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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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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.

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.

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?

If You Do Not Know Me By Now…

Posted on : 05-11-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service, Marketing, Social Media, Technology

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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of their influencer program on November 5, 2012.  To see the original post click here.

I can’t seem to get the song ‘You Don’t Know Me By Now” out of my head lately.   I am writing this in New Jersey shortly after Hurricane Sandy caused widespread destruction and has wreaked havoc for many of the great people within the New York/New Jersey community.   I am proud to watch the community come together and bring back a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible.  I have also seen an amazing outpouring of support from many people especially via social media.  In some ways this has emphasized some of the great strengths that social media has.  The ability to connect people is amazing.

As the song goes on to say, “If you do not know me by now, you will never, never know me.”  This is so true of most companies I have seen during this crisis.  Each day I received spam emails telling me how great products were, but the reality is I do not care about your product.  I had more pressing things going on in life, such as the quest to have electric or help my fellow community members recover.  The companies already had enough information to make this judgment but oftentimes chose to ignore it because they felt their marketing information was too powerful to ignore, or they felt I would just ignore it if I were not interested.  Well I will not be ignoring it, but I will not be buying the product as well.  It was a message to me how these companies do not care about me, so I will not care about them.  Of course some companies did a better job.  Surprisingly I saw some of the best understanding from companies we often love to hate, such as banks, cable companies, and at least one utility company (there is another that I would leave on the bad list but that will be a conversation for another day).

This song has so many words that correlate to all types of relationships, especially the connection that we are seeing between businesses and Consumers in a socially connected world.  If you watch social conversations as much as I do, you have noticed that often Consumers, at times, are very negative toward brands.  Well “We’ve all got our funny moods” and this is a reflection of that.  Often this negativity is a reflection of that.  Always remember that the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy.  This negativity exists because your Customers want you to see success.  The key is that they want the relationship to go both ways.  As the song says, “Just trust in me like I trust in you.”  Unfortunately this is not always part of our message to our Customer.  We like to dictate to them instead of inviting them to be a part of something special.

We often look toward social as a way to get our message out, but in reality our message is meaningless.  We send messages all the time to our Customers, and in social they can take the message to their audience.  Winning within social is simply reflecting your message through all touch points and then allowing your Customers to take that message to the broader public.  The challenge is that we have not always lived up to our end of the bargain, such as marketing messages that did not reflect the actual Customer experience.  Many companies like to say how great their Customer service is when in reality, at least when we need them, it is horrible.  Now is the time to change that.

In my book @YourService, I also talk about “Scalable Intimacy,” which in my mind is more pertinent than ever.  Throughout the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, anyone could have followed what I stated in social media, and they could have easily known what was important to me, yet no company was able to correlate that to their marketing messages.  It is really sad, especially because we have discussed the importance of listening in social for years, yet very few brands actually do it well.

So my message to businesses looking to bring social to scale, which can also be found in the song:, is as follows “Just get yourself together or might as well say goodbye.  What good is a love affair when you can’t see eye to eye.”

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.

The Good Ole Boys of Spirit Airlines

Posted on : 05-05-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Leadership, Marketing, Social Media

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The past few weeks have been fascinating for me, watching Spirit Airlines and the latest Customer blow up to take over the internet.  In my book, @YourService, I talk about Customer gaining more and more control over your brand.  Ever since the days of Dell Hell & Comcast Must Die, Customers have been realizing this new found power.  Some of my favorite blow ups over the past year have been the Bank of America debit card fee fiasco, Netflix/Qwikster, and the Verizon payment fee.  Each of these examples are learning opportunities for businesses.  Spirit Airlines offers probably the greatest learning of them all.  So let’s take a quick look at each one.

