Customer Empathy – ignore it at your peril!

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Have you ever looked up the definition of the word Empathy? I would suspect that you have not! It is not often that we take the time to read dictionaries!! If you read the definition above, it is also likely that you will find it difficult to correlate many of the words used with organisations that you interact with on a daily basis. I often tell people how rare I think it is for companies to demonstrate ‘customer empathy’ on a consistent basis. There are many reasons why this is the case – organisational culture being the predominant one.

Customer empathy is a critical element that will have a significant effect on the experience customers have with a business. The EMOTIONAL component of all experiences (how the experience made us feel) is the one that we are most likely to remember (rather than the FUNCTIONAL or ACCESSIBLE components). We will often forgive an experience that is not as slick as it might be if it is delivered by engaging, empathetic people. Failure to display customer empathy (which can often be seen as the application of common sense!) can have significant detrimental effects on a business.

To bring this to life, I am going to share a story that was shared with me on Facebook yesterday. Brian Ward’s story is one that in principle we should be able to be empathetic towards – what you are about to read is likely to shock you…..or maybe not. I must point out that I do not know Brian, but feel that the story is so compelling, that many should read it to understand the consequences of failing to be empathetic towards customers. These words were posted on Irish airline Aer Lingus’s Facebook page on the 17th September (2 days ago):

It unfortunately has had to come to this. After many years of loyal custom from my parents William & Marie Ward, your actions and absolute disregard of their wellbeing is quite upsetting. My parents book their flights specifically with Aer Lingus twice yearly and up to now your service has never made them question this.

Unfortunately their plans this year were completely thrown off course when in July after a series of tests my dad, William, was diagnosed with cancer. Like any family, this is the news we never wanted to hear. My Dad is currently undergoing his treatment with a rigorous course of Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy.

Albeit not top of the list of to-do’s when anyone is dealt a blow like this, we set about making arrangements to cancel their eagerly anticipated 40th Wedding Anniversary trip. As you would expect their hotel, transfer company and tour agent all were extremely compassionate and assisted in any way possible. They recognised my parents’ loyal custom and they saw them as more than just a number. They completely refunded my parents trip and wished my Dad all the best with his treatment.

This could not be said for Aer Lingus, a company which seemingly prides itself on being customer focused. My dad contacted your reservations team to discuss his options and as you have probably guessed – this was worthless. Apart from claiming back the flight taxes, or swapping flights for a shorter flight option; Aer Lingus have been happy to wash their hands of the reservation and my parents’ custom. My sister has also communicated with your team who were less than friendly on three specific occasions. We have sent an email detailing our parents request on the 26th of August and to date there is still no response.

The way you have treated our parents, proves that Aer Lingus customers are just numbers, your mission statements aren’t worth the paper they’re written on and your powers that be have seem to have never encountered cancer and everything that it entails.

For a company who are on course to match your last year’s profits of €60 million, it’s sickening to think that our parents reservation costing just less than €500.00 is non-refundable. We have been more than willing to furnish a consultant’s letter to confirm the above and his inability to travel.

I would ask you to review the above and to contact me directly to obtain a resolution.

P.S….It might also be beneficial to check out last Friday (12th September) Irish independent letter section, whereby the low cost airline Ryanair dealt quite respectfully with a similar situation.

At the time of writing (00:30 on the 19th September), the post has been ‘Liked’ on Facebook over 8,000 times – is has been ‘shared’ over 1,100 times. I suspect these numbers will continue to rise rapidly. The backlash against Aer Lingus is huge – comment after comment laments the airline. The incident is incredibly damaging – the question is how damaging? Have a look at the Facebook post if you are interested in reading the comments.

This story should act as a lesson to all organisations. If you stick to the ‘rules’, fail to empower your people to do the ‘right thing’ and fail to recognise the importance of customer empathy, in the connected world we now live in, the consumer will bite back. Please share this post and ensure that this does not happen to your business.

