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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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January 24 Celebrates the Original Social Customer Advocates

Posted on : 20-12-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Social Media

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Many think of social Customer Service as starting with Twitter, but that is far from the start.  In the early days of the net, news groups started as a place for like minded people to discuss products, technology, or other items they were passionate about.  Over time these gave way to forums and email groups.  As companies started to embrace these new forms of communication, a new role emerged, the Community Manager.  Today this person may have many more hats, including social strategist, Customer advocate, PR person, marketer, punching bag and a few other names used internally and externally.  The role does not always have a place to reside, or sometimes it is not even recognized at all, yet it is one of the most important roles in the company.

Today in social media we hear about influencers, advocates and other terms to recognize people who are important to the brand.  These advocates are usually built not by connection to the brand, but rather a crusader who took on this role of community manager.  I am proud to be a community manager and a team at Citi as well as my former team at Comcast who each day strive to live up to the expectations the community they serve.  One of the most well loved community managers is Jeremiah Owyang.   The community has shifted from newsgroups, and in some cases forums, to new places like Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Foursquare, blogs, etc.  These are all places where the community manager thrives to learn and engage their Customer.  Although Jeremiah likes to say social service does not scale, he is one of the people who proved how important it is to a company through his prior work as a Community Manager.  We tease each other back and forth about the scale issue, but ultimately we both agree it is imperative for organizations to improve service through all communications channels to help build these Customer advocates.  We know, just like all community managers, it is extraordinarily tough to be a good community manager when a company is not living up to expectations of the Customer.

As a community manager, if you are doing your job well, you are not always the most like internally because you are bringing the community view to the people who make the decisions.  You are servicing as their advocate.  Externally you are striving to keep the peace between top people in the social space you are serving.  Sometimes you are trying to explain the company line even when it is not the popular choice.  There are days you have PR teams and other business leaders against you because you spoke honestly about a situation that was happening live.  The community was thrilled with your performance but others could not understand you were only acknowledging what was already well known.  The trouble is product owners are very proud of their product and they never want to see any bad light shed upon it.  They do not always view things with a Customer lens, as a community manager must do.

In January, 2010 Jeremiah started the annual Community Manager Appreciation Day.  You can read his original post here or the announcement of the 2011 recognition day here.  This year the celebration will be January 24, 2011.  Please use the day to recognize community managers who build your company’s strongest advocates or recognize community managers who have served you.  For me, I plan to recognize my Citi and Comcast teams, Becky Carroll from Verizon’s forums, the Consumerist team, broadband reports forum leaders, Mac Rumors forum leaders, the HP community leaders and of course my friends at RIM (Blackberry).  Who do you plan to recognize?

I have a great piece of real estate to sell you….

Posted on : 22-11-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Marketing, Social Media

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Throughout time we have seen irrational exuberance (As former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan once stated).  You can easily look back to the gold rush, numerous times in the stock market, real estate a few years ago, gold and bonds today.  Can social media being seeing similar irrational exuberance?

This has been a thought I have had for some time.  I have been watching and talking to numerous businesses over the years but I have seen a shift in their emotions from a little fearful to today where I worry many businesses are being taken advantage of.  What has changed?  Many companies have started in social and realized it is not as fearful as they once thought so now they want to take advantage of the space and make real money from it.  Also because there is much interest from the C-suite, many people in business want to prove how smart they are.  I also think there is some blame that goes to many ad agencies and PR firms who are selling social to firms without providing the insight necessary.

Recently Jeremiah Owyang and the Altimeter Group put out a new report about the Social Media Strategist role.  I highly recommend reviewing it.  It provides a little insight into the difficulties of the role.  Many times you are dealing with this irrational exhuberence throughout different silo’s within the company.  Putting out the fire for every person that want to create that next Facebook page or create that ‘viral’ marketing campaign.  C.C. Chapman put out a post on Friday after hearing a preview on the Today Show stating:  “Our most ambitious viral video ever coming up this half hour.” I did not get the chance to see the show, but with that quote alone I know they did not understand social.  Make sure you check out his post and when you have time read his new book Content Rules (it is co-authored with David Meerman Scottand friend Ann Handley, @Marketingprofs).  If you want to create something viral, first rule is you do not decide what goes viral, your audience does.  It is also important to offer something that is unique (first wins in social) and finally it really should offer something to the viewer or others and not focus as much on the brand.  They also tend to be fun.  A few good examples are the Swagger Wagon videos by Toyota, Blendtech: Will it blend, Old Spice Guy.  So next time your marketing, PR firm, or internal employee talks about creating the next viral campaign, I urge caution.  If you are in a position where someone asks you to create one, it is very important that you educate the people asking.  Are you sure you want to be the social strategist?

Even the best laid out ideas can easily fail.  The question is how much risk does the organization want to take?  What is the appetite for risk and failure?  How connected are they to their Customers? 

