Why is the Customer Experience so Hard to Deliver On?

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You’d think brands would know what the customer wanted at this stage of the game, right? It’s 2015 and companies left and right keep talking about their new mandate of delivering on a quality customer experience. providing a powerful and memorable customer experience, etc. etc… It’s almost as if what has happened up to this point didn’t matter or was not a quality experience. I guess, what I want to know is, what have I been getting all of these years?

You might want to say this out loud: “Companies just now, are starting to actually care and do something about me and for me, the customer.” What changed? What happened? What took you so long? You have to wonder, could you have actually been getting more out of your brand experiences all this time? I almost feel like I’ve been short-changed. Until now.

I’ll tell you what happened and it’s really pretty simple; and most of you will slough it off as yet another social media justification post, but it’s true. What happened is social media happened. Social gave the customer a voice they never had.

For the longest time, companies just pushed out what they thought the customer needed and wanted. They didn’t really ask. Sure, they might have done the occasional test/focus group or survey but those were never a large enough sample size. Back in the day, wasn’t customer feedback the 800 number you called to leave your complaint? You never really expected them to get back to you. Did you?

Of course you know this but I’m going to say it again anyway to drive the point home. Social media has allowed customers to have a real voice on so many levels/platforms now. You can write 1000 words diatribes praising or bashing a company. You can voice your displeasure immediately in 140 characters or less on Twitter. You can rate your experience via Yelp or you can Video or take pics of how bad the experience was via YouTube or Instagram. Clearly the customer now has a voice; and that scares the crap out of really large brands as well as small and medium sized businesses.

Why does that scare them? Because the truth actually might hurt them for a change.

I hate when I hear the term, “the customer now has the upper hand.” That’s not what this is about. Customers should not have to compete with a brand. They just want a fair and equitable brand experience. The truth finally evens the playing field. So if consumers are competing, which they shouldn’t be, at least brands know that there are eyes and ears on the customer experience now.

Hard to believe that brands are just now starting to talk about and acknowledge the need for delivering a superior customer experience, but hey, talking is one thing, doing is another. Will the customer rise? Is the customer experience the brand experience? Or is it just lip service for 2015?

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Content May Be King, BUT…Customers Rule!

Guest Post from Chris Doster from Digital Response Marketing Group

As a “newbie” to the digital marketing space, I may only have a “surface level” comprehension of this ever evolving profession, but I know my customers…

Since the days of dial-up AOL and old school cell phones with plans that required a bank loan, I’ve been marketing products and services to the medical device industry about as far back as when Gates and Jobs (R.I.P) were just getting started..

I might be a dinosaur when compared to “digital strategists” of the modern day new media, but some things will never change.  One constant, in my humble opinion, is the fact that with all the high-tech “reaching out” methodologies and social channels that exist to make companies more engaging, and accessible, is that the CUSTOMER, still rules…

Now as a guest columnist, I don’t mean to ruffle any virtual feathers here, but since the dawn of the “world wide web”, those of you with the secret skills of “I.T” haven’t always been the most popular staff members in the office.  Much like the respected yet confusing golf pro, it often seems that the “geeks” that create  software, apps and sites and make them tick, make many customers go “blink, blink” with blank stares like a “South Park” Character.

You might proclaim to the customer that you have the “golden ticket” to traffic, conversions, and  “conversations”, but you still get “the look”

So do I have all the answers for the fledgling social media marketer, of course not.  But this much I do know; I am your target audience.  I know enough to be dangerous in regards to “search and social”, but you all play a game I am not familiar with…

From my experience, the majority of business owners are way too busy making payroll and making a marketable product.  To assume they understand your business would be assuming you know theirs….do you?

My simple suggestion would be to consider what I was taught back in the dark ages of that lost art of face-to-face sales calls.  Combine the “high tech” with a bit of “high touch” and remember that people buy from people.

All the “CMS” tools  and knowledge you may drop on a client, all the technical jargon and “buzz words” may make you appear as the “King” (or Queen) of the Digital marketing world.  But if you forget that “nothing happens until there’s a sale”, and that making a connection with your prospect is your most important tool, you just might forget that “Customers” still rule…

 

Socially empowering your employees-What’s taking so long?

 

 

We talk and write about the ways to grow a business using social ALOT. Companies are obsessing over it. Even the really really big companies want to harness the promise of the prospect, the power of the existing customer and the potential of repeat business-All using social media.

Yesterday, I was talking to a manager of one of those really really big companies. We talked about empowering their employees to engage in outbound social media marketing- That’s a fancy sentence for basically letting your employees tweet and share things about the company on company time. The comment back was, “They are hourly employees, “We can’t do that-We can’t trust what they might say”…

That sentiment is not on an island.

