the meeting I was running late for. So I thought, “well, this seems too complicated.” And then it hit me and I felt that quick sense of certainty you get when the answer is so simple.

I just picked up the phone and called the consumer directly myself. I think I probably scared the guy; surely he wasn’t expecting my call from his Facebook inquiry. But I thought, in social, isn’t the point to be social? If a consumer socially reaches out to point out a question he has, isn’t it just as social for me to pick up the phone and call him with my answer?

I know, I can hear the questions. Shouldn’t you answer the consumer in the preferred channel of choice? Shouldn’t you let the team close the loop to gather the metrics and fully understand the interaction? I thought of all those things quickly. But then what I got to in the end was, when you subtract out all the technology, there’s a person that asked me a question, and I know the answer, and isn’t the most direct thing for me to do just to… answer the question?

So I did. And I followed up with a return email thanking him for bringing up his question. And our team will close their loop somehow. But now, our consumer knows that when he tosses a question out into the cosmic void, a legitimate, sensible question, that someone really reads it. And that someone is sensible and can pick up the phone and provide him with a sensible answer. And thank him for bringing up the question.

Since we’re all so concerned about customer experience, I thought that if I were a customer, I might respect that. And whether he becomes a customer in the future or forever remains a consumer, won’t it be nice to know that he’ll hopefully remember I called him personally and took the time to acknowledge he had a legitimate question and that I was reaching out for an answer? I think I would like it.

Open to your thoughts.

Keep the Kudos

"Customer Care," a 20x30-inch inspir...

“Customer Care,” a 20×30-inch inspirational color poster photograph of two hands cradling a rose, created by the 31st Communications Squadron (CS), Visual Information, Aviano Air Base (AB), Italy. Subtitle:”Customer care must be nurtured from beginning to end.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We often hear how important it is to truly understand the customer journey with our organizations. You know, how it’s very important to put ourselves in our customers shoes. I fully agree that is the best way to empathize and remove obstacles to positive outcomes.

Here’s something we may not hear as much about, and I’m inclined to write about it today. I think it is just as important to take some time to truly understand our social media customer support reps and the journey they face every day. If you’ve ever been a customer support rep of any kind, whether on the phone, in a retail setting, e-care or social, you know that the day can be grueling. Even the best representative that truly wants an exceptional customer experience can finish the day ragged from all of the challenges. That rep comes in full of company love and hope, but as the day wears on, a person can grow weary under the pressure coming from customers and from leaders.

Because of this, I think we need to keep the kudos. Every tweet, email, positive comment or great outcome that occurred because that customer support rep went the distance to make something big happen should be forwarded, printed out, pasted up, and put in some review somewhere. I explained to the team I work with that the social customer care position is not for the weak; every statement you make out their in public is open for review, suggestion, comment and, well, scrutiny, really. The channel is quite public, and any mistake made is visible to anyone that happens across the comments. So, imagine the pressure.

There are great things happening in organizations today because of work done by social customer support reps that dig deep to unearth policies that could use updating or can reach out to connect customers to the right sources to solve problems. This movement of using social media for customer support could not come at a better time, especially as we see the shift in power from corporations to customers, and customers voting on experiences with their feet and their dollars. Customer care is proving to be a product differentiator more than just an expense companies are forced to deal with. And that customer support rep with the right attitude and motivation is at the heart of that movement, that change that causes customers to stay or go.

So every post I see, every compliment I receive on a social customer care rep is being saved, forwarded, talked about, and praised. More than that, I’m asking the reps to send me anything they find that shows customers are excited about the attention and service we are providing. If you worked hard to put together a great team of customer support reps for social media, and they’re doing a great job for you and customers are noticing, I encourage you to do the same. Just like with our customers, let’s tell our reps how great they are while we have them, and tell them how much we appreciate the work they do, in the moment, to help one more customer have a great experience.

Thanks, team.

When Disaster Strikes


Lightning strikes over downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Lightning strikes over downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In customer care, we are used to providing a supportive role to our customers, our brand, and our organization. When crisis strikes, the best thing we can do to assist is to continue providing support.

I’m reminded of this with the recent tornados that swept through Oklahoma. Having lived in the Oklahoma area, I am compelled to help in any way I can. But, having lived through these kinds of events, I also realize that too much help is not really help.

Any recent natural disaster research can tell you that assistance is only beneficial when the right help is provided at the right time. For example, if too much water or too many bandages are purchased and trucked in, this can cause a shortage of other much needed supplies.

A good plan is to make the best decisions possible with the data currently available, remain flexible and divide tasks early among groups to cover as much ground as possible. The trick is making sure communications channels remain open across all groups to avoid information silos. This can be challenging if one point of contact from each group is not quickly identified. Uncoordinated information can cause false or stale data to be distributed. Lack of information can mean the right people don’t have the latest intelligence. This can become damaging quickly in social media if incorrect data is supplied to customers.

