A Tale Of Two CSR’s

It was the best of experiences, it was the worst of experiences to paraphrase the famous beginning of ” Tale Of Two Cities.”

Customer services

(Photo credit: gordon2208)

The next, little remembered part Dickens’ actual text is “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” With a nod towards that, let me relate two experiences of the last 24 hours and you get a couple of good examples of customer support done at either end of the spectrum.

First, Cablevision. My wife was having issues with the cable TV yesterday. The issue was it wasn’t working. Someone in the house has run her through the troubleshooting protocols any number of times (ahem) so by the time she called customer service she knew that the problem was on the cable end and not something in the house.  The rep informed her there was no trouble in the area nor was anyone working on the lines nearby so she’d have to send out a technician.  She set an appointment for 24 hours later and basically washed her hands of the problem.  My wife then headed out to do errands.  Lo and behold, not one but three Cablevision trucks were on the road working on the lines.  The crew informed her they were doing maintenance and apologized for the brief outage.  By the time she got home, the service was fine and she cancelled the appointment (without speaking to a human, by the way).

Second, AT&T.  Our internet service kept failing yesterday afternoon.  The modem showed the DSL connection was fine but there was no internet.  The rep pinged the modem and said there was definitely an issue but wasn’t seeing any issues except in a town 5 miles away.  She asked me to hold while she escalated the issue to the tech support supervisors.  3 minutes later, she came on the line to explain what was being done and asked me to hang on.  She came back every couple of minutes to update me.  Finally, she said that there did seem to be an outage in the area, gave me a support ticket number and told me when the problem would be solved.   There was a lot more detail about what tests we ran but the important point was that she actively looked for information and kept me informed about what she was doing to solve the problem.  The service is fine today.

Contrast the two.  One rep seemed to want to do nothing but get my wife off the phone as quickly as possible.  She gave little information and what she did give was just dead wrong.  The other one was proactive, communicative, and apologetic.  Why isn’t Cablevision my internet provider too?  Duh.

Customers expect reps to treat them as the VIP’s they are.  While there aren’t a lot of choices about TV or internet providers in any area, there are a few.  I know I can get higher-speed internet from Cablevision.  Think I’m going to make that move?  Would you?  Part of being a good marketer is remembering that any touchpoint the business has with consumers is part of marketing.  It all needs to be executed at the same high level.  If you’re ignoring the customer service reps in your marketing thinking you’re missing the boat, as these examples make clear.  You agree?

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Following The Audience

One of the biggest things one can learn in the business world is how to adapt to changing environments.

English: American family watching TV (cropped)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suspect that a lot of executives believed they were good at it until they faced the challenges of the last decade.  It’s relatively easy when you’re in start-up mode to pivot the business from one model to the next.  Once you’re a mid-size enterprise or a public company (much harder since every move is public and scrutinized by analysts and shareholders).

The better media companies can and have done this.  For example, most of the traditional television networks have accepted that their role has changed.  They once were programmers who decided what the audience would watch based on time of day.  Audience flow created by content choreography was a big deal.  Today they are curators.  They have learned to buy or create programs and to present them in a channel-agnostic fashion.  Why?  To survive.  37 percent of U.S. consumers now own a tablet, a smartphone and a laptop, which is a whopping 42 percent increase year-over-year. Women comprised 35 percent of this group two years ago; now they account for 45 percent of the group.  Failing to address this change in consumer habits could have been fatal.

We live in an A.D.D. world.  Everyone’s brain is focusing on something for a few seconds and then it’s on to the next bit of information or device.  86 percent of U.S. consumers multitask while watching TV, yet only 22 percent of these activities relate to the program being watched.  If you’re a marketer, how can you become part of the conversation that’s occurring around the program, even if it’s only a quarter of the audience? If you’re the content provider, how do you grow the 22 percent? Binge viewing is another concept pretty much unheard of until recently.  What has this done to overnight or even weekly ratings and do they tell even half of the true audience story?

The media companies have learned to survive on smaller segments aggregated into massive audiences.  Those audiences are spread out over time and across multiple platforms.  I’d say it’s been a pretty nice demonstration of how to change to follow your audience’s tastes, which is something at which they’ve always been good.  What are your thoughts?

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Chef Pepin And Reality TV

Foodie Friday, and this week I read an article written by Jacques Pepin, one of my culinary idols, which serves as the basis for today’s screed.

English: Photograph of chef Jacques Pépin at A...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing for The Daily Meal, Chef Pepin took off after the antics commonly seen in “reality TV” kitchens.  You can read this piece by clicking through this link and it’s worth your time.  It seems as if his primary complaints were specifically addressed to “Hell’s Kitchen” and Gordon Ramsay although he never calls the latter out by name.  I think a fair amount of what he says is accurate and, for our purposes, applicable outside of the kitchen to other businesses.

