Archive for the ‘customer experience’ Category

Today Awareness announced that the Social Marketing Hub, our latest software innovation, became generally available. During the development of the Hub, Mark Cattini (our CEO) and I traveled to over 50 of the largest brands in the world to get their feedback on the new product.  We spent time collecting feedback on every aspect of the solution from functionality to pricing to market positioning.  While we spent time discussing the product we also spent a significant about of time talking with each company about their approach to social media, their objectives, their successes and their challenges.

I have to admit that I was surprised by some of the findings and was even more surprised to learn that most of the organizations we spoke with face similar challenges despite being of different sizes and in different industries.  What are those challenges you ask?  Below is a summary of what we learned.

1. Inability to scale

The inability for organizations to scale – to quickly and easily manage, maintain, and measure multiple social channels – was a top theme coming out of our meetings. Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group recently published a post that discusses the pain of scaling social media programs in more detail and breaks down the Social Media Management Software market. A real life example of this pain came very early on in our tour. We sat down with the interactive marketing team at a large retailer who explained that they needed to drop MySpace as a channel because they didn’t have the resources to manage and report on it in a meaningful way. Because it had become too burdensome to maintain, they opted to stop spending time updating and managing MySpace and, in their words, “break-ties with our 30K+ MySpace friends”.

The issue for them boiled down to scale. They are not able to utilize and promote additional channels because managing their primary outposts – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube – requires a huge commitment in terms of resources. They would like to be able to easily add and test new channels but don’t have the time or energy to expand on their current strategy.

2. Security & Control

Raise your hand if your organization shares passwords to your social sites via an excel spreadsheet? If you are guilty, trust me when I tell you that you are not alone. In fact, of the brands we met with only a handful were not using excel to share passwords.  In one of the more uncomfortable moments from the tour, we met with the marketing group and a representative from the IT team at a large consumer electronics company. We mentioned controlling passwords was a challenge for many organizations and they went on to explain how they share passwords through excel. When someone leaves the company they change the password, update the spreadsheet and resend to nearly 30 people who “may” need access to manage updates (this includes resending it to their multiple marketing agencies). Needless to say, the rep from IT was not happy and that resulted in a heated discussion about internal security protocols.

This example is just the tip of the iceberg for security and control. Many organizations have Facebook Pages, YouTube Channels, Twitter Accounts, etc controlled by individuals within the company, outside of the team responsible for controlling messaging. This makes it very difficult to control messaging and posts and makes it almost impossible to retract assets that may be out of date or contain obsolete messaging.  It’s also impossible to report on who published what, where and when.

3. Lack of resources and buy-in

Many of the top brands – some of which have received kudos for their social performance and strategy – are operating with an extreme lack of resources and next to no buy-in from senior execs. A contributing factor to this is a lack of meaningful reporting (see point 4) but it is still shocking that social media has not been fully accepted in the highest levels of some of these enterprises.

Take for example a large, multi-billion dollar retailer who has two individuals managing multiple twitter accts, a few Facebook pages, multiple YouTube channels and a recently launched Flickr page. The management of these channels is only a small component of their everyday jobs which makes prioritizing them very difficult.  While meeting with the social media tandem they needed to continually excuse themselves to respond to support issues on Twitter. The challenge they face is resources are difficult to get. In their words “…  from the executives perspective, we are executing on social media and doing a great job. The question we get is ‘why do you need more resources, everything is going really well’. The problem is we are working 16 hour days to make this happen and are spending large portions of our day arguing with other departments about access, controls, messaging, etc.” This is a good segue to point #4 – reporting…

4. Reporting is Ad-Hoc

Reporting on social media is the single biggest hurdle faced by large organizations because it impacts every other point on the list.  Without reporting, it’s difficult to scale, get exec buy-in, maintain control and centralize your social media strategy.  What surprised us is that pulling general reports from the big channels – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube – is a manual process that people are spending a great deal of time on. We have seen everything – interns hired specifically to pull stats and aggregate data, marketing agencies getting paid top dollar to pull data on a weekly basis, departments forwarding weekly reports to an individual who aggregates data on specific channels and pieces of content and a myriad of other ways to resolve the issue.  The point is there is a big hole to fill around reporting. Organizations want and need a central place to collect data from multiple channels and have simple way to manipulate data to see how assets are performing and which channels are providing the best bang for the buck.

