Posted on : 29-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Comcast, Customer Service, Social Media
Tags: Comcast, ComcastCares, Frank Eliason
After seeing the USA Today story on Friday, I was shocked to be referenced as “something of a legend.” I see everything I have done as really being Customer Service 101.
I started with Comcast in September, 2007 as a manager of Customer Service in Philadelphia. On my fourth day with the company we were asked to locate a blogger and reach out to them to assist with a problem. We called and assisted the Customer. From that day forward, on occasion, we would reach out to bloggers when we had time. Each and every time we did that the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. In December I was asked why we did not write on blogs. I did not realize we could (my background was in financial services and we were not allowed to write on the web regarding work). This provided us the opportunity to reach out to many bloggers that were typically anonymous. Reaction remained overwhelmingly positive. In February, I became the manager of Digital Care (I later became Director of Digital Care), a new role to look at ways we can meet Customer where they already are. At that time we started to review ways we can assist Customers in this digital world. We outlined our goals, which were to listen to our Customer and help when we can. It is very simplistic, but that remains the same goals we work from today. Early on we learned from others regarding the space (my only experience in social media was a website for our daughter, and, later, our family website ). We learned quickly that each space is its own community, and you have to treat it as such. Forums, for example, are peers helping peers, and you do not want to take away from that. Based on this, we typically private message within forums. We were introduced to Twitter by a VP of our southwest region, Scott Westerman. Like other spaces we watched for a long time, reaching out on occasion via phone. At one point we reached out to Michael Arrington. In fact it is a day that stands out for me. I was procrastinating putting in ceiling fans and I was reviewing emails instead. I was also reviewing RSS feeds that I had set up, including the one for Twitter. I noticed Michael’s post, and I called him on the phone. The next day he posted â€œComcast, Twitter and the Chicken, Trust me I have a Point. The neat part about that post was the first few comments were they reached out to you because you are Michael Arrington. That was simply not true, we reached out because I saw it. But other people started posting and telling Michael, â€œThey reached out to me, and I am nobody. That to me is what it is all about, helping anyone in need.
Anyway, that was the first day I actually tweeted. My original intent behind ComcastCares, was this ID would be used by all members of my team as I learned how to engage in this space. My original avatar was the Comcast logo and not my picture. Well after Michael blogs about you, many follow. Every post offered different types of feedback. I read every one, and when possible, incorporated the feedback. I realized the space was personal, and people wanted to interact with other individuals. It was then I added my name and later my picture. It is also why now each of my team members has their own ID. They also decide background and avatar. All of my tweets, 31,500 and 15,000 direct messages were done by me. One of the more memorable blog posts discussed me using the word â€˜perception and how it was not typically used. At first I laughed, because I have always used that word, in writing and speaking to people. What the post really was telling me to do was loosen up a bit. So I did. I also learned very quickly that when you are reaching out to someone, do not try to interfere in any way. So instead of just providing an answer, we may open the conversation with â€œCan I help? If they want assistance, they will respond. I did learn to tweet about other things and loosen up a lot, but you still need to be careful. I remember during the first Presidential debate I was following much of the discussion via Twitter search. I really wanted to get involved in the conversation, but I know politics and religion can be difficult when you represent a company. During that debate Jim Lehrer tried to control both candidates. Not thinking it was political, I tweeted â€œJim Lehrer for President. I did not realize that some people view him leaning one way or the other, but responses I received made that clear. So much for being too personal! The fact is we are writing the book each day as we learn more and more through every social space. I always enjoy learning and I love when I have the opportunity to learn even more.
One of the best learnings in this space was not so much the interaction, but the valuable feedback and the speed of information. I now have so many people watching Twitter search, because it usually provides information even before calls come in. We are then able to react to it and provide Customers the best information.
So that is enough of this after school special!