Beyond the viral marketing angle, I have other concerns I have noticed increasing in the past few years.  I have seem a large interest in engaging ‘influencers’ with the belief this will make the message grow.  First there is a myth when it comes to this term.  First I believe many organizations by the way they have engaged people have created poor expectations with this group by treating them differently.  I highly recommend treating them as any other Customer.  Special treatment creates further expectation of special treatment.  This is not sustainable.  This is a topic I can discuss forever, but my focus was influencers do not create viral actions, good content is what creates it.  Many of you know of a famous video from my prior employer with a sleep technician.  Did you know that it was posted by someone with only 2 videos posted?  That became a huge brand influencer.  What has made many people rise to the ranks to be considered an influencer has been strong content.  If you want your brand to rise up, provide strong content, great Customer experience and the best products.  This will create the viral effect you want.

Finally I have a fear that some companies are putting too much money toward a variety of social efforts with unreal expectations, or because they simply do not know better.  This is being caused by social strategists, PR and marketing firms alike.  They are asking for large number of employees for tasks that could be done by a few, or large dollars for campaigns that do not go anywhere, etc.  For those of us who believe social is a key communications tool of the future, and in many cases now, it is imperative that we set the right goals, and create the right expectations.  This helps us all by creating trust and showing the right business acumen to ensure long term success.  There are many PR/marketing firms who have done very well for the companies they serve, including companies like Edelman, Weber Shandwick and many others.  I also have the utmost respect for anyone who has the Social Strategist role, because as you can tell from this post, it is not easy.

Who is a Leader?

Posted on : 19-11-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media

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I apologize for not posting for a while.  With my recent job transition I have been taking a lot in and continuing on my personal path of learning and growing in my career.  I promise you that I have been thinking of many posts that I want to share and discussion I would like to have with my readers on topics from Customer Service, social media, marketing, and leadership.  Hopefully you will see many more of these posts in the coming weeks, and I hope many of you take part in the conversation.

As many of you know I tend to be very opinionated on a variety of topics.  Most of these opinions have been built over time by listening to others, reading and trying to think through various topics of interest.  At the same time I love alternative views because they add to the learning experience.  At the same time I am never afraid to be a lone person on a topic, even if it is not a popular position within the discussion.  As an example I always see the debate who should own social media.  The two areas discussed are PR and marketing.  Of course now I work in marketing, so I should probably take that side of the debate, but instead I like to point out that the Customer is the one who really owns the discussion regarding a brand in social media, so why not Customer Service?  They are the most suited for the discussions with Customers.  At the same time, I think it really needs to reside throughout the organization, especially since many employees are already taking part in the conversation, no matter what your company policy may say.  But this takes me to the point of this post.  Over the years I have read many books on leadership and other business related topics.  Many of the books are from the most respected people in the business world.  I have always had (and still do) the utmost respect for these business leaders, but as I grow I wonder how many were truly leaders vs great business people?  I do not see anything wrong with being a great business person.  That means they had a phenomenal career and did well for their shareholders and employees (in most cases).

I have always had a fascination with Jack Welch, who many consider a leader who not only brought great profits to GE shareholders, but has also been emulated by many other business people.  According to Wikipedia, he also teaches leadership to select MBA students at MIT.  But was Jack truly a leader or a successful business person?  This is a point that can be debated for days.  On the leadership side he was relentless in cutting costs, driving units to be 1 or 2 in their business, and he grew GE from a $14 billion dollar company to $410 billion dollar company.  In the mid 1990′s he brought Six Sigma to GE from Motorola and made it a basis for reducing more costs.  In his book “Straight from the Gut” he has a chapter called “The People Factory.”  In this chapter he outlines his belief regarding forced rankings, and how imperative it is to cut the bottom 10% every year.  In other parts of the book he also outlines his belief regarding professional development and bringing in the top talent.  He created the famous training facilities on the GE campus.  I used to be blown away by his success and what I perceived as leadership.  Six Sigma became popular through business culture for over 10 years due to Jack.  But today as I look back I wonder how much of this was leadership?  Six Sigma was simply following.  Who does not want to be number 1 or 2 in the business they are in?  Rankings and cutting the bottom 10% seems easy and not that uncommon?  At the same time the reason why rankings, and curves became popular was because it is always easier for managers to rate people higher, even when it is not deserved.  That was the point behind his chapter.  At the same time the trouble I have always seen with Six Sigma is people used data that made sense to the point they wanted to make, even if there was conflicting data elsewhere.  Anybody who has worked with forced rankings have seen ways that it’s manipulated (oh this person quit, so now we will rank them low so we can bring up someone else).   As I look at GE after Jack has left I have seen an NBC unit that has not performed as well, and a culture that was simply broken.  The competitive nature made it hard to get things done, and the organization ran on fear.  Jeff Immelt, the current CEO, in my opinion has done a great job, but much of the early years were spent making the organization more nimble and creating a culture that is innovative, more nimble and more team oriented.  I recommend reading more about Jeff and the post Jack period in this 2005 Business Week Article “The Immelt Revolution.”  History will decide the leadership of Jack, but it is an interesting discussion on what leadership has been and what it will look like in the future.

