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NSA Leaks: The Big Data Two Step for Businesses This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on June 10, 2013.  To see the original post click here. I expect we will be seeing a lot of dancing over the next few...

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Coming to an Agency Near You! This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on September 23, 2013.  To see the original post click here. I am often pondering what is next in the world in which we...

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Customer Service Week: Here's Your Call Center This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 7, 2013.  To see the original post click here. As we begin Customer Service Week I want to thank all those...

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Defining the Customer Experience Role This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 2, 2013.  To see the original post click here. Customer experience is a term growing in popularity within businesses...

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Apple's #Fail When Dealing with @MarthaStewart This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on September 30, 2013.  To see the original post click here. It feels like it was the Tweet heard around the world: "I...

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Customer Service Week: Here’s Your Call Center

Posted on : 07-10-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Leadership

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 7, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

As we begin Customer Service Week I want to thank all those who strive to serve Customers each and every day. In my view we do not always show them the respect and gratitude they deserve every day, not just during one week out of the year. These individuals do more to contribute to your brand than any marketing message ever will. In my book @YourService I wrote extensively about their experience and how that ultimately reflects on the brand. As leaders we do not equip them with the right tools or empower them to truly help, then when things fail we do not look at ourselves but instead to these same service departments. The fact is we are the one’s to blame for not creating the right culture to ensure our Customer Service staff are successful. Your call center is not a cost center, but instead it is the hub for the ongoing, fruitful relationship with your Customer. To celebrate this week, below is anexcerpt from @YourService, published by Wiley. Parts will make you laugh, but the fact is this is the reality of most call centers. Is your Customer truly important to you?

Chapter 18: An Inside Look at a Call Center

Let’s take a visit to a call center. Some of you may work in one, others may have drifted through, but some may never have had the opportunity to experience daily life in one, although we have certainly all called one! Over the years, I have had the privilege of working in many different call centers and visiting even more. Please note that the following scenarios outlined are not specific to any call center that I have worked in or have done business with, and you will want to thoroughly investigate the ins and outs of life in your call center after reading this. It is so very important to know exactly what is going on in your call center because the impact on the Customer is enormous. This is often how your Customer sees you or hears your message. Please try to wear all hats when reading the following, especially the Customer’s hat. If your business does not have a call center, you can still think of this through the mind of your frontline employees and the Customers you serve.

Imagine that today is your first day on the job as a new Customer Service representative. You walk in and see balloons and what appears to be a happy place. You check in with HR and are brought into a classroom. As you were walking to the classroom, you thought about how thrilled you were that you found a job where you can help people. At the front of the training room stands a cheery trainer excited to have you and the rest of the new recruits onboard. Training will be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on the type of call center it is. During the training they teach you the basic technical aspects to the job: usually the system that you will utilize and the knowledge base to obtain information to answer Customer questions. Often you will not be taught exactly what to say, but you will be referred to the talking points in the knowledge base. The systems can be confusing because many companies use multiple programs. This adds to the complications of the new job because you will be expected to know how to use each one.

Nevertheless, training is always a happy time, even when you get to go out on the floor to listen to calls. They will probably sit you with the best representatives at the company. These individuals are usually very nice and they always follow the rules to the letter, at least in the eyes of their manager. During the training process, trainees split time from the classroom to on-the-job training and listening to calls. As time goes on, agents start to share the reality of working in a call center. The first thing they do is start to go over pain points that Customers have and what, if anything, can be done to counteract this. Sometimes you will learn shortcuts and workarounds that are not demonstrated during training. Finally, the conversation shifts to the different managers and their styles.

Toward the end of training, a manager comes in to go over the rules. Much time is spent on attendance and behavior policies, emphasizing how you will be fired if you do not abide by them. You are now starting to wonder if some of the representatives are thinking that the balloons decorating the call center may be more appropriate in a day care center. The manager also spends time going over how your performance will be measured and what this means to you. Typical call center metrics will be average handle time, or how long you have spent with each Customer, compliance to scripts or quality, adherence to your schedule, attendance, and finally sales. Often the expectation is that you will sell on every call, whether it is appropriate or not. You can easily spot these call centers when you are a Customer calling with a problem; before the representative addresses the reason for your call they’ll try to sell you something. This is simply the agent trying to meet the quality goals, and this is part of the checklist.

You now start to take live calls, usually with a buddy right next to you. This is when you will learn all sorts of things that weren’t covered in the training class. Calls come in and they let you go listening half-heartedly because they are just excited to be off the phone for a little while. The cube that you are sitting in is fairly close to the person next to you and the noise level is high due to all the talking. During this nesting period, all is well but it does not last long. Suddenly you hear beeps across the floor and red digital signs are blinking. You see the manager walking around yelling at everyone to get on the phones. Your buddy jumps up and says that you are on your own, as she makes her way back to her desk to take calls. The next call comes through and now you are flustered with no help. You are hitting the keyboard going through each of the systems, trying to find the right answer, but with no luck. The Customer is getting irritated at the lack of help and is sniping in your ear. You try to ask those around you, but they are busy with their own calls. Finally you get up to ask the supervisor, who snaps back that the answer is in the knowledge base. Frustrated, you go back to look again. Finally, the Customer hangs up without the right answer and another call comes through even before you are ready to start again. Now even more flustered, you struggle with the next call and they wish to escalate as the caller hears the uncertainty in your voice. You go searching the floor for your supervisor and he is nowhere to be found.