Just to conclude the story, Aer Lingus have since been in contact with Brian to resolve the issue – see below:

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I join many others in sending my best wishes to Brian and his parents.


Book Review – Delivering Effective Social Customer Service: How to Redefine the Way You Manage Customer Experience and Your Corporate Reputation

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It is impossible to ignore the fact that customer service has gone all social on us. Our obsession with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram and more has led to the humble consumer actively seeking to interact with companies via social networks. Although this is a fact, there are still many organisations who are yet to understand how to manage this new ‘channel’ particularly well. Part of the problem is that customers do not recognise channels – they recognise the company they are interacting with. Customers just expect you to be able to deal as effectively with their problems communicated through Twitter as they do over the phone.

So why are companies still not dealing with ‘social customer service’ very well? Why do we often find the customer service received via Twitter and Facebook to be less than satisfactory? Clearly some businesses have adapted better to the social phenomenon than others – yet the majority have yet to understand their ‘ecosystem’ or develop a suitable ‘framework’ for delivering social customer service. Fortunately, help is at hand.

‘Delivering Effective Social Customer Service’ is a fantastic resource for all customer service professionals looking for help and knowledge in understanding how to best deal with customer service in the social world. The book is written by Carolyn Blunt (Managing Director of Real Results) and Martin Hill-Wilson (Founder of Brainfood Consulting). I first met Martin at a customer service conference in 2009 – his knowledge, passion and expertise is infectious – his collaboration with Carolyn has produced a resource that is a ‘must-read’ in my opinion.

The book follows a logical flow – from how everything changed, to understanding the behaviour of the ‘social customer’, to ‘how to’ guides of delivering social customer service via Facebook and Twitter. There is also valuable advice provided on reputation and crisis management as well as the legalities of social interaction.

The two chapters that I would like to draw your attention to and potentially whet your appetite are as follows:

1. The Ecosystem for Social Customer Service

I am a big fan of models and frameworks. This chapter leads to the painting of a picture that looks at the demand for service that is being generated in the social space and how your business intends to serve it. The suggested visual map allows you to understand where demand is coming from and thus what you may need to do to influence the variety of ‘inputs’ that comprise your social ecosystem. When you see the example in the book, it makes you realise just how many ‘inputs’ there are – from self help forums, to corporate blogs, to ecommerce reviews. It is quite frightening!

Carolyn and Martin suggest that most organisations fail to visualise the ecosystem – they strongly recommend that you do not fall in to the same trap. Understanding your ecosystem means that you will be better able to design your approach to influencing all elements of it. Like every chapter in the book, a helpful ‘summary action list’ is provided as well as an interesting interview with the CEO of Conversocial, Joshua March.

2. The Roadmap for Social Customer Service

This excellent chapter provides readers with a framework for producing a roadmap for social customer service. The framework suggests that the best way to start is by conducting a self-assessment of the key competencies in delivering effective Social Customer Service. The assessment contains 15 competencies that are scored on three criteria – current capability; importance of the competency for your next generation strategy; and urgency of operationalizing the competency on your roadmap. Here is an example of 2 of the 15 competencies:

  • We know how to recruit, train and manage Social Customer Service Teams
  • We are ready for unexpected volumes of ‘social’ traffic: resourcing, escalation, house style

Every competency is walked through in detail looking at its importance, consequences, issues, quick wins, follow up actions and tips. The chapter serves as a comprehensive examination of what it takes to effectively manage your customer experience on social media.

As a Customer Experience Specialist, I am constantly looking to refresh my knowledge and expertise. Learning from others is as important as learning from my own experiences. I am not an expert in social customer service and have found this book to be an excellent summary of not just what ‘social customer service’ is, but more importantly what to do about it. I have no hesitation in recommending it to others, and strongly encourage you to have a read.