So that was enough about Jack!  Now let’s take a look at a few people who I believe truly meet the definition of leader:

Jack Bogle is the founder of the Vanguard Group, but many do not know the details of this company.  As you may know Vanguard Group is a financial services company that is mainly focused on mutual funds.  What you may not know is the company is actually owned by the funds it operates, which is very unique and is the reason they have had such a focus on the Customer.  It did not come about in a usual way.  Jack was chairman of Wellington Management company when he was fired.  What you may not realize is most funds have their own board.  He convinced the board of the funds to allow him to create a company to service the fund for low cost.  The fund’s board followed him and now Vanguard offers some of the lowest expenses in the business thanks to this new ownership structure.  It was outside the box, and in many ways permanently changed the mutual fund business.  Expenses continue to be driven down around the industry thanks to Jack.

Steve Jobs has to be on this list, no matter how you may feel about him or Apple.  Steve does not follow anyone, but instead works of instinct as to what Customers want, whether they realize it or not.  There is a lot of risk in leading the way, but the reward, as Apple has seen, can be great.  Apple was not the first computer, phone, mp3 player or touch device, but each device was designed in a way that was and continues to be a game changer.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett under any definition have been great leaders in business, but I am more fascinated by the work they have been doing to lead others in giving back to society and the world.  They are leading their peer group and much of it is by example.

The reason leadership is so fascinating to me is I see a change being caused by social media in business.  This will cause new leaders to arise, and many we have seen already.  Because this form of communication is so new, we really do not know what will happen in the coming years, but many of us are connecting the dots and taking our positions.  As we look back we will see many who were true leaders who use this technology to drive change.  Many, like me, see large changes in organizations which will bring a new focus on the Customer and the employee.  We see greater efficiencies, sales opportunities, and many other facets that social media can bring.  None of us know truly what will happen, or when our thoughts will come to fruition.  We are willing to take the risk and enter the debate.  Whether you agree with someone or not, they are showing leadership in their willingness to take the risk.  History will judge where the leadership is.  I think history can already declare the following as true leaders:

Cluetrain Manifesto was written by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger was written in 2000, well ahead of time but their thoughts were on target.

Brian Solis has been talking about the impact social media will have on business well before many of us even knew what social media was.  His insights have been coming true for a long time and this has made him one of the most respected people in social and in business itself.

Chris Brogan has made a career out of teaching us how to effectively use social media.  He has taught us how to best speak in the space, understand the marketing benefits and connect with each other.  Chris is one of the most giving people I have ever met.

Tony Hsieh and Zappos have  shown us the importance of running a business with the right culture in this new world.  What some may refer to as an experiment, is a successful business model that will tried to be emulated by others in the coming years.  Reading Tony’s book Delivering Happiness provides insight into this model, but beyond that interacting with anyone from Zappos shows what it is all about.

I can go on forever speaking about people like Paul Greenberg, Scott Monty, David Armano and so many others.  My point is social media is filled with leaders, and no matter what, it pays to at least listen to many views.  We all can learn from each other and maybe some day we will be viewed as the leaders.

A View of Social Media from a TV Guy

Posted on : 19-07-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Social Media

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While reading Wall Street Journals “Social Media Draws a Crowd” this morning I was inspired to write a post that has been on my mind. The basics of the article point out facts that many of us already know. First social media is fashionable, not unlike the characters in HBO’s Sex in the City. It is currently the buzz of the marketing town. In addition to being perceived as sexy by companies, marketers, and especially the social media “experts.” This is a dangerous perception.  My favorite line in the article was:

“You can’t walk out your house without bumping into a social-media expert today, says Sean Corcoran, an analyst at Forrester Research. The reality is the space is still very much a Wild West.”

Many social media “experts” remind me of Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame. They awkwardly guide people in directions that may not be productive. In some cases they are very adamant on their view, even if it is proven wrong. Prior to todays article, I had a few encounters that prompted this post. The first was a presentation by a marketer proclaiming that social media was the biggest win for marketing. He even went so far as to state that it would mean the end of corporate communications departments. Although this shortsighted view is to be expected from Larry Davids character, it is also prevalent with some social media “experts.”  I am sorry but all departments are key to success. The other day I saw a blog post by a social media “expert” who is part of the digital strategy team for a major PR agency. In the post he declared “Facebook is Now a Corporate Necessity,” ending with “the question is no longer why should companies and organizations be on Facebook, but when are they going to launch their Facebook pages.” Definitive statements regarding social media are dangerous because the space is changing each and every day. I guess he never heard of the Nestle/Greenpeace experience.  If the post did not emphasize being part of Facebook and instead made the emphasis listening, I may have agreed more. Some of these “experts” remind me of a standup routine on the Larry Sanders show.

