Social Media and Customer Service

30 12 2010

Talking to people at holiday parties, this subject keeps coming up: Why would anybody use social media for a customer service issue?  Doesn’t it make more sense to contact customer service directly?

Not in my experience.  Have you ever had one of these situations happen to you?

  • Called a computer manufacturer’s support line because of networking problems only to have the customer support representative tell me with great solemnity that “Your computer is not compatible with the Internet.”  I got the rep’s name and told him that I was going to quote him on this and he still insisted that my PC was not compatible with the Internet.  (What training do they give these people???)
  • Called a different manufacturer about problems with another PC.  I had run diagnostics that showed that my PC was not booting because of memory hardware problems.  The service rep insisted that he could not authorize replacing my memory unless I first wiped and re-installed my operating system — and everything else on the computer.  I argued with him for hours and could not get him to budge on this issue.  (I resolved this one by writing a letter directly to the CEO of the company, which by the way, became famous for its poor customer service.)
  • Another time, I was having trouble with email.  The customer service rep for my service provider told me that the problem was that I was sending attachments too big for their email server to handle.  I went so non-linear that my family is still laughing about it.  It turns out that I was the Product Manager for that particular email server and I knew it’s exact specifications.  I had worked for the company that sold them the email server and had been personally and directly involved in the sale and installation of the software.
  • Most recently, changes at my service provider caused my email client to stop working.  When I asked them to fix it (and it took hours to get to the right person) he told me that he knew what the fix was but would not fix my problem because they did not support email clients, only Web clients.  I argued that they had caused the problem, but it was to no avail.  He was prepared to argue with me for hours when it would have cost his company far less money to just give me the fix.

Believe me, I am not making this stuff up.  I could never imagine this level of insanity going on in any professionally-run organization.  When a customer service organization reaches a certain size, Dilbertian behavior somehow becomes the norm.  There is something about the goal-setting process and poor training that results in this type of behavior.

So, why do people take their customer service problems to Twitter and Facebook?  On the surface, it does not seem to make sense.  Why blast your problem out in a broadcast to thousands of people when it would seem to be more efficient to handle it one-on-one with a trained customer service agent.  Here is why people use social media for service issues:

  1. Customer Service agents behave differently when the eyes of the world are on them. One-on-one they can and do say the most outrageous things to you. Before the eyes of the social media community, they need to be much more careful.  A mistake like any of the ones above could cause a viral firestorm on social media and severely damage the reputation of the company.  The stakes for the company are much higher on a stage that big.
  2. Customer Service agents on Social Media appear to be better trained. In my experience, customer service agents who handle social media are much more thoroughly trained, not just on technical issues, but in common sense and on social interaction skills.  Dealing with one giant telco who has a deep and well-earned reputation for poor customer service, I found the telephone support people to be worthless.  On the other hand, the Twitter support people were helpful, knew their stuff, and quite willing to fix the problem.  The telephone support was so bad,that I documented the entire experience, tracked down the VP of WorldWide Customer Support, and sent her a letter detailing the situation.  It took a month to get a response from her.  In the meantime, their Twitter support team had solved my problem cheerfully within 48 hours.

Culturally, I see some people struggling with these issues.  For some it seems like “bad manners” or something to broadcast a product issue out in a one-to-many fashion.  At the end of the day, you have to use what works and my experience is that social medial support channels just plain work better.  Why wast literally hours arguing on the phone when you can get a quick fix on Social Media?

The worldwide transparency of Social Media makes customer service organizations bring their A-Games. No enterprise wants to attract the Roving Eye of Sauron.





The Future Direction of Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

13 12 2010

SEM is pretty straightforward, right?  You use some analytics software to figure out the search terms that customers are using to find your product or service and then you bid on the right to place ads with those terms.

A new white paper from Forrester looks at the future trends in SEM.  Like a lot of things, the searchable Internet is fragmenting  in many ways:

  • Into new forms of content.
  • Into new uses: Mobile/Social and GoogleTV are examples.
  • Into communities and platforms that are opaque to traditional search engines.  Examples include the Apple iPhone, Android phones, and social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.  Search engine technology is going to adjust.  In fact, Bing and Google are already making changes.

But, the bottom line is that search engine marketing techniques and analytic approaches must change as well.

You can download the full Forrester report for free from Omniture (owned by Adobe):  The Future Of Search Marketing

It’s well worth reading.





Major Cloud & Social Media Announcements at Dreamforce

7 12 2010

Wow!  The pace of change continues to increase – and for the better.  I just attended the Salesforce.com Dreamforce keynotes this morning and there were some pretty interesting announcements.  First, a couple word on Salesforce.com itself.  They are now at a $1.7 billion per year run rate and are rated as the #4 fastest growing company in the Fortune 500. Impressive.

