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Customer Service as the New Marketing?

Posted on : 14-01-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service, Marketing, Social Media


Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK. – Don Draper, Mad Men Season 1 Episode 1

Today advertising is not creating that happiness, it is relationships and connections we have with others.  Messages no longer come from the company, but instead from friends, family and people we have never met.  How will a company work to get their message through?

I am always thinking about Customer Service and what it will look like as we move forward.  It is interesting to see how the economy alone has started to shift thinking at many companies.  Have you seen the latest Chase Sapphire commercial?

Now I know credit card companies are not really known for service, especially due to the negative risk based decision we know they make.  At the same time I used to work in that business and at the time companies were looking at ways to differentiate themselves using Customer Service.  This commercial reminded me of the efforts we made at my prior company, at least prior to the shift in the economy (and the company going bankrupt).  Now Chase is creating a product to try to meet the new demands of Customers regarding service.  I am sure many of you are tired of the automated answering systems, well as this ad points out, for this product when you call you get a real life person.  I did try a different Chase card, and with that number I still receive the automated answering.

I have discussed previously that we are entering a different time in Customer relations, and the control has shifted to the Customer.  Since the 1950’s marketing has been king, the message was dictated by the company through ads, especially in TV.  “Mad Men” told us what we like and how we like it.  The right advertisement did it all, even if the product was not up to par.  But then came Amazon, and other websites like it.  Today a product comes out and almost immediately reviews start to pile in on websites.  This completely changed how people buy virtually any product.  I know for myself, I could be in a store and before buying I will go to Amazon and read reviews, as well as Google the item to find other reviews.

So what does Amazon reviews have to do with Customer Service?  Well a lot!  It is part of an overall picture that has been painted over a number of years.  Marketing was king, but now the Customer is king and companies have to learn the best ways to deal with that.  For a long time, if you lost a Customer, strong marketing would bring in 10 others in their place.  But today you lose a Customer they have the ability to easily tell thousands.  Customers have grown tired of not being able to be serviced the first time, and by banning together through social networking, their word of mouth will force companies to rethink the cost reductions done in service over the past 20 years.  There will be a true ROI for providing best in class service.

Maybe in 45 years we will see a retro show about the Customer Service leaders?  Probably not, that would be very boring.

Tell A Story of Widgets and Whatchamacallits

Posted on : 05-01-2010 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Customer Service


I have been lucky to watch a lot of positive change at different companies.  Just to play a small part in that change can be very exciting, but it got me thinking: what generates change?  For years businesses have concentrated on data and numbers.  For most businesses the most important number is the bottom line.  I am not opposed to numbers, and I recognize for a company to survive the bottom line is extremely important.  This concentration on the numbers, sometimes has had an unintentional impact on the actual Customer experience.  Trust me, every leader I have ever worked with has understood the benefits of a long term Customer relationship, and they never intended to create a negative experience.  There are cultural barriers in business that have been created over the years, not just due to numbers, but in some cases the culture of generations ago.  No one ever wants to pass bad news up the chain of command.  Don’t you feel bad for the person bringing in a surprise for a quarterly with bad numbers?  Now that is a job I would never want!  In many companies the culture has not been to opt not to share bad information, or say no to something.  Sometimes they just sugar coat bad news.  The gen Y, or millennial generation is helping to change that because they do not play by those rules.

So here is what I think happens:

The CEO and other top leaders are reviewing the company quarterly reports.  The conversation is rather lengthy.  Early in the conversation the CEO says we really need to improve profit margins.  Later during that same conversation he notices that widgets have very nice profit margins.  This rightfully gets translated into we need to sell more widgets.  This makes its way through various leaders and now everyone is concentrated on selling widgets.  Marketing is placing widgets everywhere on the website.  Customer service was now asked to sell more widgets, which eventually translated to the supervisors and agents that they must sell widgets on every call.  The Customer is now being bombarded with offers for the widget everywhere they turn.  So even if they only need a Whatchamacallit, they were told they need a widget to go with it.  One of the Customer Service agents knows there is a problem with the widgets, and they have a high return rate.  The agent tells his supervisor that these widgets “suck”, but the supervisor does not recognize it as a problem and  fails to share with others.  Maybe the supervisor just didn’t want to listen!  It is not until further analysis of the numbers that this information turns up.  During this sales effort they also alienated Customers because they did not know they needed the widget, but finally gave in and purchased it.  They then returned it to only find the trouble with the next widget.  Now the Customer lost trust in the company.

Now, lets imagine instead of stating that the widgets “suck” the agent turned to the supervisor and said:

I would like to share the story of Sally.  Sally called looking for Whatchamacallit but instead we sold her Widgets that she did not need.  Sally had to wait a week to receive the Widgets, but when they finally arrived they were broken.  She then called us back and we sent a pick up authorization, which did not come to her until a week later.  She then returned the Widgets and we mailed her new Widgets, which were broken again.  So she just called for a new return authorization, so I tried to offer her a Whatchamacallit to help get her doohicky to fully work.  She told me forget about it, she is just getting a Whatchamacallit from Walmart because we just can’t get it right.  Sally was very frustrated with us.

Imagine this story made it to the CEO.  They probably didn’t intend to create this negative experience for Sally, and if they heard about it, they too would be as upset as Sally.  Connecting to Customers through stories are the real driver for change.  Stories come through on calls, emails, and through social media.