As Sean Corcoran noted, it is still the wild, wild, west when it comes to social media. Just like Deadwood, there are con artists willing to sell you lots of land loaded with gold at every corner. For just a small investment, you too will be rich from the gold in social media. Unfortunately as they are telling you this, they are smirking behind your back at the real money they are taking from you. This is not to say all experts are bad, they are not. Many are competent and well respected.  Just like hiring other experts, I would advise seeking recommendations and reviewing prior experiences.  In addition to learning who they have worked with, ask to speak directly with the companies.  Some experts may claim that they have worked with top companies, yet this will fall through as you ask specifics. Just like recommendations for TV programs, social media recommendations from those we trust are golden.

As marketers want to get the most out of social media, I would first recommend listening.  Listen thoroughly, just like Gina from In Treatment. There is another key point that is often misunderstood. Many spaces in social media are owned by the Customer/prospective Customer.  It is their right to turn you on or off and they will!  Just like a vampire on True Blood, who must be invited into a humans home, in some spaces you need a similar invitation to fully take part. If you are not invited in, the space may not be right for you yet or you may not have the right plan. When I think of Big Love, it is apparent that the wives do not always get along, yet they seem to be there for each other. The same is true with your spouses in different parts of your organization, such as marketing, Customer Service, PR, and HR. It is key to involve them, even if you do not always agree. In the end you will get value from each other.

If you feel like Tony Soprano is holding a gun to you forcing you to participate in social media, first think through all these HBO shows, and what you have learned .  Isn’t it funny how HBO shows can imitate life!

Editor’s Note: I apologize for not blogging for a while.  As I noted on the Comcast Voices blog, I am moving on to new challenges.  In upcoming posts here and on the Social Customer, I will be sharing some of what has been going through my mind, the experience and other thoughts.   I missed everyone, but this post is to let you know I am back!

Apple Store Employees Create a Raving Fan

Posted on : 28-05-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service

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It is not about being a Mac person or a Windows person. I know there are many personal preferences to that debate, but our decisions are based a lot on our history. This post is not about swaying you toward Apple or any other product. It is about services and what that does to long term value that it creates. My first Apple experience was with the Apple shore within the Comp USA store in 2002. I purchased my first iMac. This was not for regular use, but really a means to test websites using it. I did not start using it on a regular basis for a number of years after. After going through a number of Windows based machines, I did not want to purchase another computer, so I brought the Mac to the main place in our house where I use the computer. With this I began to get used to the Mac. The one thing I realized was it was still in perfect condition even as the years went on. Eventually I purchased a newer iMac and upgraded to a new one this year. Besides the iMacs (which are all still around, and working well), I purchased a Macbook for for when I am not at home. At work I also have an iMac and my work phone is an iPhone. All this is well and good, but it is not the software or hardware that develops a raving fan such as myself.

I have had a few incidents where I visited the Apple store. Each time I have found myself having a wow moment. This is the type of service most companies want to have, but very few are able to achieve it. Well Apple Store has in multiple locations (King of Prussia and Ardmore, PA). My first time was about a 1 1/2 years ago. My work iPhone was broken since the day it was delivered to me. The power button on the top of it did not work. The phone was not registered in my name, but the name of the company I worked for. They did not care about that at all. I showed no documentation. I told them what the problem was, he looked at it and immediately gave me a new phone and told me how to restore it. It was that easy. My next wow moment was when I decided to upgrade my iMac earlier this year. I went to the Apple store, not due to prior service, but I knew they would have the model in stock. It was a busy Saturday at the Apple store in King of Prussia. I loved the way they handled these sales, although at the time I was frustrated by the wait, since I knew what I wanted and just wanted to pick it up. When the sales person came over, he turned my frustration completely around, and he did not even know I was frustrated. He did it in a simplistic manner. He was having small talk as we were doing the order. This lead to me telling him how I preferred the larger keyboard. His reaction was to throw it in. I did not expect it, but I was very appreciative. He also included some other items, and even talked me out of a more expensive accessory I was thinking about. To top it all off he even realized I worked for Comcast and proactively added a discount available to our employees (I did not even know about that). All this was done in minutes. I did also find it cool that he did the entire transaction on his iPhone or iPod Touch. He even emailed the receipt instead of printing and I was ready to go.

