A couple of days ago, I walked into an outlet of a well known chain of Irish sandwich shops and ordered my lunch. As I am wont to do after my lunch, I ordered a single espresso to go.
The lady behind the counter promptly setup the coffee machine and soon enough it started to whirr and grind. After a few seconds it started to pour.
I find coffee machines fascinating – I think it is part of the culture of coffee. This was a beautiful red Gaggia – the best machines always seem to be Italian.
Anyway, as my coffee is pouring, I notice that the liquid is coming out of a twin spout attached to the brass filter – quite similar to the picture. Except, one spout is emptying into my take-away cup and the other spout is simply draining into the waste. I called the lady’s attention to this and she says ‘Ah yeah, but you only paid for a single’.
Well, I was gobsmacked to say the least. So I asked again and the exchange was no less astounding. Not only was this waste acceptable, it was justifiable.
Me: “So for every single espresso you sell, you pour a single espresso’s worth down the drain? Is that correct?”
Barista: “Yes, but you get a great espresso”
Me: “Erm, how so? It is the same coffee, except the stuff you are wasting is coming out of the other spout”
Barista: “Yes but the double has too much water, we let the single really get the good coffee taste, it’s better”
I have never in all the years I have been drinking coffee seen this. But first off let’s clear something up.
There is no way the coffee that was in my cup was any different from the coffee being wasted.
So a couple of possibilities might be happening – or both at the same time:
Every purchaser of a single espresso is paying for a double espresso, but only getting a single (at €2.60 – that might be right!)
The coffee beans are dirt cheap and so the business can afford to throw it away – might be the case in conjunction with the earlier point. That said, its coffee must just be grossly overpriced.
I know that restaurants and bars make their most profit from cups of coffee. The costs are miniscule compared to the prices they get away with charging for them. Nonetheless the level of waste is still not justified in my books.
Ultimately the way I see it is that this espresso was cheap at half the price but actually will cost the business €10/day in my lost custom, as I shan’t ever go to this sandwich shop again.
As I was sifting through the data that Bizbuzz was providing about potential ServiceChat customers, I came across Morrisons – a British grocery and supermarket business that has about 12% of the UK grocery market (source: Economics Help)
I was looking at their ‘apology’ buzz – a tracking of how many apologies they are making to customers and that would lead me to who they were apologising to – an unhappy customer with some feedback dressed as a complaint.
The date was May 27th and as I scanned the apologies, I picked one at random to see the details of the apology – what triggered it and perhaps, any further conversations in the thread. The apology I picked related to Ian Golding’s tweet.
I read Ian’s profile and reached out to him to seek more context about the events that led to his experience. Learning more about Ian revealed that he is an active blogger and a passionate customer experience specialist, striving to help businesses delight their customers – my kind of guy!
Ian had written fairly extensively about his Morrisons’ experience and after I read it I wondered whether Morrisons’ level of engagement and the resolution they demonstrated in Ian’s experience was typical and part of a designed approach to delighting customers, or was it simply a fluke. After all, I knew from my data that on May 27th – the day of Ian’s experience – there were 12 other customers who sent Morrisons a variety of feedback via Twitter.
What were their experiences of Morrisons’ engagement with them about their feedback?
How many felt they got a satisfactory resolution from calling Morrisons’ attention to something they perceived needed improvement in a store, with pricing, product quality and/or staff behaviour?
Some Immediate Observations
Morrisons uses auto-responders
As I was looking through the content it became obvious that Morrisons’ responses are a template and most likely a template used by an auto-responder. They appear to be semi-customised templates where they try and get the first name of the account that sent the tweet they are responding to and use it to personalise the reply.
They clearly also have responses they either cycle through so they are no so obviously simply auto responding.
All responses are redirection
All the responses I saw for this date (May 27th) and the other 180 apologies in Morrisons’ buzz are all asking the other person to DM their phone number and email to the Morrison account. I imagine this is to put it on a queue for their customer service desk to deal with.