Finally, another representative whom you sat with during training offers to take the call for you. Now you have some relief. After the call has been completed, you need to go to the restroom. So you place your phone in break mode to go. When you return, your supervisor is at your desk asking where you have been. He explains that you are not scheduled for break until later in the morning and asks why you only took a handful of calls.

Certainly this has not been a good day and definitely not a great start compared to the high hopes that you had for this new job. As you get back on the phones, you get a call from a Customer whom you want to help. You understand precisely what she needs, but the call will take a while. You think, I can’t have another long call, but there is no choice. Then the Customer, who greatly appreciates how well you are listening and the understanding that you seem to have, says that she has to run but wants to call back and speak directly to you. Unfortunately, policy and the phone system that the company uses do not allow you to give the Customer your extension. During training you were told to simply tell the Customer “Everyone is able to help you just as well as I can. Just simply call back at a time that is convenient for you and they will care for you.” With this the Customer, who is now yelling, says that she has called six times and you were the first one to understand. They then hang the phone up out of frustration.

Interestingly, many call centers are designed not to have personal phone extensions. This was based on the business decision that Customers might call the same person back frequently or they might call and leave a message, but the agent might not follow up or have that extension anymore, in effect causing a worse Customer experience. There can also be a concern that the agents will take personal calls.

The next call comes through and it is regarding a policy that Customers do not like. You heard all about this during training and reviewed many calls on the topic. The answer is always the same, so you provide it. You have yet to hear a call where the Customer was thankful for the answer. You read the answer directly from the script that references this as instructed and the Customer yells in the same manner as the last caller. The company requires you to end every call the same way and ask, “Is there anything else that I can do to help you today?” In response, the Customer yells back, “You have not helped me yet, so why start now?” The phone slams down. After that call you are late for break, so you go. Upon return the supervisor is right there at your workstation again stating that you are late coming back from break. You then explain that the call lasted after the start of your break so you went as soon as you could.

Once again you are back to the phones. As the calls come in you notice that your system is running slower and slower. You help the Customers as best you can, but it is taking minutes for an account to even come up on the screen. At one point you apologize to the Customer for how slow the system is. You eventually help them out, but when you have finished, you look up and the supervisor is back at your desk. He is upset because he was listening to the call, heard internal jargon regarding the systems, and is really upset that you told the Customer how slow the system is. You ask what else could have been said during the lull while waiting for it to come up. He responds, “Anything but that” as he walks back to his desk.

As time goes on, you start to get a little more comfortable but realize there is not all that much that you can change. You stick to the procedures outlined and you do your job. You watch the clock. Eventually the mirror that they gave you during training to encourage you to smile during calls breaks but you leave it hanging on the wall. Broken tchotchkes are not an uncommon site in a call center.

Often, a career for a Customer Service agent is not as pleasant as it should be and coworkers who often want to escape the Customer surround you. At many companies, service is at a location with other business units, and you will find that employees in the other areas look down on the agents and the job as something that is clearly beneath them. This sends a message to those serving your Customers about the focus of the company. Although there are excellent supervisors and managers out there, many are burnt out and many others worked their way up in similar conditions so they are not that interested in changing them.

‘Yesterday Is Not Ours to Recover, But Tomorrow Is Ours to Win or Lose’

Posted on : 04-10-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : In the News, Inspirational, Leadership

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 4, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

I do not consider myself to be a devout Democrat or Republican; instead I see myself as a simple American. My views run the gamut across the political spectrum, so I tend to vote for the person primarily, followed by issues that may be important at the time. Like many, I think a lot around us right now is broken, but I believe together we can repair this world and create an amazing new future together. But the question becomes: Who is leading this charge?

When I look at the business world most perceived leaders are managing the situation instead of leading it. We are constantly laying off employees, changing priorities and trying to keep up with the Joneses. Where does it all stop? Businesses today are being run to achieve some miraculous quarterly number at any cost, with very little view of the long term. We worry more about what an analyst may think instead of achieving the potential vision for our brand and its impact to the world around us. In business, I see leadership and vision from Google, but few others. I see true leadership from Elon Musk and Richard Branson. In such a large world, shouldn’t more people come to mind? Maybe you can help by talking about leaders you recognize in the comments section below. I especially love to hear about smaller businesses that are making a difference.

Politics is probably even worse than the business world for its lack of leadership. When I think of true political leaders, the likes of Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and John Kennedy come to mind. I do not care what your political affiliation may be — you have to admit each of these individuals were true leaders. So what are some of the attributes that made them seem like a leader to so many? History will be the ultimate judge, but each had a strong optimism for the future. They believed our best days were ahead of us and sought to keep that message in everything they did. They often challenged us to do better for the society as a whole. They each had their faults, but during their time we all felt better about the future. We need that today. I do not care which political side this leadership comes from, but I know we have to stop this silly finger pointing and look ahead. Too much of politics since 9/11 has been about looking back and pointing fingers. Enough is enough; it is time to look at the amazing future before us. Politics should not be kids on a playground, but a means to move the world forward. Who are some of the best leaders you have seen? I live in New Jersey, and although I do not always agree with Chris Christie, I have come to respect his leadership. He is one who has been known to look forward, even in the most dire of circumstance. Who do you respect in the political arena?

