Practice Makes Perfect for Customer Care on Social Media

Undercover Boss (U.S. TV series)

Undercover Boss (U.S. TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Getting really good at something requires practice. So does maintaining that skill level.  I remember my first customer service job, I was so nervous. I had no idea what to do or say. Taking that first phone call was terrifying. What if they ask me… you know, a question or something? What would I do? But then, you do it more, you learn things, and before you know it, you’re pretty good. And you stay good because your skills are constantly used.

Before I knew it, a couple decades passed (can you believe it!) and I’m running a social media customer support operation. Maybe you are too, since you’re reading this blog about a very small-niche specialty. Creating a framework to support operations can be all-consuming. It can seem impossible to find the time to go exercise those customer service skills again. I recommend, however, that you do just that. Taking some time on a regular basis to answer customer posts and complete the tasks your team members perform daily can provide valuable insight into process improvement opportunities. It can also ensure that your expectations of your team and your customer are reasonable. There is just no substitute for walking in the shoes of your team to shed light on their reality. The television series “Undercover Boss” shows us how illuminating it can be to provide the customer service you prescribe (well, it’s a bit formulaic and over the top, but still provides a good lesson.) We see there that occasionally the processes we develop do not perform in the field as we imagined. Below I’ve outlined a few steps that can help ensure you have an accurate view of the team and customer experience.

3 Steps for Hands-on Leadership:

  • Schedule regular meetings with your team. Request feedback and implement necessary changes.
  • Observe team performance. Discuss findings and ask for opinions.
  • Block out regular times to personally complete tasks your team would complete. Correct any pain points after discussion with the team.

So, give it a try. Tweet a response to your customer; post a reply on Facebook. For call centers, go ahead and personally call a customer. If you’re in retail, go chat with your customer. You might find everything running very smoothly, or you may find some opportunities for growth.

Chase Ambushes my Twitter IPO Trade with Poor Customer Service

Chase Bank Logo

Chase Bank Logo (Photo credit: Neubie)

Chase has some processes in place that could apparently use an overhaul. While Karen and T.J. at their Dunwoody branch displayed admirable customer service skills, I’m sorry to say it won’t be enough to save this 10-year Chase customer. I’m really disappointed.

This morning, excited for the Twitter IPO coming tomorrow, I logged on to www.chase.com to start my wire transfer to my new E*Trade account. It’s a fairly small transfer; I’m no Wall Street guru; I’m a social media nerd that wants to participate in this monumental happening. Yesterday, I had successfully set up my E*Trade account and done the initial wire transfer necessary to get the account going. So today, I expected no problems. I know that E*Trade requires a few hours to process the transfer to fund my stock purchase. And, tomorrow’s the big day.

Chase’s website gives every indication that my transfer has been completed. I get a lovely confirmation number and all. So, I figure that all should be ok. How exciting. Late this afternoon, while on a conference call, I get a phone call from a toll-free number on my cell phone that I send to voice mail. After my call, I get another call, this time it’s from the nice man at E*Trade, asking if I have any questions. I said “yes, as a matter of fact, I’d like to know how long it takes a wire transfer to post to the account.” He assures me if I completed the transfer early this morning, which I did, it should already be there. I went to log on to my chase account online, and it was… well, it was locked down. I got a message instructing me to call a telephone number. I thought, “Oh no, what is going on? This has never happened in 10 years.” And then the fun really started.

I called the telephone number, and the man said that no information could be given to me over the phone, that I would need to go to a branch in person before access could be restored to my online account. That sounds ominous, right? And, I’m at work, trying to, well, you know… work. But this sounds serious. I mean the wire transfer was really not quite so much, not 5 figures even, so…what could this be? So I gathered my things and raced for the car and on the way, it dawned on me. Chase was concerned the wire transfer was fraudulent. Chase was worried about its money. Then I thought about the voicemail I received earlier and called it. It was Chase. They had activity on the account they wanted to verify. So I called the number and asked if this was linked to my account being locked. The lady said she couldn’t confirm anything and that I’d have to visit the branch and produce 2 forms of ID before any information could be shared. Well, that did it. Now I was angry.

Here I am, excited for my IPO purchase, scheduling my wire transfer online. There is no posted dollar limit to wire transfers. No warning that typing in the wrong number will cause my account to be locked down or blown up. No indication the transfer has not been made. Just a lovely confirmation number. Then more than eight hours later my online account  is locked, I’m being summoned to the bank to produce ID like a criminal. Because Chase was worried about losing its money, calling it protecting me.

