Customer service is easy, so why is it so hard?

Thursday, April 17, 2014 Posted by

The principles are easy: set the right expectations, then meet or exceed them and your clients will be happy at the least, and become champions for your product and/or company if you’re really awesome.

So why do so many companies fail at providing stellar customer service? Because they set expectations to exceed what they are capable of delivering upon and unable to communicate appropriately. Unfortunately I am experiencing this first hand with a company presently and will use them as an example of how simple it can be to create negative clients instead of building champions:

In November, 2013 I ordered a product which I thought too good to be true: the 10 year hoodie. For twice what I normally spend on a hoodie ($100 versus my normal; $45) I figured that if it lasted twice as long, I’d have come out even, and any longer then I’d be truly sold on the product. Since my hoodies last me about one year, I figured a ten-year hoodie was a pipe dream but worth the gamble as it came with a repair guarantee. So, I clicked checkout and waited…

When I received delivery, I was impressed with the quality of construction and comfort of the fabric. It was soft, but sturdy, with key reinforcements to ensure longevity. So, in mid November I put it into service as my ‘work’ hoodie, wearing it daily at home as I worked my day job. I never wore it outside, so it only saw desk time and couch time as the main activities. Which is to say it wasn’t put through any heavy-duty use that would be adversely rough on a garment.

You will then understand my surprise that after only two months it began to show signs of wear (shown below) which lead to failure after only two and a half months. So, I contacted the company on March 5th with the following image to ask about the process for warranty/guarantee repairs.

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I’ll point out here that my expectations were set early on with their 10 year guarantee. I expected the hoodie to last at least a year with the same wear as my normal, less expensive hoodies provide. As such, my initial contact was already taking damage to my ability to be a happy consumer and really champion their product. That said, the support I received was solid and confidence inspiring with good communication, and they sent me a shipping label so there was no cost to me to return the garment for repairs. They indicated that when received, they’d provide an estimated time for repairs and ship it back once complete.

So, on March 6th, I shipped it off and watched the tracking info update until it was delivered to the company on March 12th. I then promptly forgot about it until March 28th, when I realized I’d not been contacted upon receipt and after they determined how long the repairs would take. A quick message out to them on the 28th was returned on the 31st with a note indicating they had indeed received it and that they hoped to see all repairs ship back out by the end of that week. Forgiving the 2.5 day reply time and the fact that I had to proactively ask them for an update, I was pleased to know that my hoodie was expected to ship out by April 4th…

And here I sit, on April 17th still awaiting any sort of communication, let alone delivery of my repaired hoodie. I have sent off another request for an update earlier this morning, but as yet have no indication of a reply.

To recap here, two failures have occurred: failure to communicate based on the expectations which the company set for me, and failure to deliver the repaired product within the time-frame as communicated by the company. What could have turned me from an annoyed client to a champion? Simple and easy communication. Meet the expectations the company set as the baseline, execute on the guarantee as outlined, and communicate any delays that may prevent meeting those expectations on a proactive schedule. How to turn my annoyance into a lost customer with no hope of converting me back into a paying client? Fail to deliver on your promises and don’t communicate unless poked and prodded to do so. Sad really, since in the grand scheme this is really a minor thing, and with so very little effort the company could have turned a minor issue into an opportunity to make me, as their customer, a champion for their products. All that would be needed to build me into a champion would have been timely communication, and delivering a repaired product when indicated. It really doesn’t take much to make me happy.

*edited to add*- Immediately after publishing this post, I received an update from the customer service person with whom I’ve been working. It seems that after the initial repair, an inspection highlighted some other missed repairs (not sure how that happened since I provided, as requested, an explanation of all repairs needed) and was sent back to the repair cycle which is now expected to complete Monday. The rep indicated they would be in touch to confirm shipping at that time and was apologetic for the delay.  So, they are trying, at least… but we’ll see what happens after Monday passes.

At this point, when my repaired hoodie is delivered (and hopefully it will both be delivered and repaired), I’ll close the books on this company and never have any interaction with them again. Even if my hoodie requires more guarantee repair work, I won’t be wasting my time with them again. Likewise, I also won’t mention the name of the company since doing so will only amplify their share of voice, even if said voice is negative. I’d rather they fade into obscurity and be forgotten.

A 10 year guarantee you say? Yes, it is indeed too good to be true…. at this point even a 6 month guarantee would have been too good to be true. Caveat Emptor.