The lack of leadership is understandable, especially due to the rate of change we have seen in recent years. Technology has completely changed the way we do things, and this rate of change is continually increasing speed. Change is often difficult because it requires us to change skills, and sometimes it can wipe out entire industries. At the same time, new industries develop, providing new and unique opportunities. Times will continue to change and sometimes we will hit bumps in the road, but we need to define a new greater future not just for us, but our children as well. We need to show them the possibility this new connected world can bring and how it, too, can lead the way. There is hope, strength and a reason to be excited for each day. I am challenging those who believe they are leaders to step up and start to lead. As a society we need this now! Together, we will build an amazing future.

Now it is time to get off my soap box. I have just been growing frustrated by this vacuum sucking the energy out, instead of someone putting the energy in. Please recognize leaders you know in the comments below.

Editor’s Note: I updated the title from “It’s Time to Lead” to the Lyndon B. Johnson quote based on the comment from Matthew M. Thank you, Matthew, for the inspiration! I should also make clear that views expressed here are my own and do not represent those of LinkedIn or my employer.

Defining the Customer Experience Role

Posted on : 02-10-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service, Leadership

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 2, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

Customer experience is a term growing in popularity within businesses big and small. I am sure many will point to social media as the cause but the reality is we often see Customer and employee experience gain importance as we experience economic improvement. I am seeing more and more companies hiring leaders for Customer experience at a much higher level than I have seen in the past. For someone like myself these are exciting times, but set to move with the whims of the business world.

The challenge for businesses may be very different today than any other time in history. The decisions (or bets) companies make can have long term repercussions for the brand and their position in the marketplace. The challenge is those making the decisions for these roles and the strategic direction are doing so based on their own experiences or beliefs and not necessarily a holistic approach across the organization. Stated in another way, they are not viewing the brand as a Customer. The key factors that are driving the current shift are:

  • Achieving Savings with the Shift to Digital
  • Seeking Competitive Advantage
  • Being Outpaced by Competitors in Ratings
  • Increase Sales
  • Social Media and Escalation Emails Causing the CEO to Take Notice

No matter the reason, I am glad to finally see the focus by senior leadership. Out of each of the reasons the one that causes me the greatest pause is the goal of achieving savings. I do not disagree that the right digital experience will definitely reduce calls therefore reducing a huge chunk of budget, but if this is the cause do you really care about the Customer and their experience? I would further caution companies to be careful what you wish for. If you are fully successful at stopping your Customer from calling you, you may find that the opportunity to truly build the relationship will be gone. This is when people will usually mention the efficiency of Amazon and their digital experience. I agree Amazon is an amazing company. I spend a great deal of money with them, but they built trust in their experience over years. The digital experience was core to who they are as a brand. Does your brand exude that same level of trust? Amazon has proven time and time again that they understand me, and their experience fulfills that. Do you understand your Customer? I would make the case that the reason Customer experience has been so poor in the first place was due to this lack of understanding. Yes I know companies often have the data, but the reality is they look at their Customer on a macro level or the “process”, not clearly understanding who the person really is. Amazon does not make you feel that way from the contextual way they present their website, to the speed they fulfill orders and their pricing is considered fair, or often, lower than any competitor. Cost of switching from Amazon is minimal, all I would have to do is change a favorite in my browser or add a new favorite, but the reality is their experience in my view is so above any of their peers that I have no reason to look.

One of the reasons the Customer experience is broken at many companies is we have tried to force the Customer into our view instead of taking the Customer view. We create processes for everything assuming that every Customer fits that exact situation, but at least in the Customer’s mind there is plenty of gray area. This gray area, which probably would never show up in a survey, has a deep influence on the Customer’s view of the brand. As an example, I personally love how Starbucks asks for your name when you order. It tends to personalize the entire experience. It was a great process to implement, but the challenge is on the micro level when incorrect names are heard or mispronunciation happens. To some this could become insulting (Starbucks please note I am not recommending discontinuing the practice, I personally love it). I think it is important to recognize any program is not a one size fits all Customers. The challenge for Customer experience is it goes well beyond our typical silo of operations that the role is often forced into. The experience is defined every day at all levels of the organization. Your marketing defines the expectations your brand wants to put forward, your legal department outlines risks often seen by Customers (terms and conditions often define your brand to Customers), compliance, fraud, even IT have direct implications on the Customer perceptions of the brand. I can go through every piece of your company and find the link. Often I hear CEO state that Customer experience is everyone’s responsibility. I do not disagree with the statement but the reality is we all view things based on our own experiences. I doubt a lawyer would say you know Customers would love us if we got rid of the terms and conditions, so let’s do that.

I often find myself thinking about these macro vs micro experiences that brands exude. I doubt most brands even see these tiny issues that have an impact on some of the Customers. This post came about because I have been speaking a lot to many businesses about the Customer experience. I continue to find the same issues at play. We want this macro answer to this micro problem. I was speaking at a hotel recently. One I have spoken at numerous time. It is a beautiful place with world class service, but I often receive a different message while I am there. In the area where I have spoken for the past year there is a spot where their is duct tape on the ground. Each time I would see it I would think about the message this was sending how the brand does not care for themselves to fix this frayed carpet. That carpet is part of the experience, maybe not to the extent as the check in process, but the message no matter how subtle is there. Duct tape is so useful it can fix almost anything but not your Customer experience. Unfortunately because of our traditional macro view of the Customer our Customer experience today is filled with a lot of duct tape.