So, I leave early and go across town to the closest branch. I have to call my husband and ask him to leave work to get the kids, because there’s no way I’ll be home anywhere near time in this new traffic scenario. When I get to the branch I’m furious, and do my best not to take it out on T.J., the banker that had the misfortune of being available when I walked in the door after 4pm. What did I say? I’ll tell you what I said: “Here are my two forms of ID. It’s really me. Now close all of my accounts, because this is ridiculous. You don’t complete my trade, you don’t bother to tell me for 8 hours, you won’t tell me why and treat me like a criminal and make me come here in person. Well, careful what you wish for, because I’m here in person, and I want my money back. All of it.” Now, is that what you want your customers to say, Chase? Is that worth it? doesn’t it cost much more money to get another me?

But then I realized, if I close my accounts, I still can’t complete my wire transfer. Chase is a HUGE bank. They trade stocks. They can do this trade for me directly, on the house. Save me some trouble. Wait, what’s that? No they can’t? Oh, I have an account, just not the “Right Kind” of account to make that happen. Can they push through the original wire transfer? No, no they can’t do that either. They can just unlock everything they locked and ask me to do it again, myself. Do I have my E*Trade wire information with me? Oh yeah, I carry that around on a piece of paper in my purse. So, after all of this, what I got was a bunch of “we don’t know what happened,” and “we’re really sorry for the inconvenience, but we’re protecting [ourselves while inconveniencing you].” Wow. Great customer service.

Let’s bullet out the customer touch points that went poorly:

  • No indication on the website of any limits on wire transfers (dollar amount, time between transfers, potential blow-up of online access if you guess wrong)
  • Clear confirmation number given that the transaction was complete
  • 8 hour delay in notification of suspected fraud
  • No indication that the wire transfer was cancelled
  • No request for security question and answer when I called for details to be able to provide me some information about what was happening to me
  • No information provided
  • Requirement that I “step in” a branch to produce 2 forms of ID before any information was provided
  • No ability to explain the reason for my inconvenience at the branch
  • No ability to transfer funds for me on site
  • No ability to push the wire transfer through on site
  • No ability to really help me at all

Let’s see how this impacted me:

  • Uncertainty as to whether I can get in on the Twitter IPO before the bell rings tomorrow
  • Fear that someone fraudulently accessed my account
  • Had to leave work early
  • Anger about the inconvenience
  • Was an hour later getting home with traffic
  • Missed bath time with my kids
  • Had to re-do the original wire transfer from the morning
  • Spent time writing a lengthy blog post
  • Will have to talk to the branch manager tomorrow
  • Have to find a new bank that treats me better
  • Have to transfer all my money to some new institution and learn new codes. They probably will be just as bad.
  • Have to tell all my friends that I’ve referred to Chase about my experience
  • Have to be mad at Chase for some period of time

So, as you can see, nobody really wins here. I’ve spent all of my personal time today on this ridiculous evolution. I will say that Chase either hires well or trains well, because Karen, the branch manager, and T.J., my banker, had patience like you wouldn’t believe. I kept apologizing and telling them I know it wasn’t their fault and I was sorry to be so frustrated, and that it wasn’t them. Even the @chasesupport team reached out to me within an hour of me tweeting them, which is great. They said they were sorry and asked if they could help somehow. So clearly there are some good things happening at Chase. But, whatever this was that happened to me today, was not what I’m looking for in a bank.

Chase, let me ask you. This policy, this whatever it is. At this price point, was it worth it? Did your process work? Do many people hack accounts to do wire transfers to E*Trade? Is that what did it? I know you say you’re doing it to help me, but you’re really not. If I dispute this, you’ll fix it for me. You’re doing this for you. And we’re probably going to have to break up because if it.

Make it Easy

2001 Atlanta Trip with Wendy

2001 Atlanta Trip with Wendy (Photo credit: dharder9475)

You may have read my last post about Macy’s, and how I love that she texts me to let me know when the sales are happening. Well, recently my love turned colder when I went to return a pair of shoes and a dress. See, I went to return everything at the Calvin Klein counter (because I love Calvin Klein) and I intended to purchase more items after my return was through. But, that dream came to a screaching halt when the sales rep dumped my box upside down on the counter, saw the pair of shoes in the box and said “oh, you’ll have to return those upstairs at the shoe department.” I said “you’re joking.” She said “No ma’am, I’m sorry, shoes wants their shoes returned upstairs.” I thought “Really?” So, you know what I did? I went upstairs and returned both the dress and the shoes to the shoe department, and then left. No shopping at Macy’s.  I took my money to another store to buy my $300 worth of Calvin Klein dresses that same day.

