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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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The Customer & Employee Renaissance Series

Posted on : 12-10-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Inspirational, Leadership

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 2, 2012.  To see the original post click here.

The business world is changing around us in many ways, but hasn’t it always been changing and evolving?  We have just been through a time of greater focus on metrics and processes.  I refer to the era as the Jack Welch era, based on the Six Sigma evolution that has come and gone.  This focus brought greater efficiencies to business, but, as with anything, the case can be made that it was at the expense of other areas of business, such as employee turnover, innovation, or Customer experience.  Now we are entering a new phase that is being defined by a new generation of employees and Customers alike.  In some ways it is a Renaissance or a rebirth.

Times of change can be exciting to many, but very concerning to others.  We like to say change is good, but we need to face facts that change is hard on everyone, even those who may be excited by it.  As I write posts we will explore pieces of this renaissance and how it is impacting your business.  I would imagine we will have people reading the posts in various stages of the change.  Often small business owners are the first to see change in front of them and they sieze the moment to build there business.  Those of us working for larger institutions we may see the need for change, but due to the speed larger businesses move, seeing the shift is not always noticed until it is too late.  This is an era where smaller, more nimble businesses will have the chance to really excell.

Economic times always play a huge part in any revolutions, or even renaissance.  There is a reason why people look for something different, and often it is a chance to grow personally, professionally or a mix of both.  Historically in the US we have been very optimistic, and even if there were different views, we celebrated them.  As I look back I think we started to see a shift to a more divisive society from the late 1990′s and that continues through today.  The economic realities of the past 10 years have contributed to this tremendously.  In business our own artistic abilitiles were limited as we focused more and more on processes.  This also led to growing frustration with work.  At the same time technology advances changed the way we work.  Today many of us are connected day and night to our work email, expectations of our own performance has grown, especially as companies have cut back.  It sometimes feels non-stop.  

From a Customer perspective we have seen amazing amounts of change.  Shopping has shifted from smaller businesses that knew who we were and what we needed to larger stores with amazing selection.  In many ways that selection and price reduction was a huge plus, but we have all seen the drawbacks as well.  Service was not like those smaller stores.  Finding those hard to find parts by simply asking the clerk from the local hardware store was replaced with going through countless drawers in the nut and bolt aisle at the big home improvement store.  Of course this is changing again as we are now able to search the web.  Companies constantly looking to reduce costs added new technology, such as the automated voice when you call an 800 number.  Now instead of reaching someone we get to push 1 to be transferred to someone eventually after we are forced to enter all kinds of information that never seems to make it to the representative, then we have to repeat it all again.  You can also press 2 to be disconnected or 3 to reach the wrong department.  When your call finally reaches someone, they are limited to a process of a script. Of course no one provided you the other side of the script so you are at a major disadvantage. Hopefully your issue is on the script because the representative does not have access to decision makers and their abilities are confined to the process and systems they have in front of them. No deviation! When you go to the local supermarket, the checkout process has shifted from that friendly person, to either a person who is concentrated on meeting the number of items checked per hour, or worse yet, the supermarket forces the Customer to do the checkout for themselves.  Has all this new technology led to a better Customer experience?  Statistics would say it has not.  In fact many polls shows Customers feel the experience with most companies is not near an acceptable level.

I am sure if you asked a CEO, they would tell you how great their Customer and employee experience is.  We would all love to believe that, but often times our real life experience is different.  As Patricia Martin points out in the video below, a Renaissance comes about after a period of dark times.  The question is are we now in the dark times for employees or Customers?  I think it is possible, but I still have a sense of optimism and I think the best of times are in front of us.  As part of this series we are going to take a deeper look at the past, present and the future.  Together, we will start painting that future, and I expect it will be a masterpiece.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to present at TedxBroadway.  It was an amazing experience and I loved listening to all the speakers.  One of the speakers I enjoyed learning from was Patricia, and I thought this post was a great opportunity to share her perspective with you.  It was funny because Patricia and I had similar thoughts in our presentation, but prior to the conference we never had the opportunity to meet. I hope you enjoyed the post and the video!

Frank

You Must Do This!

Posted on : 11-10-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Social Media

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 11, 2012.  To see the original post click here.