Since that time I had a few more visits to the Apple store. The first was to check out the iPad when it was released (I already had the 3G version on order but that would not be in for a number of weeks. After checking it out, I could see the value it offered and could foresee fights in the house without multiple iPads. So about a week later I went to the Ardmore store to pick one up. While I was there had a great conversation with their business service coordinator. It was a personal connection that she was able to build as we discussed Apple in a work environment. She followed up with emails checking on the purchase and an invitation to a few events to learn more. After I received my 3G iPad I had a problem while I was flying to San Francisco. This made the iPad frozen on the boot up screen. When I arrived in San Fran, I tried to restore the device but I had no luck. I went to the Apple store. Unfortunately they did not have appointments, but I was able to wait for a Genius Bar member to have free time. It was a long wait, but much better than waiting 4 hours for the next available appointment. The technician tried some things, showed empathy and eventually restored the device. The wow moment was not at that time, but instead later on. While I was waiting I shopped for a few accessories since I switched bags prior to the flight and left a few things home. I went up to pay and the cashier was very pleasant. As he finished the payment and I was pulling out my credit card, he noticed my Comcast business card. He immediately stopped and said we can save you money, you get a discount. A fact I learned when I bought my iMac, but in my rush failed to mention. His proactive offering was very much appreciated it.

This brings me to what happened today. Earlier this week I was traveling and at one point I looked at my iPad and it was dented in near the power button (even though it was in a Sena iPad Folio). I was not even sure how it happened, but it obviously bumped into something, and my guess is, that it did so fairly hard. It was very odd looking, with 2 small indentations that went further in. I was upset, but what caused a problem was the power button did not work (not a big deal since it was on at the time). So I set up an appointment at the Apple Genius Bar to find out what the cost of fixing it would be. I showed the gentleman the damage. He took it into the back to see what he could do. He came back and told me the cost would normally be about $400, but since I have been a valued Customer (he tied in prior purchases), and said he would give me a new one for free. I was completely wow’ed by this offer. I did not expect and I knew it was not covered under warranty. I expected to have to pay for cosmetic damage. Instead I paid for a protective edge that I placed on the iPad and squeezed back in the folio (I am not sure I will get it back out, so if there are any designers out there, I love the Sena case, but would recommend making it a little bigger and include a protective piece for the edge).

Anyway, the moral to all of this is great products are just part of the picture. What really drives dedication is the employees within your company. Empowering them in ways like this will really lead to dedicated Customers. I know I will be an Apple Customer for a long time because these employees turned me into a raving fan.

An Apology Can Overcome the Most Difficult Mistakes

Posted on : 30-03-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service

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Last week while I was in Chicago I received a call from my wife regarding an explanation of benefits (EOB) insurance form she received in the mail.  This is not something normally discussed over the phone when a spouse is away, but this was a unique experience.  The form was not addressed to me as the subscriber, nor was it addressed to her.  The subscriber was listed as Gianna R. Eliason, our daughter who passed away in 2004.  This was upsetting, especially since we had no clue how they could have had her name.  In fact, Gia never even saw a dentist!  This policy was effective in 2007, three years after Gia’s passing.  Neither of us recalled ever having the insurance company with any prior employer.  Here is the EOB (with the name of the insurance company removed, our address and other identifiable information removed):

Needless to say this prompted an immediate phone call to the company by my wife.  When she called the agent could not see the paper EOB and had to search for the error that was clearly visible on the EOB in both the mailing address and the header.  The representative stressed repeatedly that the claim was paid.  Unfortunately, this was not the point!  The agent was eventually able to see the EOB and the error.  Sadly all she could assure my wife was that the glitch would be reported.  Because the representative did not know how the error occurred, she could not guarantee that it would be corrected.  I found this unsettling and opted to send an email later that evening.  I asked for them to let me know how this type of error could even happen.  The next day I received multiple voicemail messages.  The first acknowledging this horrid mistake and a promise to get into the details of it.  The second was asking me to call back to discuss the findings.  I was offered a cell phone and asked to call, even in the evening.  I thought that was above and beyond.  I called back when my flight landed around 7:00 PM.  The nice gentleman promptly answered, knew the details of the case off the top of his head, and was very willing to share the cause of the mistake.  He let me know that through 2 prior employers I had coverage with them as they managed the dental portion of my medical plan.  The claim queued up for underwriting review, it was processed and approved but the agent somehow selected the incorrect field from a 2002 plan for the 2010 EOB that would be sent to us.  He was very professional and apologetic through the short conversation.

The next day I received an email from the president of the company apologizing for the error and promising to look into the cause.  The following day I received a very detailed letter shipped overnight via Fedex outlining the cause.   I did not scan the letter due to all the personal information, but it was one of the most sincere letters I have ever read.  It starts off with the following:

“I want to personally express my sincere apology to you and your entire family for the tremendously insensitive error that occurred on the Explanation of Benefitss (EOB) document that your wife, Carolyn, received.  As a husband and a father myself, I cannot begin to comprehend the feelings evoked by our unacceptable mistake.”