Posted on : 28-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Customer Service, Social Media
Tags: Customer Service, Facebook
We have been watching the groundswell of Customers in social media, but a current beta for Facebook will completely change the game. According to Facebook’s statistics there are over 200 million users, with many rumors topping that number well above 300 million. Compare this to the rumors regarding the size of Twitter which is about 30 million or more. We have all watched recent enhancements to Facebook that have more Twitterfied the experience. Now they are adding the capability to share status with everyone, and potentially this information will be searchable. But what does this all mean, and why are they doing it?
Rumors last fall were that Facebook was making a bid to buy Twitter, but talks never really took off. Whether the rumor was true or not, there is no doubt that Facebook saw value in what Twitter has to offer. We have seen many examples where news has taken off via Twitter. Most recently the uprisings in Iran were broadcast live via Twitter directly from Iran. This way of communicating is really making the world a smaller place. We also watched recently has news of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett passing away. Even fake news has the ability to spread like wildfire, such as the incorrect rumor of Jeff Goldblum dying. Every piece of news over the past year or so really started via Twitter. I am sure the same as true in Facebook, but because there was no central resource of this data, no one would know unless you were friends with those talking. The top 10 Twitter search was a true game changer.
For those that want to get the most out of Twitter, search makes it really easy. By entering a few key words you can quickly locate new friends that are talking about things of interest. Facebook has search but it is limited to thing like people’s bio, groups or specific pages. Not easy to connect with someone that may be talking about a unique musical interest or something like that. So to me Facebook was always about existing friends. Twitter has always been about meeting new friends.
So how is this shifting the power to the Consumer? Today most people online have a megaphone, but the reach may be just within their reach of friends. It is easier to spread your thoughts on any businesses that you deal with, but it is limited within Facebook. By changing the status to be available for everyone, this will now provide a megaphone to speak to 100′s of millions of people at any given time. How will a company respond? It is time to think about that now. Advertising on Facebook has not always had the best reach, especially since people tend not to click on the ads. Ones that have been successful are typically very unique and very hit or miss. One of my favorites was the Burger King Whopper giveaway. But now business will have to find a way to harness the power of the Consumer voice, respond to it and create the right experience. Of course all of this starts with creating the right experience for products and serviced offered to the Customer (and non-Customers for that matter), otherwise this potential groundswell can be much larger than anything we have seen before. Also people will talk about a product or service, even if not seeking help through ordinary channels. This will make it where companies will be forced into the conversation. The one thing we know is in this Google world, information, right or wrong will always be available through Google.
Ready or not, here comes your Customer!
Posted on : 27-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Social Media
Tags: Angry People, Mean People Suck
Years ago my wife had this bumper sticker on her car. It used to crack me up, but it is so true. I know all too well that life is too short and we should live each day to the fullest. I always strive to do what is best for everyone I come in contact with. Maybe this is why I love serving Customers? In recent weeks I have come across numerous examples of personal attacks, deeply angry people at relatively silly things, and just a lot of unpleasantness. During that same time I have seen people going through hell and they are the most upbeat people around. Why is there such a variance? Why can’t people just learn to be nice and respectful to others?
I know what it is like to be angry, and I do get that way at times. For those that have seen this, I want to apologize. In fact today I read a blog post that was completely inaccurate and referred to me as an unbelievable creep, of course this was someone that references internet trouble as ‘ass rape.’ The actual trouble was wifi signal reaching all points in a home, particularly a wireless printer. Which during last call was working when I was off the phone. I have been deeply offended, as I am sure other men and women would be, with the terms being used. Anyway this made me angry to read and I was determined to figure out a response. I was so angry it was taking me away from what is truly the most important aspect of life, my own family. Those that know me also know the truth so at this point it was not worth letting an angry person destroy my weekend.
My wife made a good point, everything is relative. Maybe individuals that are mean to others and angry have been so lucky in life that they find little things to be angry about because they have not dealt with worse. How lucky are they? I wish I had such luck in life. But actually, I am happy that I am who I am. Yes it sucks that some negative things have happened in my life, and I would do anything to have Gia back, but I would never want to live life as an angry person. It is just too short and I would prefer to live life to the fullest. You never know what may happen. We sometimes joke that you can get hit by a bus, but the reality is you can be.