Social Customer Service is only going to become more and more significant over time. Do not be fooled into thinking that you already know what to do. Pick up a copy of Delivering Effective Customer Service to either re-assure yourself that you are doing the right thing, or to learn what you can do to develop an even more robust social customer service strategy. You can buy the book online here.

Out of interest, Martin runs a number of workshops on the subject of social customer service – if you like the book, you can find information about his workshops here.


Social Media – thorn in your side or invaluable CX insight?

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Five years ago I attended a Customer Service conference. One of the topics on the agenda was Social Media – I cannot remember the specifics of the title or content, but can confidently say that the essence of the presentation was all about the creation and adoption of social media strategy.

Fast forward to 2014, and I am still attending conferences where social media strategy is an agenda item. While the vast majority of organisations recognise the huge impact social media has had on their business – and the way its business interacts with customers – many are still to clearly define how to deal with it.

Ownership of social media from within a company is a consistent theme that still rears its head. Is it the domain or the Marketing team? Should the Customer Service Team be responsible? Should there be a brand new team created especially to focus on social media? I have seen variants of all of them. Where your social media strategy sits in the business is an important decision – some businesses see social media as a vital marketing and communication tool. Some customers see it as a customer service tool. Many customers see Twitter and Facebook as both. The question is – do you know what your customers see social media channels as?

There are a few important things to think about when considering social media – depending on the size and nature of your business. Can social media act as a valuable marketing tool – I am sure you do not need me to tell you the answer to that. There are many great articles online that quantify the benefits – this one is as good as any and features a great infographic. In a recent article in US Hubspot, it was stated that Small- and medium-sized businesses are turning to social media to generate leads and customers. In fact, in 2013, 36% of SMEs attracted a customer from their Twitter marketing campaigns – you can read more in this article

What about customer service? More and more consumers are looking to social media to interact with organisations from a service perspective. Whether it be to specifically ask for help, or just to ‘vent their anger’, social media is becoming increasingly popular to ‘solve a problem’. In our ever more connected world, we as consumers expect businesses to respond to our pleas for help; however we happen to make the plea – even if you do not have a recognised way of dealing with social media. Failure to respond to a tweet could be fatal. The problem is that social media interaction is still the minority, rather than majority perspective of what is happening to your customers. You must know how to interact with customers using social media channels, but you must not take what is said as representative of the customer base.

If organisations recognise feedback and insight as an opportunity, they will see that social media is a wonderful, unsolicited source of customer feedback. Whether it is happy or unhappy reading, it is a vital component that combined with other sources of insight, can really help you to determine what, where and how you need to improve your customer experience. Social media can also act as your ‘early warning mechanism’ – last week I was caught up immigration issues at Gatwick caused by a failure in the Border Force Computer system – the experience was awful. However, if the organisations involved had been monitoring social media channels more closely, they would have been better able to respond to the Chaos that ensued – you can read about the story here –

For those looking for more insipiration and ideas, I can strongly recommend attending the masterclasses run by the CCMA (Call Centre Management Association) and delivered by Martin Hill Wilson – you can find out more about them here Martin is one of the best social media thought leaders in the UK, and published a book with Carolyn Blunt last year called ‘Delivering Effective Social Customer Service’ – well worth a read!

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This article was originally published for Marketforce 20:20 Customer Experience Network – Their CX Summit is on the 1st and 2nd July in London – read more about it here

Recommend? Tweet? Do customers really do it?

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Have you ever been asked the Net Promoter Score (NPS) question? Do you even know what Net Promoter Score is? Despite the fact that the NPS method has been around for ten years, there are many who have no idea what it is. This is an extract from the ‘font of all knowledge’ – Wikipedia explaining it:

Net Promoter Score (NPS) measures the loyalty that exists between a Provider and a consumer. The provider can be a Company, employer or any other entity. The provider is the entity that is asking the questions on the NPS survey. The Consumer is the customer, employee, or respondent to an NPS survey.