 

Driving behaviour by metrics; a Google Page Rank discussion

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 Posted by

pagerankishOr, driving results through defined strategy by encouraging the right behaviours using the right indicators.

What happens when you drive behaviour by measuring activity? You get more of that particular activity, regardless of quality. When the activity isn’t as easily measured, then we start looking at indicators that can be measured, and that is where the slippery slope of metrics driven behaviour begins.

Take, for example, your website’s rank on Google search results. Using that single metric as a driving mechanism for success initially looks good and easy to quantify: is your site ranked in the first few slots on a google search result? If so, you’re likely focused on  the higher the rank, the better…. except, driving behaviour based on this rankling leads to poor practices and even worse behaviour. In order to obtain solid rankings, there were many different ways you could game the system (some less than scrupulous SEO “experts” have tons of tricks to cumulatively work together) to ensure a high spot without having to do the hard work to reach that space organically. Thankfully Google is implementing changes that reward the right thing and remove the ability to actually game the system through simple tricks.

The maniacal focus on being on the front page is what comes from poorly focused, metrics driven activity. Rather, the front page/first spot should be seen as an indicator, a result from doing the right thing. Using behaviours to drive metrics instead of the reverse is the first step to having the right focus on the right things. The common adage is “you get what you measure”, and truly it is in this case as well. The right thing, in these cases is creating quality content and engaged conversation. “SEO has changed. It’s no longer just about getting all of your meta data aligned and your site content optimized, but also about getting your customers involved in the conversation.

So, what’s the solution in this example using Google search ranking as a success metric? The answer is both simple and difficult: Measure and report on the behaviours you want to encourage. Only use search rankings as indicators that those behaviours are showing benefit. What does that mean though? Specifically, it would require measurement of content quality and more complex metrics to be developed in order to identify, in quantifiable methods, the activities associated with generating quality content and quality conversation. But, people are like electricity and water: all three follow the path of least resistance. In this case, that path is taking the easy way out by just looking at your google rank as a single easy metric to show success. But, like I noted above, Google is indeed doing things to reward those who are doing the right thing: both Google Authorship and GooglePlus provide deep benefit without much additional work (assuming you have content flowing already, these simple provide better connection to you and more robust results, they don’t make your content better).

If you’re still focused on page rank, you will soon find your metrics obsolete. With the proliferation of mobile devices and a shift to both smartphone and tablet computing, Google Now will be the driving force in benefits to site owners. We’ve already seen page rank plummet in relevance over the past 3 years as Google shifts their strategy to align more with organic search. Google Now is the future of a dying page rank. As a site owner or content creator, we are all best off paying attention to the future and building the right metrics to drive the right behaviours here and Now.

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image credit:  Some rights reserved by Gauravonomics

Personal or Professional: Why not both?

Thursday, April 3, 2014 Posted by

934897_10200977113927595_398103035_nWhen it comes to social business, there’s little difference between “social media” and “real life”.

Social media has blurred the lines of professional versus personal. Some businesses, like LinkedIn, have attempted to clarify those lines once again by focusing on one side or the other. However, that intended focus isn’t concrete and still causes some blurring to occur. Because of this, I am often asked whether it is advisable for a person to maintain only a single mixed account, or to manage separate personal and professional accounts on sites like twitter, Facebook, tumblr, and Googleplus.

While the general advice is to do what you are comfortable with, I definitely urge to one side of that spectrum and have posted previously on the topic of managing digital personas.

Social media is different from “real life” in one very important way, however: there is no distinction between work and play. Because of this, it is best to think of social business not in terms of work, but rather to see social business as an after-hours cocktail party. This analogy plays out as conversation during cocktail parties runs the gamut of topics from professional to personal; because it is more social than work, the atmosphere is more relaxed, less professional, but can be focused on business or personal endeavors as the conversation flows. In this way, social media provides a virtual platform to engage in conversation at any level with which you are comfortable.

To best use this dynamic in social business, I find it most effective to maintain a single identity. In any of the spaces in which I play, I am simply me. The conversation can take many different directions at any given time, which both provides for a broader scope of topics in which my networks may be interested, as well as build some sense of humanity which a flat professional presence wouldn’t provide. In my experiences, it is that depth of humanity in social media which really builds the connection and relationships in social business that become valuable down the lines as business needs arise and opportunities present themselves.

So when I am asked what my recommendation is, I say: be yourself. Do what you are comfortable with, but do it in an authentic and human way.