5. Centralization

Organizations are looking to centralize social media efforts across the organization. What we found is that most organizations handle social media in silos. Different departments create pages and accounts for their division and this makes it difficult to deploy a centralized strategy.  Another large retailer we met with is experiencing this issue on a global scale.  They have over 200 physical retail locations in the United States and Canada and many of the local outlets have taken the initiative to develop and manage their own social outposts to target individuals within the local geography.  The problem comes when one of the local offices decides to promote a sale too early (or not at all), promotes a new product before it’s announced by corporate, uses incorrect messaging and generally doesn’t conform to corporate guidelines.  This is a huge problem faced by not only retail organizations but also inside large multinational corporations with departments that are dispersed across the globe.  Centralizing the social media strategy is something that is gaining a lot of momentum within large companies and most are moving to bring social media to one department who controls all engagement and interactions.

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We used these interviews and the information we collected as a guide to help us develop the Awareness Social Marketing Hub.  By listening to our customers we gained a deep understanding of their approach to social media and built the system from the ground up based on their needs.  With the market constantly evolving we wanted to make sure the system met the needs they have today as well as be capable of supporting needs that develop over time. We are continuing to gather more knowledge about enterprise social media needs and are always using our learnings to innovate our offerings.

What do you think?  Did we miss any challenges?  Are these the same ones that you face on a daily basis?  I’d love to hear your thoughts…

All photos used under a Creative Commons license.  Photo credits:

  1. Scale: Hanson Bros. Scale 04.06.09 [96] by timlewisnm
  2. Control: No Controle (in Control) by renatotarga
  3. Lack of Resources:  089/365 Money…What Money by stuartpilbrow
  4. Reporting: AAAARRRGGGHHH by evilerin
  5. Centralize: Collegiate Church, Salzburg by andreakirkby

For the last 14 months Awareness has hosted a series of free webinars focused on educating the market on the benefits of social media marketing.  Last week’s session featured author Lon Safko discussing the “5 Steps to Social Media Implementation“.  The session itself started off with some technical difficulties that we were able to work out after about 10-15 minutes.  Even though we started a bit late, the session went very well  and, for the most part, those who attended were satisfied with the content of the session.

There is always (and I do mean, always) someone who leaves the session unhappy.  We do our best to feature top notch speakers and content as well as strive to consistently manage the sessions in a professional manner.  That said, every once in a while we run into a hiccup that causes a delay or, in one instance, a cancellation.  What continues to surprise me is the response we get when these issues arise.  Take for example the voicemail below that we received from a woman who had some issues accessing the session (she will remain nameless).

Angry Voicemail from Webinar Participant

I completely understand that a delay or broken link is frustrating.  This is especially frustrating when you have set aside time to attend one of our sessions.  I have been on the other side and it really is annoying.  That said, this voice mail is just funny.  Not so much for what she says but because of her reaction.  Really, I would expect this from my 2 year old, not from a business professional looking to gain more knowledge.

For those wondering, we did respond with a kind apology and helped her fix the broken link which was part of an issue with her email.  We also refunded her admission fee for the session. :-)

Are you part of the Revolution?

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you have already seen this video.  At over 1M views on YouTube in the last 3 months, it’s one of YouTube’s more popular videos.  In case you haven’t seen it yet, check out the video below:

I have seen the video a bunch of times and the stats continue to impress, particularly:

  1. 25% of search results for the World’s Top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content
  2. 34% of bloggers post opinions about products & brands
  3. 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations
  4. More than 1.5 million pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) are shared on Facebook…daily.