Your story could impact the bottom line!

2010: Year of Trust Agents? Twitter Decline? What Else?

Posted on : 30-12-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Customer Service, Social Media


Many of you do not know, but this year I started to write a book titled “A Social Media Fairy Tale.”  Of course I have not been back to writing for a number of months now, but that is because it is much harder than I ever thought, plus it is very weird to write about yourself.  The reason for the book is hopefully to help people learn about social media, and different ways to use the space.  I started in social media in 2000 with sharing my daughter Gia’s website when she was born prematurely.  I then used the website to educate people about Cystic Fibrosis, something Gia was diagnosed with early in life.  When she started her fight with cancer, we used the website to educate and follow her progress.  When Lily was born I added our family website, which Robyn joined in 2008.

I have always been an advocate for Customers, and I continued to do that when I joined Comcast in September, 2007.  I have always done this in a private manner and I planned the same at Comcast.  I never anticipated being in a public role that would not only change Comcast, but also change the way many companies think of social media and Customer Service.  If I would have made predictions at the end of 2008, I would have stated we would see many new companies enter social media, and service would be a key role.  We did see this, but not as much as I thought would happen.  I would have also predicted that I would have not been as public but my team would continue to see success.  This would not have been as accurate, since I have spoken at many events and continue to strive to change Customer Service, not only at Comcast but throughout the industry.  2009 had an amazing start with the Business Week story “Comcast Twitter Man.”  This is an article I am very proud of, but the highlights to me for 2009 were:

  1. The opportunity to continue to have conversations with Customers within social media and in person
  2. Success for my team as they have really taken the reigns within social media
  3. Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast stating that Twitter has changed the culture of Comcast
  4. Watching competitors trying to replicate the success my team has had in social media
  5. Completing a leadership program at Comcast in which only 45 people (out of close to 100,000 employees) are chosen for each year
  6. Finally taking a vacation with the family, even if it turned into the Griswold Disney Vacation

So now we look forward to 2010.  As we have seen every year, predictions for the year ahead are everywhere, and I will try the same.  I can guarantee that I have zero psychic abilities.  In fact I have no predictions regarding my life, but that is simply because I am not sure I could have predicted any events over the past 10 years.  I just hope 2010 is another good year for family and friends.  So here is what I see in 2010:

  • Customer Service – As the economy starts to improve, companies will strive to improve the experience for Customers.  The cost benefit will be retaining Customers.  The poor economy has taught companies that it is far cheaper to get it right the first time.  You will start to see Customer Service being the new marketing!
  • Economy – The economy will continue to improve over the first half of 2010, but the second half improvements will slow and may even take a few steps back.  This will be due to employee turn over that will impact production, as well as steps taken to help improve the economy will be pulled back and this will show the improvements are fragile, and the strain will cause some to break.  One of the factors will be yet another bubble bursting, specifically gold which will scare many.
  • Employees and Jobs – Hiring will start to pick up in the next 6 months.  This will cause pain for many companies where employees did not feel valued during this downturn.  Instead of hiring out of work people, there will be many that move from one company to another.  Like service, not every company has seen the asset that employees really are.  The employees will return this favor by leaving which will cause production decreases, increased labor costs and ultimately the trouble in the economy for the second half of the year.  There is a good note!  This will show companies the cost benefit of striving to be more employee centric.  I actually believe it may be the beginning stage of long term employment with companies and a new team environment that will lead businesses for a long time to come.
  • Social Media – I think video will continue to rise.  People will grow a little bit tired of Facebook but they will still use the space as a primary connection to friends and family.  I believe Twitter will see activity take a steady decline over the first 6 months.  In my opinion this is due to the amount of spam, which is causing frustration to users and the benefits early adopters saw, are not easily noted by new users.  Twitter will finally work to make changes, but I predict it will be later half of the year before dramatic change.  Unfortunately if it takes that long, many of the users will have already left.  This will have added importance as the company looks for more funding, but due to the declines there will be a reluctance, causing the need to sell Twitter to a third party (maybe a Google, or someone like that).  Any sale will not be at dollar amounts seen in the past for similar transactions.  This will cause business fundamentals, and profits to be important for future venture capital funding.  Unlike Twitter, Facebook will have success by going public, but the stock market returns may not be as exciting as people think.  The big news for social media will be the spread within the workplace and the support business leaders provide this initiative.
  • The Year of Trust Agents – We started to see Trust Agents, especially via Twitter but the coming year will be the year of the Trust Agent.  This may surprise you, but I predict this will not be on Twitter or even Facebook, at least at first.  Trust Agents will rise inside businesses as new social media tools are implemented.  This will also be a surprise to business leaders, and it will put a new face on the corporate leader.  Later in the year they will spread from these internal social networks to be in places like Facebook.

Overall I think 2010 will be better than 2009, mainly due to the light at the end of the tunnel for economy and there will be less strain between employers and employees.  Social media will continue to grow, but at a much slower pace.  The biggest growth will be within internal networks, but that will help people learn to use the space in a more effective manner.  One final prediction:  I still will not finish the book!

Isn’t it fun to pull things out of a hat and talk like they will be reality?  Anyway, thank you again for a great 2009, and I want to wish all of you a happy New Year!  I hope that 2010 brings great success personally and in your business life!

