Vodafone Call Off The Dogs – But Still Gets Bitten

In a move that may have passed many by last week, Vodafone Essar (the giant telecom’s Indian arm) withdrew a legal notice against a customer who had criticised Vodafone’s services on Facebook.

Vodafone had claimed that the customer had made false and defamatory statements about them on social media sites and were seeking to protect their reputation.

However, in a significant move, they decide to withdraw the notice claiming that “Vodafone Essar states that the legal notice served to the customer has been withdrawn in good faith. Vodafone Essar would also like to take this opportunity to inform that as a customer obsessed organisation, we have always welcomed critical feedback and suggestions from both direct and social media customers as it helps us to constantly improve ourselves to serve their discerning needs,” a spokesperson said.

But this wasn’t enough to persuade the customer who said “So finally, Vodafone relents. After two long meetings and several calls and SMS and emails with over two weeks one of their very senior management person sent me a mail today early morning stating that they have in “good faith” decided to withdraw the legal notice.

However, they cannot concede to paying damages/compensation. I have informed them that I retain my right for a legal recourse.”

Whether he does or not is another issue. but again this is surely an example of a global brand struggling to face up to the new world of consumer power. Unless his comments were indeed libelous, surely Vodafone could have handled this better – on a human scale.

Again a reputation suffers as a result of clumsy mismanagement of a sitaution that is surely to become more and more familiar in the future.

The lesson – be human, be fast, be outstanding.

We’ll Be Good, Really We Will..

I had to laugh really.

“We don’t want to be bad, we want to be good” the man said. His almost pathetic appeal to the TV cameras sounded more like a naughty boy who’d been told that if he wasn’t a good, he wouldn’t be allowed out to play. As Peter Rabbit said, “Why do it do it? What can it be? There’s naughtiness in everyone, but twice as much in me”.

But this wasn’t a child, this was Philip Clarke, the newly appointed head of Tesco, Britain’s most successful retail brand of the last ten years.

He carried on, “we need to..create more engagement”. This almost simpering message felt like a slap around the face acting as a wake up call.

More engagement? Sharpen customer communications (sounds dodgy!), sort out the details…we’ll soon see if these are merely platitudes, but let’s be generous for now and say well done, you’ve woken up to the rise of humanised business that social media is leading.

But Tesco will need to change beyond belief. For every tweet they might send in the future (they’re not big on Twitter!) someone will show you a farmer having his livlihood threatened by Tesco’s buying culture, for every ‘little bit’ that counts on Facebook, we’ll see protests outside a recently closed pub or business that Tesco want to tun into a Metro within a mile of one of their superstores.

I guess the retailer that bares comparison in the US is naturally Walmart, owners of UK supermarket chain Asda, whose sustainability initiatives are the biggest sign that big brands, huge brands, need to respond to customer’s concerns in a very real way. But Tesco have a mountain to climb.

I recall an article in Marketing Week by Professor Mark Ritson, which was totally negative to the potential benefit to businesses of social media tools. In fact he cited the success of Tesco, who at that time were silent when it came to social media, as the biggest success story in recent British economic history and that therefore they should be the model for aspiring businesses. Facebook and Twitter are purely for celebrities he said. I guess Ritson would see Salesforce.com’s purchase of Radian6 a few weeks ago for $340m as a huge mistake.

He may prove to be right of course, but Tesco – the case study central to his argument, appear for now to have left him behind and to have bought into the fact that what businesses need in 2011 and beyond is to be real, human, authentic and yes – sociable.

In hard times, the pressure on retailers to keep prices low is immense. But if a retailer makes my time spent with them either in store online or on the phone, a pleasant one, respond to me when I ask them to and show me individual attention I will remember that more than my milk costing 2p more.

And I’ll tell everyone all about them.

PS – Just checked Philip Clarke’s Twitter page. He’s doing well. Has over 3,000 followers….but he’s following just 2! And one of them is Tesco!!!!

Service ≠ Subservience

So impressions of the UK since returning from the Windy City – rain, gray, rain, misery, rain, poor customer service, rain.