The letter then goes into detail of the cause as well as the steps being taken to avoid this in the future.  Steps included training for the staff as well as safeguards within their systems.  There was also the attached personal note:

I am not writing this post to blast the company involved, in fact I would like to congratulate them.  I think we would have all loved to see the mistake not happen in the first place, but it did.  Mistakes do happen.  The reason I want to congratulate them is too many people are afraid to simply apologize.  I have spoken to service people who were either taught, or believed that any apology would open the door to legal liability.  For some reason, and maybe it is due to the litigious society we are in, companies and people are afraid to apologize for a mistake.  To me it means more than anything else that could be offered.  The apology here was truly heartfelt and I am very appreciative of the handling by this company.

This is why it is so important to be genuine with a Customer.

Social Media Business Evolution Part 1: Culture

Posted on : 10-03-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Marketing, Social Media

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Tomorrow I will be speaking at the Social Business Summit in Austin, TX.  This pre-event for SxSW, which starts on Friday, is being presented by Dachis Group.  Dachis is a great example of a company striving to work in this new transparent environment.  Have you ever checked out the Dachis website?  They strive to be so transparent that they have developed a scroll on their website that shows exactly what they are doing.  For example if a member of the team tweets a message, it will show up.  It will even say when they are emailing someone and the domain they are emailing (not the name or full email address).  I am looking forward to this event, because the topic is fun, culture change within businesses.  I am also looking forward to seeing people like Charlene Li, who I have never met in person.  Her book Open Leadership is about to come out, and I know it will be great.

Anyway, over the past few weeks I have been doing a lot of reading, probably one of the causes for not posting as much as I would like.  I hope to start putting a lot of these pent up thoughts into posts over the next few weeks.  One of the things I have realized is their are a lot of diverse thoughts on all aspects of social media and how companies will incorporate it.  First these varying opinions are great discussion points and will help define this going forward.  At the same time, I believe many are putting the cart before the horse.  People within social media tend to love the speed of information, transparency, personal control, and the ability to see their thoughts take off.  Also those of us in social media tend to see how these benefits can impact the world.  Many see it as an revolutionary transformation, as it has been for themselves.  For businesses though, it still needs to be more of an evolutionary change, otherwise many of the positive benefits will be lost.  This change will take place at different rates of speed, and most likely in different ways based on the organization (and the people that make up that organization, including Customers).

I have read in a number of sources that businesses should not be involved in social media until they have the right culture.  This typically is centered around the free flow of information as well as trust in employees that is required in the space.  I this spirit I should admit I have sometimes been in this camp too.  Here is a funny, true story.  I have spoken to numerous organizations about social media and how I have used the space.  There is only 1 company that I did not help when requested.  The reason for this was before they were willing to chat, they wanted me to sign a non-disclosure agreement that was very lengthy.  I really did not want to read through the entire thing, and I personally felt if they were requiring that from an unpaid consultant such as myself they probably were not ready for the space.

The more I have learned about social media, I have realized the culture change that people reference is starting to happen, but it does not have to be fully embraced for a company to begin in social media.  First employees, just based on the numbers, are already participating in social media through Facebook, MySpace, blogs, Twitter and so the list goes on.  Don’t kid yourself, they are already representing the brand and generating their own culture change.  They are also taking on more say over the brand due to this.  This is why I sometimes refer to social media as the “disorganized labor movement.”  Customers are within social media discussing your products, how they use them and their thoughts on your business, this is commonly referred to as the Groundswell.  This can be positive or negative, but they are talking (I will have an upcoming post that discusses this).  Customer are also forcing this culture change.

Companies are going to move in different ways to embrace social media.  From my perspective I have seen the first efforts to be within marketing or public relations/communications.  What has happened as companies have done this, they were forced to evolve strategies to effectively meet the demands from Customer and employees.  This has meant a shift to more transparent discussions and more areas of the business being involved, such as Customer Service and senior leadership.  Most of these companies did not have the transparent culture prior to this happening, but it was forced upon them.  So for those that say right culture is required first, should observe these evolutionary patterns and understand that culture change will happen because of social media, but it is not required as a point of entry.

Here is what is really required.  First it requires visionaries that can see benefits within social media.  It really does not matter from which silo it comes from.  This also does not require full support from everyone, but it will require at least one high level supporter.  The reason you need support from one high level person is because as this evolves, some of the old school leaders will be scared and may try to cause the organization to take steps back.  Fear of something new is natural, and the reason some leaders fear it, is because they lose some sense of control.  It will also highlight deficiencies within the organization, and it may even involve their area of expertise.  As time goes on, more and more people within the organization will embrace it.  I always joke that all senior leaders are from Missouri, the “show me” state.  They need to be able to touch and feel things.  I know many have struggled with “metrics” within this space, but that is not the best way to touch and feel things.  The true benefit is you can easily show leaders what is happening in the space, reaction and what, as an organization you are learning.  The fact is they can be shown Twitter search, Google Blogsearch, Facebook search, or other easy to use tools.  They can touch and feel it themselves.