So, what happened there? I’ll tell you. The store has a policy to make things more convenient for the store and less convenient for the customer. This can irritate customers. And though customers may not say in words that they dislike the process, but they can certainly speak with their wallets. That’s why reducing customer effort is so important. Customers will pay a premium to be treated well.

How could the scenario have gone differently? Picture this. I’m walking into my favorite section of Macy’s, the Calvin Klein section. The sales clerk notices how distracted I am by the new dresses and says “Don’t you just love that blue one? We just got those in and everyone has been looking at them. If you like, I can finish this up for you while you go have a look.”  And then a few minutes later I’m pulling out the credit card. Zip zip. Macy’s makes $300 in a few minutes.

So yes, the clerk would have had to put those shoes aside and later someone would have to come retrieve them. But each time we place a barrier in front of our customres, we run the risk that they will walk out the door with their money. Heck, I exerted EXTRA effort to go to a completely different store to spend my money. I was spending money that day, and if Macy’s didn’t want it I was happy to give it to someone else.

Questions to Ask Yourself:

  • Are all the tasks I ask my customer to complete really necessary?
  • Do I ask my customer questions I don’t really need the answer to?
  • Is there a way that I can anticipate the wants/needs of my customer and solve those needs before they have to ask?
  • If I were the customer, how would this feel to me?

In your business, I invite  you to think about the processes you have in place to reduce your own workload. Now, think about whether those barriers could potentially cost you sales. And then decide if there is a way you could change those processes to make things easier on your customer. If I react that way with my beloved Macy’s, I assure you that your customers, equally loyal or less loyal, may do the same to you.

Let’s Not Fight, Shall We?

McDonalds Happy Meal

McDonalds Happy Meal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Picture this: a McDonald’s drive thru speaker, a drive thru worker, and a carload of parents and cranky toddlers disgruntled from leaving the park before they were ready. The only thing that separates them from nap time is the Happy Meals that are calling their names. It’s great that McDonald’s offers smaller french fry sizes and sliced apples in the Happy Meals now. That makes my husband happy.

What does not make me happy is the fight about the drinks. The drive thru lady says “what drinks do you want with the meals?” and my husband says “we don’t want drinks.” How do you think the drive thru lady responded? “You have to have a drink,” she says, sounding disgusted.

Ok, it’s really hot outside and the kids are crying. They have ice water in their cup holders. We don’t need the milk or (heaven forbid the sugar rush) soda or juice. Now, I do realize that the price of the meal is discounted by the price of the drink so that your point of sale system can account for and charge the drink. I served as the drive thru queen of a fast food place through high school and am familiar. I’m fine with you charging me for a drink because that’s what the meal costs. But I don’t really have to have a drink, I just have to pay for one.

Fast forward to the window where the drive thru lady tries to hand us the ice waters she’s prepared, where my husband again informs her we don’t want the drinks. Her demeanor changes from disgust to disbelief when she repeats “You don’t want a drink?” Nope. We don’t want the drinks. All six cup holders are full, and as we can’t pass you trash through the window anymore, no, we don’t want a drink.

How could this situation have been improved? Had the drive thru worker listened to and accepted the original customer request to not have drinks, and simply informed us of the necessity to charge for the drinks, my husband would have said “that’s fine.” Time and materials would have been saved because ice waters would not have been prepared, and the customer experience would have been much more enjoyable. Instead, attempts to force customers to comply with rules that make process easier for the business actually makes things harder.

This can be translated to social customer support as well. If your customer makes a statement or request that seems reasonable, take a moment to determine whether it is appropriate and feasible to bend to meet customer desire. The experience delivered can drive customer satisfaction and loyalty, and could turn out to be an easy way to make an ordinary interaction memorable. In my experience, taking a little time to ponder possibilities can provide many more options for customers. This can reduce the number of times the phrase “you have to” is spoken to your customers. Who likes to hear that? Not me.

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. www.facebook.com/idahonationallaboratory (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 https://www.facebook.com/HP?ref=ts&fref=ts#!/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.

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.