Two days ago I was talking to a salaried employee of another large company who told me that they could not access Facebook from their work computers. Two thoughts came to mind. One-employees can use their mobile devices at any time to circumvent those rules and two, there is a lack of trust coupled with a fear factor of what that employee might do that is preventing this company from taming the social beast.

I mention the 2 scenarios because in both situations we’re talking about employees both salaried and hourly, in which trust is a huge issue.

How do you leverage the power of what your employees can do for you in social media in order to grow your company? Your customers would welcome the socially empowered employee representing your company. We are entering a time in which it is expected and in some cases demanded.

What is the exception and what is the rule? The rogue employee using social media or the empowered one representing all that is good about your company?

On Brand Experience

When I was in grade school, one Christmas in particular stood out for me but not for the reasons you might think. My parents were not getting along at the time and for whatever reason, I received a ridiculous amount of presents from my father. Some of which I was not even interested in nor had I asked for.  I found this odd and yet this one thought was not lost on me even at that young age-I thought that my dad was trying to buy my affection.

I remember thinking that why couldn’t he just spend more time with me? Why couldn’t he have just hung out with me and talked with me? That’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t need presents. Well maybe one or two but…

Now let’s think about the brand experience. Before the age of social media, we really didn’t talk about the brand experience. It didn’t really have a name. It was just marketers trying to sell something. However, once consumers found their voice-It became readily apparent that they wanted a say so in what they wanted from the products they bought.

Pay attention to that last sentence.

It’s funny but sometimes I think we have been beat down so much as consumers that we misconstrue good customer service as a warm “live” voice on the other end of a phone. Great customer service? Someone who cares. Ironically, Brand loyalty starts out with the intent of the consumer hoping to get something from the brand, but then is actually cemented by something as simple as a conversation or recognition that you actually exist.

That’s all we really want. We just want to talk.

The Customer Experience Revisited

Recently I had 3 conversations with a cab driver, a plumber and a CEO. Each conversation revolved around the customer experience. I want to share with you the gist of each conversation.

The Cab Driver: I actually had 3 cabbie’s but it was the 3rd one who had really understood the customer experience. Look I get it, if you take enough cabs, you’re going to get the gamut of drivers, but I think it’s interesting to see how some know how to engage the customer and how others could care less. I’m just a fare. It’s those that “get it” who will make more. I actually had the cab driver who explained to me how he reads the customer to see how he should “deal” with the customer. His goal? Not only to engage, but to provide a positive experience that could result in repeat business as well as referrals and a higher tip. Insights from a cab driver.

The Plumber: Let me preface this vignette by saying that “The Plumber” is a very good friend of mine. But the conversation I had with him was as much enlightening as it was a relative fact with all SMB’s. They not only have to do what they are good at but they also have to manage their people and manage their business. However what really opened my eyes was when he told me what was the key to growing his business. Was it more people? More trucks? More resources? Better technology? Nope. He told me it revolves around word-Compassion. Compassion for the customer and walking in their shoes. Good stuff coming from-A Plumber who get’s it.

The CEO-I had about as bad an experience as could be had at a local restaurant. I was so mad that I blogged about it. Of course I used the company name with a map and hyper links because I was so angry but never really expected to hear from anyone within the organization. I even sent an email to the GM of the local franchise but still, I never expected to hear from anyone I just figured it was another FAIL.

About a month or so after the blog post I received an email from the CEO of the entire company expressing regret and essentially saying that I was right, they were wrong and what can he do to make the situation right. He even offered to take me to lunch to prove that his restaurants do get it right when it comes to customer service. He didn’t have to do any of that did he? He’s the CEO-He could have had his area managers handle it, someone in customer service, or basically half a dozen others, but he chose to handle it himself. A CEO.

So what’s the story? It’s not social media. It’s about the customer. It’s always been about the customer. But ironically, it doesn’t matter what your business is, what your job is, if you understand that in whatever you do, the customer experience is priority one. You’re ability to win, to succeed, and to do great work will always be achievable.

Out of the three, who get’s it the most? How would you rank their approaches? I love the cab drivers approach. The Plumber understands what and who is driving the business and the CEO? I’m just one customer but he still took the time to reach out. This doesn’t mean that each will succeed in the end, but it does mean that in some instances, they can impart that wisdom on to others within their respective businesses.