For me I am going to strive to be the best person to everyone I come in contact with. If I ever was mean to anyone, I also want to take this time to apologize. When I am, please point it out to me.
Posted on : 25-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Living in Philadelphia, Personal
Tags: Michael Jackson, Radio DJ, WBEN
Today was a sad day in music as Michael Jackson passed away at the age of 50. I, like many, have said my share of Michael Jackson jokes, but I must admit he really changed music in so many ways. Starting as a young boy through most of the 80′s his music redefined expectations. The music video for Thriller redefined how artists wrote songs, and the visuals chosen to represent the music. There will be so many tributes to Michael’s work in the days and weeks ahead, and it is not my area of expertise, so I will let others do that.
I have written a number of times how Customer Service needs to shift to be more personal and develop relationships, the same is true on the radio. In recent years the way we hear music on the radio has changed dramatically. You may not realize it, but many stations use computers to program and play music, and, on many stations, when there is a DJ, it is actually prerecorded voice tracks. Now that is personal! Today as I was driving back from Newark, NJ I was listening to a NJ station. Like many stations they were playing all Michael Jackson songs. It was reminiscent of when John Lennon passed away back in 1980. I was only 8 but I remember they kept playing The Beatles. The DJ popped on to explain what happened and provided personal insights in the career of a great musician. I was lucky, I was listening to a station with a live DJ and it was an excellent experience to hear live updates regarding Michael and hear there insight. I wish I remembered the station, but it was closer to NY so not a station I typically listen to.
A good friend of mine, Jason Lee, recently lost his job as the late morning/early afternoon host for Philadelphia’s Ben 95.7 FM (WBEN). They decided to go with only DJ’s for morning and afternoon drive. Well this started me thinking, how would stations handle this without a live DJ? So I started to scan the stations in North Jersey, New York and Philadelphia areas. What I found were a number of stations that did not have any different programming. I guess they were not able to change the computer settings??? Other stations did change the programming, but did not have anything (at least while I was listening) to explain why they were playing all Michael, all the time. That would cause me to switch stations just to find out what was going on. WBEN at least had their afternoon drive time host record a spot explaining why the were playing Michael. It was good to see that they recognized the moment and changed programming but I still missed personal interaction. Out of all the stations I listened to, I was so happy to hear the ones with live DJ’s making a personal connection. One station not only had a live DJ, but they also encouraged listeners to call in and share their own remembrance of Michael. I enjoyed the tributes. That was a great touch, and shows the flexibility of a live DJ.
In this tragic loss, I believe we may have seen an unlikely rebirth of the radio DJ. I think it is time that radio stations start to connect with their listeners, and this sad event showed the reason why it is so important. What did you hear on the radio today?
Posted on : 20-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Personal
I wanted to share a recent exchange with a Customer we will refer to as Bob. Today he sent a number of emails to my team with feedback centered around the web design of one of our websites. I read the emails while I was at my aunt’s funeral. They were colorful, but showed the passion this Customer has on the topic. Although web design is not something I see changing immediately, the feedback was valuable. Based on the specific content of the emails I chose to respond directly. After his third email I responded with:
“I do want to thank you for all the feedback. We would be happy to share it.”
Customer’s response was:
“And I, in turn, want to thank you for your condesending attitude, which I too, will be very happy to share. Oddly, you don’t seem to be such shit head on your blog. Condescending, yes, but less of an asshole.”
Wow! I really don’t get paid enough for this! I was actually shocked because this was certainly not the intent! In addition, I never thought of myself as either condescending or an asshole. I was stunned! Okay, in retrospect, maybe I have been one of those when I received poor service. You can decide which one.
There is no doubt that emails can easily be misinterpreted. With the exception of SCREAMING emails, there is no way to clearly convey tone or emotion in print. In today’s blackberry world, we are all emailing and texting as quickly as possible, aren’t we? To avoid further miscommunication, there was only one thing to do. I picked up the phone to speak with this Customer.