So often I hear these words regarding so many topics in business, and they always make me cringe.  Although there are some things a company must do, such as pay taxes, not violate laws or regulations, and if they are a for profit entity, hopefully make a profit.  Beyond these key things, everything else is simply someones view and may not hold true to business realities.  They come from a variety of sources, including talking heads who have interest in the topic (or to show how smart they are), companies that are selling tools to meet the need identified, or partners such as agencies or businesses that often also have an ulterior motive. But let’s face facts leadership is not following anothers view but creating the right path for your business and your shareholders.

I am a Customer service guy, and I tend to look at everything through this lens.  I do not hide this bias, in fact it is present in everything I do.  In my book @YourService I talk about the failures businesses have had over the years, and what they need to fix in order to win in a socially connected world.  I believe that many companies and people will find advice in that book that will help their business and themselves.  At the same time I recognize that not every company must be service oriented and that is okay.

The challenge is that many brands like to say they are service oriented but at the end of the day the actual Customer experience fails to live up to the message that the brand is striving for.  In a socially connected world, Customer and employee perception is your over arching message, which usually is the culture of your business.  One key point in @YourService is to know who your business is, its culture and the message you want the world to know.  Does your Customer believe you live up to your message?

This leads me to an example that I think can be helpful for any business.  About a month ago Conversocial put out a blog post stating “RyanAir’s Neglect Proves Social Customer Service is No Longer an Option.” For those of you who do not know Conversocial, they are a tool to help companies provide social Customer Service.  I like the tool and the ideas of social Customer Service, although I think most companies do not do it well.  They tend to provide better Customer experience to their loud Customers which then sends a message to their Customers that the best way to get help is to publicly blast their brand.  The key to doing social service right is to drive change in the organization to fix what is currently broken within your Customer experience.  About a year ago I wrote a post for Brian Solis’ blog regarding this.

Back to Ryan Air.  The author of the post points out that Ryan Air does not have a Facebook presence, and people have set up fake pages blasting the brand and their Customer experience.  I hear so often that brands need to be on Facebook, yet I have watched very successful brands with very limited social presence.  As an example Apple is one of the most discussed brands in social, usually positive discussion with the exception of those immediately following the launch of a new phone, which tend to skew a little negative.  Ryan Air may not have a Facebook page, but would doing so add to their brand?  The brand is often discussed in social media, usually for trying to add new fees such as when they were rumored to want to charge a fee for using the bathroom on the plane.  Then there are the quotes from the CEO over the years that have not always been Customer centric, such as when he recently refered to a Customer or group of Customers as being “Stupid.”  The quote came from a story where a woman was upset at paying $380 to print boarding tickets at the airport.  With Ryan Air it would be free to print at home, but there are fees to do so in the airport.  I could not believe a CEO would ever refer to a Customer in that manner, but isn’t the quote fitting of their brand?  As an airline their slogan is “Cheap Flights – Lowest European Fares, Low Cost Airline.”  You do not hear a message about service.  Their goal is cheap.  I would make the case that they know precisely who they are as a company, and the negative conversation you find on the fake Facebook pages completely lives up to the brand’s image.  The top complaint for Ryan Air is the added fees for everything.  I also doubt the negative commentary would change the view of their actual Customer who is looking for a seat on the plane.  Their Customer knows that everything else will cost them.  Like Apple, people are taking the company’s message to social for them.  Although I personally may not be a fan of their approach, I am not their Customer and they should not care about my view.

I do not think that every brand should be doing everything via social.  In fact I find online discussion typically highlights the percieved culture of your brand, whether you as a business are there or not.  At times the message may be different based on a loud few, but should those message change your approach?  Maybe not.  I am a big fan of listening to your Customers through all means, including social, but even that does not mean that your approach should be altered.  I will leave you today with a quote from Steve Jobs that was part of a Q&A with Newsweek back in 1985 shortly after leaving Apple.

“My philosophy is that everything starts with a great product. So, you know, I obviously believed in listening to customers, but customers can’t tell you about the next breakthrough that’s going to happen next year that’s going to change the whole industry. So you have to listen very carefully. But then you have to go and sort of stow away—you have to go hide away with people that really understand the technology, but also really care about the customers, and dream up this next breakthrough. And that’s my perspective, that everything starts with a great product. And that has its flaws. Ihave certainly been accused of not listening to the customers enough. And I think there is probably a certain amount of that that’s valid.”