These stats tell the story – for brands social media isn’t a fad, it’s the way consumers communicate.  To keep up, organizatons need to join the conversation and participate.  Do you agree?

thinkpositiveWednesday was a tough afternoon for me.  I’m sure many of you were probably following the twitter stream for #awarenessinc Wednesday afternoon and have some sense of what happened but for those that didn’t, here’s a summary of what went down:

For the last few months we have been promoting a webinar with Chris Brogan for a discussion about his new book “Trust Agents“.  Needless to say the demand for the event was extraordinary.  Over 1200 people registered and I was personally excited to have the chance to chat with Chris about the book. Chris and I spoke several times that morning to discuss the slides, flow and logistics and had worked out every last detail. I started the session 30 minutes early, uploaded the slides and walked through the logistics with our Webex producer who was overseeing the call. I typically use producers for our events so they can provide the recording and manage any tech issues that may arise.  This is particularly important for me for this event because we were dealing with a very large crowd and I wanted to make sure everything went smoothly.

Everything was progressing on plan until Chris tried to join the conference bridge 15 minutes prior to the call.  He was having trouble dialing into the phone line and connecting to the Webex meeting manager.  We attempted several different methods for joining Chris to the bridge (including having him call my cell and putting it on speaker phone to broadcast on the bridge) and nothing seemed to work.  While Webex scrambled to figure out the issue with Chris’ line the situation steamrolled at 2PM ET, when a flood of people attempted to join the session.

Apparently, Webex was experiencing an issue that resulted in everyone getting removed from the line the moment they dialed-in.  People were also having difficulty joining the session over the computer.  We were notified that the Webex tech support team was aware of the problem and was working towards a resolution.  Chris and I immediately began tweeting, emailing and chatting with the individuals attempting to join the call.  We tried in vain to get the call started for over 30 minutes and had no luck.  Once it became clear that issue could not be resolved,  we decided to reschedule and notify everyone of the new date/time once we had it.

We learned a lot during the session just from following the Twitter stream. Most importantly, it emphasized the importance of keeping members in the loop while we were attempting to write the ship. The conversation was great and in the words of @gillat “I think that we proved that even though the webinar was canceled, we still had fun creating a conversation on twitter ;-) #awarenessinc”.

A couple of things I’d like to clear up. First, Webex has planned a meeting with me some of their execs today to discuss how we can make this right. And, when I say “make this right”  I don’t mean for myself, Chris or Awareness – but for the people who registered and spent time waiting on the line. (Special thanks to @faithlegendre for helping to facilitate this). Second, while unfortunate, tech issues do happen and I hope people understand that Webex still offers a quality product and service. Let me be 100% clear, in our opinion this was a serious issue that needs to be dealt with but, while unfortunate, we are still working with Webex on a resolution. Are we upset? Yes. But they heard the chatter on Twitter and will work to correct the issue. I am confident of this. I plan on keeping everyone posted on this process as it plays out.  Stay tuned for details…

On behalf of the team at Awareness, I want to personally apologize to everyone who registered and was on the line waiting for Chris and I. Not so much for the tech issue but for not responding to every tweet/note that came in during the session. To be transparent, we were both working hard to try and think of other alternatives and it was difficult for us to manage the overwhelming response.  We appreciate you patience and we think we have a plan in place to make things right.

The good news is we HAVE rescheduled the session for September 9 at 2PM ET. We are working with PermissionTV to make this a live, streaming session.  We will be proving details on this session by Monday at the absolute latest.  In addition, we will be providing a new eBook to everyone who registered. This was written by Chris and was scheduled to be released to the public in late September. We are finishing the book now and will have it our the attendees who registered for the previous session on Monday as well.

Finally, I want to thank everyone for registering and taking some time to wait on the line to hear from Chris. The audience on our webinars consistently ROCK and we always appreciate hearing their feedback (whether good, or bad).

Feel free to post any questions or voice your frustration here.  You can also email me directly at mike.lewis(AT)awarenessnetworks.com or chat with me on Twitter @bostonmike.

Photo credit: Wavy1

Updated August 31:

Just received this note from Webex to share with our attendees:

August 28, 2009

Dear Attendee,

Thank you for your interest in the Awareness Inc., “Trust Agents: Webinar with Chris Brogan” web event held on Wednesday, August 26, 2009.

On behalf of Cisco-WebEx, please accept our apologies for the telephony issues during this Awareness Inc. sponsored event.  We strive to make each of our customer’s events successful and apologize for the issue.  The telephony issue was not the fault of Awareness Inc. and Cisco-WebEx will continue to work closely with Awareness Inc. to ensure that all future Cisco-WebEx events will provide a high-quality experience.