So, here’s hoping everyone is safe in Oklahoma tonight. And here’s hoping these words can provide benefit to others coordinating efforts.

Service is Everywhere

I’m traveling today, and I want to share some experiences with you. I left my car at Park N Fly Plus in Atlanta this morning. The attendant patiently waited as I barely answered her questions while shuffling items from one hand to another. The shuttle driver almost dove for my carry-on and said “I’ll get that for you, ma’am,” so I wouldn’t have to lift the bag. Inside Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport, the TSA agent directing people through the line smiled and instructed travelers to do the same as she recited helpful information. The agent scanning my boarding pass engaged in polite conversation as she smiled at me.

In my quest for aspirin, the news stand cashier in the B terminal smiled warmly and asked if I’d like to donate an item to our troops. Once on the plane, I saw and off-duty Delta flight attendant assist a passenger very sweetly with her bag. Then the on-duty flight attendant, without a word, quietly re-adjusted the bag I placed in the overhead without a snicker, a lesson in bag-ology, or anything. All I could say was “Thank you so much!” as I realized that I, who never do things like that, was just spared a lecture.

Are you amazed? I’m not. Our corporate focus on customer support is becoming obvious. Now, of course, some days are not like this. But how lovely was this morning without incident, snicker, dissertation, or grouchy look from our friends in the travel industry? They are listening to us, and I have to say, if this morning was any indication, they are getting it right.

So, what does this say about social media and customer support? Here’s what I think it says. If Park N Fly, the TSA, Hartsfield-Jackson and Delta can deliver experiences like the one I had on a busy Tuesday travel morning, I would like to announce that the bar has just been raised for the rest of the world, including social media customer support. If we want to deliver exceptional customer support via social media, we’re going to have to take some of that smile and personality I experienced this morning and deliver it via the cold, hard cyberspace. Eeeek.

Start Delivering Great Social Customer Support Today.
Do this:
– Smile: Smile while you type. Get a mirror and put it next to your computer and smile at yourself. I had one at my desk for years, and many times people asked me if I really liked looking at myself or wanted to see if someone was coming up behind me. But the real answer is, if you watch the look on your face while you talk on the phone or interact on social media, you will become aware, and you may notice that the face you’re making doesn’t look very friendly.

– Listen: This one is hard, I know. We do listen, but sometimes when we want to respond quickly we listen for keywords only and then switch right over to solution-location mode. I know this because I have done this myself a time or two (author blushes.) Instead, try to really listen to all the words being said and the overall issue. Then, try to paraphrase without sounding scripted. That way, if you’ve misunderstood the real issue, the customer has a chance to correct before you spend much time “fixing” the not-issue.

– Empathize: A technique you can use to empathize that also helps in listening, is to visualize what the customer is saying. If the customer says the wrong sofa was delivered and she took all day off work to wait for this sofa and now she’s really mad because she clearly ordered the BROWN sofa and this green thing in her living room is clearly not BROWN, try this. Before the defense mechanism engages as you try to defend your company, close your eyes and imagine yourself as this woman. Your expectations have been violated. The wrong sofa probably threw off your schedule of lunch for your child and walking the dog, and now that this Saturday appointment didn’t work you just know you’ll have to take off a day during the week, but you have so many meetings. Now. return to yourself as the customer service person. Help the customer from this frame of mind.

– Wow: After you’ve smiled, listened and empathized, now you have an opportunity to wow the customer. One way to wow your customer is to shock her with a solution that makes little work for her or provides some benefit. What if you could get another truck with the right sofa out there today? What would it take to do that? Would you have to make some phone calls? Do you know? Can you find out what it would take? It’s not always possible, I know, but I think the important thing is to try to make things right. Make the customer whole, or as close to whole as possible. Customers are surprisingly resilient and understanding of mistakes when they are quickly made whole, or better than whole.

These are just a few quick tips that can help make for excellent customer support. Since Delta and the TSA are stepping up their game, maybe these tips can help us step up our game.

Any more thoughts? Love to hear them. Happy travels.


Don’t Forget The Research

Research being carried out at the Microscopy l...

Research being carried out at the Microscopy lab of the . This photo was taken on July 28, 2006 using a Nikon D70. For more information about INL’s research projects and career opportunities, visit the lab’s facebook site. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I work with a great group of people who are a wealth of knowledge. (No, that’s not sarcasm, I really mean it.) I really enjoy learning things from people. Or being reminded of things by the smart people I work with. Which happened to me today, and I’d like to share it with you.

One of my earlier blog posts was about whether a Facebook customer support tab is still relevant (see Facebook Customer Support Tab – Necessary or Irrelevant?). When trying to determine the answer, you could decide necessity depends on the content offered to customers on that support tab. If the content is not making a customer’s life easier or more interesting, then the tab probably isn’t necessary. If there is meaningful content for a customer, then maybe a support tab is a good way to go. Well, then this could lead you to wonder, what information would a customer find useful? And how should this wonderfully helpful information be organized?

