Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Service Economics in a "Something Failed to Go Right" World

I don’t think I’ve been to a conference lately that didn’t have a mention of Twitter and its effect on service teams everywhere. Frank Eliason from Comcast, Tony Hsieh from Zappos, and their teams, as well as a number of other great examples are shown as the “new way” of providing customer service. I don’t disagree, but the challenge here is that this must cause a massive shake-up of budgets and the way that organizations are structured if it is to succeed – and that is not a topic that is discussed in any significance.

What I mean is, the idea that Twitter and social media can, and should, be used to enhance our service offerings will almost certainly fail if we just think of it as a service team challenge.

Let’s look at the math.

If you look at an average service team, let’s say a call center, they receive calls that generally meet three criteria:

- Definable: a discrete problem that can be identified, discussed, and either resolved or not resolved

- Significant: enough of a problem that a person saw fit to pick up the phone, wait in a call queue, and bring it to your attention

- Solvable: a problem for which one can generally visualize a defined, near-term solution

If the problem is outside of that criteria set, we will likely not bother phoning support as they will not be able to help us.

Given these criteria, which I would call the “something went wrong” set of problems, we staff our support centers. Rarely do the teams in these support centers find themselves lacking work, and they are often very strapped for resources, as we manage the budgets for the call centers to maximize utilization and minimize costs.

Then, however, if you look at the set of problems that might surface in social media you see that these three criteria are not met.

- Definable: a complaint can surface without being discrete, or naturally resolvable. General dissatisfaction with airline flight delays, as an example.

- Significant: a negative Tweet about a company or its products requires less effort than calling a service center, so the bar of significance is much lower

- Solvable: many problems that are discussed in social media are not inherently easy to solve, and success may mean guidance, coaching, or training, as much as technical support

I’m not in any way suggesting that these are not important problems, just that they are a much bigger universe of problems than the problems that make their way to today’s call centers. This is the “something failed to go right” set of problems.

So, if we are to staff our service teams to proactively reach out and deal with the “something failed to go right” set of problems, rather than reactively deal with juse inbound “something went wrong” problems, we are dealing with many more problems. Whereas there may be some mild efficiency gains from connecting in an online environment, I would guess that these gains are far outweighed by the increase in size of the problem set.

Where will this budget come from? My suggestion is Marketing. I have long believed that social media is forcing marketers to think of their overall brand experience, including product and service realities, rather than just the visuals like logos, when they are considering brand. Rather than set your service team up with Twitter handles and send them an article on Frank Eliason and the Comcast Cares team, proactive marketing organizations should realize that this new approach to service opens up a much broader universe of problems that must be addressed. Doing so will have a significant positive impact on your company’s brand, but may require a significant investment in service people.

Next time you allocate marketing budget to “brand”, think about whether the best investment in brand that your marketing team can to is to hire an extra few people for the services team and start tackling more of the “something failed to go right” problems.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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BobWarfield said...

A couple of thoughts, Steve.

First, the nature of the Social Media also creates potential problems. It is important to consider whether that Social Media creates any kind of useful permanent repository of interactions.

If it does, there is leverage through people finding the answers to questions already asked. If it doesn't it becomes even more labor intensive to use that particular channel.

Twitter is a good example. It seems to me Twitter is a "Tweet first and search later" medium. Unless you really are trying hard, you are unlikely to search. You'll just fire off your Tweet and get your instant gratification. There is also not a long permanent memory there. Lastly, the 140 character limit makes it difficult to get in either a question or an answer of any real substance.

Other Social Media is better suited to Customer Service. In fact, if done well, it substantially reduces the staffing requirements for Customer Service.

Second point:

I catch your meeting on things that "Fail to go right", but there is an important class there that is better for Social Media. Sometimes our problem is we didn't quite have the expertise to unlock all the value of the product. I suspect Eloqua is a product of that nature as is Helpstream. We aren't really doing anything wrong, but we want more, and we need help (often called Best Practices) extracting the extra value.

The right kind of Social Media is ideal for that kind of help. In addition, I have often found Customer Service organizations have specific directions not to offer that kind of help. It takes too long on the phone.

What a shame!



Steven Woods said...

definitely a great point on Social CRM. Agreed that a repository of ideas and guidance on what to do, and what to do next is extremely valuable. Especially if one is able to get an active, passionate customer community who helps each other, then this can also resolve your "tweet first, ask questions later" challenge.

Alex Fisher said...

Steve, one of my favorite writers on this theme is Mark Hurst, of Good Experience.

"Customer service is not the same as customer experience.

Customer service is the job of front-line workers, servicing customer requests for help - via an 800 number, e-mail, or a retail desk. It's important to invest in good customer service, but that's just the tiniest sliver of the customer experience.

Customer experience is the job of everyone in the company..."

More at: http://goodexperience.com/2005/12/customer-service-is-not-custom.php