As part of this discussion of culture change, some also say the entire organization must have a strong Customer focus before entering this space.  I disagree with this too.  The reason I disagree, is this space will assist companies on their focus on the Customer.  It is difficult for senior leaders to listen to every call, or view every email, but as I mentioned above they can easily follow the discussion regarding the brand.  As we know this is a space controlled by the Customer, and they will tell you the good, the bad and the ugly.  The difference is anyone can easily search this information and learn from it.  I have never met a senior leader who wanted to create a bad experience for a Customer.  Before it is pointed out by others, I do recognize there are sometimes natural conflicts, such as price, but they never wanted anyone to not be helped when help is required.   This space will create the change within any company just by simply listening.

I applaud any company for being involved in social media.  Even if they may not be taking the best direction, I recognize that this space will force their evolution and they will become stronger participants because of it.  So my feedback to the experts in the space, just give it time; your  visions will be recognized by many companies.

What will Drive Organizational Change Toward Service?

Posted on : 04-02-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Social Media

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Many in the social media community feel that the Customer is gaining much more control over brands, and this alone will drive change.  I do not disagree, but I feel there are a number of factors that will drive this organizational shift.  Today I heard an interview with Larry O’Donnell, COO and President of Waste Management.  He was discussing a new show premiering on CBS after the Super Bowl on Sunday called Undercover Boss.  Here is the preview for the show:

I watched the preview, and all of a sudden I was proud to have Waste Management as my trash service.  Mainly because I felt a connection to both the employees and to Larry.  I have written many times before that most of us struggle managing upward, which means most leaders do not know the reality faced by our most important assets, our front line employee.  For years we have made cuts, implemented dumb policies and procedures, yet no one ever told us of the problem.  Not due to this show, but I think many factors will cause the “boss” to want to find out more directly from the front line.

A week or so ago I heard a company’s earning announcement.  It was not good, missing on many important metrics that the investment community looks for.  I remember hearing the news reports (yes I am an investment news junkie), and thinking how the CEO must have reacted to the numbers as they were presented to him.  Most of us that have worked in management can probably tell the story.  He went to the CFO and said why are the numbers missing.  The CFO would respond with even more metrics as the cause.  This is the way the business world has been for a long time, all about the numbers.  But in this case I pictured the CEO growing more frustrated and continuing to travel down each level of the organization asking why.  Finally he gets to a service/sales person.  The person responds with every frustration they hear from Customers, including fees, poor service, etc.  All of a sudden the CEO is enlightened with the true picture.  This is one way the top levels will see the benefit of having connection directly to the Customer.  It is a key part of their advisory staff, unfortunately in many cases non-existant at this time.

I also believe there will be other leaders that will be enlightened in other ways.  The struggle with many companies is the front line does not feel empowered, but they are very passionate about the Customer and driving change.  I believe there will be many lower level employees who decide they will bring about change and take the steps to be heard by the leadership team.  This has happened before, and unfortunately not always with positive results.  Many companies speak of open door policies, but human nature takes over and it is seen by others in the work chart path that get upset by this and take action against the employee.  Even with this negative, there will be some that get the story through and make a big difference in their company and industry.

The other way change will happen is through social media.  There will be a few different aspects that will drive the change.  First is what many of us see each day, the Customer has a bull horn and is happy to use it.  Companies are listening and you will see improvements this drives.  I also believe employees (current and former) are talking in social media, and companies are listening to them.  Companies are also implementing internal social media tools, a little slower than some of us would prefer, but it is happening.  These tools will help flatten the organization and the views will be easily noted and companies will implement changes based on what they hear.  The biggest barrier in implementing these tools is not usually the senior leaders, but instead it is the middle layer of management.  This is because in many cases there weakness will be more noticeable and it will highlight needed changes.

So let’s recap the drivers toward changing organizational culture to be about service:

  1. Enlightened CEO/President or other senior leader – They will take the time to learn from the frontline what is really happening.  Thank you Larry for being a part of this show and demonstrating this benefit for other senior leaders
  2. As Seth calls it, the Linchpin – This is the “factory worker” who rises up to show the senior leaders what needs to be changed
  3. The Customer (or lack there of) – The most important number for any company is not cash flow, as many in the investment community would argue, it is actually the Customers that create the potential for that cash flow.  This economy is a big driver for change.
  4. Social Media – Your Customer and employees are talking, are you listening?  Do you like what you hear?

