Lithium recently started a new column where each of us will take on different subjects of expertise. In this article, I will focus on how customer expectations have changed both online and offline as businesses compete on CX to differentiate themselves.
Q: You write about customer care for ClickZ, and you’ve said that one of the big advantages of smaller businesses is that each person has a job to do, and each person is also responsible for doing everything else that isn’t getting done right now, which often leads to personalized customer service. How can big businesses aim to achieve this same goal within a much larger organization?
A: It’s the cliché, but true concept of silos and specialization. In a small business, every employee comes face-to-face with a customer at one point or another, so there’s this personal accountability that takes over—this is both a blessing and a curse. Compared with large organizations—where efficiency is achieved because everyone tends to be doing what they’re supposed to be doing—in small organizations, “wearing all hats” can be stressful. But it does ensure that customer issues are everyone’s issues.
Big business can achieve “small business” attention to customer service by building and using detailed customer profiles, and empowering the organization to take case ownership. This requires integration with CRM, maintenance of a robust customer history (for example, knowing that I talked to you last week about the same problem), and assigned cases rather than posts.
Q: What is the different between assigned cases and assigned posts in customer service?
A: It’s a detail worth consideration, and is fundamental to workflow and customer experience. In a post ownership model, an agent would say, ‘can I get this post turned around?’ because they don’t have visibility to the larger conversation or how other customers solved this problem. With case ownership, the focus is more holistic and can produce a superior experience.
Q: What kind of data should brands look to collect from their customers in order to avoid negative experiences for customers being passed from agent to agent?
A: It’s critical to ask a specific question once, and then make sure that each agent after that has access to that question. For example, a telephone company may pass you through several different agents who all ask for your phone number and what the problem is.
But on social channels, you can convey the information once, and in almost all cases, it will be accessible by the next agent that has more expertise to answer it—essentially knowing the details about your customers needed for personalized service.
Q: What kinds of qualities should brands look for when finding “real, everyday customers” who can speak on their behalf and not just the “high followers,” as you warned brands?
A: The key is relevant expertise, not popularity. Would you take medical advice from a Hollywood celebrity? I wouldn’t. Yet, that is exactly the way marketers approach the challenge of connecting people with their brands: “If (insert latest idol here) thinks it’s good, you should too.” Instead, look for advocates and experts in your support communities. A superfan is someone who has expertise and influence in the eyes of your customers, and because they love your brand, they are passionate about promoting you. This kind of trusted peer-expertise is why they are so valuable.
Q: What’s your tip for how marketers can convince their CFO or upper level management to invest in community forums and digital customer experience channels? Some ways to show hard numbers rather than just “engagement”?
A: Core to winning the wallets of senior decision makers are business objectives and ROI. By understanding your organizations’ business objectives and speaking in terms of ROI at a cross-team level you capture the attention and support of the decision makers you need.
Changing margin, grow and share, customer perception of brand. Lowering support cost by this amount by having spent this. One of the mistakes is that people see competing brands using something and getting press about it, and they want to start doing the same. But you have to make sure it fits your business objectives.
Q: How do brands know if their social media strategy is working beyond the number of likes, retweets? Are there specific factors that indicate ROI?
A: Likes and retweets are not really useful by themselves outside of traditional measures like reach. Instead, the challenge is to connect KPIs such as the number of “likes” or “retweets” to business objectives: do retweets, which increase message exposure, result in increased offer conversion? If so, connect the conversation results to ROI and use the RT KPI as an indicator.
Once you’ve done that, you can look at your local objectives: How many agents were required to do this same thing in the past? Have I achieved this kind of engagement? The nice thing about social is that everything we do can be captured, and we can measure at both the local level—likes, retweets—as well as the business level.
At the end of six months, look at how many interactions you’ve taken, and what the expenses are. In order to be successful, you set a goal of, for example, Twitter response within 30 minutes of the post. Then next year, you set it to 20 if your business objectives suggest that. Repeat.
Part 2: Community
Q: Analyst firm IDC says that by the end of 2018, 65% of support interactions will be digital and social/community support will not be called out as a separate function. How do you think brands should move forward to integrate call centers and social media, while investing more in social media year by year?
A: Get ready. Start building a platform, and connect marketing and operations. Be ready to scale. We’ve only been saying this for fifteen years. We’ve already gone through this transition from letter writing to telephones, but now it’s much more accelerated in our shift to social channels.
Your customers don’t have 30 minutes to block out for a call anymore. It’s easier to Tweet at a brand and you might wait a couple hours to get a response, but you’re able to carry on with your life during that time, so the impact on you is much less.
Q: How has your job impacted the way that you interact with brands as a customer on social media? Do you see a lot of the pitfalls that you warn people against?