Sincerely,

Cisco-WebEx Communications, Inc.

BMA Boston Board at Fenway Park; Winter 2007

BMA Boston Board at Fenway Park; Winter 2007

There must be a better model for running a marketing association.  I’ve been a member of multiple “M.A.’s” (BMA, DMA, AMA, etc) and I think my expectations are pretty simple.  Mostly I am looking for two things: (1) education and (2) networking.  While I do have a straightforward mission, i do have additional expectations.  I want the group(s) (or associations or communities) to understand my needs and wants as a marketer without letting the officer’s personal interests get in the way.  I don’t want to go to an event where I learn about a dated topic (like “the value of printing”) or, even worse, a session where I am forced to sit through a product pitch. I want to network with peers who I can learn from, not a group of vendors trying to sell me stuff every time I meet them. I expect a balance of “meet-ups” and educational events. I want the dialogs that start at physical events to continue long after the hand shake  and I expect social media to play a role in helping to facilitate that ongoing conversation. I want the leadership of the association to listen to my needs and wants and use them as the basis for developing programming. In general, I expect a positive customer experience. Is that too much to ask?

I say this because I have been actively involved in marketing associations for roughly the last 12 years.  In fact, I ran the Boston Chapter of the Business Marketing Association for about 3 years. During that time, the chapter saw its largest growth both in terms of revenue and membership, won three awards, hosted the most successful and profitable physical events in the group’s history and launched a webinar series that was syndicated nationally throughout regional chapters and attracted attendees from as far away as Japan, Europe and Australia.  We succeeded in repositioning the group’s perception in the market from a traditional stodgy association run by vendors to a group on the cutting edge of marketing.

I left the organization in January of this year because I was watching the association fall victim to the same mistakes it had made previous to my tenure.   The topics were tired, the events seemed stale and the speakers didn’t sound engaging.  I’d really like to see the group expand on it’s momentum and embrace new speakers/topics to help stay on the cutting edge.  Without getting into details, the final straw for me was an email stating rather bluntly “I don’t care about us executing on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, or any other social network” and inferring that new types of marketing would not have a place in the chapter moving forward. In a time where many marketers are looking for more education on social media and are turning to their marketing associations to help figure it out, the group opted not to focus any effort or energy in educating their members on the benefits of this approach.  Given my passion for the space and my belief in social media, I decided it was best to part ways.

I am sharing my background with you, not to toot my own horn or throw anyone under the bus, but to help make a point.   Since I left the BMA I have looked long and hard at many of the other marketing associations out there and have come to the conclusion that none fulfill my needs. My view is tainted but it seems like most groups are operated by a select group of individuals that appear to have their own interests in mind – whether it is finding a job, selling a product or service or something else.  Sorry if my view offends anyone.  I do understand that my observations are a generalization – I’m sure there are individuals and chapters that have other interests at heart but I haven’t run across them in the recent past.

Granted, my experience in the last six months has likely made me cynical towards associations but I am looking for your opinion.  Are marketing associations, in general, going the way of the dinosaur? Do you belong to any and if so, which are the best? If you were running the show, what would you do differently?   What do you expect from the groups you are a member of?

Last night I was talking to my wife about my blog post a few weeks back regarding great customer service at the Apple Store.  She listened to the story, read the post and said “That’s great, but not nearly as good as the service we got at that Sony Style store in Las Vegas”.  I have to admit, I was a little embarrassed that I forgot about that experience because it was so outstanding.  I have not blogged about it but have shared the story with some of my friends.  Every time I tell it people are amazed at the level of responsiveness and dedication to customer service.  Let me know what you think.

Sony Style Store

Before I get into the story, let me tell you my biases… I have always been a fan of Sony, in fact it’s one of the few brands I am loyal to.  In my opinion their products have two important qualities: (1) They are high quality and (2) they satisfy my “inner geek”.  My TV is a Bravia and my home computer is a Vaio.  In my laptop bag I carry CyberShot, Sony earbuds, and a PSP (for long trips).  I am in the middle of playing Fallout on my Playstation 3 and was an early adopter of Blu-Ray.  In the spirit of full transparency, Sony also happens to be a client of Awareness, Inc (my employer).  Now that you know I am brand loyal and that Sony is a client, let me share my experience with Sony Style with you and get your take.