Attention C-Suite: The Times They Are A-Changin’

Posted on : 29-12-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Social Media


The C-Suite needs to hear some words from Bob Dylan:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

I have planned this post for a while.  In fact, it was planned to be the post to start the new year, but yesterday I read a Forbes article “Chief Reputation Office Whose Job is it Anyway.”  It’s a great start to the conversation that has been on everyone’s mind.  The business environment has dramatically changed, thanks to the economy, and the new found power that the Customer has in the social web.  These are not new thoughts, but change has been slow at the top for most companies.  The slow speed has nothing to do with not wanting to change (there may be some of that), but the business environment has been changing dramatically, with no clear idea of what the investment world will look like when the future normalcy returns.

When I started in social media I heard a lot about the convergence of marketing, PR and Customer Service.  I could not agree more that this has been happening for a long time, and social media is not the only driver.  When I have spoken to “marketing” experts, they have presented a view that marketing should be the one that leads the way.  In their mind PR and service are simply a form of marketing.  “PR” experts have made the case that marketing and service are part of reputation, which is a key function of PR.  When I have discussed this, I have always made the point that marketing’s goals have been centered around sales.  PR has concentrated on reputation.  Both are very important aspects to a social media plan.  Customer Service on the other hand, has no interest in taking on the additional responsibility of social media.  Ultimately most service departments have been stretched so thin, that they do not have the resources available.  The most interesting part to Customer Service is they are most qualified for having conversations with Customers.  It is what they do best.

Let’s face facts, social media is a very small part of the overall equation.  Over the past 25 years, at least until the economic meltdown, driving stock price was all about growth, growth growth.  Sales was the name of the game and the overall focus for most companies.  This is what lead to the position of Chief Marketing Officer.  Besides growth, the other key component to pleasing Wall Street was adding efficiencies to the organization. New technologies, gaining more work out of each employee have been key measures of success.  This led to the Chief Information Officer position.  It was a General Electric and Jack Welch world.  Companies did everything they could to meet these demands.

I wondered what the leadership teams of most companies looked like, so I took the time to visit the website for the top 50 companies in the Fortune 500.   Most of it was not surprising, I found Chief Executive Officer, President, Chief Financial Officer, General Counsel, Investor Relations.  You also found Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Information Officer, Human Resources, Public Relations, auditors, compliance and leaders for the most important products for the company.  For retail stores there were Chief Merchandising Officers, and representatives for store operations.  Some can make the case that many of these different positions can easily represent the Customer, but in my opinion they each have competing priorities.  Out of the 50 I reviewed, only 1 had a Chief Customer Officer.  This was Mark Rosenbaum from Cardinal Health.  The most amazing part of this role within Cardinal Health, is it did not start from a top down approach.  Instead a grass root effort to change the culture of the company.  Congrats to Cardinal Health for leading the way!

I completely understand the financial focus of executive leadership teams.  Ultimately companies are in business to make money and that is a key.  I also understand why all the other groups are represented.  What shocks me is the structure that companies have with their senior leadership team sends a message to Customers that they do not care about Customer interests.  I know this is not true, but when you look at these teams and you see many financial people. attorneys, marketing but when you put on your Customer hat, you do not feel your interests are being represented.  You can easily review it yourself by going to a company website, locate the leadership team and see the different positions listed.

I have spoken before about the power of the Customer story to senior leaders.  I have yet to meet a senior executive at any company that intended to create a poor experience for any Customer.  As companies grew, the executive leadership moved further and further from the Customer.  Unlike the days of smaller companies, the senior staff does not sit near the front lines.  In the spirit of cost and efficiency, today many of the front line employees do not work directly for the company (I am not against outsourcing, but I do believe you have to make sure a true connection exists between the front line and leadership).  Most changes within the company have been done in a manner that is like a pass it down the lane.  This caused many different interpretations and actions.  The other trouble is people typically did not share upward trouble that new changes caused.  It is about time that someone did just that.  Through social media, employees and Customers are starting to do that.  As we enter this new age where the cost of retaining Customers will be far cheaper than trying to gain new ones, it is time for the Chief Customer Officer.  In my opinion it represents the convergence of marketing, PR and Customer Service and the focus companies will need over the next 10 years and beyond.  This is how you build the right reputation, not PR or marketing.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

For the Future of Retailing Look to the Past

Posted on : 28-12-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Customer Service, Retailing

Tags: , , , , , ,


This weekend I watched Biography of Home Depot on CNBC. It was a fascinating look at a company and the founders that created a new concept that would become a category killer in the home improvement industry. What struck me was not the success of the brand, but really the founders that created the concept. The TV special concentrated on Bernie Marcus, Arthur Blank, Pat Farrah, and investment banker Ken Langone. The story goes like this:

Bernie Marcus was born in Newark, New Jersey  who worked with his father to pay for college.  He received a degree in pharmaceutical studies.  He later worked in a pharmacy but found his true love to be in the store with the Customers (this is why I really connected to the Bernie).  Art Blank grew up in Flushing, New York and graduated from Babson college