A: I use social channels almost exclusively when interacting with brands. It’s so much simpler, and fits the natural flow of my life. I actively choose brands based on whether or not they offer social/web/online transactional and support processes.
Customers may understand that negative experiences do happen, but they still expect a response, and if they don’t get one, even long-time customers will seek other brands who will respond. It’s important to remember that customers form expectations based on the best experience they’ve had at any brand, in any industry. You have to compete with the best out there in customer experience, no matter who it is.
Q: Brands that are doing great jobs of social care?
A: USAA has taken their response time from hours to 1 hour, to 30 minutes, and now to less. United Airlines is cutting response time down to the minutes.
Q: What’s the latest trend in social care—bots, Facebook Messenger? And what trend do you predict happening in the next couple years?
A: The latest trend is acceleration and adoption, meaning if it’s the use of Facebook Messenger today (last year, actually), then it’s Snapchat now (already underway, actually). To me, it’s not really about a specific platform, but more about increasing the acceleration to whatever the customer needs and having a technology that supports it.
*This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.
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I saw the graphic below in a Facebook post the other day. Take a look at the image below and ask yourself, “Do I relate to this?”
To be sure, I “identified” with the upper photo. But then it hit me: I actually live more like the lower photo. As I thought more, I realized both photos are the same in the following ways:
Both are mental experiences: no one is actually looking at anyone in either photo.
Both are shared experiences: in both, the experience is connecting people.
Both are reflective of current technology: the bass is electric.
What is really more significant is the comment written across the combined photos: it implies a values judgement based on generational differences in what it means to be “connected.” It’s a mistake that I see a lot, and it matters from a business perspective.
To be sure, people of various demographic groupings do in fact use social technology in different ways, but equally, the use of social technology cuts across traditional demographics as well. It’s less important how people connect than that they do connect. And given the ubiquitous nature of social technology, people—all people—do connect. (Remember, the person who posted the above posted it on Facebook, so, so much for “doing this instead of doing that.”)
Connections between people are built around shared experiences. In other words, people don’t just connect to connect, they connect to share. Where interaction used to require physical proximity, such as playing music in a park, the equivalent interaction now requires (only) network connectivity and so enables customer experiences to be shared widely and quickly. This has purchase funnel implication at the mid-funnel consideration phase in ways that trump advertising (top of funnel) and that undermines point-of-sale and similar bottom-of-funnel tactics.
From a strategic marketing perspective, it’s important to understand that shared experiences, and in particular experiences shared across digital networks by contemporary, tech-savvy consumers, are as real as any shared physical experience. But too often marketers still approach the task of conversion from the perspective of a prior generation: that interruptive advertising (think “TV”) remains effective among a generation of cord-cutters, and increasingly cord-nevers. Reality? It isn’t.
Marketing based on shared experience—the new norm for information exchange—is much more accurately modeled by the “loyalty loop” rather than the purchase funnel. The loyalty loop, shown in the figure below, is a construct that considers the role of advocates and influencers connecting via social media as critical to the conversion process.
The purchase funnel is a linear concept based on an outdated understanding of consumers: drive awareness, capture share of mind, and convert. Want more conversions? Drive more awareness, right?
Wrong. In the more modern view, the loyalty loop makes clear that advocacy—customers willing to actively recommend your product – are critical to business success. Advocacy is built on customer experience, not advertising. Consumers have redefined their media streams, limited their interruption (aka, “ad blocking”), and now routinely share experiences with each other. Developing advocates depends on providing a superior customer experience.
Assuming you have the loyalty loop working—think of this as your advocacy engine—the marketing question is “how do you attract prospects into the loop?” Again, social technology. First, by creating a place where people and ask questions and get answers you can gain a significant SEO advantage and thereby attract new prospects. And with literally billions of people using social networks there are nearly always conversations happening that are relevant to your business.
So whether it’s guitars in a park or smartphones in a backseat, the result is the same: when advocates talk about you, and when your own customers share their experiences with others, you win.
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As you build your social media platform, consider how CRM integration with engagement processes helps create consistently excellent customer experiences.
At a practical level, when you know who your customers are–and not just their handles--you can relate to them as individuals based on past history. The result? Customers becomes advocates for your brand based on truly personalized experiences. Consider the impact: great customer experiences combined with solid product and service experiences create great stories.
Stories, in turn, serve two purposes.
Stories form an easy device through which to advocate. When your customers have stories they can relate the positive qualities of interaction with your firm more easily. “Speaking of that, I remember once when…” is much more impactful than “Oh, I see you’re buying ____; I use that too.”
Stories help customers fully articulate the joy that leads to (or expresses) advocacy. Rather than a recommendation, which is clearly valuable on its own, an articulation of joy or other positive emotion helps potential purchasers get excited as they begin to see themselves as customers. And that, of course, drives conversion.