We had a productive conversation. We discussed many aspects of the Customer experience, and how web design has an impact on this. I explained my thoughts on sharing feedback and the manner companies respond to that feedback. Occasionally decisions will be made that Customers will never like. To me it then comes down to the way it is presented and discussed. Bob’s feedback was regarding online ads. There is always a delicate balance regarding revenue and impact to the Customer. I explained that I was not sure the ads would go away, but what he was pointing to was more in design. Hopefully as design is updated, something can be changed to make it less of a pinch point. This is something that will take time.
At the start of the conversation he confessed that he was less angry with me and was developing a connection through reading this blog. Specifically he connected to a story I related in a post “Frank, Where Are You.” The story was about Lily pouring bleach all over my clothes. I told him he should check out the Desitin story in the post “So is it Time to be Frank.” In service the best interactions always have a personal touch. I cannot tell you how often I hear, “How can you put yourself out there in social media?” Many even say that they would use a different name. People tend to be afraid of their Customers. If you are afraid of Customer, how can you ever connect with them? I have had strange things happen, including someone that bought my domain name as a “gift.” He pointed it to the original Gia website, but since then he changed it to point to negative website about the company I work for. Even with something like that, I still try to connect with Customers. If my feeling ever changes, it will be time to look for a new career path. That to me is what service is all about.
Posted on : 18-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service
Tags: Customer Service, Gen Y, Social Media
I have talked about it before, but Customer Service across all businesses has been changing, whether it is known externally or internally. First and foremost the Customer has changed. I always credit this to the popularity of Amazon reviews, Ebay ratings, and Google in general. Beyond that the typical Customer Service workforce is changing, they are now filled with the Gen Y, Millennial Generation or whatever the name is today. This is a group that prefers a more flattened approach. They want to share their feedback, and they will provide it to whoever will listen, no matter the title of the person. They are not out to impress, but they will drive their point home.
So what does this all mean for businesses? The approach for everyone needs to change. Lets start off with the Gen Y group, they want to be a integral part of the decision making process, they want to fully understand the reasons why decisions are made and they want to be able to provide clear feedback regarding how the business is being run. Internally it is important to provide tools to allow team members to be able to take this bottom up approach. Engage them in decisions and take the time to teach them why certain decisions are made. They are eager to learn, and they will be even more dedicated to the company when they feel involved. In my observations, I have noticed the baby boomer generation to be more accepting of leaders decisions. I remember at my prior employer, when I started you would always hear “it is what it is.” You are not going to change it, so accept it. Well that was never my style! Anyway, the Gen X’ers, of which I am a part of, will question things but usually in the end support the decision and move on. That has never been my style, but for all groups I am generalizing, and I know there are people with other styles. For companies to better run, and have a cohesive team, it will be important to better explain and involve all levels. The other thing to realize is if you do not, Gen Y is very resourceful, and will find ways to move the needle in their favor. I have seen many stories of this, so this will definitely be an important aspect to managing. They will communicate with friends (“rally the troops”) or even engage the topic in public via social media. But the good news is, they are really striving to do what they think is right for the company, and, actually in many cases, the Customer. I have been in Customer Service management for many years and I have seen this many times. Have you ever had a call and thought the representative was not up to par, maybe even down right rude? Many times this is not because of the agent, but because they disagree with the policy and they are sending a message to the company through you. Trust me, in my prior company I managed quality assurance, and I did it by evaluating the company as well as the representatives. You learn a lot when you start to dig into what is occurring.
Now on to the Customer. From what I have seen the Customer is tired of companies telling them what they like or dislike. Amazon reviews (I know there were others prior, but it really took off from there in the US) started shifting that power. Today if a product is bad, a Customer is going to try to tell as many people as possible. This can be done through Amazon, but now with the popularity of places like Facebook and Twitter there are now many places to do it. Companies have to recognize this and make sure their products are at the levels they would want to represent the brand. Now, more important then ever, service will be leading the way. Companies have depersonalized interactions through self-service. There will also be a shift to personalize service again. Measurements will shift, and in many places already have, from handle time to first contact resolution and Customer satisfaction.