Well once there was a retailer named Handy Dan, where Bernie Marcus was eventually hired as a senior executive.  Art Blank worked at the same retailer just outside of college, working his way up through the ranks.  Bernie promoted Art to his staff .  Later, after Daylin corporation, the owner of Handy Dan, filed for bankruptcy, Bernie and Art fought to maintain the success for Handy Dan.  They continued to grow the company, but a dislike grew between Bernie and Sandy Sigoloff, the CEO for Daylin.  One day Sandy brought Bernie into a conference room with many suits and a stenographer.  This was the end for Bernie, Art, and Ron Brill (the first Home Depot employee).  There were many accusations, but I think it is safe to say false ones.  Anyway, I am not judging that.  After this Bernie started making phone calls to contacts he made, one of them being Ken Langone.  Ken convinced him this was the best thing to happen and he should follow his dreams.  They found a strong merchandiser named Pat Farrah, and the group set their sights on Atlanta.  That is where Home Depot was born.

Many of you may not know, but my background when I was younger was in retail management.  I have always had love affair with the direct Customer contact environment that retailing has.  I have long watched what worked, and what was a failure.  In my lifetime I have seen this changing environment, great management choices, very poor ones and many going out of business.  I remember working in the home improvement business when Home Depot was entering the area I live.  You could easily see why it was a category killer.  The same was true regarding the expansion of Walmart.  I have seen many that simply could not keep up.  Of course through this expansion other companies built themselves up as strong competitors to both Walmart and Home Depot.  I also think the time will come where another company changes the game and places these companies at risk.  But who and how?

Many have said the future of retailing is Amazon.  I agree Amazon has been a killer of many products, especially books and DVD’s, but I think for many other products people want more.  This post was inspired by the Home Depot founders, but I know I will not have my Ken Langone to help secure the large amount of financing necessary to recreate the retail landscape, so I thought it might be fun to throw it out here.  As I have watched retailing for years, I know there are certain keys to success.  The first key is amazing Customer Service, which I am not too sure many retailers currently do well.  Second is convenience, which the web has made much easier.  Third is atmosphere, which some retailers do very well  by reducing clutter and making it easy to shop, but most fail here too.  Fourth is a strong dedicated team that understand the products and how best to utilize them.  The original Home Depot did all of these well, but as time went on some of these things drifted away for them.

So what can we learn from the past? Well the internet boom for online retailers is not as new as you think.  We have seen this before, but instead of the net, it was the catalog.  The internet may have killed off the paper catalog but it still created the same category, just instead of dominance by Sears or J.C. Penny, the dominating force is Amazon.  During the catalog boom, a new style of retailing emerged with names like Best, Basco, Service Merchandise and many others.  They were known as Catalog Showrooms.  In these stores you could see the merchandise, and if you wanted to buy you would fill out a slip (seems silly today) and it would magically come through the belt.  This allowed for Customers to touch and feel the merchandise prior to buying.  A key for many purchasing items, especially higher end merchandise.  I can easily make the case that Circuity City was also a catalog showroom, just without much of a catalog.  The original, successful Circuity City was a showroom with various merchandise with excellent sales people to help you out.  Customer Service was the name of their game and they did this very well in the early days.  Later, as they faltered in other areas, Circuit City also did this concept well with their web business and picking up your order within 30 minutes.  Unfortunately for Circuity City, and many of these other retailers they tried to shift there model to something they were not.  I saw the end when Circuit City left the appliance business and tried to build a self service area in their stores for software and other computer products.  This, just like similar changes made at other retailers, caused them to alienate employees and their own Customer base.  Questioning what you are as a business will alway set you up for failure.  As these companies made changes to their model, instead of setting themselves up for a boom during the early years of the internet retailing, they simply went bust.  Many of their names may still be around, but they were purchased by companies that simply wanted to build websites using the name, nothing more.

So what would the future of retailing look like?  The concept would not be very different than what you see at Amazon.com for the web.  The only major differences would be the showrooms.  These would be placed at strategic population centers, similar to the placement of Ikea stores.  These centers would have showrooms to play with the merchandise, high tech transmitters for purchasing and service personnel to truly help those that want it, when they wanted it.  While in the store you would have full access to reviews of Customers from the website, as well as competitive information.  These centers would have easy pick up of merchandise for those that order over the web and would like quick gratification.  Merchandise ordered in the store would be delivered in the same manner.  These facilities would also serve as the mail distribution centers for items purchased on the net to be shipped.  To maintain lower shipping costs, items would ship from the nearest facility to the Customer.   A key learning from successful online retailers, like Zappos, they must offer an easy to understand and fair return policy.  Thanks to companies like Amazon, there is amazing technology for picking merchandise in a fast and efficient manner.  This structure also helps reduce shortages and theft, creating a better retail investemnt.  The showroom would be a clean, very friendly place to browse.  It would not have the typical brick and mortar retailer mentality of ‘pile it high and let it fly.’  This would be a place Customers would love to shop.  Sales people when requested, but not the car shopping experience of running over the moment the prospective Customer is in your sight.

This is not a revolutionary idea, in fact you do not need to look far to find similar concepts.  The Apple Stores have revolutionized retailing for Apple products.  Apple had a problem, no retailer sold their merchandise well.  They also did not wield the power to change the model at existing retailers, so they went one step further, they build a model that would work.  They utilize high tech equipment to make the experience great for everyone that visits, yet they do not try to oversell the Customer.  You know if you visit, help is there if you need it, but if you just want to play with the computers you can do that.  Of course I know when I play with the latest and greatest Macs, I almost always want to leave with one.