-Steve Jobs

Be careful of the “Must Do’s!”  You know your Customer and your business, so you must decide what must do’s, if any even apply to you.  Focus on your business and your Customer, and you will have success.  This is part of leading the way instead of following.

What do you think?

Frank

Social Media Crisis Next Day Quarterback

Posted on : 06-10-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Social Media

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 6, 2012.  To see the original post click here.

Social media and crisis communication seem to go hand in hand, especially as of late.  Often these crisis involve Customer situations, such as the Progressive incident started on Tumblr in August.  If you have not heard about the situation, you can review this CNN article/video.  The issue has broad implications for the brand but offers a great opportunity for others to learn.

Another situation Wednesday night offers more fodder for online discussion.  If you have not heard about it, a member of the Kitchen Aid US team tweeted a comment about President Obama.  It was a personal tweet that was accidently sent out from the wrong account.  Kitchen Aid immediately deleted the tweet and sent out an apology.  If you have not read about the situation, here is a good write up from Mashable.

As I watched online discussion on the topic today, I have seen much praise for the way Kitchen Aid handle the mistake.  I have also seen some question if they did the right thing.  One constant with any of these situations, many within the space do like to criteque the handling and add their own spin.  I personally like the way Kitchen Aid dealt with it.  I feel a little different about the Progressive situation.  At the same time I would never want to bash either company, because we are all learning, and I think it is a good opportunity for other businesses to learn too.

The fact is I do not care how well loved your brand may be, there will become a time where you too have to deal with a similar scenario.  These two examples represent two of the three most common types.

  1. Employee Mistake
  2. Customer Treatment
  3. Relationship with One or More Community Groups

Each of these can be very difficult to deal with and in some cases may be caused by things outside the companies control.  Often times you will hear people say the best approach is being open and transparent on the topic, respond immediately.  This can work sometimes but I urge some caution.  First know your brand, your Customer and how the issue is percieved.  Will your response be trusted?  For many brands it may not be.  The Progressive situation is one we can learn from.  Another one that is similar involves Aetna and their tweeting CEO.  Here is an article on Washington Post.  In traditional media business often make exceptions to business practices, like the Aetna example, or quickly move to settle, as happened with Progressive.  The challenge to doing this in social media is it sends a message to the world that you can disagree with a policy but if you are loud against the brand we will make an exception.  I should point out that in the Progressive situation, I would expect that type of lawsuit would at some point lead to settlement, but the timing is what can be challenging.

In the Kitchen Aid situation they immediately tweeted the apology.  They also responded via Twitter to reporters writing articles.  I saw one comment that they should be responding to everyone.  That is not always feasible or appropriate in my view.  Certainly placing it out there for everyone to see does help.  Lets face facts that stuff happens and people make mistakes.  That is the gist of this situation. I applaud Kitchen Aid for the speed at which they apologized and offered to have interviews with press.  I could be wrong, but as an outsider looking in, it looks to me like they have done a key component to dealing with situations like this.  It looks like they practiced and knew the approach they would take.  So here is some advice I would provide to any business regarding dealing with a social crisis:

  1. Practice - Practive a variety of scenarios in an effort to know how you would respond and clarify the roles and responsibilities.  Speed can be imperative as highlighted in the Kitchen Aid example.
  2. Know Your Customer - Often we focus on the loud aspects of the internet, but is the topic important to your Customer or not?  Is the discussion something that would sway their view of the brand?
  3. Do You Have Anything to Say that would Add Value? Would Your Response be Trusted - Often times brands are not trusted and a response could be better from someone within the community instead of the company.  The Progressive situation is a possible example.  There initial response stated that it was a tragic case and sympathies to the family and that they were not reprenting the defendant.  I am not sure the response added value, but this is a difficult situation.  Not much can be said without a full legal review.  In this case it may have been better to await others within the community to start talking about it, especially lawyers from MD who can speak to the law in question.  The ideal scenario is not the companies lawyers, but others who have nothing to lose.  This tends to happen because members of the online community do like the ability to show how knowledgable they can be.  Of course this does not always happen, but in this case I did see it start to come up late in the day, but then the conversation changed to be about the response as opposed to the issue.  Another great example of this is the #NBCFail during the Olympics.  Here is an L.A. Times article on that topic.  If you watched social media, the topic of NBC failures was everywhere, but as a business, the games were among the highest in ratings, the ultimate measurement for an ad run business.  Here is an article from CNN on the topic.
  4. Respond in a Human Way - Often PR departments handle situations like these with a sterile press release, which is often translated by reporters or placed in better context.  When speaking in social media, it is imperative that you speak to the audience in a way they are most comfortable with.
  5. What Message are you Sending to the World?- This is can easily be forgotten, but I always urge caution regarding the message you may be sending to other Customers, employees or shareholders.  Oftentimes there is a subtle message, such as “if you take to social media, we will make an exception.” These interpretations of messages can be worse than the original incident