For Valentines Day my wife and I spent a long weekend in Vegas.   Like anyone visiting Sin City we spent time gambling, going to some great restaurants and seeing spectacular shows.  On Saturday morning we got up early and spent time walking from Casino to Casino.  We ended up in Caesars Palace around dinnertime and as I went to take picture with my CyberShot I realized the battery was nearly dead.  I forgot the charger back in the room and didn’t have a spare battery.  We had dinner reservations and would have just enough time to make it to Cirque du Soleil for the show.  We had no time to make it back to the room.

Cirque du Soleil

The good news is we were happy to find out there was a Sony Style store in the mall at Caesars.  When we got to the store a representative greeted us and directed me to the batteries I needed for the camera.  As I grabbed the battery the salesperson told me the bad news: the new battery would still need to be charged.  Here is where service goes from good… to great.  Instead of selling me a new battery, the salesperson took my current battery from the camera and charged it for me.  The best part is, because it took about an hour to fully charge, she hand delivered it to us in the restaurant once it was ready to use.  (Note: I did buy the extra battery to make sure this situation didn’t happen again)

Picture taken Feb 14 with my Cybershot

How cool is that?  Talk about going above and beyond for a customer.  An important thing to note is the sales person had no idea I was loyal towards the Sony brand or that Sony is a client.  All she new is I had a Cybershot and needed help with the battery.  I’m not sure if this type of service is exclusive to the Sony Store in Las Vegas but it left a lasting impression for me.

Apple Store, Burlington Mall

It’s one thing to talk about providing extraordinary customer service and another to actually provide it.  I don’t know if it’s something about me, or the companies I choose to do business with, but over the last few weeks I have had a string of really bad customer experiences. From unresponsive vendors to irritable clerks at the local coffee shop, I have noticed an increasing amount of bad customer service and was actually starting to think this was a sign of the times and becoming the norm.

With so many negative experiences in my recent past I thought it was important to share a particularly good experience I had this week at the Apple Store in Burlington, MA.

The Situation:
A few months back I upgraded from a Blackberry to an iPhone. I took me a while to figure out how to type and get comfortable with the interface but overall the move from Blackberry to iPhone was painless.  After a month or so it was clear to me that the iPhone was more intuitive, easier to use and provided a better overall experience.

This past weekend, the battery life got really bad.  It wasn’t holding a charge for more than 15 minutes and the moment I unplugged it, the battery would immediately jump to the red.  After chatting with the folks at Apple over the phone, I made a trip over to the Apple Store to meet with the team at the Genius Bar and get their help resolving the issue.

My Experience at the Genius Bar:
From the start, the Genius Bar staff was incredibly helpful.  Pat was the Apple Genius who assisted me and he started the process by connecting my phone to a computer to diagnose the problem.  To our surprise the diagnostic test came back negative indicating that nothing was wrong with the battery or the phone.  Immediately, they backed up the phone, gave me a new one, and restored the original content and settings on the new phone.  This process took about two hours and during that time I had the chance to sit next to other customers and observe the interactions.

Apple Genius Bar

Apple Genius Bar

I found some of the interactions amusing, others strange, but all gave me a deeper insight into the types of requests the Apple Geniuses get on a typical night and why Apple gets consistent high marks in customer service.  Here are some of the stories I overheard:

  • A man came to the bar with his HP Tower computer (windows based) and full gear (I’m talking the tower, monitor, keyboard, mouse… everything).  He claimed to be having trouble synching his iPod with iTunes.  The technician set up the computer, and once it was turn on realized that iTunes had never been installed.  Instead of making the customer feel dumb regarding this apparent oversight, the technician installed iTunes, set up the application and had everything synched with his iPod in a matter of minutes.
  • An older lady approached the bar complaining that her Mac was having trouble connecting to her wireless network.  She explained that she was not having any trouble connecting to the Internet, but she couldn’t connect to “her network”.   The Genius recognized that she was connecting to a neighbor’s wireless network and quickly fixed the settings so it would work properly and sent the consumer on her way.
  • Someone else was having some difficulty installing Leopard.  Instead of providing step-by-step instructions, the genius sat with customer, installed the operating system and made sure everything was working properly.
  • A teenage boy explained he had an issue calling one specific contact.  Every time he dialed the one specific number, the call failed and the phone shut down.  The genius performed a hard reset on the phone and everything worked again like a charm.