NPS is based on a direct question: How likely are you to recommend our company/product/service to your friends and colleagues? The scoring for this answer is most often based on a 0 to 10 scale. Companies are encouraged to follow this question with an open-ended request for elaboration, soliciting the reasons for a customer’s rating of that company or product. These reasons can then be provided to front-line employees and management teams for follow-up action.

At some stage we have all been asked the question – mostly via a survey or questionnaire, although sometimes in person. I will never forget the time I opened a bank account for my business, only for the business manager to ask me if I would give them a ‘9 or a 10’ on their NPS survey. I kid you not! The purpose of this post is not to discuss the pros and cons of NPS – that has been done many times in the last ten years already! The purpose of this post is to clarify whether or not we, as consumers, actually do recommend organisations we have dealt with to others.

In my recent ‘what do customers want’ research, I asked the question – ‘do you ever recommend organisations you have transacted with to friends, family or acquaintances?’. The question was different to the NPS question itself. NPS looks at ‘likelihood’ – it does not know if the respondent ever actually does. I wanted to know if we actually do. Here is the result:

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82% of respondents in my research have at some stage recommended an organisation to someone else. Not intended – but actually have. A further 17.5% sometimes recommend – but not always. This is perhaps no a surprise to you – and not a surprise to me. Word of mouth has always been a significant part of business development – and will always continue to be. This research does confirm that NPS is a very useful business metric. Only a tiny minority of respondents do not recommend – less than half of one %. So if your organisation does not know if customers are prepared to recommend you – maybe you should find out.

Another question I was intrigued to know the answer to in my research focussed on social media. Those that know me, know that I am a little obsessed with being seen and heard across a variety of social platforms. I use Twitter regularly to communicate with organisations I transact with, and I wanted to know if others do to. I asked the question – ‘Have you ever used social media (Twitter or Facebook) to interact with an organisation (when requiring customer service or help)?’ – I wanted to know if social channels have genuinely become a serious consideration for us as customers to contact companies. Here are the results:

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Almost a 50:50 split. 52% of respondents have contacted organisations using Twitter or Facebook – whilst 48% have not. As this is the first and only time I have done research on this subject, I do not know what that split would have looked like 1 year ago – or 5 years ago. I can only speculate that this number is increasing steadily over time.

The result does show that half of our likely customer base is not yet using social media channels to communicate with us. Those suggesting that traditional channels (telephone and email) are dying had better take heed of this. If 50% of consumers are not using social media to communicate – they are as a result still using traditional methods. Yet the fact that 50% of consumers are, is equally important.

How many times have you ‘tweeted’ an organisation only to be met with complete and utter silence? How often is your voice ignored when using Twitter or Facebook as your chosen method of contact? I could (although I will not) name a dozen organisations I have tweeted in the last twelve months only to receive no response. If 50% of consumers are using social media channels already as a communication tool, these organisations need to sit up and take notice – and quickly!!

The title of this blog post was ‘Recommend? Tweet? Do customers really do it?’ – my independent research confirms that they really do! If you have not yet read previous posts about the rest of the research, you can do so via the following links:

Let me leave you with a lovely quote from Walt Disney:

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Facebook is not even 10 years old! How technology and innovation is influencing the customer experience

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My eldest daughter Ciara is 10. When she came into the world, Facebook did not exist. It was still just an innovative idea being developed in the mind of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. A little over three years ago, the iPad did not exist. First launched in April 2010, it is hard to remember what life was like without tablet devices. If we look further back in advancements in technology, it was only in 1993 that Mosaic became the web browser credited with popularising the World Wide Web.

Technology is advancing so quickly, it is almost as though it has created a time dimension of its own. I am constantly in awe of the genius minds that are able to create things that continually make our lives easier. Every time new technology is introduced into our lives, the majority of the time it is simplifying or speeding up our ability to do things that we need to do on a daily basis. That is why technology has become such a fundamental and vital ingredient in an organisations ability to deliver better customer experiences.