We are entering an age of context and it will change how we do business (to learn more about the age of context check out Shel Israel and Robert Scoble’s new book of the same name). It will require us to know the Customer like never before, and get it right. It will impact marketing to Customers shifting from hitting the masses to one of targeting the person, at the right moment. It will be a time of proactive Customer Service as opposed to the current lack of reaction that seems to take place. There will be huge pitfalls during this time as well, especially regarding the data that is available on Customers and how to best utilize that information in a way that the Customer desires, even though each Customer may have vastly different views. Keeping ahead of all this will be a challenge for all, but the Customer Experience role will help organizations lead the way!

The Customer Experience Role is to bring the Customers view, no matter how big or small, into the conversation across all silos of the business. It is not specific to a channel of communication or product line. It is this person’s role to connect the dots and ensure the brand lives up to the promise that they give to each and every Customer. This promise will vary dramatically from brand to brand and so will the challenges within the existing culture of the business. For this person to be successful, the senior most leaders must buy into the shift. Success can never be achieved if this role is silo’ed in any way, except in the way the Customer views the brand.

If your business is taking a harder look at Customer Experience, I highly recommend that you follow the Customer Service channel on LinkedIn. I also recommend following my hero in the space, Don Peppers.

Apple’s #Fail When Dealing with @MarthaStewart

Posted on : 30-09-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, In the News, Social Media

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on September 30, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

It feels like it was the Tweet heard around the world:

“I just dropped my ipad on the ground and shattered two glass corners. What to do? Does one call Apple to come and pick it up or do I take it” -@MarthaStewart

This was followed by other Tweets including one stating that she was still waiting for an Apple rep to come pick up the broken iPad. She then switched gears joking that it was an entrepreneurial idea for Apple to offer same day delivery. The tweets culminated with a Tweet about Apple’s PR team response to her:

“I cannot believe that Apple’s Public Relations Team is mad at me for tweeting about my iPad and how to get it fixed! Steve Jobs gave it to me” -@MarthaStewart

Since that time it has been played off that the Tweets were a joke, similar to how Martha has Tweeted in the past. I will not make any judgements either way. I am sure over the next few weeks we will see many posts stating that Apple should provide Twitter Customer service, because it would have alleviated this trouble. The fact is it would not have because the damage to the Apple brand occurred with the first Tweet. This is also where Apple won without striving to do anything from their PR team.

The Twitter community, or at least the sub-sector of Apple Customers, responded immediately to Martha. This never required the PR team to be involved. They explained in some nice, many not so nice words, that she can simply take the broken iPad to the Apple store like any one of us.

I have spoken around the globe on this topic and written about it numerous times. If your consumer believes that you provide really good Customer Service, they will act as your PR team and respond in social media. Unfortunately what we have created instead is a belief that if I am loud in Social Media, a company will treat me dramatically differently than through ordinary channels. This in turn causes more to blast the brand in social media! Very circuitous. Apple has proven that a culture of service will encourage brand advocates to do the right thing!

In this case I am thrilled with Apple’s Customer service team for having a tradition of good Customer service, something I have experienced often. I am not as proud of the PR team in their handling of the situation. I can judge from Martha’s tweet that the PR team reached out to Martha or her people. In this case there was no need to do any of that.

If you followed the conversation or response to her Tweet, it is easily discovered that she was provided the appropriate response. Letting her know that you are mad is not going to solve anything, in fact it will only lead to responses like the one she tweeted. I would also guess that they also sent someone with a new iPad for her (if I find out that they did I will be really disappointed in them).

I am further disappointed in the Apple PR team for not commenting on any of the stories on the topic (there are many). This would have been the perfect opportunity to talk about the great service any Customer can receive just by making an appointment with the Apple Genius Bar. There was an opportunity to say we are here to help anyone in the same great manner whether they have 2.3 million followers or none.

We have to get better at all this, and I hope this situation provides a great learning experience for brands. It certainly was not the first, nor will it be the last. The fact is Customers now control your brand image whether you like it or not. In this case Apple’s Customers did an amazing job, but the traditional approach by the Apple PR team was a big #Fail.

Coming to an Agency Near You!

Posted on : 23-09-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media, Technology

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on September 23, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

I am often pondering what is next in the world in which we live, especially how that factors into this social media filled world and business. Things around us are changing everyday and sometimes it is difficult to keep up. A few years ago the hot topics were “social media, “digital” and “mobile”, but in many ways we are seeing the hot topics shift to “sharing economy” and context. The business world is constantly evolving and it seems very difficult for any business to keep pace with the changes before us. Partially this is due to our own resistance but it is also because the future is often difficult to predict until it is right before your eyes. Yet we are starting to see the shift within marketing and PR agencies to help businesses lead the way.

