Lessons in Compassion from #SnowedOutAtlanta

Image by Gervais Group #SnowedOutAtlanta http://www.flickr.com/photos/101003181@N03/

Image by Gervais Group #SnowedOutAtlanta http://www.flickr.com/photos/101003181@N03/

I know all you northerners are really tired of hearing about Atlanta’s recent snowstorm that delivered a measly couple inches of snow but shut down the city. I remember when I just moved to Bowie, MD in 1986. It took FEET of snow to shut down school for 3 days. And we had a blast sledding down hills. But a few inches would have done nothing. It seems the major difference is that they treated the roads there. Not here in Atlanta. For whatever reason, elected officials chose not to treat the roads. My normal hour-long commute took five hours, and there were a few times I didn’t think I would make it. And it’s not just that we can’t drive in the south. Semi trucks that drive all across the country are still stuck on those roads 24 hours later.

I’ll spare you all the details, but want to share one story. I was stuck in the middle of a very congested intersection; I had to stop because the car in front of me started sliding and there were cars all around. The light turned green, and the car on the cross street started into the intersection, even though the stuck car ahead was clearly unable to move. The passenger of the moving car, rather than try to help the lady who was stuck, got out and started screaming obscenities at the lady who was stuck. Then she got in her car and left. As my car began to slide I realized I needed to get off the main road and on to the side street.

I was doing fine on the less-traversed road until I came upon a steep hill. I could see cars in front of me stuck at the top of the hill. I chose to keep pushing forward instead of going back to the mess I just got out of. I saw several people walking up and down the street, and thought perhaps they came out to watch the festivities. As I got closer, I realized something much better was happening; there were 8-10 neighbors outside with shovels helping to get motorists on their way again. I could hear tires spinning as fast as they would go. Steam was billowing up from the street, brake lights turning white to pink. Shovels were making loud scraping noises on the asphalt. One by one, these good Samaritans must have helped a dozen or more cars. When it was my turn, it took a good 10-15 minutes. There was pushing and pulling and yelling. I told one man how fantastic it was that he was helping. He said “Look at all these cars! What else can we do?” They got me all the way to the top of that hill, and I never looked back. I made it all the way home after that.

Those neighbors could have chosen to stay in their warm homes, or perhaps come out to have a laugh at our expense. They might even have chosen to scream and curse like the one passenger. But they chose instead to help. Because they could. Because they wanted to. And it made a huge difference.

Think of the difference compassion like that can make in your customer service. Your company does not have to go out in the street with shovels and heroic efforts to help people make their way home. It can just stand by and do the minimum required. It can point and laugh from the sidewalk. Or, it could even get out of the car and yell obscenities and someone in need of help. But think of the difference some shovels and some compassion make. Dig it?

Kiwi Delivers Great Customer Service To Atlanta Storm Victims

Kiwi ImageKiwi Services, providers of water damage restoration services, impressed me recently with their insightful customer service. The Atlanta area had record low temperatures this January, like much of the country. Water pipes had been breaking all over town for days. I thought I was going to escape the fate so many of my neighbors met. I was wrong. Last Wednesday I came home to a stream of water flowing down my street, coming from my driveway. When I opened the garage door, I realized that stream was coming from inside the house. The source proved to be a burst pipe in the laundry room. All over those nice bamboo floors. Sigh.

Since I was late to the broken pipe party, the service providers were already inundated with repair requests.  Many of the smaller water damage restoration companies in the area had full mailboxes, or busy signals. Kiwi Services answered the phone. They reacted to the demand for service by quickly staffing up for this weather event. The customer service agent advised me that Kiwi was taking contact information and calling back to schedule consultations as quickly as they could. She promised they would keep me advised, but also noted it could be a few days before a team could visit because of the high volume of requests. And keep me advised they did. Someone from the Kiwi office called twice a day to let me know they hadn’t forgotten about me, and kept me in the loop on their plans. They shared with me that they were flying in technicians from California and Arizona to help with the high demand. This made me feel like they were doing all they could, which put my mind at ease and helped me to relax. I was even quite calm. One of the reps that called said “Thank you so much for being so nice. There is actually a note on your file that you are really nice.” It’s easier to be nice when you feel assured you will be taken care of.