While researching existing Facebook customer support tabs, I came across the HP Customer Support Tab and fell in love with the concept. (Check it out for yourself at!/HP/app_447787101922291). On this page, depending on your preference, you can choose from 3 clean options:

  • I want to help myself (which links to self-support information you can read on your own)
  • I want help from others (which links to the HP Support Forum)
  • I want help from HP (which directs you to a list of options for contacting HP essentially)

“Brilliant!” I thought. Just brilliant. I need look no further, I found my favorite layout for Facebook customer support tabs. Clean. Simple. Useful options that make your life so easy. So, in my discussion with my brilliant mentors and colleagues, I toss this out as the best thing that ever happened in the world. And the strangest thing happened. These people I work with, that have much experience in the space… they disagree. WHAT? What just happened? Surely they couldn’t! Surely they jest! What could be better than a solution that gives you three possible paths to solve your problem?

Well, they preferred an option where the company help option was more prominently featured, and thought the options for support forum and self-support should be offered later. The theory given was that if a customer is trying to reach out to you on Facebook, they want to discuss it with you directly on Facebook. That’s why the came. “But if you give equal options, maybe the motivation isn’t really to post publicly on the page, maybe it’s to find options,” I said, now defending my emotional decision about the brilliance they clearly missed. And back and forth we went, debating.

Then, because as I said, the folks I work with are brilliant, the real answer came out. Perhaps a usability study of some kind would reveal what the majority of users think. And then it hit me. I was making a broad assumption based on my lone opinion that people would prefer what I prefer. Sigh.  So, it was getting deep. Then another sharp tool in my shed of smart people I associate with said that maybe the usability could be done by asking community members that might use the customer support tab what they think. See? Smart people.

Social media is very shiny, and can be disorienting. We’re completing familiar tasks in a new environment, and this can cause even the best of us to forget core concepts like usability studies, asking people what they want and getting feedback before delivering something still makes sense. So from this experience I assembled a few good questions to ask before settling on a design for a Facebook customer support tab:

  • Do I need a customer support tab?
  • What should I include on this customer support tab?
  • Why will people come to this tab?
  • What will they expect to see or do?
  • How would the page be best organized?
  • What is the best approach for my usability study?

Do you have any questions to add to the list?

Fix the Process

English: It's a simple picture of a magnifying...

English: It’s a simple picture of a magnifying glass. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you ask me, social media is like a magnifying glass, or those 10x magnifying mirrors women use to apply makeup in the morning. If you’ve ever used one of these, you know that you might feel like you need a good therapy session afterward.  Every problem, every blemish, everything that you’re already so self-critical of about yourself is made larger than life and reflected back at you.

Every flawed customer interaction can be magnified and served back to you as customer complaints on social media. And savvy executives are watching their own social spaces (go, you savvy execs out there!). This real-time access to customer experience and opinion is just what  companies have needed. But, if you’re running customer care for these spaces, oh boy, get ready.  The pressure is on to answer customer complaints, and fast.

Companies can rush to silence complaining customers by providing relief to just those customers that voice concern; however, without real change, those complaints will just continue to arrive on corporate social media properties.

So, how do you get to real change? Investigate, determine root cause, and correct. For example,  if customers complain about products arriving late, certainly help those customers that complain first, but then also dig deep to find causes and find out how often it happens. Do you have a call center? Chat reps? Do they get the same complaints? How many? And for how long? Was a policy or process change enacted around the time that the complaints started? Or has the process always been this way? Is there a reason the process has to remain in its current form, or is there a potential change that could produce an improved customer experience?

All this investigation requires an organizational culture that can collaborate and is open to change. Launching social media was a pretty big change a few years ago, so if you’ve been around a while, chances are you have a culture that can withstand some policy investigation (I hope). All this detective work takes some time, usually on the part of your social customer support team. First, they have to dig to the root of the issue for the initial customer, and then, they have to ask for other departments to pitch in and provide data on past complaints. Some departments may not want to share that they’ve had a number of complaints on an issue, but if the culture is really about improving customer experience, and you approach the request right, you might be surprised to find that the department is glad someone else noticed there was an issue (“finally” might be a word you hear once or twice).

So, if you’re up for it, give it a try. Be nice (No finger-pointing. We’re all in this together!) and use all your social charm inside the company to see what you can get done. It feels really good when you know that future customers won’t have that same-old issue anymore now that you’ve used the data from social media to solve a nagging process issue.

Say Thank You

Thank You

Thank You (Photo credit: mandiberg)

This one’s important. Say thank you. Thank you for being our customer. Thank you for trusting us. Thank you for sticking through the good and bad times with us. Thank you for your loyalty.

Sometimes a like is good. But thank you lasts. Especially when it’s personalized. And when it comes to customer support, they’ve come to you because they need help, and have had to exert some effort to seek that help. So, recognize that. You don’t need flowers or a card necessarily. Sometimes a thank you does wonders.