For those that believe internet shopping is the future, I agree, but it is only part of the equation.  Many brick and mortar retailers have tried to incorporate web sales into their existing business , but, in my opinion, not very successfully.  Best Buy offers it, but someone has to go out on the floor to try to pick the items.  Walmart will ship items to the store, but you have to wait for them to get there.

Retailing is not very difficult, as the founders for Home Depot proved.  Find out what people want, and deliver it in the way they would like to receive it.  Retailing is just like social media for business, there is no reason to over think it.

It is time for someone to build the new way of shopping from the ground up, but, even before looking at the present, review what you can learn from the history of retailers long gone!

Does Customer Service Influence Customer Service Ratings?

Posted on : 23-12-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Comcast, Customer Service


This is probably way too deep of a post leading into the holidays, but it is on my mind, so here it goes.  I have been thinking about my own perceptions of service at various companies, and it has caused me to wonder what causes me to think that way and do others with these similar thoughts cause ratings to be high or low for other organizations?

This time of year is filled with shopping, and I have always had an interest in the Customer experience for retailers.  One of the places I like to shop is Target.  I like the assortment of products and the atmosphere.  If someone were to ask me I would rate Target service on the higher end.  But as I think about the Target experience, I do not like their restrictive return policies and I have never had a “wow” type of experience.  I compare this to Walmart, which I do not shop at as much.  I have never had a problem, I like the prices I have received (I have even saved over Target), yet I would rate them lower than Target.  Why would that be?  The experience is not much different and I would save money.

The same holds true when I compare Lowes to Home Depot.  Both have similar policies, I do prefer Lowes store layout and the brightness of the stores, but I have found I have had to wait longer at Lowes, because at Home Depot I can do self checkout which I like.  I have never had trouble with Home Depot, but I have with Lowes (which was fairly handled but should not have happened).  Yet with all of this I would rate Lowes higher than I would Home Depot.

Costco is typically seen as a leader in service in the club warehouse space, and it is a place I love to shop.  It is funny, but a few years ago we switched to BJ’s due to a membership offer we received.  Within a few weeks we shifted back to Costco because we missed the product assortment and the “wow” items they have in the store.  I will say Costco is great with returns, but I have seen the same handling at Sam’s and BJ’s.  I find the lines longer at Costco, which can be annoying.  I also have to show my receipt as I am leaving, which is another annoyance to me.  It would not be as much of an annoyance if they actually reviewed what I purchased by I find they just put a line on the receipt and I walk out the door.  I remember when I first joined Costco they had a sign that said “Why do we check the receipt.”  The answer was to ensure you received everything you paid for.  I would laugh every time I saw it, but they eventually took it down.  I understand the benefit of checking at the door, which is to reduce and discourage theft, which ultimately helps keep costs low.  If I were asked which store had the best service I would say Costco, yet is it really that much different?

So what does influence Customer Service ratings?  I think it is a multitude of things, and it varies by industry and even company.  Here are a few thoughts:

Brand Perception – This is a huge influencer in many Customer Service surveys.  Apple is a great example.  They are always highest ranked in service, and I would rate them high too.  Yet I have had many computers and the only time I ever had to call the manufacturer was for the first computer I purchased.  It was an IBM and they were great but they could not help fix it, so I had to return it to the store.  I have had many manufacturers, including Sony, HP, Toshiba, Apple and IBM.  I would rate Apple number 1, yet for really no reason from a Customer Service viewpoint.

Long Memories – As consumers we do have long memories and at times this will influence how we rate a company.  Using the computers listed above, I would rate HP and Toshiba very low, even though I have not had recent interactions.  Toshiba simply because I owned 2 laptops and both went right after the warranty expired (one was a 1 year warranty and the other was a 3 year extended warranty).  HP I have had a great experiences with my recent netbook and as well as the many HP printers I have owned, yet I would go back to trouble with a Compaq Pocket PC device that had a screen broken.  After numerous calls, I had to go to the executive office, and the person helped rectify but they were very rude in the process.

Customer Passions – Certain products create passion within the Customer base.  Apple can be a good example, but you can look at other products, such as TV, Internet or Cell Phone.  All of which we have learned that it would be difficult to live without.  What is interesting is this can create very divergent view based on the brand or the product.  TV and internet service providers typically rank very low is satisfaction, but I believe this is because we love to watch TV and we feel the need to be connected to the internet at all times.  In some cases we feel we do not have a choice and the costs keep going up.  Sometimes when people find an alternative there is excitement and they switch for that reason.  They then rank the others higher.  For me, I have had every provider across the board over the past 10 years, and with each I had good experiences, and some very bad ones.  In fact one popular highly ranked provider, I had some very bad experiences, and so have many others I know, yet they still rank high.  I think it is due to the passion for the product offering, and the fact that people feel they have a choice.  I also believe in many cases it is more of Customers trying to demand companies do better.  As an example, I have and love the iPhone.  I have never had a poor experience with AT&T, yet people sometime rank them lower in service.  A lot has been made recently about their network and maps.  This is a 2 sided issue that I do not want to get in the middle of, but I have never really had trouble. In fact I think the one time I did it was more associated with the operating system then the network.  It was later fixed with an update.  I do think people simply want AT&T to do better and are cheering them on to do just that.  I think the same can be said about the company I work for, and we are trying to do that.