I hope these help you and your organization deal with crisis.  Never look down upon how any organization handles a crisis, but definitely strive to take something out of each situation.  Unfortunately I expect these situations to grow dramatically over the next 2 to 5 years.  Here is a post Radian 6 put together with some well handled social crisis situations.

Redefining Relevance in a Social World

Posted on : 03-10-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on October 3, 2012.  To see the original post click here.

Today I will be speaking with Linkedin’s Dan Roth as part of AdWeek.  We will be chatting about redefining relevance in a social world.  What a great topic for what has been going on within the social media space.

Throughout the history of business we have seen many businesses struggle with maintaining relevance, but isn’t that just part of human nature? There is a comfort level we sometimes have with the status quo.  We also are naturally proud of a direction we chose and shifting direction is sometimes perceived as being wrong.  We never like being wrong.  Of course facts change, so shifting gears is simply evolving but how do we go about making the right decisions?

I am looking forward to seeing Dan again.  We had the opportunity to see each other a few months back at a LinkedIn event.  That event was not the first time we had the chance to interact.   We first met back in 2008 as Dan was writing a wired piece called “The Dark Lord of Broadband. Dan has done an amazing job redefining himself during his career, and today he is Executive Editor for LinkedIn.  Speaking of LinkedIn, yesterday they too evolved their user experience.  I have always found LinkedIn Today to be a tremendous source of relevant news, now LinkedIn is trying to offer a new means to find relevant information.  I have followed many of the news sources and I have been loving the content within my feed, and that was just the first day.  I look forward to this evolving further.

As I look at the business world and social media, I have watched similar evolution.  A few years back for a business to win in social media it took a new, unique app or different approach through one of the social networks.  Today businesses are finding it more and more difficult to be noticed through all the noise.  As I listen to the discussion, I have heard a shift by businesses toward content.  You have heard the expression, “content is king.”  I think content is imperative especially if it is properly geared toward your audience.  That being said, the noise level will continue to make that hard to be noticed.  Too much choice can sometimes make people choose nothing. Can this happen with too much content? Who do we trust?

This question of trust becomes an interesting question.  Do we trust information from businesses or do we trust people further? When I look at some of the first efforts in social media by businesses, people within the space built connections to many brands. But was it really the brands?  Often it was the people behind the brand that built that trust.  It was blurring the lines between personal and professional.  I can’t help to think about this in relevance to the changes at LinkedIn.  I am sure some businesses would be nervous about the professional side of an individual and their writing reflecting on the brand.  Often companies have rules about their employees talking.  In my view this is one of the greatest means for maintaining relevance in a social world.  What a great means to build trust in a world redefine by social media.  This is all part of the redefining relevance. As the social world shifts more to being about people, how will your brand deal with that?

As you explore the new content I expect you will find new people to trust and learn a great deal to help evolve your business.  One of those examples came to me yesterday as I was thinking about this topic.  Richard Branson wrote a post Five Top Tips to Starting a Successful Business.  The post outlines steps for an entrepenuer to build a successful business, but they are also a great way to redefine a business.  Here are his 5 tips:

  1. Listen More than Talk
  2. Keep it Simple
  3. Take Pride in your Work
  4. Have Fun and Success will Follow
  5. Rip it up and Start Again

If you want to redefine business, follow these tips! Thank you Richard for these.  I think we all have the ability to be a bit entrepenuerial and drive the next phase of our business.