OK, so the rain is a given, but it’s the striking difference between the US and UK on customer service that has really struck me. Since being back for just over one month now I have been told by a waitress that she only has “one pair of hands”, been served by a girl in Halfords who said not one word to me, made no eye contact and dealt with my purchase with her feet resting on her desk the whole time and been made to feel plain stupid by London Underground staff, when my ticket wouldn’t let me through the barrier, by just staring at in me looking exasperated.

I was also lectured by a conductor in front of lots of other passengers because I had no ticket – reason being that the ticket machine on my station was vandalised and other travellers clearly had season tickets. That was nice at 6.30 in the morning. Thanks Capital Connect.

These experiences have been punctuated by one or two great ones, namely at the checkout in M&S, who remembered just what sandwich I’d bought a couple of days earlier!

But overall, the experience has been rotten.

I do get the impression that the people delivering this dire level of interaction (to call it service would be quite wrong), have a chip on their shoulder. It smells of a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality, perhaps borne out of the old British class system that was refreshingly missing in the US. Whilst there, not once did anyone ask me what school I’d gone to, or ‘what line of country’ my father was in!

So here’s the thing, the level of service I experienced and came to expect in the US I feel was a result of the absence of inverse snobbery. In fact there was a real respect for those providing service. I remember the first time I rode the train and hearing the passengers call the guard “Sir”. By the time I left I was doing the same. It was natural. Customers knew that their waiter wasn’t a servant, but a hugely important part of their experience.

And they tipped well!

As I’ve written many times before in this blog, social media now gives a louder voice to those who want to challenge the level of service they have received. Complaints online are amplified through social channels and provide the complainer with a barrier to hide behind that saves them from a real confrontation (something we Brits shudder at the thought of), meaning that their true feelings come out.

The enlightened companies are listening to these voices through the SMM tools such as SM2 or Radian 6, and are engaging with customers to turn things around, listening to the issues that people are facing and using this information to develop products and services into markets with greater confidence.

The adoption of these techniques combined with more of a focus on customer service generally – thank you (Mary Portas and Michel Roux), hopefully mean brands are upping their game in this crucial area.

To serve someone doesn’t mean being an inferior or subservient, but that you are sharing something about which you are passionate, whether that be a product, food or a ride on a train!

The Opposite Of Love

Ask yourself that question – just what is the opposite of love?

Clearly all the cliches will dictate the answer is ‘hate’ – and that it’s a thin line! However, this post will seek to point out that, in the context of business and customer relationships, the opposite of love is indifference.

If a customer complains to you directly, you’ve already probably talked to your customer care team, to treat this as an opportunity to over deliver in making things right and delighting them with the resolution.

Of course this is absolutely right. But what if a customer becomes disillusioned with you, but doesn’t take the step of complaining?

Well I would suggest that this is worst scenario of all. If you’re measuring your customer loyalty rates and need to grow your level of retention (and who doesn’t?), then other than reach out to them with emails, catalogues or advertising, how can you address this silent majority of people who don’t communicate with you directly anymore?

First of all, consider the results from the Alterian (Your Brand at Risk? Or Ready for Growth? 2010) suggests the following

  • 84% of people trust recommendations from their friends
  • 70% of people trust recommendations from complete strangers!
  • But just 5% of people trust advertising

So if you’re tempted to increase your promotional spend to reach out to this group and consider that if just 5% of people will believe what you say, but  70% of people trust what a complete stranger says, then the power of word of mouth very soon, becomes apparent.

But if they’re not complaining to you directly, how do you find these customers?

Firstly, you have to listen. I’ve written extensively about the various SMM (social media monitoring) tools that are available to dial in to conversations about your brand or your products. But the skill in maximising on the opportunities that these tools offer, lies in learning where the communities of lapsed customers are hanging out.

If you can build positive sentiment amongst your key influencers – SMM tools can help you identify them and their communities – then you are in a really strong position to win back these lapsed customers. It’s almost a case of redefining testimonials.

How are you looking to engage with your lapsed, indifferent customers?

Google Instant – Warning Contains Adult Content and a Disappointing Level of Service.

Last month I published a small post about the launch of Google instant and the possible effects it might have for paid search. But yesterday I read an amazing article by Danny Sullivan of Search Engineland about some bizarre results that Google presents to people on via it’s Images search function.