Mark Benioff spoke a good bit about the pace of change; how social media has passed email, how the iPad is selling 1 million units per month, how mobile devices and location-aware apps are changing how we live and work.  What’s impressive to see here is how Salesforce.com has seen these changes and has leveraged them better than most other large companies out there.  IBM, for example, “gets” it but has just not been quite as agile at internalizing the changes in strategy required to lead in this market.

Some of today’s announcements:

  • Chatter. Salesforce.com has done a great job of integrating their social media app, Chatter, into all of their applications.  They say that Chatter is their fastest-growing application.
  • Jigsaw. Likewise, a recent acquisition, Jigsaw, has been integrated to leverage the power of the community to deliver more accurate and complete enterprise contact information, critical to good sales and marketing efforts.
  • Chatter Free.  Salesforce.com is making a free version of their Chatter app available for free to enterprise users and have gone a long way towards making it really easy for corporate IT to implement it.
  • Chatter.com Free.  In February, they will deliver a free mobile version of Chatter.  The point is that they want everybody using Chatter.  They want to make this the social media platform for enterprise use. Smart idea.
  • Database.com. Software.com is delivering an enterprise-quality database in the cloud for the first time. It supports relational operations as well as full-text search and has a built-in enterprise-class security model.  It also has published APIs that modify themselves as you use the database, making application integration easier.  For more details.
  • Open Programming Languages. Salesforce.com also announced that they are partnering with VMware to deliver support for any industry programming language.  Java , for example, will be supported on the platform for the first time.

The conference continues tomorrow and there will be more announcements, but this is significant progress across many fronts including cloud, social media, mobile, etc.  You can follow it all at www.salesforce.com/live





Social Media Advertising – Part II

10 09 2010

Just after my recent blog (9/7/10) on this subject, I saw a very interesting article on Mashable that offers some interesting numbers and analysis around social media advertising trends.

Some of the key points of the article include:

  • eMarketer projects that social will account for 6.7% of the total online ad spend this year.
  • The 2010 spending forecast for advertising on social networks is projected at $1.68 billion in the US, up 30%
  • Total social media ad spending is expected to pass $2 billion next year.
  • The big winner in this space is Facebook, with revenues projected to pass $1 billion this year.

In addition to Facebook, the article goes on to describe Promoted Tweets on Twitter where a company can insert a brand-sponsored topic into the trending topics list.  This program is in the early stages and is well worth watching.

Why the Move to Social Media Advertising?

  • The average user is now spending more time on Facebook than on Google according to comScore.
  • Nielson says that the average person spends more than seven hours per month on Facebook.
  • It’s effective 1: Social media lets companies target their audience much with much greater exactness.  The result: context-relevant ads and messages that are useful to end-users.
  • It’s effective 2: Social media lets the community digest messages if and when the want them, rather than interrupting their TV, reading, or radio experience.
  • Location-awareness offers the prospect of making messages even more relevant, helpful, and entertaining.
  • But, maybe most important of all, social media offers the opportunity for companies to engage in a two-way conversation with their communities 24x7x356.

The bottom line is that social media is where people are spending their time.  Social media also offers an opportunity to really engage with customers rather than just “drive-by selling.”





Book Review: Open Leadership

30 08 2010

Having seen trends come and go over the years I tend to be deeply (and for good reason) suspicious of marketing hyperbole.  That’s why I really liked the book “Groundswell” by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.  It was a lucid, practical, and level-headed approach to the coming groundswell of Social Media.

This past weekend, I finished reading Charlene Li’s most recent book, “Open Leadership” and it picks up right where Groundswell left off.  This book takes a deeper, more pragmatic, look at how to build and implement a Social Media strategy.  The key points of the book are all illustrated with real-life examples of major organizations that have gone through the process.

Many social media spokespeople are saying: be open, be transparent, be authentic.  That’s a great mantra and a great beginning. But there is a lot more to a successful social media strategy.  Exactly how does one actually go about implementing a social media strategy, especially in established enterprises that may not have the open culture required?  The devil is always in the details and there is often a lot of organizational resistance to suddenly going open:

  • Employees don’t know what to say or how to act online.
  • “That’s not the way it’s done here!”
  • Opening up is often threatening to middle managers who survive by controlling information.
  • Opening up exposes the company and individuals to criticism from outside

We all want feedback from our customers, but going open and embracing social media can be very scary.  Open Leadership goes into the how of successfully using social media in an enterprise; from giving up control, to building an open strategy, to providing the leadership required for your enterprise to successfully make the transition.

Let’s face it.  Social media is a social phenomenon that is happening in a much broader scale than just in the business world. And, there is no stopping a social phenomenon.  The only real choices are to get on board and figure out how to ride the phenomena or to get run over by it.  Social media is going to happen with or without your company’s involvement.  The question is: Do you want your customers and competitors to frame the online discussion without your presence or do you want to join in on the discussion and build lasting relationships with your customers and potential customers.

This book tells you how to go about it, step-by-step.  Highly recommended.








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