I did not observe any attempt to address the feedback directly online. The DM leads potentially to some further engagement offline – via a phone call or email. This was borne out in Ian’s case and caused me to wonder – What do Morrisons’ customer think of this lack of readiness to engage completely online.
Morrisons is not being social on social media
A quick snapshot of Morrisons’ activities on Twitter show an account that is not about engagement (contrast this with @Waitrose). It is almost exclusively about pushing offers, tips and other canned responses out there (pardon the pun!). There is no seeking engagement nor responding to any tweets coming back in. They are missing a great opportunity to build rapport with their customers and do the other canned stuff in a way that would improve their their brand perception.
What About the Other Customers?
I approached the other twelve customers to whom Morrisons had auto-apologised on May 27th on Twitter, asking for their input in answering the above questions.
The responses were mixed. Five of the 12 other customers responded to my invitation. Their experiences were sometimes quite starkly different. Some didn’t get any further contact despite sending a DM replying and others got a mixed resolution from the extended engagement.
@missySimps replied to the auto-apology as a DM. She didn’t have any further engagement from Morrisons nor any resolution to the situation.
@tracySmith2k, @jakimccarthy, @pauldavid28 and @captainratall got a reply to their DM and a call. But their experience were also fairly different:
@tracySmith2k was uncomfortable with the call she received from the store manager – she felt it was confrontational- and would have preferred it was handled by an objective intermediary.
@jakimccarthy got to speak with the store manager who explained the situation to her and apologised again. She doesn’t know if they did anything to rectify the dirty fridges she complained about, but she felt heard and the experience has not put her off from shopping at Morrisons.
@pauldavid28 – was pretty pleased with how it was handled, how Morrisons engaged with him and how his query was finally resolved. Awesome!
@captainrat – got a call, had the issue resolved and even got a token of their apology. Great outcome!
What Does It All Mean?
Let’s do the math. We now know how 6 of the apologies that Morrisons made on May 27th turned out.
75% were happy with the level of engagement
50% had a resolution they were satisfied with
10% had no further engagement beyond the auto-apology.
I think Morrisons do have a desire to engage with their customers on social media. I also think there is a strategy to genuinely engage and resolve customers queries that are received from social media platforms, in this case Twitter. From the interactions I have had with their customers, they seem to understand the value of engagement, even if currently it is mostly about handling it offline.
They may be being a little cautious online and currently don’t do anymore than auto-respond. For example, their activity on twitter smacks of auto-everything. There don’t seem to be any humans at home, which is very strange for a social platform.
Clearly, in the instances where they engage with customers, they try and get the ‘right’ person to engage with the customer. In the cases I explored, it was almost always the store manager.
This is good – let the person who can do something about the issue deal with it. In only one instance did I find that this wasn’t satisfactory.
I must confess, I am disappointed with the whole auto-responding aspect of Morrisons’ social media operation – at least on Twitter (I didn’t do any Facebook exploration).
I am especially disappointed with their auto-apologising. An apology is supposed to be sincere and human. I think automating an apology – especially one in response to a complaint – cheapens it. Not such an issue if you almost immediately follow it with human engagement – like a phone call – where you can have the conversation.
But if, as in the case of @missySimps, all that was experienced was a nondescript, auto-reply – even one faked out with personalisation – it can feel insincere.
Making people think they got contacted by a human when it was just a program is pretty ‘Matrix’. Difference is ‘Matrix’ was cool and this isn’t.
Auto-responding communicates to me that they don’t really understand the power of social media or are being advised by people who don’t really understand the power of social media!
3 Things Morrisons Can Do To Improve
I’m all about improving and this post is primarily about giving Morrisons some feedback to sweeten its social media operation and let it complement the great work they are already designed to do with store manager calls etc.
So here goes, my top 3 things Morrisons can do better at:
Lose the auto-responders and put humans on the social media desk. With the low volumes of social interaction you currently have, you might not even have to hire more people right now. You can get software to route tweets to your customer service folk. But you must make sure they know how to use social media. Social is entirely about being human.
