Accept Responsibility in Customer Support

Blue Angels at Rochester International Air Show. July 16, 2011. Photo by Ken Mist. http://www.flickr.com/photos/37996606796@N01/5946455173/

Blue Angels at Rochester International Air Show. July 16, 2011. Photo by Ken Mist.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/37996606796@N01/5946455173/

Picture this. You’re at a dinner party. Interesting people are there, the food is good, the drinks are good, and the conversation is going well. As a matter of fact, smart people are looking at you intently as you speak, seemingly hanging on your every word as you tell this really clever story. When you excuse yourself to get another drink, one of your business partners tells you you have spinach in your teeth. UUGGGHHH! How long has it been there? You had interesting things to say! You were witty, and clever, and had the best intentions, and… oh man, that crowd won’t remember any of that. They’re only going to remember that chick with the spinach in her teeth.

So, that happened to me yesterday. Well, kind of. See, I have all these lofty customer care aspirations. I want all customers to know that, even if we mess something up, we are complete professionals and will work tirelessly and put in that extra effort to ensure that our customers receive the best service possible. It will be real, and it will be honest. I have this amazing team working with me. I wonder sometimes if I could do what they do as well as they do, day in and day out, and honestly I’m not sure. I just remember to tell them every time I talk to them how great they are. But, even the best of us are just going to make mistakes. And we did. Our mistake? We told an upset customer that corporate (aka “They“) set the policies. ugggghhh. Spinach in teeth. Big time.

Some of you might be wondering why I’m all worried about this small thing. Well, it’s not really a small thing. And I’ll tell you why. The customer doesn’t know They. The customer only knows You, and You are the brand to the customer. Your voice, your image, your words in print, whatever. The infamous They doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter if You, awesome customer service rep, knows that someone in supply chain messed this up, or someone over in accounting, or whatever. The customer does not need to see (nor does the customer want to see, quite frankly) the company’s dirty laundry. Know what they want? A real person to take ownership and answer them. Know what the answer is? The answer is always WE. WE here at (X company) made a mistake. Or, WE here at (X company) stand by our policy, and here’s why. It is not our intention to cause grief, but we do stand by it.

Let me be clear that my team is awesome. Your team is probably awesome too. Anybody at any time can make this mistake. It’s common. As a person on the planet, it feels unnatural to take responsibility for something that we did not personally do. But if you think back to the last time you heard “it’s not my fault,” “I can’t help you,” “It’s a corporate policy over which I have no control,” or “I agree with you, I think the policy is dumb, but nothing can be done,” think about the way you felt when you heard it. Did you have faith in the company? Did you feel like the person with whom you were speaking was useful to you? I’m pretty blunt about customer experiences, and I’ll tell you the last time that happened to me (see Update: Chase Ambushes My Twitter IPO Trade with Poor Customer Service). You can tell that to this day I’m still thinking about how little faith I have in that company, and still make a point to tell at least 5 people a week all about it.

So, how does the WE factor in for me? That one team member didn’t make the mistake. WE did. I did. I own that and am 100% responsible for it. Nobody’s throwing anybody under the bus. As far as I’m concerned, Frankie did it. And we will practice together and get better. We’re in it together, and I’m proud of that.

As a takeaway,  I recommend we all make a point of reminding our teams to take ownership and be a WE with our companies. If the policies should change, by all means, change them. But we can do the customer (and ourselves) a favor by resisting the urge to separate ourselves from the company. You can also check out People Love You by Jeb Blount. I just finished it, and I think it’s a great resource on WE and many other customer service tips for both B2B and B2C.

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Infograph: VHT’s Improving the Customer Service Experience

Virtual Hold Technology’s infograph on improving the customer service experience is worth reviewing.

Infograph: HubShout’s “Social Media & Customer Service”

I wanted to share this infograph that HubShout recently published titled “Social Media & Customer Service.” There are some stats in here I don’t see as often, such as the number of people who think brands should keep the same social hours on weekends, and how many customers call companies when they do not reach resolution via social channels. And, this infograph shows that the percentage of brands responding to social media inquiries more than doubled from 2012 to 2013! Enjoy.

The Impact of Social Media on Customer Service

Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

Infograph: Customer Service Is Everything

This infograph by ClickSoftware provides some surprising statistics about customer service and satisfaction from around the world.

Infograph: ExactTarget’s Five Types of Social Media “Complainers”

So, I don’t like the term “complainer” when we talk about customers seeking support on social media. Why? Because sometimes I am a customer seeking support on social media. We all are. And I’m not complaining, I’m looking for assistance. I’ve purchased or signed up for your product or service, and I have some expectations. If those expectations aren’t met, I’ll want to discuss that with you. So, I don’t agree with that label. I do, however, like the information in this infograph. I agree that customers have different backgrounds and experiences and there is no cookie-cutter response that will work for everyone. These types of customers want to be treated in unique ways, and if you miss those signs, you might lose that customer. So, try to disassociate me with the “complainer” label, as I do not approve. I also only recommend taking conversations offline when they become useless or annoying to the greater audience, or when sensitive account information is involved.  Otherwise, much of this is good data.