His first issue is that the shows portray the restaurant kitchen in a chaotic and negative light.  Putting aside the fact that there is very little real about reality TV, it’s very difficult to show something on TV which isn’t actually happening.  The fault isn’t of the medium but of the person in charge.  The best managers with whom I’ve worked over the years will raise their voices and verbally kick someone in the butt, but generally the team runs efficiently and with minimal stress.  In every case they’ve been quite good at specifying what it is they expect in general and excellent at making the specific mission clear.  They were also superior teachers, making up for the staff’s lack of knowledge on a topic with guidance and patience.

Chef seems to love quiet in the kitchen, as he states “A real, well-run professional kitchen has dignity and order.”  I find quiet disquieting.  I like to hear the team interacting, bouncing ideas off one another and helping move the team forward.  Dignity always; order is more a controlled chaos.  After all, one needs to break a few eggs in order to create a soufflé.

This is my favorite part of the piece and something I think we all need to keep in mind in the broader business sense:

Julia Child used to say that you have to be happy when you cook for the food to be good, and you also have to be happy in the eating and sharing of the food with family and friends. Otherwise the gastric juices will not do their job and you won’t digest the food properly. I agree with her assessment. It is impossible to enjoy food when you’re angry and tense.

That’s really a key point today.  If you hate your job, whether you’re the lowest level employee or the boss, it will come out in your work.  The disorder of the kitchen or any other workplace is reflected in the final product.  If you’re running a team, maybe a little introspection is the seasoning your product needs.  If you’re a line cook and you’re that miserable, perhaps it’s time for a change.


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Being Accountable

Here is something to ponder as we get to the end of the week.  No real answers today, but an important question for us.

justice #2

(Photo credit: InsideMyShell)

We’ve all seen instances of companies facing consumer backlash from their business decisions.  For example, many people boycotted adidas products over the company’s use of kangaroo hide in a line of soccer shoes.  A number of companies (Wal-Mart, Nike and others) have faced boycotts over their alleged use of sweatshops to manufacture their goods overseas.  These consumer actions are not particularly new.

What is new, however, is consumers taking action over not a “what” but a “who”.   The personal (non-business related) activities of executives are now seen as fair game in assessing one’s willingness to do business with a company or, in extreme cases, organize people to avoid the company.  A few recent examples:

  • LGBT rights activists called for protests and boycotts of the Chick-fil-a when it became known that the CEO had made a series of remarks opposing gay marriage.  In addition, the company’s charitable arm had made millions in donations to political organizations which oppose gay rights.  Counter-protestors rallied in support by eating at the restaurants. National political figures both for and against the actions spoke out and some business partners severed ties with the chain.
  • After learning that Condoleezza Rice was joining Dropbox’s Board of Directors, many people loudly and publicly (by web standards) deleted their Dropbox accounts.  Some also deleted the Mailbox app from their phones.
  • The incoming CEO of Mozilla (which oversees the Firefox browser) stepped down from his new position after news of his support of a 2008 anti-gay marriage campaign came to light.

There are many more I’m sure you can cite but the business question is this:  how far into a person’s political and religious beliefs do companies have to go in hiring?  How do we reconcile wanting to do careful checks to prevent external response with the laws that are in place precisely to prevent discrimination in hiring over someone’s beliefs?  Is it “fair” (whatever that means) for companies to be held accountable for the non-business activities of an endorser or a hire?

Weigh in!

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The Skills That Matter

Some of you know that my professional training was as an educator.  Hopefully that shows on the screed from time to time.  In fact, my wife and eldest child are also trained teachers and my youngest does education as part of her profession.  Focusing on the skills people need is a big deal in our house and that got me thinking about what those skills might be.

I spend a ton of time in the tech world.  There are new skills that my clients feel as if they need to acquire almost every day.  What is the latest and greatest way to code?  How do we employ the social media platform du jour in order to stand out and engage our customer base?  What’s the best way to run an A/B test of landing or other pages to optimize conversion rates?  Those are only a few of the components of the rapidly changing skill set business people might need these days.  You probably won’t find me working with them on those initially.

Instead, I like to start with the skills that matter.  First and foremost of these is critical thinking.  How would I define that?  This is from The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, way back when in 1987 and I think it says it pretty well:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

That skill trumps the others.  It’s the ability to figure out what data points matter and why.  It’s understanding core business issues and not permitting the noise of the business world to clutter up that understanding.  It’s what you use, having achieved that understanding, to choose the tools with which to carry out the business goals, strategies, and tactics.  The point is this:  the tools will change; the need to possess the ability to think critically won’t.  Kids learning Word in the schools today may not use it in 10 years.  I guarantee they will need to be able to figure out the world around them.

