I spent some time with Eircom's new online customer support team yesterday and Monday. Yes, that's right, Eircom are heading out into the big bad world of online and "engaging" in "conversations" with their customers on a new site to be launched, on twitter, on Boards.ie and wherever else is appropriate. Eventually.
It's a brave move for the company because let's face it, they're going to open themselves up even more to criticism and venting than they ever have before. It's very "easy" not to answer the phone but this is different. The whole organisation needs to be aware of that and I'm not sure that they are.
Now, when I say I'm "training", I don't mean I'm giving them the top 10 tips to be a customer service ninja or giving handouts drawn on posts by Godin, et al. Nor do I mean I'm advocating high fives when a query is solved, or recruiting advocates to ensure that only good stuff is said about you online. Because that sort of stuff is ultimately bullshit and there's far too much of that going on already.
This is about customer service, pure and simple. In real world terms it's someone coming into your shop with a problem and you solving it with a minimum of fuss and bother. Exciting the customer. One of the best books on customer service I've read was by Feargal Quinn about Superquinn - Crowning the Customer - and even then he just talks about how a good shop is well laid out with staff who are helpful, who anticipate the customer need and ensure it happens. Sounds simple, but a bitch to implement. Every part of the organisation needs to be bought into it.
I'm not saying either though that it's difficult to find the problems. A quick search on twitter yesterday morning brought us to Leo's tweets - and a quick reply and some fortuitous circumstances completely independent of us had the problem for Leo solved - but a valuable lesson taught. This isn't rocket science - it's just saying "Hello, I'm here to help, can I?"
I've really enjoyed watching the evolution of the Boards.ie talk to... forums, especially since Vodafone got involved (0ver 1,500 posts since September 20). Because I get emailed with every post as well as them, I get to see what's coming through. Some of it is quite harsh. Some of it fixable, some not. It is, however, valuable customer advice.
I watch how the feedback we receive on Boards.ie is - or isn't - implemented and I guess I'm lucky to be on at what I consider to be still the start-up stage of this company. Unlike massive companies like Eircom or Vodafone, I don't have a press office, a marketing team or a legal department to get things signed off by - that's me and Tom and Dav doing that between us. If something's wrong, we'll try fix it, if we can and it's fixable. If it's wrong but can't be fixed now, and isn't urgent (which is not the same as isn't "important") it gets added to the (long) list of stuff to be actioned. That's a really good position to be in. Enviable.
Will it be the same in Eircom? I don't really know how it operates at a management level. Do they know what people are complaining about? Do they look at the call centre logs, the emailed queries and say "Okay, we have a problem in this area, this needs to be fixed" and then go and actually use their authority in the company to fix it? My hope is that it's so, my gut feeling is it's not. I think people get tied up in call volumes reached, in tickets closed, in cutting call centre resources, in just answering the call and letting that be. This won't work for Eircom.
The moment someone in there starts looking at this exercise in terms of number of posts answered rather than how long it took to resolve an issue and why; the moment they're talking about standardised, templated answers, quick wins and not telling the whole truth, the whole project might as well be scrapped.
Certainly, if I were part of the management team over this effort, I'd be looking closely at the processes. How is a query received? How is it answered? What steps does someone have to take to get there? Are there unnecessary steps that can be removed? Where are the problems talking longest to resolve? Does my team have the necessary authority and buy in from the organisation to make sure that what they do, they do well, first time and every time?
I'd nearly have the people answering the queries and dealing with them and then one person looking at the issues that caused the query in the first case and how that could be resolved and feeding that back into the system. Would that work? Yes, I believe so. Would a company pay someone to do it? No. Why? Because you'd only get results after a year. That's a pity.
There's no easy win for Eircom. It's going to take a lot of hard work, determination, apologising and trial and error. It's going to cause a lot of disruption internally - if it's done right.
Rather than end on this sort of downer on a blog post, I wanted to just share some thoughts for anyone in Eircom who ends up reading this far:
- Once you start, there's no going back. No half measures, no shortcuts, no easy answers. DO it right from the beginning. If you can't do it alone, get help. Ask for advice. Get support. This is important and you have a great chance here to do something pretty damn good.
- While you're not in "control" of the conversation, you have no influence over what people say and you don't know what someone could come at you with, act like you do. Be calm, be friendly, be honest but above all find out what their problem/issue is and fix that as quickly and as best as possible. Easier than it sounds.
It's the usual yaddah yaddah of how to talk online - don't jump in, listen first, be helpful with the advice, don't pimp your own stuff. Be the experts you are supposed to be - the experts you're paid to be.
- Trust the guys you've hired, Eircom. From what I know of them, they seem like decent chaps. They'll need support but ultimately they're the guys you've put on your online frontline. You've hired them to do a job, let them do it.
- Be honest. Be transparent. That will stand much better to you than just the brand guidelines. As lovely as your marketing and press people are, their message isn't what I want to hear - it's the truth about my problem and what you're going to do about it.
- Realise you're going to learn a lot that you don't know about. Realise you're going to have to change things. Realise that this will be a measure of you as a company.
- Don't take negative feedback personally. This is probably the biggest mistake people make online - assuming that what's written about them, their online work or the company they work for reflects on them personally. It doesn't. Not really. Not ultimately. Ignore the trouble-makers. If you can't ignore them, pity them. Their other problems are not yours. Solve what you can, when you can and be happy with the work you've done.
- Remember - a little goes a long way. One tweet yesterday, though it didn't solve any problems, didn't fix anything or wasn't really that helpful did cause one person, previously having an awful experience with that company to react favourably to an offer of help. Don't discount that. Build on it.