When the Kiwi team came out, they listened carefully to my story about how the water damage occurred, where the water traveled, and how it left the house. They thoroughly explained what needed to be done, the options available to me, the procedures they would follow, and what I could expect. They were on time and professional, even though they had been flown in from the west and were living out of hotels, working long hours. My husband brought the crew back pizza, and they were so happy to have it. When it was time to remove the drying equipment a few days later, they called ahead to make sure we knew they were coming, and within a few hours, all was finished.

So, what can you do, today, in your business, to make your customers want to be nice to you? Recommend you to friends? Write grateful blog posts about you? Here are a few things you might consider:

5 Ways to Provide Excellent Customer Service

  • Answer the phone (or post) when a customer reaches out. Even if the answer is “I have no answer, just want you to know we haven’t forgotten.”
  • Update customers regularly as promised, even when that is tough to do. Especially when it’s tough to do.
  • Provide relevant information about new developments to show customers progress is being made.
  • Listen to the customer’s story. Even if you’re pretty sure you already know what it will be, listen anyway. You might find valuable information in that story.
  • Keep promises made about arrival times, services that will be delivered, and results that can be expected.

A great big thank you to Kiwi and their staff for putting in all those extra hours away from their families and traveling far and wide to get so many of us back to normal. Nicely done.

Check them out for yourself at http://www.kiwiservices.com/water_damage.htm

Be Real

Don Draper of Mad Men works on Madison Avenue

Don Draper of Mad Men works on Madison Avenue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ve all been talking quite a bit in the social media world about being transparent and authentic. Those are the go-to buzz words. I think that really breaks down to getting real and being honest. People typically have little interest in being your friend or following you if they get the sense you aren’t genuine. Let’s face it, do any of us need friends that are only there when it’s convenient for them, or friends that don’t tell us the truth? For me, I think time is short, and I have little time for fair-weather friends or folks that are rarely truthful. For those Mad Men fans, Don Draper is great, but all that evasiveness and secrecy causes his personal and professional relationships to suffer greatly.

In the world of corporate social media, executing on “transparent and authentic” can be challenging in controversy. How transparent should you be? Where do you draw the line? I’ve discussed some of these ideas before, but generally, I think you should always try to answer. And the answer should be meaningful and real. Sometimes even saying “I don’t know yet, I’m still checking,” is meaningful enough because it lets the person know that you are still engaged.

What if it’s controversial and you don’t really want to answer? Can’t you just block the person? Well, yes, you could. But if you play it out in your mind, if you have a person that is very vocal on say, Facebook, asking you a question that would be uncomfortable to answer, what could happen if you block that person? That person might just take that same original problem over to another channel, like Twitter, where you can’t block him. And now he not only broadcasts his original problem, but also talks about how you blocked him from Facebook to avoid answering him. And that can make your audience think you’re a fair-weathered friend. Of course, there are times when private or sensitive pertinent data cannot be shared publicly. But if you are responsive, and real, and say what you can, I believe chances are that reasonable fans and followers will see that you are making a valid attempt to address the situation as best you can.

Remember when Dan Hesse had that bad image of Sprint’s to deal with? I thought it was great the way he stood right up and made commercials to be real about the changes they were making. And, as a Sprint customer, I can tell you I have seen the changes. J.C. Penney has also seen some positive press coming off of their openness about their recent changes that didn’t sit well with customers. They were open and spoke simply and clearly about what they felt was wrong and how they intended to fix it. Dell, with the battery issue? We as humans respond well to people that will address things.

So, where you can, I encourage you to be courageous enough to be real.

Good Customer Care in Crisis

English: The water towers on the north side of...

English: The water towers on the north side of Tinker Air Force Base are prominent landmarks in Midwest City, OK. Category:Photographs by User:Willy Logan Category:Images of Oklahoma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sitting in the parking lot of the Hawthorn Suites hotel in Midwest City, OK just before midnight. Although this is a much later hour than I usually keep, I thought I should take the time to write about this.

As you may know, Moore, OK has just been through some devastating tornados. There isn’t a hotel room available for over 50 miles tonight because they are all booked with people who have lost their homes.