I have seen agencies reduce the number of social media roles, but that is due to multiple factors. For some it is due to the talent moving directly to the business, but for others it is because the skill set is now available in multiple layers in the agency. It no longer required as a separate position. This seems to fit the same cycle we have seen in the past, and I expect we will see into the future. There seems to be a cycle that happens with each change impacting these agencies. The cycle starts with new firms being created usually by people from larger firms who see an opportunity that they can fulfill. This stage is followed by larger firms starting to hire for the skill, then businesses bringing the skill in house with the final stage including consolidation of the smaller firms. Over the past several months I have been watching shifts in the marketing and public relations space that go beyond the big merger talk. I have seen smaller agencies establish themselves in the data analytics speciality. I have also seen some firms restructure to provide greater emphasis on data. In my view data is going to continue to grow, with further challenges from a regulatory and Consumer view. This shift to the world of context will require very specific skills and we are starting to see the agency space recognize the potential opportunity.

I doubt any of you are surprised to see data coming front and center because it has been an interesting conversation point for years. We now have the ability to know the Customer for what they want the world to know, and if we effectively utilize this information we can better assist them in finding the products and services they need at the specific moment they need them. This will of course have challenges along the way. FIrst will be properly parsing the information to better understand the intent. Then it will be a question of delivery. If a brand is off in any of the data points they can take a strong message and destroy it. Over the past few week Acxiom launched AbouttheData.com which allows Consumers to view the data the company has on them. You can read more about this from the NY Times. This effort is a brilliant effort. First it heads off regulatory pressure by sharing with Consumers the information they have collected. But more importantly it allows Consumers to actually change inaccurate data so Acxiom as the opportunity to improve how well they know the potential Customer. I do wonder if there may be any negative backlash from firms that hire the company because they too can easily see the information that they believed to be accurate, may not be. For me much of my information was way off and I did not change it. It does explain some of the goofy marketing materials I receive. Anyway the use of data is going to change this business in many ways and we are just at the beginning stages of this shift. Some will not realize the impact until it is too late but many have already fully embraced it.

I am surprised that another shift did not happen sooner, but we are starting to see the beginning stages. Over the years I have heard marketers say that service should report to marketing. I would always quip back that maybe marketing should report to service since it was such a small part of the overall Customer experience. Needless to say this would stir the pot a little. The fact is in most organization service sits way too low on the food chain and has been disrespected by other business units or viewed as a cost center. It is so sad when companies view their Customer as a cost and not an asset. In my book @YourService I talk about these challenges and the fact that we are shifting to more a word of mouth or relationship driven era and our mindset must change. I do not blame business units for looking down on service, although I do view it as short-sighted. I blame the service industry for not doing a good enough job in managing upward the importance of Customer Service. Well this lack of leadership and the changes to how Consumers view the brand, marketing and communications leaders are starting to get more involved in fixing what is broken. This is also being noticed by agencies and they too see the opportunity to better advise their clients. We are starting to watch new firms evolve from the marketing and communications space into leading the Customer Experience. I expect this trend will grow because it is difficult for your marketing to win if it does not correlate to the experience a brand creates.

We are in changing times, and agencies are always quick to change with them. These are my expectations of changes, but I am sure there will be many others. What is your view?

Chipotle Aims High But Misses Low on Twitter

Posted on : 25-07-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Marketing, Social Media

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on July 25, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

One of the earliest definitions I heard about marketing spoke of building relationships with customers and prospective customers. But sometimes it feels like we are far from that, especially in social media.

Too often lately marketing feels more like a desperate effort to garner attention for the brand through every channel possible, especially in social media. It’s extremely difficult for any brand or person to be noticed in social media simply because there is an excessive amount of content available for anyone, so users drift to the content that is most relevant to them.

Earlier this year Oreo made a splash when it posted an image during an unusual power outage at the Super Bowl. “You can still dunk in the dark” got lots of attention. At the time I applauded them for such a creative approach and timeliness, which was incredible. I am not sure I could have had an image approved so fast.

Since that time we have seen many brands jump on the “real-time” marketing bandwagon. The problem is when everyone is doing it, it comes across more about spamming people instead of being one with he community.

I still think Oreo does the best of all the brands because they typically do not try to spam a hashtag or key word search. Instead, they simply share in the hope that their followers will take the message forth.

The Royal Birth brought the greatest backlash toward brands trying to capitalize on the attention — you can read more on the “real-time” marketing backlash here and here. (I am not a Royal watcher, and did not follow the conversation on the topic, but I do want to congratulate William and Kate, as I would for any new parent.)

The latest brand mistake in social was a royal one but not involving the royal family or baby George. It actually involves a fairly beloved brand, or at least one I love: Chipotle. Chipotle is celebrating its 20th anniversary and they wanted to make a splash.

That they did.

On July 21st there were some odd tweets on their Twitter account — not Anthony Weiner odd, but still a little weird, including one that seemed to report a password.

Turns out this was not a hack, but a marketing stunt to garner more followers (measure bad things get bad results!). According to ABC they garnered 4,000 more followers as a result of the silly stunt. This of course is not the first time an account faked being hacked, as MTV did in February.

There are a number of problems with faking something like this. First it is not being a strong member of the community, it instead is reinforcing that Chipotle wants to be the center of attention, not one with the community. This is a big challenge for brands because social media is not the push media like TV ads, it is community driven. I am sure it was an idea presented by either an employee or partner to get people talking, and the effort did just that.