Marketing – We like to think that marketing does not have an influence on us, but in many cases it does.  Verizon as an example spends something close to $3 billion a year to share their message.  As we saw with the map example, it has been highly effective.  We have also seen it with other products they have, yet if you dig into some of the experiences you will find just as negative example as any of their competitors, and in many cases more.  Of course some will say I am bias here, but I have had both good and bad experiences with this company, like so many others.  I would have their wireless service and AT&T through work.  I have not had a bad experience with either, but I would rank Verizon higher, is that due to their marketing efforts?  Another interesting example from a marketing side is Southwest airlines.  They have ranked high in Customer Service rankings, and I know many people that rave about their experience.  Is it really that much different?  I have found a few cool employees but I have had other flights where they were not that great.  For me I tend to rank them 4, behind Jet Blue, Air Tran (I love wifi on planes), and Continental.  Out of all each of these the only ones I have would say were influenced by actual Customer Service interactions are Jet Blue and Continental, but even with both of them, I loved live TV on the planes.

Price – This is part of the equation but probably not as large as we think.  Just using a few examples from above, my Walmart example it was not.  Apple is many times the highest price, yet people love them.

Company Culture and Employees – I think this is a very important aspect that is often overlooked.  I mentioned Southwest above, they have personalized their brand in many advertisement and the way they interact.  This culture has a high influence on Customer Service scores.  It is hard for me to rate a company low after I just got to know one of their employees.  The best example of this is of course Zappos and how open they are in sharing the spirit of their employees.  This personalization by the brand is extremely influential.  The same holds true on the other end of the spectrum.  General Electric is a company that has many influences on our lives.  I am not sure how there Customer Service ratings would be, but I would bet there is an influence in the rating due to the cold nature Jack Welch, former CEO, sometimes created or the amount of layoffs they have had in the past.  I like the company a lot as an investor and I think Jeff Immelt has tried to change some of those perception, but that is something that has impacted many families and will influence the brand for years, even though they do bring “Good things to life!”

In the spirit of this post, I would like to share this Comcast Customer Guarantee ad.  The reason is how it fits into the conversation.  All of the Comcast people you see in this ad are actual employees who were recognized for providing outstanding service.

What are some other influencers to Customer Service ratings?  What do companies need to do to win over the hearts and minds of Customers?  This will lead to an upcoming post on the Customer joining the C-Suite.

I hope everyone is have a great holiday season!

Twitter is not for everyone!

Posted on : 19-12-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Comcast, Customer Service, Social Media


There has always been a lot of conversation about  Comcast and Twitter, including varying opinions of what we do right and what some perceive as wrong.  While I was on vacation there was a blog post by Ari Herzog comparing Comcast social media efforts with Walmart, LA Times and Whole Foods.   Overall it was a fair comparison, although for some reason no one realizes how active my team is within blogs, Facebook, forums, You Tube, and other social spaces.  That is a post for another day!  One of the comments is something I am very passionate about and I thought is would be helpful to share my thoughts here for some discussion.  At the end of the case study on Comcast it states “good luck finding Twitter link or icon” on Comcast.com.  Fair point and true, but lets get into why.

Not only has this discussion happened within social media, we have the discussion at work all the time.  There are many who have suggested we add a Twitter link as another method to contact us.  Believe it or not, I am the one that is resistant to this.  Let’s start with our goal within social media: “To meet Customer’s where they already are, listen and help when we can.”  I have always been passionate that the key to social media for businesses is listening first.  An area that I think companies can continually work on.

Many companies have used Twitter and other social media spaces very successfully to market products.  When you are doing this, placing a link on your website can work well.  Dell is the perfect example of this:

We have never sought to publicize our efforts or seek recognition for listening and helping, but needless to say it has happened.  I still find a lot of that discussion to be weird, because all we have ever done is what I refer to as Customer Service 101.  One of the things I realized is that publicity causes is many people that have never been on Twitter stop by.  I love Twitter, and I am excited when new people find it, but it is not always the right experience if you do not know how to use it.  One story occurred after I appeared on NPR Marketplace.  A woman needed assistance and went to Twitter for help.  It was her first time to Twitter.  She signed up and tweeted a few times.  She then when back to the the show and stated she never heard from Comcast.  We did reply to each of her tweets, but, as it turns out, she did not know to go to the “replies” tab to see responses.  This did not meet her expectations or ours, but that is what can happen when someone goes to a new space and does not fully understand how it works.  This takes me back to our overall goal, “Meet Customer’s where they already are, listen and help when we can.”  I do not see a need to generate business for Twitter but make it one of many places we listen.

Of course this would lead to the argument that we are not providing the same efforts to Customers not in social media.  Well, that is not true either.  Even before we were active in social media, my team developed a process for Customers to share feedback with Rick Germano, Senior VP of Customer Service for Comcast.  This is another process I have managed over the past few years.  This is prominently displayed on our website, and all feedback is reviewed and we assist Customers in the same manner.  We listen to every piece of feedback they provide, and help when we can.  I think in this age of Customer Service, providing as many means for Customers to share feedback is extremely important.  We also provide links throughout our website to our help forums, which are also managed by my team.  This does not mean we do not share links to our efforts on Twitter, but we do so in places where we find Customers that are already on Twitter tend to be, such as Comcast Voices blog.