There are other key skills, of course.  Writing and speaking clearly are the next in line for me since if you can’t explain your excellent thinking it does little good to the business.  First things first, however.  That’s how I see it.  You?

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I Need To Know

I was reading about a study done by the Nielsen folks which measured how people are influenced by different sources of information.

Tom Petty

Since it’s Tuesday and we usually turn it into TunesDay, the song that popped into my head is Tom Petty‘s “I Need To Know.” OK, maybe not my best musical connection to a business point ever, but I think you’ll see why I chose it.

The Nielsen/inPowered MediaLab study measured the impact of product reviews by users, experts and brands to understand if one form provided a higher impact with consumers than another.  You can read about the study here.  The results show that expert content— credible, third-party articles and reviews—is the most effective source of information in impacting consumers along all stages of the purchase process across product categories. Frankly, the results gave me hope.  After all, many of the marketing tactics I see suggested by some of my less scrupulous peers seem not to have the sort of impact their advocates would suggest.  Advertising disguised as content, fake reviews, or even “unbiased” product information on the company website seem to have been sussed out and dismissed by consumers if one believes the data.  I particularly liked this:

The perceived partiality of the source was especially critical in setting expert content and branded content apart. The third-party element was important to consumers: 50% indicated that they wouldn’t trust a product’s branded website for an unbiased assessment of a product, and 61% were less likely to trust product reviews paid for by the company selling the product. Expert content can provide an unbiased and honest assessment of a product, particularly important during the final stage of purchase consideration.

There are cases such as with video game reviews where user comments and reviews are perceived highly.  Obviously someone who has played the game has the low-level of expertise needed to be reliable and trustworthy.  As the report I read states:

The report concludes by noting that, overall, the research suggests that there is a higher degree of trust from consumers when they are reading content from credible, third-party experts. This trust is demonstrated by the higher lift scores with regard to product familiarity, affinity and purchase intent and its perception of being highly informative and unbiased.

So what the song says is appropriate because consumers do need to know and do a lot of research to find out:

I need to know, I need to know
Cause I don’t know how long I can hold on
If you’re making me wait, if you’re leadin’ me on
I need to know

Even if the above refers to a romantic relationship and not to a purchase.  Then again, isn’t that sort of what a product purchase is?

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Today’s rant tale of business woe comes to us courtesy of the Wal-Mart folks. While I’m not usually surprised at the silliness that is foisted upon the customer from any business entity, this was a new low, at least in my experience.

This is a selfmade image from the english wiki...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was helping to cook for a party this weekend and part of the menu was fried turkey. I went to my usual source of peanut oil on Tuesday (my preferred frying lipid) and discovered that there was none to be had. I get that – why stock an item that’s not in demand until late November. I checked several outlets online and Wal-Mart had what I wanted at a reasonable price. They could also deliver it by Friday – Saturday was the cooking day. I placed the order and got my confirmation. So far, so good.

Two days later, I get an email from Wal-Mart – “Unfortunately, one or more of the items in your order have been delayed.” Oh oh.  The email won’t allow you to cancel to order electronically (fail #1) but does give you a number to call to do so.  I speak with a very nice rep who assures me the order is cancelled and I should see a credit within 48 hours.  I then spent some time frantically searching various sources in the area (online ordering is now not going to happen – overnight shipping costs for 6 gallons of oil are seriously expensive).  I finally give up and buy several gallon jugs of soybean oil which I lug home.  By the way, good luck finding a whole, fresh turkey in July.  Even frozen ones aren’t readily available.

If this is where the tale ended, you wouldn’t be reading this post.  Stuff happens – maybe their inventory system didn’t update the online store quickly enough – I can handle that.  Late Thursday evening (like 10pm) I get another email from Wal-Mart – your order has shipped!  It will arrive by 10am Friday (which is what I was told Tuesday when I placed the order).  Here’s a tracking number.  Sure enough, Friday morning I have peanut oil and well of 6 gallons of soybean oil I know have to return to the store.

Wal-Mart was trying to do a good thing.  They got out in front of a potential problem by notifying me that I might not receive my order as promised.  I dealt with it.  Obviously, however, the order was neither cancelled nor delayed.  Whatever triggered the “it’s delayed” mail was wrong.  Whoever said the order was cancelled was wrong.  Putting aside the unnecessary concern they caused me and the time it took to find replacement oil (and to return it), do you think there is a chance in hell I will ever order from this three-ring circus again?

We can’t pull the fire alarm on our customers unless we know there is something ablaze, even with the best of intentions.  Wal-Mart has an issue with their inventory management and maybe with customer service too.  The systems problems they have and the short term issues those problems caused me  has resulted in a long-term issue for them – the lack of a customer.  Moreover, this customer is telling all of you.  Thoughts?

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