So they gained discussion, but lost trust, at least with me. I used to hold Chipotle up as one of the good brands, but now they come across like so many others. I do want to be fair: There are many out there who like what Chipotle did because it was funny, harmless and garnered attention to the brand. I take deeper issue because it does play to the trust issue with consumers, but also with partners such as Twitter.

The fact is when an account is hacked people immediately look to Twitter, often blaming them for the lack of security. Every time something like this happens many security analysts start to try to assess what went wrong and how to prevent it for their brand. Twitter, like all social networks, has a team that investigates these things. This whole thing reminds me of the episode of Seinfeld, “The Scofflaw” where Jerry and George’s friend Gary tells George he has cancer, but in reality he does not. In my view Chipotle was Gary in this effort.

So what is a brand to do to garner the attention they desire? I would recommend the following:

  • Stop trying to be the center of attention. Try to make your own Customers the center and provide them the tools and information to take your message forth. Doing so you may find you achieve your original goal in greater magnitude.
  • Social media does not start with pushing some message. Your product and service can be your message. Chipotle could have done so much with the millions who enter their locations each day. Companies have to get better at connecting all their messages they send, including to their employees (their greatest advocates) and their Customers.
  • Know the community you serve. Each of these social networks is a community and often there are sub communities within them.
  • Respect others even if not part of the community. Respect is such a message often forgotten, but in the Chipotle example did they respect the company Twitter or the community

UPDATE: I want to make clear that this effort by Chipotle was part of their Adventuritto game and some of the tweets were part of that puzzle. It is interesting to see the change in quotes from their PR team. In the ABC News piece Chris Arnold from Chipotle stated “We did it to get more people talking about that short string of posts.” The Washington Post reported “the company never intended to upset people and denied that the fake hack was simply a ploy to grab followers. “We apologize if anyone felt misled by this or didn’t like how the promotion was handled,” Arnold said. The messages, he said, were meant to be clues for the company’s “Adventurrito” treasure hunt promotion, in honor of its 20th anniversary.” Which was a clearer response. As some have pointed out this was intended for their community playing the game. The challenge to the effort is Twitter is very public and cautious about hacks (okay some are not cautious but find them funny). When they tweeted that they had problems with the account, alarms went off throughout the Twitter community and beyond. Kyle Flattery wrote a post going more in depth on the security challenge, and I have heard from many others on that topic. You can read more on his blog. This game has created some challenges for Chipotle from the start, including the need to change the rules early on because of potential manipulation. I certainly love the brand and what they historically have stood for, especially their stance on GMO’s. I think they were off the mark here, but of course I will continue to support them.

NSA Leaks: The Big Data Two Step for Businesses

Posted on : 10-06-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : In the News, Technology

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on June 10, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

I expect we will be seeing a lot of dancing over the next few days as more is learned about the NSA use of phone data, such as the information they are requiring Verizon to provide or project PRISM that none of the businesses involved seemed to know about. We already have seen some of the political dancing, but as more information is revealed, the dance moves become even harder for the players involved. Even if your company was not one of the nine mentioned, you also have some dancing to do, or at least you will.

Events over the past week involving the National Security Agency will have broader implications that will not be fully understood for years to come. The ramifications will have impact on businesses large and small, and in the way individuals interact with technology. I do not want to explore the political aspects of the discussion, as I expect those much more experience than I will be doing this over the course of the next several days and months. I also do not want to pass judgement on the individual who leaked the information as this debate can be moderated by those who specialize in that discussion. I would like to discuss the broader implications for business as we continue down this path of the big data dance.

You may be surprised that I am referring to it as a dance, but that is because we are constantly moving on this topic, trying to keep up with all the data sources but also keep pace with changing regulations, and more importantly Consumer sentiment on how this information is used or maintained. This is not a new topic, but certainly brought to the forefront by the NSA conversation. There are many books currently written on the big data topic and new ones on the way every day. One book I am looking forward to is Age of Context by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. I even touched a little on the topic in my book @YourService. I called it Scalable Intimacy. Thanks to social media we now know the Customer for what they want the world to know. I also discussed the problem to this. Customers do not always know businesses could obtain this information. I pointed out if information was not used in a way consistent with how the Customer expects it could easily cause a backlash. In my view this is the core of the trouble with the NSA situation. People did not know the amount of access, how the information would be used, and how it would be maintained. Without full transparency on these topics, business, and governments will see ramifications. We are still in the early days of this issue for the government, but I expect it will grow much deeper if these answers do not fully come out.

Technology is imperative to our everyday lives. I can not imagine living a day without the access that the internet provides. Social media provides me a way to connect to people and learn from them. You can learn a lot about me through these channels. Google probably knows me in the most intimate ways because I tend to search for all kinds of topics that important to me, not always shareable via social media. The we have website we visit which can be very telling, although usually meaningless without the context for visiting. We also have companies like Facebook striving to better deliver on this context by connecting your online data to that of your offline behaviors, using data such as information from store loyalty cards

In light of the NSA leak, I would recommend businesses take a few steps back and assess how they are utilizing big data, ask your Customers their views, and look to find ways to offer transparency to your Customers on how you will utilize the data. Data is often like a drug, where access to some information causes a desire for more and more data. This is probably true with the NSA, but also with many businesses. The time to fix this is now! Provide your Customers and prospects a bill of rights on how you use and retain data and then live up to it everyday throughout your organization.

