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Social CRM as a smoke screen for bad customer service.

by Michael Maoz  |  June 24, 2010  |  6 Comments

Yesterday I was on the call with my communication services provider. The people that, when dinosaurs ruled the earth (several large software companies come to mind – I know some cynics were thinking that), were called the phone company. They have my internet, broadband and home (IP-based) phone. I had a simple but annoying question: they provide two phone numbers, one a ‘full feature’ line with voice mail, caller ID, call forwarding and more. The other line is just a line, and they gouge the customer another $10 for this ‘extra’ number with no features accept a dial tone. Basically a lot of money for very little. OK, nothing new.

I wanted to ask the company if I could just add caller ID to the second line. The website was unclear. I dialled the ‘customer care’ group. The first 2:08 was spent identifying myself through voice prompts. The next :58 was on hold. Then 4:16 explaining my situation to a ‘care’ agent, who then transferred me to technical support (3:40) who then passed me on to sales, where I spent the next 8:06.

What did I get for my 20 minutes, two channels (web and phone) and three representatives, besides the runaround? Well, everyone was polite. They invited me to take a survey.  No one is in any position to do anything except tell you the facts. None of them can ‘capture’ feedback that will lead to someone speaking to you about your experience.

But boy oh boy, have they got surveys! Like sands in the Kalahari. They also have a customer forum, and Twitter, and a facebook page. And everyone is so polite and helpful, even though they aren’t because they can’t be.

Imagine a scenario where I could go to the website and use a natural language menu to select my real issue in my own words, and then submit that query to a queue that would then result in an outbound call to me on my mobile device or home phone or Skype or whatever I designated? Imagine if that agent had my record open and understood my product portfolio and status of services? Imagine if they had a way to anticipate the likely nature of my question based on my direct description?

Rather than focus on true customer value, it’s Bread and Circus. This is where the concept of the Customer-Centric Enterprise really begins to take hold.

For all of the talk about advanced technologies, the largest and most profitable technology vendors have little interest in helping you solve your most pressing business problem: customer excellence.

OK – this is my final post before our conference next week in Los Angeles. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Category: applications  crm  customer-centric-web  innovation-and-customer-experience  leadership  social-crm  social-networking  social-software  strategic-planning  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 Social CRM as a smoke screen for bad customer service.

  1. Wim Rampen says:

    Hi Michael,

    Good observation about the smoke-screen.. I’m not so sure though about the “what if’s” you eloquently state above.

    Unfortunately your what if’s are all technology driven too. In my humble opinion it is not a wide variety of options you need from this company, nor something as vague as “customer excellence”.

    You needed “to ask the company if I could just add caller ID to the second line”. Such a basic question should be easily answered on the company’s website (e.g. through a virtual agent). And if possible you should have been able to order that online in a few clicks. This would not only have saved you, but also the company 20 valuable minutes.. (times all those calls.. you can do the math).

    That’s for the easy part. If you then still want/need to make a phone call there should be well trained empowered agents that can see your record/status etc, and can answer your question, solve your problem.

    In most call centers 80 % of traffic is related to 4 or 5 main “issues”. And as a rule of thumb 20 % of your customers account for maybe as much as 80 % of your traffic. Bottom line: solve these 4 to 5 issues and you don’t need all the technological Customer Service / Social Media frills.. imho

    Problem for most companies is that implementing new technology is a lot easier, quicker (and cheaper) than fixing the core capabilities that need fixing to deliver on the value they propose. Yet, if they don’t do just that, they’ll never be anywhere near Customer Centric.


    Wim Rampen
    @wimrampen on Twitter

  2. Maria Ogneva says:

    The main problem I see with this scenario was not as much technology driven, but really bad processes. If they were to improve their processes, tech would follow that. For example… If I tweeted or emailed or called them, my record would be automatically referenced against the internal record the company has. So even if I tweeted a question, they’d look me up and say “Hey, this is the same Maria who has service xyz” – and then be able to get back to me via my preferred channel. And whether it’s sales or support talking to me, they need to be on the same page, and capturing this info about me dynamically, working from the same system – this way, I don’t have to say my name and state my story 5 times. So yes, there’s gonna be tech that’s necessary to do this, but you have to think through the business problem first. I shouldn’t even have to get bounced around sales to service and back to sales. I’m a customer and I don’t care which silo you are in – I just need help!