The Customer, not the Company Defines How Products are Used

Posted on : 03-02-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Marketing

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I have a lot of respect for Pepsi CEO, Indra Nooyi.  She has done a lot to help the brand and grow the business of Pepsi.  The video above was on CNBC the other day.  It was a feel good story of the introduction of the Pepsi Refresh Project.  This is a social giving initiative in which Pepsi is putting up $20 million dollars and allowing everyone to vote on which initiatives will receive a cut of the money.  It is a great idea and I am sure the money will assist many charities in need.  I know I plan to vote each month.  But the interview took an interesting turn that I think is a learning experience for many of us.  Here is what happened:

At 2:00 minutes the CNBC host, Mark Haines asks if Pepsi will always be in second place to Coke.  Ms. Nooyi gives a good response regarding the diverse nature of the Pepsi brand, including Frito Lay, Quaker Oats, Gatorade, Tropicana, etc.  This leads to a conversation about the recent rebranding of Gatorade, basically moving back to what it was founded on, a sports drink.  This is where it gets interesting to me.  She then points out that Gatorade is a drink for the “athlete to be used in active thirst.”  She  states for a period of time people defined active thirst as sitting on the couch watching TV because they loved the taste of Gatorade.  She went on to explain that when the economy took the down turn, those casual drinkers could not afford the brand.  After stating this she said in an emphatic way, ‘Thank God.”  They are now taking Gatorade back to the core user and innovating the product for the active user.  Mark Haines goes on to ask if they are going to post guards to prevent couch potatoes from buying the brand.  Ms. Nooyi responded that couch potatoes are welcome to buy the brand provided they get out and exercise, then they can have the drink.

Now I wish I was more active, but I tend to spend a lot of time in front of the computer, working or watching the kids.  I am sorry Ms. Nooyi would not welcome me as a Customer.  I was a good one, especially with the large powdered Gatorade I have in my pantry (I wonder if Ms. Nooyi would refund the cost since she does not want me to have it?)  My original point for this post was to show how easy it is for someone to accidentally say something that could upset long time Customers.  I have been a long time drinker of Gatorade, in what seems like a galaxy far far away, I played tennis with my best friend Jason.  After a few matches I would really enjoy a large Gatorade (Jason, we should do that again in the spring!).  But I think there is a larger point in that the Customer is really the one who defines that brand, not marketing research, CEO or anyone else.  If a Customer likes the product, the company should just be grateful to have them.

I am sorry Ms. Nooyi if you do not want me to be a Customer of Gatorade.  Actually I am sure she does, and this was more poor word choice, but you can see how that impression can be created.

From the Pantry

From the Pantry

Marketing is Smart, Customer Service is Submissive

Posted on : 02-02-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service

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I have been doing a lot of thought about the convergence of PR, Marketing, and Customer Service. I think, as Esteban Kolsky has pointed out, it is more the organization coming together in a more social way. A flattening of the overall organization. Marketing will still be marketing, PR will still be PR and Customer Service will be Customer Service.  In my mind the theory of converging marketing, PR and Customer Service, is really just another way that shows how smart marketing people are. I used to work with a guy who believed the more you controlled the more important you are to the company. He loved to gain responsibility of more areas, even if he did not understand them, because it made him more indispensable to the company. As I thought about him I started to envision marketers worrying about losing control or status as they watched the ineffectiveness of campaigns and the increase to word of mouth advertising.  I can picture one of them saying, “the world has changed, and we are going to change with it…Customer Service must be part of marketing so we can navigate this new world order properly.”

Customer Service by its very nature tries to appease their Customers. The trouble is sometimes their Customers may vary dramatically. We all know and understand the external Customer, but what we often do not discuss the internal Customer, and their impact on the external Customer. Customer service usually services every area of an organization. Research comes to them to learn more about the Customers needs, marketing seeks help in improving effectiveness of marketing material, finance is always looking for a savings. You probably have heard Customer Service called a “Cost Center” or some like to think of it more as a “Sales Center.” Again this is Customer service bowing to others thoughts about the costs of service, or a means to justify the existence. It is time we put our foot down, we are a “Service Center.” It is our goal to help our external Customers get the most out of our products and create an experience that builds Customer loyalty and dedication.

Marketing grabbed the seat at the table with the Chief Marketing Officer, a position I understand and respect. Marketing is an important part of any organization. At the same time, Customer Service is ultimately the most important part. But service has never really pushed for the seat at the table. They never pushed back on policies, processes, or other things that were pushed down creating a bad experience for those external Customers. Service organizations worked to get more efficient at the request of the financial folks, and in many cases became ineffective at serving the external Customers properly.

It is time for Customer Service to say “no more.”

  • ‘No more’ agreeing to goals that take away from the Customer experience
  • ‘No more’ allowing policies and procedures to be dictated down without proper discussion of the impact they will have
  • ‘No more’ trying to justify the existence of the Customer Service organization; the Customer has already justified it for you

Its time for Customer Service to:

  • Make the Customer story central to decision making; every leader must understand the impact of their decisions on the Customer
  • We have to define our goals and strategies to the leaders of the company
  • Recognize that the Customer Service Agent is an integral part of the success of the company; inspire them to be successful and not a cog in the wheel
  • Share ideas, feedback and calls upward
  • Identify the right measurements for your service organization, one that sets the tone to get it right for your Customers.
  • Learn to say ‘No’ to internal Customers when no value is derived for the external Customer

It is time for Customer Service to show a new attitude.  Many want it, but Customers demand it.