A few months ago, I came across an amazing ‘infographic’ created by Intel (see below). It is astonishing how the evolution of technology is transforming our lives – at work and at home. 204 million emails are sent every minute of every day. 20 million photos are viewed online – every single minute. By 2015, the number of connected devices will be twice the number of the global population!!! Hands up if you have more than three devices that can connect to the internet?!

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Technology, both physical (i.e. products), and online is changing our culture. It is changing the way we behave, and what we expect when we interact with organisations. According to Forrester, it is estimated that by 2015, 48% of consumers will access the internet every day on their phone, 74% by 2020. Forrester, like many research experts point to the advance in mobile technology as the most significant of all innovation in the next few years:

  • 37% of mobile users browse product information and check prices and offers, while 17% have buy products/services on their phones
  • 8% of grocery orders involve the iPhone app at some stage
  • 4% of sales come through their iPhone app
  • eBay saw mobile users to generate approx $2 billion in transactions in 2010

Yesterday, I spotted an article whilst travelling down to London in Metro newspaper. According to them, 1 minute in every 12 is spent online. The numbers are staggering. Apparently, on average, we touch our phones at least 150 times a day! I am sure Mrs Golding would argue that I am on my phone far more often than that!

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This calendar year, consumers are expected to spend $2.1 trillion (I am not sure how many zeros that constitutes!) on mobile phones, computing and entertainment, media and other smart devices, the services that are required to make these devices connected to the appropriate network, and software and media content that are consumed via these devices. It is not hard to see why this is happening.

I think that all of this makes it clear that it is therefore vital for all organisations to consider whether or not the technology that powers their customer journeys is in line with the quickly changing expectations of customers. I recently conducted some independent research on the ‘things that are important to customers’ when interacting with organisations. Although I have not yet concluded my analysis of the results, the following are looking like being the top three most important requirements:

  • Competitiveness – you must be!
  • Reliability – you must do what you say you will and keep your promises
  • Ease – you must be easy to do business with

These three expectations are driven by a number of factors. Societal and economic issues are obviously at play. Yet it is technology that is best placed to positively effect all three of these needs. Technology is making it more economical for companies to provide services to customers. Technology is having a huge affect on our ability to transact with businesses. We can do almost everything and anything we want with a smart phone – from shopping, to watching a movie, to paying for goods or services to name but three. Reliability is a greater challenge, that although aided by more sophisticated technology, is reliant on business processes being designed and managed appropriately to deliver the required expectation. There is also the problem that in many cases, customer technology is more advanced than the business they are transacting with.

This is one of the greatest challenges that businesses must address – and now. If your employees do not have access to the same technology your customer does, it is likely that they will be unable to deliver the customer journey your customer expects. If your customer is researching information online, but your contact centre is unable to access the internet, your customer is one step ahead of you. Sustaining and growing a business in today’s economy is tougher than ever before. We live in a world of the ‘connected customer’ who has changed the rules of business engagement. Competition is therefore bigger than ever before.

Last week I had the pleasure of delivering a presentation on this subject to a technology company and their clients. I was asked if ‘technology can change culture?’ My reply was as follows:

For us, the consumer, it already has……..

For our businesses………’no change’ is no longer an option

As a closing thought, when talking about change in culture and consumer behaviour, I am always reminded of something the brilliant Dr Nicola Millard, BT’s Customer Experience Futurologist, said at a conference last year. It used to be that when your children were naughty, you could send them to their bedroom as a punishment. Today, they WANT to be sent to their room – that is where their technology lives. What we must do today to discipline our children is ‘disconnect them’!

As always, your thoughts on this or any of my blog posts are encouraged and very welcome.

Woah there tiger!! Beware what and how you react to social media

The benefits of social media in the business world have been a hot topic of conversation for a few years now. Many businesses have started to adopt ‘social media strategies’, and are using the likes of Facebook and Twitter for marketing and customer service among other things.