I love the evolution Twitter has brought to companies, especially related to Customer Service and support.  I am proud to have played a small part, but this will continually evolve and time will create new best practices that all companies can share to create the best possible experience for Customers and prospective Customers.  The moral of this story is Twitter is great for those that fully understand it and like to be in the space.  Places like Facebook are better for others, and some individuals will prefer not to be a part of any of these social spaces, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Just Fix Customer Service…

Posted on : 23-11-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Business, Customer Service, Social Media


Sometimes people will challenge the thought of Customer Service in social media.  The belief is if Customer Service was excellent there would be no need for Customer Service involvement in social media.  I think these beliefs are shortsighted, but for a few different reasons.  Let me start off with stating that I believe Customer Service must improve for all companies, and a big cause is social media.  The Customer is gaining the upper hand, and I think that is great.  As a Customer Service person I love that this is becoming more of a focus for companies and their Customers.

Many argue that companies should take money being invested in social media and invest the same into traditional Customer Service functions.  I think this is a misconception since overall cost to listening in social media is negligible.  How much does it cost to do a Twitter search or Google blogsearch?  I have been doing similar searches for every company I have worked for over the past 15 years.  As a service person it provided me the pulse for the Customer thoughts on the companies I worked for.  This argument is made many times by social media “experts.”  Many of these experts have an understanding of social spaces, but not always of the Customer or Customer Service operations.  I wanted to take a moment to share thoughts on each of the spaces Customers may be in and how they may be used:

  • Blogs, You Tube, Live Journal, Facebook pages (not status updates) – These spaces, and others like it, are Customers stories of things that already happened. Great way to learn from Customer from the good to the bad and even the ugly.
  • Technical Forums (for Comcast these would include our help forums, Broadband Reports, AVS Forums, High Def Forums and many others) – These are spaces that can help enhance existing knowledge databases for Customer Service since they often discuss highly technical issues and find resolutions.  The resolution can then be used to be added to internal resources for Customer Service representatives to be used.  There are other issues that can only be fixed by the company but in many cases the Customer turned to the forum first.  We can then offer assistance where they already are, bypassing the need to call
  • Twitter, Facebook status updates (when made public) and other microblogs – These are great spaces to learn things before any other means of communication.  On Twitter people are answering “Whats Happening?  The answer may be I am calling XYZ company because…  So now you know reason for the call before they even connect to an agent.  This information in a centralized space can add tremendous value because as a business leader I can know more before things are identified through calls or other forms of contact.  This can save companies tremendous money and provide great cost savings leading to a better experience because sometime we can even use Twitter to find the answer and supply to agents before the call came in.

I can see tremendous value for all interactions by listening in every one of these spaces.  Using the crowd sourced information, such as what can be found in forums, will lead to cost benefits and a great way to engage your most passionate Customers.  In many businesses, such as the cable industry, so many variable impact performance and technical forums can help find solutions to the most difficult of problems.  So if someone is having trouble with XYZ router, the call center may not have the answer since it is impossible to know every router ever created, but the answer may be quickly found in a forum.  It is crowd sourcing at its best.  Now that can lead to huge cost benefits!

The other notion that is implied in many of these conversations is excellent service will lead to positive information in social media.  This is incorrect.  There are a number of companies that I follow because of how much I love the service they provide to their Customers.  These companies encounter many negative conversations, in fact I even did a blog post regarding one of them.  I still feel guilty, since the vast majority of my interactions with the company were perfect.

In the end, I think listening to your Customer anywhere will lead to improved Customer experience and cost benefits for the entire company.  Social media is not the holy grail in any way, but it is one piece of a listening strategy.  There are great tools that can help you listen to calls, or other communications with Customers.  I also recommend providing your Customer an easy way to share their feedback through other channels that may not be as public.  It is all part of a cohesive listening plan that, in my opinion, all companies should be looking at.

The key is remembering the Customer is part of the solution, and social media is a great way to involve them!

The Social Media Fire, Will It Change Corporate Culture?

Posted on : 07-11-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Business, Customer Service, In the News, Marketing, Social Media, Technology


This is the third attempt for me writing this post.  This morning I woke up and read my email like I do every morning.  One of the emails was a Google alert with a reference to this San Francisco Chronicle article about “Social Media Going Corporate.”  In the article it stated the following:

At Comcast, employee Frank Eliason took the initiative last year to use his own Twitter account to contact customers who were tweeting about service problems. Now known as “Famous Frank,” Eliason has been credited with almost single-handedly turning around Comcast’s reputation. He heads a staff of 11 who monitor social networks and offer help to customers.

During a question-and-answer session at last month’s Web 2.0 conference, Comcast’s Roberts said the Twitter strategy has played a big part in changing the corporate culture “from inside the organization, not just the top down.”