How to Deal with Complainers on Social Media [INFOGRAPHIC] - ExactTarget Infographic

Embedded from ExactTarget

2014 Predictions for Social Customer Support

Crystal Ball

Crystal Ball (Photo credit: justin_a_glass)

Wow, is it time for predictions already? Things move fast in social, and to me it seems the whole year has flown by.

Marketers are predicting that more money will be spent on social media next year because of its attractive price tag and its ability to reach consumers where they are. There is also chatter about whether Google+ will gain traction this year, and questions around how Snapchat will factor in.

Regardless of the platform, it seems that the concepts of social listening and customer support are here to stay. The changing venues of this listening may create some challenges in the customer support department as we scramble to get the feed from the latest new location. Thankfully,  monitoring tools have made tremendous advances and many are able to add sites very quickly to get the data needed. 

5 Social Customer Support Predictions for 2014

  • Measurement – Listening and engagement tools are not only developing rapidly, but specializing as well. This should enable us to move away from soft metrics on social care and get insight to some really neat things, like cost per transaction, handle time, and the like.
  • First Stop: Social Media – Historically, many customers reached out on social media out of frustration with traditional channels, and as a last resort. As social care proves to be a handy option, I think we might see some customers head straight for social media.
  • Push for Faster Response Times – Customers want responses right now. Engagement tools are increasingly able to help us respond more quickly. Seems we may see a trend toward decreasing response times.
  • More Volume, Staffing Increase – As our friends in marketing spend more ad dollars on social (as their 2014 predictions say), and customers come to us first expecting faster response times (boy I’m starting to feel like that song, “On the first day of Christmas” where the list gets longer and longer), we’ll probably need more staff to support that. Take those good operational metrics with you when you ask for that headcount; you’ll probably need them!
  • Integration – Now that social care is established and collecting customer feedback, expect that feedback to be integrated into other departments.

So, what about this concept that if everyone is complaining, it should start to matter less as our senses dull? I do agree that with so many customers sharing their brand experiences it may be more challenging for stories to go viral; however I don’t think that provides any safety to companies. It seems that the general impression your brand makes on consumers as a whole may rise above the din of countless individual stories to leave a lasting impression. We saw this with the cancelled Chase Bank #AskJPM Twitter Q&A. Though you may not have read every comment, the overall sentiment was pretty clear.

I’m excited to see what 2014 holds for social customer support. We have the opportunity to be personal at scale, and then understand what our customers are telling us to better serve their needs.

Spelling Counts In Social Media Customer Support

Cover of "The Elements of Style, Fourth E...

Cover of The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

Not so long ago, the majority of us got our news mainly through television, newspapers and trade magazines. These formal establishments did (and mostly still do) have teams of editors and multiple revisions before articles go to print. Facts are verified with sources, grammar and punctuation is confirmed through style guides, and spelling is double-checked with a dictionary. Boring process, right?

Fast forward to today. Real news is distributed by ordinary citizens without the aide of an editing staff. This allows quick access to so many varying viewpoints. Unfortunately, the lack of extra eyes on work can allow those spelling and grammatical errors to creep in. And though social media has adopted a more relaxed style than traditional business writing, clear spelling and grammar errors can still detract from the point of your communication.

Scenario: You own a vacuum cleaner business, and provide customer support on social media. A customer comes to you with a complaint; your company failed to properly pack a unit and one of the required attachments is missing. In your apology, there is a misspelling. This distracts the customer from your response, and the customer replies “Well, how could I expect your company to remember all the parts if your employees can’t even spell!” This is a severe example, of course; however customers expect professionalism and accurate data from companies.

Much is forgiven in our modern take on grammar; ending sentences in prepositional phrases may not raise an eyebrow. And that’s fine. Overly formal writing is not the point. You can be sure that this blog post on grammar would definitely fail in William Strunk Jr.’s eyes (if you’re not a word nerd like me, that guy wrote The Elements of Style, in 1918).  Today’s point is to write in a way that makes your audience comfortable and creates a sense of trust.

Ways to check spelling and grammar before posting:

  • Use any built-in spell check feature available in your software
  • If spell check is absent, copy your text into Word or other word-processing software, then paste back into Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Use spelling websites to look up words in question (for spelling and meaning!)
  • Re-read your own copy to catch anything the spell check does not
  • Pretend you are your reader. Does your copy make sense? Did you clearly convey your message and answer all questions?
  • When in doubt, ask a friend to read your copy

I hope these tips help you. I know I’ll be re-reading this post before I publish. You might lose faith in me if you found a spelling error in here!