Beyond all this Customers are going to demand more support in ways not noticed before. How many people have called their internet service provider and the trouble was reported to be the router. Well from experience I can say it may be, but companies are going to have to find ways to help with all aspects. This is not easily done, but what I foresee is working with the entire web community to build help that is used with Customers on calls, and for someone surfing the internet looking for help. I am in the process of designing a way this could be done across many spaces. Customers will be a part of the answers and they will have the opportunity to help others. This is not new, but really has been limited to help forums. But in the future this will be part of the help through all communication channels.
I also think Customers will have a greater say in the service they received. We have already seen this through all the surveys companies are doing, but I think involvement will go from teaching representatives, to talking with senior leaders. A lot of the future involves a theme I have always said is the most important part of management: “Listening.” The funny thing is when I interviewed for a management role at a former employer, Vanguard, I provided that as my response. The feedback I was given was management was much more than that. The funny thing is I used the same response for a different management role at Vanguard a few months later and I was hired. To this day I still believe it is the most important aspect. Many people around you, including Customers and staff members know so much more. It pays to listen.
Posted on : 17-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media
Tags: Customer Service, Marketing, PR, Social Media
It seems to me that the word converging is used to describe so much that is happening right now. At Comcast we have used it to describe the combining the way people use products like phone, internet and TV. But in general we hear it throughout business, especially when we hear about mergers or new partnerships. We also hear about it in politics, global news and within social media.
A little over a year ago I told a large group of PR people that the best thing about me is that I was not one of them. This was not done in a negative way, but used to point out that people within social media do not like to have spin or the corporate line. They prefer dialogue. Of course I was wrong, and I have grown a lot since that time. I have learned that we are in a converging world. PR and Customer Service have a lot in common. Ultimately good service is good PR.
Last night I received a phone call from a head hunter (probably not a politically correct term, should probably say executive recruiter or something like that). That was not the first time, but what was interesting was the position was a leader in marketing for a major company. I am sure I know many people that would be good for the role, but what really shocked me was how I have accomplished many of the goals in a very short time. How can that be? I have never been in marketing. As I say all the time “I am a simple Customer Service guy.” I guess nothing is simple in today’s world. Things are changing including the approach to marketing and the shift to conversational marketing. This is the first time that I could really touch it in a quantifiable way. My eyes continue to be opened wider each day.
In this online world, it is about dialogue, not dictating the conversation. It is not about spin but listening and asking questions. These are both common in good Customer Service experiences. Worlds are converging everywhere and the real winner is the Customer.
Posted on : 14-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Social Media
Tags: Business Cards, Social CRM
So this morning I received this email (I edited the email address out but remainder is the same):
From: Martine Paris
Sent: Sun Jun 14 02:03:30 2009
Subject: Plug on Content NOW from TWTRCON
I reviewed the post. It is about the recent TWTRCON event in San Francisco, which was excellent. During my panel discussion on Customer assistance on Twitter, Francine Hardaway chimed it with a fun story of how I helped her with trouble with her Apple router. The story with Francine is one that I will never forget and she will be a friend forever (well doesn’t that sound so teenage like). What basically occurred was our conversation shifted from social media to phone. This does happen at times because the phone can be useful to walk someone through many steps in fixing something. This same thing happens when someone needs assistance via email and more questions are necessary. After we were able to fix things I received a call on my cell and it was a hotel that found her phone. I was able to tweet francine on exactly where she could find her iPhone.
After that story, Dave McClure chimed in to say this story proves social media service is not scalable. This led to a little back and forth regarding the scalability. In my opinion he is incorrect, and we have proven that you can have a multiple people within social media, especially a place like Twitter. Today we have 10 people on Twitter and we are also in many other spaces on the internet. As I discuss in the post “The big question for @comcastcares is: How will they scale?” it is really about the tools that are being developed. My big question for those that do not believe it would scale, what would you recommend companies do, ignoring commentary has not worked?