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/11/07/BU341ACLD3.DTL#ixzz0WE9gWzSR

In my opinion the change in culture was due to so many people inside and outside the organization.  Some of the people I work with I give huge credit to the change, including my team, Rich Roberts (my former boss, now VP of Customer Care in Atlanta), Tina Waters (SVP and my boss), Rick Germano (SVP of National Customer Service), Jenn Khoury, (VP, Corporate Communications), and D’Arcy Rudnay (SVP, Corporate Communications).  But it was so many more than these individuals.  Team members throughout the organization, from techs, Customer Service representatives, managers, directors, and VPs from all area contributed.  Our Customers, who are very passionate about our products, and simply want a great experience to go with it.  As Rick likes to say “They are cheering us on, because they want us to get  it right.”  In dealing with so many, I can say Rick is correct, they do love our products and they want the opportunity to cheer for us, we just need to make sure we deliver on that.  This post is not about Comcast, but for those that do not know, I agree our culture has changed.  I have been seeing first hand, including changes in reporting structure, new systems, the implementation of the Customer Guarantee and the overall attitude of the company has shifted to be about the Customer experience.  In fact the new corporate credo is:

“We will deliver a superior experience to our Customers every day.  Our products will be the best and we will offer the most Customer friendly and reliable service in the market”

I am sure some will say they have not experienced this fully yet, but I will tell you a lot is being done to ensure you do.  You will be cheering!  Internally the conversation is always about the Customer experience and how to make sure we get it right.  I see a much different place than when I started 2 years ago.  I do not believe it was due to me, but a lot of the discussions in various spaces that started to come together at the same time.  Many of the discussions supported greater transparency, Customer focus, and an environment that questioned how things were being done.  As this took shape, the culture of the company changed.

So I wrote this post numerous times I kept singing in my head the following lyrics:

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Aren’t these words so fitting regarding social media and corporate America?  Now I was not around when the phone joined the business world, but I can imagine someone saying they do not need a phone on their desk.  Yet today, many of us carry our work phone wherever we are.  I would imagine in the marketing space similar discussions happened with the transition from newspaper to radio to TV.  I remember email coming out and much debate over providing email access to all employees.  Today, I have work email 24/7 on my iPhone.  Even funnier was the reaction to using email for Customer Service.  Today who would not think to email a company for service?  Same was true regarding allowing employees having internet access on their desk.  This was done, but then many site were blocked due to productivity.  Of course I work on email at night and weekends, why would their be a problem if I updated Facebook at work?  So lets allow the song to continue:

Telephone, radio’s playing, newspapers, TV’s talking,
email, googling, paying bills, Pandora playing
Facebook Mafia wars, Blog updates galore
Following more Twitter stars, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on…

Social media is about relationships, and ultimately relationships are good for businesses and employees.  Will social media change corporate culture?  Well have other forms of communication?  I believe phone, email and the internet have already changed the culture for everyone, especially businesses.  With each new form of communication we gain efficiency and we find new ways to speak with Customers.  Can you imagine someone typing and copying memos?  Ugh, I would hate that.  For those that say Twitter and Facebook take away from the efficiency of the workers, the same was said about email and internet access.  I bet it was also said about phone too (oh no, a family member better not call).  Social media has made the world a smaller place (there are numerous examples of this) and I know it can make the business world smaller too.

The Basics of Service Still Hold True…

Posted on : 09-09-2009 | By : Frank Eliason | In : Brands, Customer Service, Social Media


In social media, the basics of service are no different than any other communications channel.  I find it interesting to watch companies work within social media to try to engage with their Customers.  It is obvious to me that there is still a fight as to who owns the social media interaction.  In most companies it is either PR or Marketing, but isn’t Customer Service the area that talks to Customers?  Many can say this is a new space and companies are learning.  I agree with that, but there is enough information out there to know what approaches tend to work best.  If you are there for PR, or even marketing, it may not be necessary to personalize the interaction, but for service it is a different story.  The trouble is many in marketing or PR view this to be all about the brand.  I have a little hint for you, the company or department does not own the space, your Customer does!

So how does the basics of service matter?  Because this is how all interactions should be, no matter the channel.  When someone calls your business do you answer the phone “XYZ Company, What do you want?”  No, most businesses answer the phone XYZ Company.  This is Frank speaking, how may I help you?”  The first key aspect that you learn is the human connection is so important.  Unfortunately this space, companies are too focused on the brand not their Customers.  You do not have to look at my Twitter handle to see this success, just look at Dell, who was truly a pioneering company in the space.  They have recognized this for years.  Now Zappos provides an even more in depth look.  They encourage, and teach, all their employees to participate in the space.  Now that is personal.

There are many ways to personalize Twitter.  My preference is different ID’s for different people, but I can understand why that may not be the preferred method for some companies.  Below are a few companies that are doing it right.  Ford has Shawn handling the FordCustService account.  QuickenLoans lets us know via the bio section that it is Kelly helping out, and Office_Live demonstrates a way to have multiple people on the same account.  Charter, and the UMatter2Charter team have been doing a good job in creating that personal connection.  They use separate accounts and they connect with their Customers.  Don’t you prefer to interact with a person?  I know I do.

Other basics to serving Customers is to have a conversation, do not sit there marketing outward the whole time.  Also, just like a call, make sure you resolve the Customers needs prior to offering sales.  This is where companies really make it about them, instead of their Customers.  I applaud all companies for trying to find ways to have success in this space.  I am always happy to see new companies learn about social media and ways they too can participate.

Who are some other companies that you view doing it right on Twitter?