I look forward to the deeper conversations on this topic because I think it is important for all of us so we can get back to building technology that forever changes our lives in a positive manner. For now we can all enjoy the dance and find ways to be better partners to each other.

How Brands Shouldn’t Handle a Tragedy on Social Media

Posted on : 16-04-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Marketing, Social Media

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on April 16, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

Events in Boston have been heart wrenching to all of us. I for one have been glued to coverage as the events unwind, not unlike similar tragic events in the past. I always take solace in the extraordinary ways people come to the aid of those in need. These individuals restore faith in humanity after such an unhuman act. I would like to express my gratitude to the first responders who go toward the danger to aid others. These are the heroes in this world and we do not celebrate them enough. I offer my deepest condolences to the family who have been impacted by this tragic event, and to the city of Boston.

In the business world we tend to be numb to the world around us and strive to focus on what is important to us. Our business. This becomes so evident in social media the way many companies continue to try to push out their messages, even during times of human tragedy.

There is very little evidence that companies who take this approach respect or even understand they are part of community. I know it is difficult sometimes to know when to pull back or not, so I wanted to open the conversation here, especially in the wake of these events. David Armano has written a good guide after the events at Sandy Hook, and I recommend that you keep that handy.

As I watched the events unfold yesterday, I followed discussions on Twitter and Facebook, as well as a variety of news sources. The challenge is these discussions were often broken up by social media ads touting how great these companies are. It seemed very inappropriate based on what was on my mind at the time. It became a real turn off to those brands.

As I was discussing this with some friends, some pushed back saying “bad events happen all over the world every day; where do you draw the line?” It is a valid comment and worthy of conversation. In my view you have to know your community on the social networking site.

Many businesses may have an international audience and they may not be following events in Boston as closely, so they may not care about the content you are sharing. At some point they may have a different event that does impact them deeply, and it is important for you to identify that as well. Always remember you are an invited guest within these social networks, and they can easily shut you out from the community, even with paid content. Unfortunately, I think brands have forgotten that over the years, and instead of serving the community they show how self serving they really are.

As we return to normal and you start posting content after a tragic event, it is also important to respect the minds of your audience. They may be more open to your posts, they still want to see your sensitive side regarding the recent event.

Earlier today Epicurious posted Tweets regarding Boston. The one started off perfect “Boston, our hearts are with you…” but then it went on to post a recipe for Cinnamon Scented Breakfast Quinoa. If this company thought about the mindset of their community, they would realize that they may see this as trying to capitalize on the tragedy instead of offering value to the community.

In the early days of social media, this was easy for us. First of all we knew the people behind every one of the businesses. We did not have automated tweets or scheduled posts. It was all about human interaction and touch. In some ways social has always been about this but for some reason we often forget that. During these tragic events, always think about that, and what is important to you. It will help guide you in making the best decision for your brand.

As I was writing this post, Scott Monty posted some thought on the events of yesterday. I would urge you to take a few minutes to review that as well.

Thank you again to all the heroes in Boston for helping to restore faith in humanity. My thoughts and prayers are dedicated to all those impacted by this event, and a wish that we could find a way to rid the world of such horrific acts. Thank you for being part of my community.

Frank

Are We, Social Media Professionals, Destroying Social Media?

Posted on : 27-02-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Marketing, Social Media

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This post originally appeared on Social Media Today on February 27, 2013.  Click here to see the original post.

If you are hanging out at Social Media Today, you most likely have a vested interest in social media, often in a paid capacity working for brands or advising them in some sort of agency situation. Maybe you just are striving to learn more and build a career path involving social media. I hope this post can help challenge some beliefs or others may challenge mine, but either way it should be fun and a learning experience for everyone.

We are often advising brands to develop their content strategy and they ‘must’ do these things such as engage and be part of social media or they will be destroyed (or something similar). We have all drank the Kool Aid at times, but I have to wonder if our efforts are the ones destroying social media. I know you think social media will be around forever and will change the world. In many ways I do believe it will do both, but maybe not as we know it today. I have been watching trends that indicate less and less engagement by the masses in our typical social hang outs, such as Facebook and Twitter. Now there are many reasons for this, and not always indicative of efforts by brands. Often it is more an aspect to how Facebook shares content, or strives to have users pay to spread their message but it does not dimish the realities in our little world.

During the Super Bowl, Oreo did an amazing job with creating a real-time marketing message involving the outage at the stadium (you can read about it here). So that brings us to the Oscars.  In preparation for the real-time marketing efforts many people participated in a discussion using the hastag #OscarsRTM.  I watched this conversation as well as followed the Oscars by following #Oscars and Oscars in my Twitter search. By doing this I had the opportunity to see many interesting attempts by brands to be a part of the conversation. If you want a good recap of better attempts, check out this post on Hubspot.  But let’s face facts, none of these brand messages resonated with the audience like the Oreo spot a few week earlier.  Many of them felt like they were trying to just be the cool kid, like Oreo at the Superbowl.  Even Oreo felt that way to me.