If you are of a delicate disposition or easily offended, PLEASE stop reading now!

I’ve added my screen grabs so that you can see he didn’t make this up. But try it yourself!

If you type ‘G’ into Google Images the top suggested search results are:

google

girls without dress

girl

girls breast feeding each other

And another step through the alphabet to ‘H’ produces these results:

So images of girls, girls without dresses and hot girls top the lists for Google Image search.

Of course, we shouldn’t really be surprised by this. And Danny Sullivan gives some expert insight into how users can change their settings to protect themselves and others from these results. That’s not the purpose of this post.

The point of this article, (apart from being astonished at these results) is that it serves as a warning to businesses generally against over automating its processes.

OK, so this is an extreme example, I’m not suggesting Google employ millions of people to tailor search results for its users; its algorithms stand by each of us every day with no complaints whatsoever. But for those of you who have an FAQ’s section on your website, or a CRM system with 4 options – none of which answer my question – beware! What people really crave when interacting with a company or organisation is a human reaction and the bar has been raised!

Fall beneath this bar at your peril.

 

Don’t Let Your Customer Service Get ‘Buried’!

Last month saw the release of a new thriller/horror movie by Spanish director,  Rodrigo Cortés entitled ‘Buried’.

The premise of the movie is (taken directly from IMDB) “Paul is a U.S. contractor working in Iraq. After an attack by a group of Iraqis he wakes to find he is buried alive inside a coffin. With only a lighter and a cell phone it’s a race against time to escape this claustrophobic death trap.”

The point of this post hinges on you understanding that he has a cell phone, which of course he uses to try and contact the outside world, but that of course, has limited battery life. The movie sounds absolutely gripping, but here is another direct quote from the great Mark Kermode about Buried.

“It’s a film about the horror of being put ‘on hold’. I have yet to see a film that so brilliantly encapsulates the annoyance, the frustration, the terror, the anguish of being ‘on hold’.

Doesn’t that ring true? Excuse the pun.

We’ve all had the opportunity to press 3 by pressing 2 and then being put on hold whilst being told just how valuable we are. So valuable that we can be left in a black hole for 45 minutes – thanks T Mobile!

Customer care is thankfully being redefined. Those amazing CRM systems that were going to rock our world in the nineties and noughties will soon be painful things of the past. All because of the voice that we now have through social media.

I’ve written before about AT&T. They have a terrible reputation in the US. When the iPhone 4 started dropping calls beacuse of the design, who got the complaints – Steve Jobs or AT&T ‘helpdesk”? OK, so Apple took a bad dose of publicity, but on the ground, customers were battering AT&T.

And yet, the great thing about them is that they recognised that the days of leaving people on hold were numbered. They still did it – don’t get me wrong, but by promoting Twitter as a key customer care channel, they have shown that the biggest step in winning on the social web, is accepting the world has changed.

Their strategy for using Twitter to meet their objective is still flawed – nowhere near enough resource and they clock off at 5! Poor Molly, the face of AT&T’s Twitter customer care page seems a lovely lady, with only your best interests at heart, but nevertheless has a thankless task.

If there is a lesson from the last few years experiences surrounding CRM, it’s that peoples expectations are, quite rightly, rising all the time. If your wifi goes down at 3am while working on a presentation, you need help at 3.05.

Customer care can’t take holidays anymore.

Comment on this post and I’ll get right back to you…

Is the Recession Over?

I hate rhetorical questions, and of course this is one.  So apologies, but I’m just checking that we understand that we are all a long way from being out of the woods.

That being so, I’m thinking it strange that businesses feel now would be a good time to continue to offer poor customer service, not over compensate or over deliver to their customers, not to go out of their way to be best in class, not to look to achieve peak performance, but to continue to be shabby, mean spirited, inward looking, poorly focused or even go on strike!

Over the last few months I’ve experienced some wonderful examples of ‘over compensation’, take a bow H&R Block (although you dropped the ball from a very big height at the beginning), I’ve experienced and read about dreadful levels of service.

Iain Dale’s PC World experience resonated with me I’m sad to say.