My family and I reserved a room for the week a while back because my father, who passed a couple years ago, is being honored at the Air Force base. We were fortunate that we made the reservation early. Unfortunately, the hotel clerk that booked our reservation was brand new the night I talked to her on the phone. I was, quite literally, her first and last reservation. She neglected to book tonight’s room for us. And here I am with twin girls sleeping in the car. In light of others’ troubles, this is peanuts, but inconvenient nonetheless.

Shane, the night staff at the hotel, has been working 24 hours straight. He could have just told me we were out of luck, and that other people have bigger problems. But do you know what he did instead? Shane worked out a room for us by calling to see if any of the 4 late check-ins were not going to need their rooms after all. He found one room like a needle in a haystack when all rooms, as I mentioned earlier, are booked for 50 miles. Shane stayed an hour late to help make sure our room was ready. I have to tell you, I’m so impressed.

Could any of us say we would do the same? I hope so. Shane’s own house just got electricity turned back on, so he has his own struggles. But he still helped me. Thanks, Shane

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.

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.

What To Do When Things Go Wrong

Worried-Face

Worried-Face (Photo credit: shakestercody)

So, something’s gone wrong. And people know. They’re starting to ask about it on Facebook and Twitter. Now what? How do you handle it on social media? What should you say? When should you say it?

The first thing I do to begin answering these questions is to change the framing from “on social media” to “in person.” If you were face to face with someone, and these questions came up, what would you do? How would you answer these questions? The right thing to do is to be as open and honest as you can be. I say “can be” because there are legal and other reasons why it makes sense to not share every detail you have. I hope I would never look right at someone who just asked me a question and then turn my back and walk away.

Now, I reframe back to social media. The answer looks much clearer to me after the frame shift. Doesn’t it now seem more like each question deserves an answer? An exception would be when automated bots send the same question over and over again. But in that case, there is a whole audience that may not understand why you’re ignoring someone. If it doesn’t make sense to answer each bot post, it may make sense to hide those posts to avoid confusion.

What about proactive posting? When do you go proactive? How do you decide? Here’s how I decide. When there is a large concentration of interest in a single area on one subject, and the volume of inquiry makes it look like you’re saying the same thing over and over again, I call that time to go proactive. It’s a delicate balance because if not enough people in one area are concerned, then the proactive post reads as spam to them. They don’t care. Why are you bothering them with this meaningless triviality? But when a large portion of folks in an area you can geotarget are all asking you the same question or pointing out a perceived flaw or injustice, proactive makes sense. They all know it. They’re all mad about it. Tell them out loud that you hear them and tell them the facts. Even if you don’t know all the facts, being real to me means going out there and saying “hey, I hear you. I’m not sure of the whole story, or I can’t tell you the whole story yet, but I’m working on it and I care that you’re mad.”

What does going proactive do to Facebook? For a brand page, going proactive changes the traffic flow of your volume. Prior to going proactive, you may see your “posts by others” coming on to the page explode, if you have the ability enabled. When this fails to get the desired effect, you can see bleed over into your brand posts in the form of comments. If you have private messages turned on, you could see a spike in messages. Once you make a proactive post, you will probably find that the traffic moves from the brand posts and the “posts by others” onti your proactive posts. Is this better? I think so. Why? Well, when folks are looking for a provider of the service or product you offer, some of them scan the “posts by others” to get a feeling for how you treat your customers by taking the temperature of the “posts by others.” We all know that’s where you check for complaints. In the midst of a crisis, big or small, it looks like all your customers are against you. imagine looking for, say, a dentist, and everybody’s up in arms on “posts by others” because the dentist raised his rates, or did a bad job on some fillings. If you’re a prospective patient, you’re thinking “I don’t need all that noise,” and you take your business elsewehere.

Aside from moving complaints off the “posts by others” into one manageable post, a change happens in the types of responses you get. People stop talking to you directly, and start conversing with each other. After you get real, some people get less mad. Unfortunately, some people stay as mad, and then those people may argue amongst themselves. But it still becomes more of a conversation and less of a stone – throwing event.

So, as I see it, be as real as you can, and go proactive as soon as you realize it makes sense with as much info as you have. If you do go proactive with your updates, make sure you close the issue proactively when its over. Otherwise, people are left wondering what happened.

I’d love to hear any other thoughts around this.