Now the reason I love Twitter, it offers the best opportunity to meet new people and engage in conversations on topics of interest. To me it is all about the ability to search.  This is the way I have used Twitter since my first tweet in April, 2008 as @ComcastCares. We have all used it this way at one time or another.  How did you feel when you were at the conference and they displayed the tweat stream and trolls started messaging the hashtag?  What about when that happens during your Twitter chat? I have seen that happen during the #CustServ chats.

The reality is brands are becoming the trolls, or spammers (at least in the way they do it today), which over time will hurt these social networks causing people to find alternative places to track and participate in conversations. This is nothing new, since the same thing happened to email marketing. At first it was cool, but then when too many brands started bombarding us with messages we sought ways to simply block them out.

In my view we have to do our part to ensure success of these social networks, including helping the networks create the right user experience. I know our product leaders want to see their product front in center of social media, but if we chase people away, what good is it being front and center?

As social media leaders we have to help our brands better understand what it is like to be a member of a community and how to add to it as opposed to detracting from it.  This is often a fine line, and difficult to decipher. As an example Oreo during the Super Bowl was unique and unexpected, but during the Oscars they were one of many doing similar content. At best the Oscars content was just noise, but I bet some felt they were being spammed.

I for one love to be able to use Twitter search to add value in my life, just like my Facebook stream is best when filled with my family and friends talking about what is important in their life. Anything that interferes with that hurts my experience as a user. I think the best brands will find ways to encourage others to talk about their brand as opposed to pushing some message that does not resonate with me. The key is making your product and experience do the talking for you and help facilitate your Customers to spread that message. Changes have to be made! What would you encourage brands to do differently?

Driving Listening to Be Part of Your Organizational DNA

Posted on : 05-02-2013 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Marketing, Social Media, Technology

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on February 5, 2013.  To see the original post click here.

Beth Comstock, CMO for GE had a great post regarding listening that inspired this follow up. When you are finished reviewing this, I urge you to read her post as well. I have never had the privilege to meet Beth, but her reputation as a leader is well respected. In fact when I was with Comcast I was approached by a GE headhunter about a social role with them. I was very interested in the opportunity to work with Beth, but within days of the first phone call,Comcastand GE announced the partnership for NBC Universal. I did not think it would be appropriate to further our talks. I have paid close attention to GE ever since; Beth and her team have been doing outstanding work leading GE.

Listening has been a favorite topic of mine throughout my career. It is something we all want to say we do well, yet often we struggle with actually doing it. I am sure my wife has accused me of not listening once or twice! Businesses like to send messages to their Customers stating they listen, yet I have seen little evidence that they do. Today we see surveys galore from virtually every larger business we deal with. I used to fill these surveys out religiously providing very direct positive and negative feedback. Have I ever heard back? Have I seen changes based on the feedback? The trouble with the way many companies approach these surveys is they look at overall numbers, with very little attention to the verbatims. If my feedback is so important, why wouldn’t you listen or acknowledge what I had to say?

Social media is a great example of how businesses struggle to listen. As I have studied companies social media efforts, I have seen many companies who like to say they listen but little evidence with how the company operates. This is very evident when you watch many companies who perform social media Customer Service. How often are they addressing identical problems over and over again. This lack of action sends the same message to me as not responding to survey comments. Of course Customer Service has been built on that same issue for years, so I am not sure why I would expect it to change.

Years ago (way more than I would like to admit) I was interviewing for my first management role in the financial services industry. The manager asked me what I thought the most important attribute of a leader was. I did not hesitate and said “listening.” In my view a leader will never have all the knowledge they need to make decisions. The key is listening to those in the know, including employees, business leaders, Customers, regulators and so many others. In my view information is power, but not in the way many people look at that statement. I do not need to hold all the information, but I do need to listen to all the information I have around me.

My background in business is within Customer operations. I have found that the best people in the service operations are also the best listeners. The reason this occurs is they deal with upset Customers every day and sometimes call after call. They are not listening to the cursing or yelling, but instead they go deeper to understand the reason for the frustration and strive to find a solution within their own toolbox. These skills are so relevant throughout the organization. The struggle for ops is they have not been able to get the right leaders in the organization to hear what the Customer is saying. The service employees, just like the Customers, struggle to be heard.

Leaders are often proud of their own accomplishments and they should be. I do wonder if this sometimes impedes their ability to listen. Could some leaders view listening as a sign of weakness? Possibly, but I think the reality is more that they think they are listening when in reality the proof points within the organization same differently. Of course there are many exceptions to this. For one, entrepreneurs have always been among the best listeners. They hear more than words and are then able to translate this into opportunity. We need to bring this same entrepreneurial spirit to all layers of business.

As I look across the various parts of the organization, I have found marketing and communication departments do an amazing job at telling the story of their successes. Since I now sit in marketing, I am often amazed at how well they tell the story of their piece of the business. This of course is probably because of the strengths that marketers bring to the table in telling the story of the brand. I think it is time we better connect these departments. Imagine marketing’s art of storytelling connected to the art of listening from the Customer operations department? Now that would be a powerful, game changing, combination. This would be a way to lead the story of the brand instead of trying to simply tell one.

Listening is so much more than words but with the right people working together we can make it part of the DNA of any organization!