I know many would respond to that saying that companies need to improve traditional service channels, and I wholeheartedly agree. This is a new time and Customers are more in control and companies must recognize that fact. At the same time I will tell you that there will be a large percentage that will still request help online first. In fact I would guess that most people are like me and google something before calling (in fact a Gartner study shows this is 50% and growing). I can also say that the majority of people that we assist never called, emailed or entered into chat. The other trouble is with many products, like internet, trouble can be with many other devices not controlled by the provider, such as router, computer, or even servers throughout the net that a company does not control. We have to find a way to converge support to help with all these areas, and the web offers perfect solutions for this (I will save this for another post because I am developing a project on this topic).
This brings me back to the purpose of this. In the post in the email it offers a synopsis of the talk and ends with the following statement about me:
“But for all that talk, Dave McClure was right, at the end of the presentation, Frank was not giving out any business cards. So much for accessibility.”
They are right, I did not bring business cards with me. I did respond to the email with the following message:
That is interesting that you felt not having business cards proved that social media efforts were not scalable, yet you were able to contact me via email, could also do the same via Twitter.
Maybe the world has not changed as much as I thought if we are still looking for, even expecting, business cards at an event about Twitter. I think the benefit to Twitter is how close it brings us all together. It make the world a much smaller place. I guess I was wrong about that. Actually the fact was I did not go in the office during the week leading up to the trip and did not want to go in just for business cards. So I do feel bad if anyone that wanted my business card did not get one, so I am offering it here for anyone.
Posted on : 13-06-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service
Tags: Customer Service, USAA
Those that have read my blog know my passion for excellent Customer Service. Most companies strive to provide good Customer Service but it does not always go as intended. This can be due to so many factors, including: policy, personnel, systems or believe it or not, the perception of the person calling. I have 2 major pet peeves when I call a company I deal with: overdoing security on the account and selling when not appropriate.
In the past I have mentioned companies I really look up to regarding service, like USAA and Vanguard Investments. I used to work for Vanguard, so I have heard calls that were not up to par, but we would coach the person immediately. My most recent calls to USAA have not been at the level I have been used to. As an example I logged into my accounts on Friday and I noticed pending charges that were not mine. I wanted to call immediately so they could take the necessary action. It was 7:30 in the morning, and I really needed to be out the door, but this would only take a few minutes so I called. I went through the phone system entering my member ID and pin number. I then get through to the agent. She asks me to verify name, address, credit limit, credit card number number on back of the card, and something else, but to be honest I lost track. She also asks me to set up a password, which I do. I explain that the authorization that were pending and the card is compromised. I am asked something like “are you sure you are not in Argentina.” The attempted transactions were at Cheap Tickets and a hotel in Argentina. Since I worked in the credit card industry I knew Cheap Tickets was a way to test credit card number validity used by many unscrupulous individuals because they do not check all aspects, such as the CID number. She verifies with me that I have the card, of course this is silly since she can check the transactions and see they are probably not swiped. At this point she begins the process then says she will need to transfer me. Before transferring me she begins to “sell” me on using the mobile web. Well at least she did not try to sell me on using the website since she knows that is what prompted the call. My issue with this is my reason for calling was not even fully cared for yet. Also if they tracked such things, they would know I have used the mobile website too. In fact my feedback for that is way too many clicks to get to information, but hey that is for a different time.
I am transferred (and I should say it was quick and so was getting to the original agent, no queue!) to the fraud department. He begins the conversation with verifying security on the account. I immediately asked if he knew this was done already. He explains that he has to make sure it is me because people sometime try to manipulate the system. I respond that USAA has gone down in their focus on the Customer. He then asks me for the password on the account. I immediately laugh and explain that was just placed on the account with the other representative. Of course this causes him to ask all the other information too. He then also asks to verify the work phone number. Of course I have no clue which number is there, so I rattle off old work numbers and cell numbers and offer to log into the website to look. Believe it or not, I actually understand the reason for security, especially when canceling a credit card number, which can create havoc. At the same time it is important to look at risk factors. I am not asking them to mail the new card to a different address and I am reporting common fraud transactions.
Oh well, I guess every company can have bad interactions at some point.