The Intersection of Customer Service and Social Media

The conversational divide…

I have a couple of quick questions: Does social media allow customers to get their issues resolved quicker than if they were to use traditional means? Does whining via social media move you to the head of the line? In a recent article in Adage the answer may be yes but below the surface there is an easier explanation.

If I’m a disgruntled customer, or just someone that is trying to get something resolved with a company I’m doing business with, chances are I’m going to go the traditional route; Phone, email, live chat, trouble ticket, phone again..It’s what I know-it’s how I am conditioned. Right?

What if I’m getting nowhere? And I know this social media thing might give me any time access to a company to get my problem resolved? Or at least to be heard? I should do it, right? Absolutely!

On the flip side, If the company is listening and monitoring, that company now has a chance because of social media, to get it right or to fix things before they spiral out of control. Right? And let’s face it, all the customer wants is to get their problem solved-that’s all.

But if said company screws  it up, or if I’m getting nowhere-what were my options in the past? Does this look familiar? Phone, email, live chat, trouble ticket, phone again..It’s what I know-it’s how I am conditioned.

According to Pete Blackshaw of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Services, he thinks that social media is disrupting the harmony between departments when it comes to dealing with irate customers.

I say screw that. That’s their problem, not mine. I’m the customer and now finally, the tables have been turned. Social media is my ally. Treat me right and I’ll tell everyone how great your company is-if you don’t, then watch out.

The customer experience slips through the cracks for Regal Entertainment Group

Yet another cautionary tale.

Crisis management, contingency planning, reputation management, leadership, why are these so hard? why are they so hard to grasp, to fathom and to implement? Maybe there is a perception that because they don’t figure into the day to day operations of organizations large and small that they’re not that important. Or are they?

It’s funny though, just when they’re needed most, you can’t find them; and it’s right then that everyone seems to ask-“What do you mean we don’t have policies, plans and procedures in place for “…

We talk all the time about the need to have social media crisis management tools, procedures and policies in place for good reason. Why? They work. They help. The mine field is littered with companies that have not done a good job in this area. The most recent is obviously BP Oil.

Why are crisis management policies and plans needed? Because customers, consumers are empowered now.  When customers and people are upset and have been wronged, they can take to social networks and the power of viral socialness and vent and complain and create momentum to make a difference and affect change.

Companies need to be prepared for this-even if it never happens. Because you never know when things will fail and when someone might complain. You never know when groups, large groups, will take to social networks, large social networks and complain about your company. Why wait?

It’s why you monitor. It’s why you listen. It’s why you have these policies/plans in place.

Here’s a mini situation. Two days ago another opportunity to get it right fell by the wayside. This one though isn’t neccessarily social media related, yet the difference now is whereas before there might not have been a way or platform to complain there now is. So it does have social media undertones.

I decided to take my son to see Toy Story 3. There was a huge storm sitting on top of Naples, Florida, so a movie seemed like a great idea. The Regal Entertainment Group operates the largest and most geographically diverse theatre circuit in the United States, consisting of 6,745 screens in 546 theatres in 38 states. So they are a large outfit.

Yet it would appear that they have no  customer service contingency plan in place for when their systems “go down” to complete transactions. Their contingency if you will, is to take cash, which systemically eliminates the huge section of their customers that came armed with a debit or credit card only

So here’s how it went down.

3 windows all open and yet all were saying they could take cash only because their systems were down. Wait, no this one says it can…  We went from one window to the next to the next. And yet one window was able to take debit or credit cards?  Wouldn’t all windows be on the same system? The information seemed to be inconsistent. No messaging to let people know of the current situation. No one out front, no signage, no manager, nothing.

We were able to get in, but I was already thinking about the disconnect in “managing” a customer service situation that seemed to be getting uglier by the minute.

Next up, popcorn and snacks. My assumption? I used the debit card out front, so the system must be back up and on line. Long line later, I order, present my card and am told that the system is down and they can only take cash. Are you serious? I tell them I just used it out front. They say they are told that the system is down. I tell them to try it. They say, like robots, that they are only to take cash. You mean you’re told only to take cash? Yes. You can’t even try and swipe the card? No. I just waited in line for 15 minutes. Sorry.

I look behind me and the line is swelling. I look to my left and it’s like this exact conversation is happening across the board. Where’s the manager, where’s the signage, where’s the “make it right act”? Rainchecks? free popcorn? Something?

I resolve to blog about it because I don’t have time to talk to the manager who I do spot trying to handle several large groups of irate people. I wonder what would have happened if I had tweeted about it? What would have happened if they had been proactive? I probably would have blogged about that as well.

But now a not so favorable customer experience will now end up online thanks to the intersection of search and social media…Oh well.