  • Bank of America Debit Card Fee Fiasco – Timing is everything, and for BoA the timing was simply horrible.  At the time banks were viewed at an all time low.  The overwhelming opinion was they were money grubbing institutions that did not care for their Customers at all.  As you probably are also aware, government regulations on fees, and very low interest rates were making it difficult for banks to increase profitability while maintaining proper reserves.  Therefore banks started looking for new ways to make up the lost revenue.  Debit card fees made sense to many, since much of the fees lost were related to debit card purchases.  BoA should have done more Consumer research before introducing the possibility of such a fee.  They would have found that this particular fee very much angered their Customers, and Customers of other banks because they fear all banks would follow suit.  Bank of America should have also talked more openly about the impact regulations would have on the bank and in particular, Customers.  The challenge is the general population does not understand how banks make money, and the impact changes may cause.  Stated simply banks were not trusted.  The worst part about BoA handling of this situation was they defended it extensively, which pitted the company against their Customers.  Brian Moynihan, CEO of BoA even stated during the fiasco, that they have an “inherent right” to a “certain amount of profit.”  The fact is this showed the general population that the leader was out of touch with Customers and potential Customers.
  • Netflix/Qwikster – I am a Netflix streaming Customer, and love it!  I should say my kids love it (I do not get to watch my shows often).  Netflix to many has seemed like the savior for continually increasing cable bills, and the best part is that it was cheap!  You could easily use their streaming service and DVD by mail service at a very low rate of $9.99 a month.  In July of 2011 the company announced they were changing the plans.  Basically they were separating out the DVD by mail service and streaming.  For Customers who continue to use both, the rate would go up to $15.98 a month.  Given the cost to process items by mail as well as increased licensing cost for programming, this new rate could be justified.  It would also guide more people to streaming which certainly is cheaper for the company to process.  Of course that is not how the Customer viewed this change.  Customers saw a company they viewed as different then the cable company, increasing fees at an even higher percentage than the cable company.  Netflix immediately went from trusted disruptor to untrusted money grubber, just like cable.  In September Netflix announced that their intention with the fee hike was to separate the DVD by mail business from streaming and create a separate entity called Qwikster for DVD’s.  Netflix would just be streaming.  This set off a whole new firestorm.  Netflix failed to estimate the ramifications this would have for Customers and the way they shopped for their entertainment.  Needless to say a month later Netflix backed down on the Qwikster idea, but the fees stayed at $15.98 a month. After losing subscribers, Netflix is growing again, but through this, the trust level is not the same as it once was.
  • Verizon Payment Fee – Often companies try to send bad news out during slow news cycles, such as weekend or holiday weeks.  On December 29 Verizon issues a press release “Customers Encouraged to Use Options to Avoid Single Payment Fee That Starts Jan. 15.”  Besides being bad spin, the press release outlined a new $2 convenience fee for making payments.  Within 24 hours the net was filled with discussion about the fee.  The next day Verizon came back to reinforce the decision on the fee and clarify that the online chatter will not change their mind.  Of course the FCC was listening to the online chatter too! By 3:00 in the afternoon the FCC stated they would investigate the fee.  Almost immediately after that announcement, Verizon changed their mind regarding the fee.

These incidents prove that Customers are forcing change in companies!  The most recent incident involves the spunky good ole boys of Spirit Airlines.  I was shocked to notice that the company’s board of directors and leadership team appear to be all men.  Of course that has nothing to do with it, but maybe their lack of diversity and thought process is part of their problem.  That is not for me to decide, but certainly others can form their own view.  Spirit airlines has never shied away from controversy.  Over the years they have been accused misleading advertising, including this incident involving tweets, inappropriate advertising like the ‘threesome fares’ and ‘M.I.L.F Sale’ (no wonder women do not appear to be part of the company’s leadership or board!), and they even tried to spin government disclosure requirements to be about hiding taxes.  This ‘Animal House’ of airlines has been making a name for themselves in recent years, including making a nice profit thanks to add on fees, but I know it is a reputation I would never want to be part of.

As I discuss in my book @YourService, social media simply highlights the culture of the company that already exists.  In this case social media is highlighting the frat house style culture of this airline.  Over the years they have tried to spin it that they are ‘Customer friendly,’ including going on how carry on fees are a Customer benefit.  Spin is never a good approach, but it still shows you for who you are, because Customers are smart and can easily see through it.  There are two major issues impacting the brand over the past few weeks.  The major incident involves 76 year old, Vietnam vet, Jerry Meekins who is dying of esophageal cancer.  He no longer was permitted to fly by doctor’s order, and he requested a refund.  The airline responded that they would not be able to refund the money because he did not purchase the $14 insurance.  This is not the first incident like this, as you can see from this Consumerist post.  Of course this heartless approach does not fit with the spin they have historically provided indicating they are a Customer friendly airline.  Remember social media, simply displays the culture of your brand!  Spin no longer matters.  The company had numerous opportunities to quietly make an exception, and we would have never heard about Mr. Meekins, but the company decided to take the hardline approach.  As word spread regarding Mr. Meekins, the social media in conjunction with traditional media started to heat up about Spirit Airlines.  The company continued with their posture.  In fact CEO Ben Baldanza called into Fox News to discuss this.  Of course Fox brought up the fact that Spirit Airlines is leading, by more than double, in Customer complaints to the US Department of Transportation.  Mr. Baldanza was not horrified by this fact, but simply spun this further to indicate most Customers were happy.  I have never met a CEO that would not be horrified to be leading in complaints.  I agree number of complaints does not mean anything, unless you understand the details of those complaints.  It is still indicative that this airline is not living up to the spin they would like us to believe.  In my view, it showed that Mr. Baldanza is completely out of touch.

There are a few approaches you can take when dealing with incidents like this.  You can either try to quietly handle it (make it go away as I like to say) or you can be firm in your approach.  It would appear that the later was the direction Spirit wanted to take.  If you are going that direction, it is imperative that you explain why and clearly outline the benefit to all your Customers.  As an example, Spirit could have said that we strive to be the low cost airline, and to that effort we would not be able to make exceptions to this but we would like to find solutions, such as transfer the ticket to Mr. Meekins daughter so she could visit.  The next options could have been, once it reached the CEO and the publicity, Mr. Baldanza could have offered to refund the money out of his own pocket.  This way it would not be changing the rules but would have still made him out to be the good guy.  Spirit did not take any of these approaches.  Instead they took the hardline approach, but 24 hours after the Fox News piece, Mr. Baldanza issues a statement that they would now refund the money as well as donate to a cause close to Mr. Meekins.  Backing down, after the CEO took such a hardline stand in a public form, was probably not the right choice.  The negative brand hit was already there and this new gesture would not change that.  Of course it does reemphasize that we are now in an @YourService world!  This experience, which started as a simple Customer Service call, will be very altering for Spirit Airlines, and I would expect many dramatic changes over the course of the next year, including in the CEO position.  The Good ole boys may be moving out of the frat house!

