Part 1: What would you do? Disobey to delight?

 

This is the first post in a series of ‘what would you do’ pieces about real professional and customer service experience stories that can stand as lessons of what to do, and what not to do. The role and actions of the leader(s), service provider and the customer will be presented in each, with different outcome scenarios offered. I’m hoping that many will add their own thoughts, expertise and guidance so this grows into a valuable resource for discussion and insight.

Let’s jump right in with Case #1 – Disrupt & Disobey to Delight?

Overview: Prof Service consultant is stuck in loop as customer advocate with unresponsive partner/leader. What to do, what to do?

Leader Role: Partner – Sells, services & supports 5 ERP products and 1 enterprise collaboration application, plus custom add-ons. Active in the channel for greater than 10 years. Expertise in manufacturing, mining & oil field drilling.

Professional & Customer Service Role – Consultant: Also worked in the same channel for greater than 10 years, specializing as an expert in the enterprise collaboration application (trained the partner on it in years past), with decent knowledge in the erp packages. Wooed by partner to come on board for that expertise.

Customer Role: Mid-size manufacturer, with strong online catalogue sales channel. Three years into their implementation of the erp & collaboration system. Recognize they are not utilizing systems efficiently for CRM & Marketing purposes. Recently hired a new marketing/lead generation FT staff member.

The Story:

Consultant is tasked by Partner to demo functionality in the CRM system that is not yet configured or being used, for the purposes of training customer’s new marketing resource, existing account care rep and member of exec team on increased efficiencies & value. Exec member is ‘blown away’ by untapped potential and wants immediate action to get it up and running.

In the process of demo prep, consultant notes dirty data via a bad first load 3 years hence, segmentation redundancies in useless fields which are unrelated to, and useless for, native reports and lack of configured mgmt dashboards. Expresses same to Partner, with advisement this could be addressed in <2 hrs time without impact on any erp touch point fields.  Partner says, “No. Train only with they already have. Just ignore that exec guy. He hasn’t been happy in 10 years and nothing will make him happy. He needs to take responsibility for not using the system.”

Meanwhile, the exec guy (customer) is eager & excited to get moving using their system they way it was sold to them. Peppers communications to consultant with statements like, “At last! We’re looking at swapping out to another system, because we’ve paid for consulting over & over to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, twice the quoted amount, and we’ve never seen or gotten this stuff. You can get us on track. Let’s start working on this right now.”

So let’s review – we have:

  • Customer & partner, both dissatisfied & resentful of each other, alternately blaming and being defensive about who is responsible for the state of the systems & the relationship. One doesn’t want to pay another dime for services that should have been rendered by partner, but is willing to pay new consultant, and the other refuses to deviate from their ill-conceived training plan based on their own limited knowledge of the CRM system functionality.
  • Consultant thrown in the middle of the relationship drama, facing barriers and impediments to put head down, get to work & improve things all around.

In this case, the Consultant has three choices:

  1. Step back, letting the customer and partner duke it out themselves.
  2. Step sideways, do the required configurations quietly (unbillable) on a copy of the system, then demo to both the customer & the partner.
  3. Step up, staying in the trenches fighting for the customer, re-educating the partner in the process, to get permission to do the work openly.

What would you do?

I’d likely do several things in parallel.

  • First, I’d try a different tactic with the partner.  I’d work to pull them out of the same behaviors with and expectations of the customer by pointing out that they now have two new change agents on the field: the consultant & the new marketing resource the customer hired.  Small changes that can have big impact… “a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas.”
  • Both have fresh eyes and aren’t locked into the circuitous arguments that prevent real change from occurring. I’d position that as an opportunity, suggesting that both the partner and the exec guy step back, hand over the reins to these new folks for one week, then check the results. Move the actions away from the mistrustful players to enable a new relationship to be built within the organization & the partnership.
  • I’d clarify to both the customer & the partner that billing bitches are not appropriate discussions to saddle staff & consultants with during work sessions. Take it offline and speak to the people who have their own skin in the game on either side. New players don’t want or need to be poisoned, lest the cycle continues.
  • Confident that the partner won’t notice anyway, else it would have been addressed long ago, I’d quietly move the dirty, unused data to another field so the original field could be used as originally intended for marketing functions. (Only possible in this case, because there is zero chance for corruption or loss of data.) Quiet win for the customer at no cost to partner. ;>

When tight-rope walking between the needs of the customer and the partner who owns that customer, consultants have to balance ethics, ownership and advocacy very carefully.  What would you do?