What I learned:
From my perspective there are two keys to providing a positive customer experience.  The first is taking the time to listen to a customers issue.  Listening to customer issues before acting is skill that many companies overlook.  The second key is having relevant, up-to-date knowledge about and for your customers available everywhere and anywhere they may choose to interact with you.  Most organizations have a lot of the knowledge they need to deliver a superior customer experience, but it is usually incomplete, and typically isn’t  easily accessible to customers or frontline employees.

RightNow Technologies – my former employer and a provider of on-demand CRM solutions focused on customer service and support – recently published a white paper, written by Bruce Temkin, called “The 6 Laws of Customer Experience“.  I read this a couple of weeks ago and I actually got to see these laws in action last night at the Apple Store.

*The following 6 laws are from Bruce Temkin’s white paper.

Law #1: Every interaction create a personal reaction
Put simply, this means an experience that may be positive to me, may be negative for someone else.  Apple understands this and has trained Genius Bar employees to take the time to listen to each individual issue.  No matter how mundane or trivial a service issue may be, the technician treats it as though it is critical and takes the time to understand the situation of the individual seeking help.  This personal interaction helps to create a positive experience for each customer.

Law #2: People are Instinctively Self Centered
This means customers care only about what matters to them. They don’t care about what resolving their issue means to your company, what your support costs are, how your company shares knowledge or if your company is organized enough to deal with the issue.  I observed Apple handling this in a couple of ways.  First, they put highly competent, trained, employees on the frontlines in the Genius Bar.  This ensures that no matter what issue a customer has, Apple is putting their best foot forward.  Secondly, Apple makes sure that the Genius Bar staff have the most up to date knowledge they need to solve issues at their fingertips enabling them to answer almost every issue that they are presented with.

Law #3: Customer Familiarity Breeds Alignment
Let’s be clear: most companies want to better serve their customers.  I have never been in a company meeting where executives or employees discuss ways they can reduce customer satisfaction.  The problem is most companies don’t share a singular view of the what the customers needs and how to handle customer issues that arise.  In addition, employees are rarely enabled to assist customers and make decisions on how to resolve issues.  From my perspective, Apple has a very clear view of how to treat customers.  Based on my interaction their view is to show customers respect, don’t talk down to them, understand their concerns and do everything in  their power to resolve the issue.  The thing is, the staff of the Genius Bar are enabled to make decisions.  The diagnostic scan of my iPhone revealed no issues with the battery, but the technician still made the decision to replace the phone.

Law #4: Unengaged Employees Don’t Create Engaged Customers
The point here is that focusing on getting employees bought-in to the effort will results in a higher likelihood that they will “wow” customers.  It stands to reason that employees who have low morale will have a more difficult time dealing with customer service issues.  The perception I had is that all the employees of the Apple Store are completely behind the mission of the company. They are passionate about the company and products which makes them more enthusiastic about helping customers.

Law #5: Employees do what is Measured, Incented and Celebrated
This is pretty straight forward and, to be honest, I have no idea if Apple has an incentive program in place to reward employees for delivering outstanding customer experiences.  That said, if they don’t, I would be shocked.  One thing I can say about this, is it’s critical to measure the correct things.  At some other service locations employees are rewarded based on how many customers they deal with.  What often happens is that in the rush to deal with more customers, quality is neglected.  That is not the case at the Apple Store.  Employees go out of their way to spend as much time as is required to assist customers.

Law #6: You can’t Fake It
Providing great customer service is something you can’t fake.  You may spend a ton of money on marketing how great your customer service is, but if it’s bad your customers will know.  Your executives may preach about the importance of customer service but if it’s not really a top company priority, your employees will know.

I don’t mean for this to be a  puff piece for Apple.  Like every company they have their problems and I am quite sure not every customer service interaction is a great one.  However, I have grown so accustomed to having bad experiences lately I think it’s important to highlight the good ones.

Have you had any great customer experiences lately?