This is not the only incident going on with Spirit Airline right now.  The social web is also enraged over a fare increase changing carry on bags to $100.  So even resolving the issue for Mr. Meekins does not change the discussion of the fee change.  Spirit has been a leader in the airline industry, at least when implementing new fees.  They led the way in checked baggage fees, boarding pass printing fees, carry on fees, and others.  They have not led the way regarding proper disclosure of fees.   I would guess this is one of the reasons for complaints regarding the airline.  It is also the reason they are not trusted at all, and these incidents will not help build that trust.  Any increase in fees will create a backlash in social media, but the key is how you discuss them.  Will fares go down due to the cost structure shift or service go up?  Spirit could have had good talking points if done properly.  In fact, I do believe they have seen fares go down, while fees went up.  They need to first embrace what they want to be.  If that is being the lowest cost provider, then fully embrace it with no spin.  They need to outline their fares compared to full service competitors in an open way.  So show fare, with carry on (paid online at time of ticket purchase) compared to multiple competitors for the same flight.  Then also show the same comparison with different options, such as paying for carry on at the time of boarding.  Spirit Airlines has failed to partner with their Customer to create the right experience for both the Customer and the company.  As complaint data indicates the company may be making a short term profit, but at the rate they are going, they will not be in business soon, unless they have dramatic changes.  These blow ups in social and traditional media do tend to force dramatic change, and I expect that will happen here.  Best of luck Spirit and Mr. Baldanza!

The Good Ole Boys of Spirit Airline!

Board of Directors (found here on the Spirit Airlines website)

Bill Franke, Chairman – Managing Partner of Indigo Private Equity, NewBridge Private Equity

Ben Baldanza, President & CEO – Spirit Airlines

David Elkins – Retired President & Co-CEO of Sterling Chemicals

H. McIntyre Gardner – Retired Head of Americas Region & Global Back Group, Global Private Client for Merrill Lynch

Robert Johnson – Retired CEO of Dubai Aerospace Enterprise

Barclay Jones III – Executive Vice President of Investments for iStar Financial Inc

Jordan Kruse – Managing Director Oaktree Capital Management

Stuart Oran – Managing Member of Roxbury Capital Group, former senior executive at United Airlines

Horacia Scapparone – CEO Bristol Group

John Wilson – Principal of Indigo Group

Management Team (found here on the Spirit Airlines website)

Ben Baldanza, President & CEO

Barry Biffle, Executive VP & CMO

Thomas Canfield, Senior VP & General Counsel

Ted Christie, Senior VP & CFO

Tony Lefebvre, Senior VP & COO

Jim Lynde, Senior VP Human Resources

Guy Borowski, VP Technical Operations

Jake Filene, VP Airport Services

Joseph Houghton, VP Flight Operations

Craig Maccubbin, VP & CIO

Edmundo Miranda, VP & Controller

Graham Parker, VP Pricing & Revenue Management

Charlie Rue, VP Financial Planning

Do You Build the Right Messages for Your Customers?

Posted on : 18-01-2012 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Customer Service, Uncategorized

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I had a great experience returning an item to Lowes last week. The cashier made if fast and was very friendly. She even noticed, without me saying, the color difference which was the reason for the return. Even with that great experience I left with a different message and it is something that can help other companies too. Like many retailers, the service desk is located by the front of the store. It is fairly open area, so it is easy for Customers to see behind the counter. I am always fascinated by hand written signs behind service counters. They usually are something about the policy. In this particular location the sign was signed by the Loss Prevention department, so of course, I had to read it! I did take a picture but it was too blurry to share. Basically the message was to the service team. It was a reminder of a policy about Customer or employees trying to exit through the entrance. I immediately thought about all the times I exited through the entrance. 9 times out of 10 it was because I forgot something in the car. No the 1 out of 10 was not theft! It was because they did not have what I was looking for so I was leaving. Anyway the sign tell the service personnel if anyone tries to exit through that door, you are to immediately stop what you are doing, including helping other Customers and confront the person using the wrong exit and guide them to the other exit by the cash registers.

I should be clear that I understand the need for loss prevention, and years ago even did it. There are benefits for Customers in keeping costs low. That being said, telling a service agent to break away from the Customer they are helping to help the loss prevention team, is ridiculous. It is not the Customers fault that the loss prevention team is not able to watch the door properly. I also do not think it is a good practice to dictate what doors a Customer must use.

In this new world of @YourService it is important to know the message you are sending to your own employees and Customers. Their interactions are what define your brand. This handwritten memo is an example of this message. Have you seen message like this? As a Customer how do they make you feel?