History’s Most Powerful Consumer Movement?

By Brad Cleveland

Social media is changing the face of customer services across the globe

Some believe we are seeing the emergence of the greatest consumer movement in history. I certainly agree.

Studies suggest that the vast majority of consumers now use search engines, review relevant blogs, consult user ratings, and visit sites such as the Consumerist (www.consumerist.com ), Get Satisfaction (www.getsatisfaction.com ) and others to review the comments of other customers before making brand or product decisions. And this is not just a business-to-consumer phenomenon; the trend towards providing and searching out customer feedback, albeit with somewhat better etiquette as a rule, is similar in business-to-business environments. Bad customer experiences – even if they are one in many thousands of interactions from an internal perspective – end up on blogs, twitter, YouTube and sometimes even the morning news.

Great experiences get around too – especially if they are the norm. Just ask Zappos.com (www.zappos.com ), the online shoe retailer that’s getting oodles of positive press for their great customer service. Sales have grown from U.S. $1.6 million in 2000 to about U.S. $1 billion in 2008. According to CEO Tony Hsieh, every person – accountants, lawyers, everybody – goes through the same training that call center representatives get. “If we want our brand to be about customer service, then customer service needs to be the whole company, not just a department,” he told Success magazine. Referring to their “customer loyalty team” (the 24×7 call center), Hsieh says, “Most call centers have this concept of average handling time, which is all about how many customers a day each agent can talk to – and the more the better. But that ends up translating into, ‘how quickly can we get the customer off the phone?’ which we don’t think is great customer service.” (Success, November 2008)

Some business execs believe these kinds of customer-first strategies apply only to entrepreneurial startups like Zappos.com. But tell that to more traditional organizations such as Australia-based ANZ Bank, U.S. insurance provider USAA or Salt River Project, an innovative century-old utility based in Arizona (see article). As these companies – and others building their success on the time-tested principles of great service – know, the call center can and must be a powerful loyalizing tool.

So, how should those of us in customer contact operations prepare our organizations to leverage these trends? Here are some suggested high-level priorities:

  • Learn from unhappy customer experiences –don’t discount them as a small percent of total contacts, or the product of irrational or renegade customers.
  • Remember that those who know processes and customers best are those closest to the work – continually seek the ideas and input of your agents (many of whom are active on social network sites themselves) and create an atmosphere of trust and open communication.
  • Actively capture, share and use customer intelligence for improving products, processes and services across the organization.
  • Establish and strengthen your call center’s ability to observe, participate in and cultivate social media channels. Ensure that responding to customer issues quickly and effectively is an organizational mandate.
  • Recognize that “best efforts” or trying harder isn’t enough to sustain improved service. Instead, look for true innovation opportunities, improving processes and policies that directly impact customer satisfaction.

For those in call center management who really “get it,” this is a powerful window of opportunity to make a difference. There seems to be a sense among many leaders that the call center profession is entering a renaissance – and that as advanced as many contact centers are, we’re just getting started. For allthe challenges of the current economic realities, there’s apalpable and growing sense of energy and excitement across our profession!

This article was originally published by ICMI, www.icmi.com

Copyright Brad Cleveland.

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