Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Customer Service, Social Media and the Cluetrain Manifesto

It was fascinating to read earlier this month that;

Vodafone Hutchison Australia CEO Nigel Dews has admitted that the company could have handled social media feedback much better in the early stages of the company's highly publicised network issues late last year.

In presenting evidence to the ACMA's Reconnecting the Customer inquiry on 27 November 2010, Cormac Hodgkinson, Director for Customer Service and Experience for VHA said (in part);

We need to remember when we talk about customder service that it is not just contact centres. We do a huge amount of servicing through our retail channel, through self-service channels and also through social media which is growing. So whenever we are looking at a review of standards for customer service we need to take that into account because there are thousands and thousands of customers a day who are walking into a retail store, be that Vodafone or 3, and getting servicing (sic).

He went on;

the numbers calling the centres pale into insignificance when you look at the amount of servicing that goes on through self-care. ... From a service perspective there's huge investment we're committing to next year in terms of what that self-service capability is. We've actually got a new product coming at the end of November - My Vodafone - which significantly increases the capability for a customer to self-service.


The growth in social media is huge and we've also had to have a dedicated team set-up to deal with that, be it Twitter, Facebook,.. We've got a team of ten people. We think by the end of next year that could well be in excess of fifty people because that's the way customers are choosing to do their servicing interactions.

That's not the view that Mr Dews thinks they took though, the article reporting;

The telco boss said that the company had originally approached social media as another means of selling; however, now the company had taken the approach of "service first rather than selling first"..

Today there is news that Vodafone is "creating its own social forum".

That's something vividwireless did fairly soon after launch. It was really driven by the very splendid Sandra Davey but landed in my lap for a while. It created great consternation when for a while it was a place where negative comment on coverage gathered. But the good news was it meant we really could understand the impact of network performance on customers.

The motivation for the forum though really came from the desire to support the unsupported - when something happens that involves the interaction of equipment and the network it can often be other end users who can sort out the issue.

It also was a recognition that customers are going to talk about you whether you like it or not. This is one of the core observations of the Cluetrain Manifesto. The first of their 95 theses is "Markets are conversations."

While the idea of 95 theses is probably to trigger the concept of reformation it is too many to digest - and actually a bit repetitive. Sandra Davey is a great fan of this and crunched the 95 down to thirteen. I have worked from her list to come up with a far briefer ten (also published here):

1. Markets are human conversations
Markets are conversations, they consist of humans who sound human. The tone of your voice is as communicative as the words that you speak.
2. The internet has made the network the dominant form of organization
The internet is enabling conversations that make the network the dominant form of organization, replacing both markets and hierarchies. The people in these networks are changed fundamentally – they are getting smarter, more informed and more organized than they were in markets or hierarchies.
3. People rely on their network not authority
People have figured out they get better information and support fro their network than from vendors. There are no secrets, the consumers rapidly know more about the product than the vendors.
4. Principles need to replace positions, and be at the centre of the conversation
Corporations’ homogenized voice that has been used to “motivate” the staff and “enthuse” the market sounds flat, hollow and unconvincing. Companies need to “lighten up”, not with affected humor but by adopting big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view. They need to replace “positioning” with adopting principles.
5. Loyalty is built on honest two-way communication
Brand loyalty is like a marriage and we forget that “divorce is always surpriseful” at our peril. Our partner can leave us before we know what we’ve done. Companies need to pay attention to all the clues their customers and staff provide. Companies can’t afford not to be honest with those they profess to care about.
6. Corporations need to belong to a community
Human communities are based on discourse – the conversation defines the community. Companies need to decide what community they want to be in and engage in the conversation.
7. The market and the company are not separate – they are one
There is not an external market and an internal hierarchy, there is one network of people playing multiple roles.
8. Marketing is not a mediator between the customer and the company
Customers and workers want to talk to the company that we’ve kept hidden behind a smokescreen of flacks and hucksters. Both want the same kind of open conversation with a partner they can trust. The customers want to be involved in all the conversations of the company, not just those mediated by “marketing” or market research.
9. The customer-centric organization is dead
The customer can’t be put at the centre of the organization, they need and want to be at every part of the organization.
10. The revolution is happening.
Responding to it is not a matter of strategic choice, it is a necessity.

Note: The author still owns shares in HTAL.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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