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You can Twitter, but will the CEO hear you?

by Michael Maoz  |  June 24, 2009  |  6 Comments

After 11 years living in the United States, I moved homes. There is a lot to learn about deceptive business practices from realtors and bankers, and about insurance companies that automatically raise your rates because you have a less-tony postal code (but 11 years without a claim).

What really struck me during the move was the gap between what happens to a customer and what the average CEO thinks happens with and to a customer. I advise businesses on social networks and media, on CRM and customer experience, and the technologies and processes required to improve customer relations. Then I interact with these same businesses as a customer and marvel at the disconnect between board-level talking points and the real world.

Alright, you ask, can I give you one example? I’ll use everyone’s favorite: the Cable Guy. Nothing could be simpler than to install cable TV, internet, and IP telephones – the lines were already running into the house. Ah! Those lines (snip, snip, tuck, hide) – Cable Guy needs new ones. Can you feed the cable through an empty wall space? “No, sir, we only drill new holes and run everything along external walls and internal walls.” I ask: “but can’t you take off this electrical cover? It’s where the old cable came into the room.” Cable Guy answers: I can’t unscrew a cover.

After a break, and talking to his supervisor on the phone, he comes to hook up the internet. I mention that he skipped a television. Cable Guy says, “I can’t hook it up, it’s in a box.” I ask him why he didn’t just say that rather than skipping it. Cable Guy says, “We don’t do that.” Then I notice he’s hooked the cable up between the cable box and the TV, even though there is a DVR in between. I ask Cable Guy if he could hook it up the way it will actually be used. “We don’t do that. We just check for signal.”

Then the internet: Cable Guy sets up the model, and I connect it to the phone, and he asks me to sign the paperwork so he can leave. I ask him, “Don’t we need to make sure the internet is working?” Cable Guy says, “No. You just fire up the browser, and if it asks you for an order number, just put in this number.”

Now Cable Guy was moving fast. Out the door and gone. I tried to “fire up” my browser. Nope. Reboot. Nope. I called customer service, but ‘unusually high call volumes’ kept me on hold eight minutes, and then the line went dead. I call again. Nine minutes, and the line goes dead. Then I get through. Customer service puts me onto Technical Support. She sees nothing wrong. Technical Support transfers me to Billing. Billing has no idea who I am or what I want. This is a system that would challenge anyone except the Buddha. Billing gives up and says I need Technical Support. He has no idea I’ve spoken to Technical Support.  At this point I am the peanut vendor Sebastion Dinwiddle talking to St. Louis Wolves manager Dexter Broadhurt in the Abbott and Costello comedy skit, “Who’s on First.”

(Guess how you can resolve this issue? Go onto the cable company’s technical website and use the technician’s ID to log on from the order form you signed. Then enter order number, MTA MAC ID from the box, and work description and “Enter here to complete technician work order.” Whatdya know? The technician probably hadn’t yet processed your order. I’m thinking lunch takes precedence. But don’t do it – it’s likely not kosher.)

The moral of this banal tale (which is played out in many guises by customers in multiple industries, every minute of every day): you can Twitter, and you can post, and blog, and poll, and vote – and so can your management. But it is hard to soar like an eagle when you flock with domesticated turkeys. We need our feedback systems in order, and to tramp along with the customer, and listen, listen, listen to the communities, both formal and informal.

Get out of the office a bit more and live the customer’s life.

Category: crm  customer-centric-web  innovation-and-customer-experience  social-crm  social-networking  social-software  twitter  

Michael Maoz
VP Distinguished Analyst
13 years at Gartner
26 years IT industry

Michael Maoz is a research vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research. His research focuses on CRM and customer-centric Web strategies. Mr. Maoz is the research leader for both the customer service and support strategies area and customer-centric Web… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on You can Twitter, but will the CEO hear you?

  1. Nigel Walsh says:

    Michael, at least you can see the funny side of this. I don’t know how so many companies fail at the simple process level. What ever happened to think like a customer! live our journey!

    You will also be pleased to know its not exclusive to the US. I remember when I last had satellite installed here in the UK after a home move, the guy came along put the new dish up and the box under my telly – when I asked how they were connected he said someone else had to come along and connect the two and put the cable there – it “wasn’t his job”.

    When I asked him to remove both, he kindly as a ‘goodwill’ gesture used the same ladder that he had put the dish up with, ran a cable and connected. But I was through, soon after I cancelled and have not been a customer since…

  2. Michael,

    Great post – and a good story to highlight what we have been saying for a long time — it is not the shiny new object that gets things done differently. It is no more than the latest slight of hand to hide the bad that remains in place.

    Twitter, Facebook, etc. won’t fix what ails customer service – we need a bottom up approach to fixing it. if your tech, which i had working here in reno last month amazingly enough, changes the attitude and commitment, then the rest of the changes will fall into place.

    A lot of companies tried to fake good customer service when this downturn started, and i wrote about how it will cease. guess what? we are starting to see the return of the bad service because the same people who did not care before are there now.

    this won’t change unless we change from the bottom up.

    thanks for a great post

  3. Debi Kleiman says:

    Great post Michael! We recently did some research into this topic – how the C-suite perception of life, particularly in this economic context, compares to that of Main Street. It’s pretty interesting to see the disconnect. I’d love to hear what you think of this. You can see the report here:

    As marketers, we want to believe that because we’re also consumers, we share many of the same needs and wishes as those who buy and use our products, or at least are in touch with them. And if insight and empathy are important in the best of times, they are critical in periods of economic hardship when our customer connections are most at risk. The study summarized in this report is intended to help you—CMOs, CEOs, and Brand Managers—understand where your lives, experiences, values, concerns, and aspirations do and don’t intersect with those of your customers. We think you’ll be intrigued by some of our findings, and validated by others. But most importantly, we hope that you’ll find the common ground on which you and your customers can undertake the joint effort of rebuilding fresher and stronger relationships.

    Thanks again Michael for asking the key questions that challenge us to be better and for providing such great insight.

  4. Haim Toeg says:

    Excellent post – my conclusion from many years managing technical support people is that they will treat the customer as well as they are perceived to be treated buy the company. Disgruntled, poorly paid, badly measured and compensated employees will never provide excellent service.

  5. Anand Chopra says:

    Michael – nicely done and to one of your final points, our industry (CRM, e-service, customer service, etc.) has failed to “close the loop.” Esteban has written much about EFM prodding companies to stand out from the crowd by closing this loop. Your example of how technicians and companies have treated consumers for years and years rings true for us all…but your question of how the new social media applications change this is easily answered – they don’t.


    They (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) are just another channel. Unfortunately, if we haven’t closed the loop on the channels that have been available for the last 10+ years – it’s very difficult to see how things will be any different for the new channels…

  6. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by majorworks: RT @JoanLittleton: You can Twitter, but will the CEO hear you?

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