It is true to say that social media has been a revelation for the consumer. Many recognise that social media has put the consumer ‘in control’, and given them a ‘voice’ unlike any generation has been able to take advantage of before. On the one had this is great – especially for those of us who spend our lives working with businesses to ensure that the poor consumer is listened to. However (or ‘but’ depending on which word you prefer), social media has also caused us a problem – and by us, I mean the collective us – customer experience professionals and our colleagues within the businesses that we work.

Whilst social media has enabled the consumer to speak openly about their experiences with an organisation (good or bad), the world-wide web has also enabled senior managers to see what customers are saying about their businesses – whenever they want.

Now on the one hand, this is not such a bad thing. As I have already said, customer experience professionals spend their lives getting senior managers to listen to what customers are saying. The problem is that senior managers tend to look at the comments they see online as ‘red’ – an absolute black and white (sorry too many colours being used in this explanation!!) description of the problems within the company. They tend to see a one-off tweet as completely representative of what is happening in their business.

I personally have been on the receiving end of this ‘phenomenon’ many times – where a senior leader has seen a negative tweet, and then demanded that anyone responsible be summoned for both an explanation and an immediate solution. I am sure that those of you reading this recognise the scenario. It is not wrong for a CEO or a senior director to be agitated by negative sentiment on a social forum – but they way that they react to it is critical.

In an organisation that has an established customer feedback programme, any comment about the business MUST be taken in context with what the ‘representative sample’ of customers are saying – not one or two angry customers who proactively use twitter to get themselves heard. Businesses run the risk of taking the wrong action if they listen to the few, rather than the many.

All too often people make the mistake of responding immediately to negative comments made about their businesses. However, it is not always the case that the consumer making the comment actually wants a response. Sometimes consumers just want to have a rant. At Shop Direct Group (my previous business), the CEO received a complaint directly from a customer. The complaint was not about something Shop Direct did in providing a service. The complaint was because one of Shop Direct’s brands responded to a tweet. The customer complained because they felt they were being ‘snooped on’. We may consider this to be an overreaction – but it is an interesting example of what can happen if you react to everything.

The challenge for any customer experience professional is to ensure that their business has access to ‘the facts’. That everyone in the organisation understands what customers think about them, and what the priorities for improvement in the customer journey are (from the customer perspective). Having access to the facts should ensure that IF a consumer posts something to Facebook or Twitter or any other social forum, the senior leadership who might stumble across it will have the appropriate context. If you have access to the facts but senior leadership do not, make sure they do!!

However (sorry there is another one), the other challenge for the customer experience professional and his/her colleagues is to ensure balance – that whilst making sure negative sentiments are put in context, the business does not ‘under-react’ to what the consumer is saying.

A great example of over-reaction was in the UK earlier this year. Martha Payne is a school girl from Argyll in Scotland. With the help of her dad, she started a blog to rate the quality of her school dinners. The blog exposed some shocking facts about the quality of the meals her school was providing. Martha did nothing but tell the truth. The local council decided that this was not acceptable, and shut her blog down. What happened next demonstrates the power of social media – there was a twitter backlash. Within a couple of days, the local council had no option but to reverse its decision. You can read the story of Martha as reported in the Independent newspaper here –

Argyll and Bute council reacted in the wrong way to one little 9-year-old girl exercising her freedom of speech. If they had just listened to what she was saying, they could have avoided a PR disasterand genuinely addressed a problem . Martha has now raised over £100,000 to feed children in Malawi – quite remarkable. She has also changed the quality of school meals in her region.

So the next time your CEO comes charging to your desk to remonstrate about a negative tweet, please remind him/her that one negative tweet may not always be representative of the overwhelming majority of customers. Gather the facts and determine if you should just listen, or if action is indeed necessary. Of course, an integrated company wide social media policy would be a big help at negating senior management reaction in the first place!!

As always, your comments to this or any other of my blogs is encouraged and appreciated.