    Finally, what concerns me also is that none of the employees that you talked to could help. They should be empowered to make decisions to elevate the customer experience at all times. Zappos does it. Why can’t others? It’s a culture shift, and it’s uncomfortable. Company-centric is familiar, but customer-centric is weird and makes you give up some control to your employees to act as agents on the customer’s behalf. That ideology has to change first and foremost.


    Maria Ogneva – Attensity Group
    @themaria @attensity360

  3. Maria, You hit the nail on the head with this one “none of the employees that you talked to could help”. As someone who has worked in the retail sector for years (thankfully no longer) the biggest issue wasn’t “can this problem be solved” but “am I allowed to solve this problem?” and “what will happen if my supervisor decides that I promised something they don’t want me to do (even though we can do it)?”

    The big issue with that is it makes everyone horribly unhappy. When empowered, employees enjoy their work more as instead of being the “no” or “I can’t” person they’re suddenly your savior, or at least that person that makes you happy for a few minutes. Everyone loves to be that person.

    And of course on the customer end dealing with employees who are empowered and care about their work is much easier to deal with and even increases the trust as then when we’re told no not only are we often given alternatives but we get the sense that there’s a reason for the no that doesn’t involve “I don’t know how” or “I’m not allowed to do that”.

    But here’s the issue. For the employer it’s scary. You don’t want to pay much for your people and do you really want those people making decisions? What if they get it wrong? What if it costs you money or hurts your reputation? It’s all giving up control and very frightening for the status quo company.

    The catch is that you really have no choice. What these companies are doing right now is destroying their credibility, getting it wrong and costing them money. Their risk is that this new idea fails just like their current one. Their reward is that if done well it could well save their business a whole ton of shame.

  4. Laura R says:

    I had a similar experience in the Seattle area with “a communications provider” who has touted themselves as The Leader in using social channels for customer service. Our internet and phone have gone down on a recurring basis for over a year. We’ve had countless resets on our modem, a new modem, and at least 7 service people out to our house to fix the connection throughout the last year.

    Most recently, our phone line went down and disconnected our security system. I called the communications provider and they sent someone out to fix it. Suspiciously, the line had gone down after the LAST technician was out to fix something else, so while this new guy was here I said, “can you see in your system what the last guy did with our phone line?” He said no. I said, “do you have record that there was someone out here two weeks ago?” He said yes. I said, “what else do you know about the situation?” He said the only thing he knows is that the case was closed as completed. That’s it.

    While we were having this dialog, I still had my internet connection so I send the service provider a message on Twitter. The response was prompt and friendly, but they also could not pull a history of service even when I provided my account information. They suggested a modem replacement, which we had done already. I asked them if they could see that I had already replaced the modem.

    That’s when the line went silent. The person who I was interacting with had gone home for the day.

    I picked up the Twitter conversation with another rep who told me to call the customer care line.

    It’s one thing to respond in a quick, friendly way through social channels but if the fundamentals aren’t there to back it up, who cares?

  5. Andrew Maher says:

    oh how often do I meet with customers who are planning the same-old-same-old type of handling which you described here. I really cannot comment due to my current employment. 😉 But this is just the status quo for so many “customer service” organizations. Sure, they are ‘nice’ but what was that worth? I recently read a survey where it was asked what was more important, friendliness or competency? Guess which won?
    Great post!

  6. Yeph – no Social Media, no CRM, no business process automation consultant or any other tool can help in those and probably thousands of similar cases.

    Therefore listening to Tony Hshie of Zappos is just nice: “It’s about a culture” and leaders need to put a ton of love and time into a culture development that is typically more sustainable than any tool.

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