When was the last time you checked your Customer’s oil and washed their windows?

Fill'r up with a smile

While reading Tom Asacker’s excellent post ‘Customer Service Is Dead!‘, I had one of those break through ‘a ha’ moments about customer experience thanks to Tom’s reminder of the good old days of the local service station:

Back in the day, when customer service was king, I worked after school pumping gas and handing out collectible tumblers at my father’s service station. That’s what they called it back then: a service station, not a gas station. The consistent delivery of fast and friendly service was a significant source of differentiation and, in many cases, a customer’s compelling reason to choose.

Tom continues on:

I can remember, as part of my aforementioned job, routinely checking customers’ oil levels. And I was never questioned when I advised them, frequently, that they were down a quart. When was the last time you had to add a quart of oil to your car between oil changes? I also remember squeegeeing windows and attending to tumbler requests, never once barked at to “hurry up!”

I’m stricken by the simple clarity gas station memories offer when trying to define the difference between customer service and customer experience – when was the last time you checked your customer’s oil and offered a top up without being asked? 

Too often, customer service means reacting when something goes wrong, rather than providing preventative maintenance to keep the engine running smoothly in the first place. In the software industry, this added value could be as simple as scheduling a free system ‘health check’ with the customer, then offering advice on improving performance, configuring new features, or ensuring that recent bug fixes have been applied.  

Customer service is supporting the software;  Customer Experience is topping up the relationship with a quart of high-performance tweaking. This may or may not result in more immediate revenue, but it will likely generate goodwill and further loyalty with the customer. 

What can you do to wash the customer’s window so they can see the road ahead clearly? You know, the road that leads them back to you and your services over and over again?

Secret Sources

If you’re like me and are more of a tech #e20 news aggregator than a true voice, it is important to make an extra effort to find fresh, relevant content for your feed.  In being a good follower, you can also be a link leader. These are a few secret sources often overlooked in favour of easily retweeting other’s finds or work:

  • As you read an interesting blog post, take the time to click through and read the linked articles.  This is one of the simplest ways to find topical research, stats & stories.
  • This often leads to adding content-rich additions to your RSS feeds, resulting in fresh material for future discussion and sharing.
  • If you enjoy a slide presentation, subscribe to the author and traipse through their old presentations.  You’ll often find nuggets of gold.
  • Set up Google News alerts on your area of ability or interest.
  • If you enjoy a particular new follower, read through at least three of their blog articles.
  • Do an image search on ‘infographics’. When you find a graphic that really speaks to the topic, click to the host source and read the articles that go along with it.
  • Start a discussion with the source or retweeter of a an interesting read.  Often, this will lead to a further exchange of ideas and content.
  • If an article posted six months ago still resonates, don’t be afraid to recycle it for fresh followers.

Even if you aren’t a visionary voice, you can still be a valuable resource for knowledge in your field.  Just be an active participant in creative engagement -> it was often said that ‘timing is everything’. In these days of fast and furious feeds, the new cry is ‘content is everything’.

What sources do you use daily beyond your own feed?

You’ve Come a Long Way Baby – Gen Y Teaches a Lesson on SM Boundaries

Come a long way baby

I’m the proud parent of a lovely, lively, Gen Y Goddess who is creating her own success in the advertising world. Of course, part of her greatness is because she had such a smart Mama giving her advice along the way. ;>

Baby’s come a long way, and turned the tables back around on me, teaching me a valuable lesson in observing appropriate Social Media boundaries with our offspring.  Just because we were the ones who used to monitor their on line activities as kids, doesn’t mean we get to set the rules arbitrarily now that we’re all adults, because they’re still our kids, right? 

Wrong, and we may make mistakes in interacting with our kids within SM channels if we don’t listen when they set limits of their own. 

We were ‘those’ parents every teen dreaded having.  Geeks.  Couldn’t hide a thing online or on the hard drive from the likes of us, and when she was grounded from the computer as punishment, that meant Dad whipped up a nifty little app that would cut off connectivity to her pc only from 10:00 p.m. nightly until 4:00 p.m. the next day.  All sorts of configuration options, (far better than NetNanny,) would allow us to control the who, what, where and when of her online activities.  Sucked to be her.