So there is a business benefit in encouraging connected individuals to share stories about great service. But there’s another that’s even more important: by linking your social response effort to CRM you avoid chasing “high followers” and forsaking your best customers.
Linking CRM to social care ensures that you don’t appear to ignore—on any channel—your best customers simply because they have a modest social media footprint. Connecting your CRM to your social engagement tools alerts agents who otherwise may pass over a customer request. After all, if actual business data is absent, the only information agents have to go on is a Twitter profile and perhaps a prior interaction. Such profiles are typically limited and rarely contain brand passion or loyalty.
However you do it, as you develop your engagement strategy, be sure to think about how your agents will identify and respond to requests received via social channels, not only according to “social channel status” but also to actual, business-value status. That will ensure that you create a uniformly great experience, thereby encouraging your customers to share their own stories about your brand with others.
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An article in the Economist made the case for manufacturers, alongside retailers (think Starbucks) and platform providers (think Google), to begin building direct relationships with customers through smart devices.
Retailers have long used loyalty cards and now phone apps to forge close bonds with customers. Similarly, Google is able to capture discrete customer data and use that to improve its products and to generally improve their customer’s experiences. Through smart devices, manufacturers can now do the same thing.
What does this mean for marketers? Most significantly, it means you’re under the gun to create strong relationships with customers. Now, it means understanding your customer journey and the way which customers find their way into and then bind tightly to your products or services via the “loyalty loop,” a sort of upgraded “purchase funnel” that recognizes the value of customer advocates.
Make 2016 the year you embrace your total customer community and think of everyone who interacts with your brand, product, or service. It includes customers, influencers, business partners, and employees, and it’s a powerful enabler of close connections. Why? Because seeing your marketplace holistically means understanding how:
customer experience is created (employees and partners)
talked about (influencers)
used to make purchase decisions (by your customers and prospects)
The challenge is therefore to harness the power of this collective set, to consistently deliver excellent customer experiences and build strong brand advocates, and then further enable your advocates…to advocate!
Tapping this collective has benefits beyond marketing gain. For example, you can build your social business platform to measure each of the following:
Improve margin by reducing the cost to serve;
Enhance satisfaction by facilitating customer-led innovation;
Drive revenue by enhancing sales and lead conversion.
Here’s more on each one:
Improve margin by reducing costs
Long a standard business driver for social customer care, cost reduction (versus phones-based care, for example) has been documented by many firms. Of course, you can take this a step further: rather than simply offering social alongside other resolution channels, you can actively push customers to social.
Here’s an example: A telecom provider that I worked with in the UK integrated its IVR/phone system with its support community. The company was able to notify customers on hold that a solution was available in the support community.
The result? A documented reduction in callers holding for agents. Callers opted instead to hang up and visit the support community. And, because they were able to observe and track discrete calls they were able to positively identify the savings associated with call deflection. Direct measurement, with no hand waving involved, unless you count “high fives.”
Drive revenue by enhancing sales and lead conversion
Next up, social lead generation. This is built around intelligent listening and domain-experts (employees) tapped to assist social customer care agents. It was an application that’s been waiting to happen and in 2015, it happened. Major brands, particularly B2B ones, are now spotting and engaging with early-stage conversations in forums, discussions, and professional communities where purchase options are being discussed well ahead of the sales cycle.
Again, measurement is key to proving efficacy. By combining social and web analytics, it’s now possible to track these conversations and the conversions they drive to prove real ROI via enhanced sales.
Enhance satisfaction by facilitating customer-led innovation
Finally, CSAT. Customer satisfaction is a clear key in building brand advocates. By engaging with customers, and by connecting customers with employees , brands enable and create conversations that lead to innovation. Consequently, teams are able to craft better products. This is precisely the end-goal of the manufacturer’s efforts (cited in the Economist article) to incorporate sensors and similar into smart devices. If failure can be spotted sooner, if alternate uses can be captured “live” then manufacturers can build better products. Think about how Google Maps uses the GPS data of traffic to optimize your route in real time. Better products means better experiences, and we know what better experiences lead to…advocates!
So make 2016 your year of social business, powered by understanding of Total Community. Make 2016 the year you embrace customers and pull them into your business. Enable your deep expertise to flow to them, and your domain experts, product managers, and business partners to learn from them. The result will be better experiences, and better business results, faster than you ever thought possible.
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While I won't get into "change management" per se (this is a webinar, not a two year consulting enagement!) i will definitely tak about the need to build cross-discipline teams, the ways in which customers have successfully done this, and the tools and technologies (e.g., Monitor Walls, Shared Dashboards, LSI) that Lithium offers which facilitate this.
Thanks for joining -- I am really looking forward to this session. 🙂
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