We had to make it up as we went along back then, but now there are many great resources writing about Social Media Parenting: Raising the Digital Generation for guidance with kids of all ages. Articles like this one offer great advice about managing SM with your kids, but few articles give adequate pointers on engaging with your kids online in a way that won’t embarrass or upset their own goals.  It’s a learning process to work on together.

During the college years, the phone calls were great, but I often learned much more about how courses were going by checking out the latest pub party pics on FaceBook. 😉  Ya, I’m an online Stalker Mom. 

Still considering myself the more SM savvy of we two back then, I’d put on my professional hat and advise, “Nope, nope, nope!  Get those pics offline before you start kicking out resumes at graduation, Kid.  That won’t fly with potential employers.  You know they creep you online before interviews these days, right?”

She’d sigh, and sort of comply.

Through the years we’ve settled in to a comfortable style of communicating in channels like FB and Twitter, until I jumped the shark last week, which caused a genuine tiff between us.  She very politely told me that’d I’d overstepped a boundary by posting some old pictures in an FB album visible only to friends.

I got very huffy and defensive, reminding her that nothing on my FB could rival stuff on hers.  I didn’t get it.  It seemed hypocritical to me. I’ve posted pictures that we’ve laughed about many times, so what’s the big deal? I stayed mad for days, especially about one thing she’d said, “I don’t know your online friends.  They might not even be real for all I know!”

I felt incensed and insulted, until it finally clicked in. While I do know many of her friends personally, she doesn’t know who people in my sphere are, or what they think, or in what context I interact with them.  By posting pictures I wanted to share, I denied her the right of selecting her own audience and controlling her privacy boundaries. And those of now grown friends in those old pictures.

She was right, I was wrong.  (I admitted it in writing, Hun, can you believe that?)

It isn’t enough to just say, “Fine, I just won’t be your FB friend anymore!”

It’s more important to really talk about how we each use our various channels, and who is in them, and why, before deciding what is okay to share, and what makes the other uncomfortable. My friends, contacts, coworkers are mine – not hers.  I don’t get to set the rules of what’s acceptable online anymore.  We have to negotiate it carefully together.  And hopefully, grow, share & laugh along the way.

Baby’s come a long way, and she is a very wise Social Media Maven in her own right.  Thanks for the lesson & the reminder.

I’ll leave all of you other parents with this video to ponder. :d

Your Customer Relationship Depends on the Widget?

Key In on Customers

Key in on Customers

I read an article tonight called Invert Your Thinking About Social CRM that made me pause to wonder just what sort of relationship-building some experts actually do? While the post itself was on point in many regards, I felt almost sorry for the author at the end of the read.  This particular passage is so cynical that I find it almost offensive:

“I suspect that keeping up relationships with customers is harder because the original relationship is more tenuous to begin with. Seriously, there is little or no foundation for a social relationship with most of the people who buy our products and services. Even the casual relationship you struck up last year at your cousin’s wedding a thousand miles away has more to it than the default relationship that exists between you and the person who bought your widget.”

I think that is an unfortunate belief.  In fairness, I guess that would be an acceptable subjective viewpoint if you sold someone a pen-widget or something else disposable and lacking in the need for substantive time spent with the customer, but it just doesn’t ring true as an absolute, especially for those who sell software products and services.  I believe that the kinship nurtured with customers, their employees, vendors and partners during the sales & implementation phases does evolve into more than ‘default relationships’ if you’ve done your job well — and listened in person, before you can apply those listening skills in SM.

I count many, many past ‘people who bought my widgets’ among my SM contacts in various channels.  Sometimes we discuss the products, and just as often we converse about other shared interests we learned about during the widget exchange. From past widget purchasers I continue to learn daily about new technologies in many industries, food/travel tips, book reviews and feature requests/support issues. 

You have to be adept at building the rapport on a personal level outside of Social Media before you can fully appreciate the benefits of overlaps in the communities in which you continue to listen to the customer in other channels.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not negative about the article. I agree with much of it.  Yet, I still feel sorry for anyone who holds this view of customers and I wish they’d had richer experiences.  Or created them.

What the heck is a ‘default customer relationship’ anyway? Thoughts?