Something you can do right now, Morrisons, might be to completely de-personalise the auto replies, make them authentically robotic. For example, ditch the first name thing and reply with ‘We aren’t here right now, we auto followed you, so please DM us…’, then route them to the store manager and work your magic. First names are for humans to speak to humans.
Get tools that promote and facilitate online engagement. People chose to engage with you online, redirecting them to some offline mechanism might suit you but it usually just frustrates them. Oh, and shun those tools that promise to help you deal with scale. The scaling problem comes later. Focus on getting great with online engagement then fix the scaling problem. From a quick search on Twitter, @Morrisons gets about 10 mentions a day, most are not about them per se. And their bizbuzz page shows they are apologising an average of 3 times a day. This is the time to get in and get good with this exciting world of social media.
Be open about your journey in trying to delight your customers on social media. There is a growing generation that will love you for it. You might be thinking “we sell groceries, we don’t need social media”. Everyone is going to need social media. Your competitors are embracing it and once they are fully established in it, it will be almost impossible to wean customers off them.
I am deeply grateful to @missySimps, @tracysmith2k, @jakimmcarthy, @captainrat and @pauldavid28 for responding to my tweet and being so generous with their time to listen and engage with me on this topic. It helps to continually renew my faith that people want to be connected, be heard and to engage. Thank you.
Reach, responsiveness, engagement, resolution, impact, journey – these are all buzzwords in the brave new world of customer service meets social media.
Undoubtedly, it has all the excitement of a first date – all that uncertainty of how to behave and what to say. Despite being a new platform, the same rules apply – being authentic, demonstrating genuine interest and representing something beyond profit.
My ABCs of Customer Service
Great customer service for any business on any platform consists of 3 things in different measure – responsiveness, engagement and resolution. Let me break it down:
Responsiveness: How quickly is the business responding to enquiries? How long does a customer have to wait for some attention at the till, on the phone , via email and even a reply from a tweet!
Engagement: When they do respond, how well are they at listening, asking relevant questions, being helpful and demonstrating empathy? Do they make the customer feel like they genuinely care about their enquiry?
Resolution: How well do they successfully address the enquiry? For example, refunds, exchanges, apologies. What are they prepared to do to keep their customers happy.
It is a growing practice to think of customer service as applicable not simply after sales, but at every part of the the customers’ interaction with the business. This is great and I want to see more of it. However it is a long way from being customer-driven which is far more about culture than it is about senior management pronouncements and marketing flim flam.
Imagine you ordered some tickets for a concert and they didn’t arrive. A day before the concert, you are panicking. You call the ticket vendor but, because they are slow to respond, it takes ages for your call to be answered.
Someone finally picks up the phone and you carefully explain you haven’t received your tickets, which incidentally were a birthday present for your partner, whose birthday is on the same day as her favorite band’s concert date – so an extremely special occasion!
After carefully listening – they have pretty good engagement – they explain that their policy is not to offer refunds or exchanges of tickets this close to the event. Never mind about the importance of the occasion. They apologise but there is nothing they can do. You end the call feeling deeply frustrated, angry and dissatisfied because their resolution is poor.
On what basis do you think you might ever buy another ticket from this vendor again? The fact that they listened? Or the fact that, despite good engagement, they didn’t help you out in this most important of situations. Most importantly you thought they ought to be able to help.
I have and continue to interview end customers of businesses like these, in unofficial surveys triggered by data I find on bizbuzzapp. The stories are interesting and the emotions generated by resolution are big and typically extreme. Successful resolution – where the customer is happy with what the business is going to do to address their enquiry – generates feelings of delight, satisfaction and increased loyalty. Unsuccessful resolution often generates feelings of anger, hopelessness, dissatisfaction, aggression and betrayal.
Clearly, resolution is a huge thing. It is full of promise and opportunity for the businesses that can consistently be great at it. It is also the hardest to achieve. Not because of some divine unchangeable rule – although there are truly unavoidable things like death or natural disasters – but mostly because of a problem of value assessment.
When I was 17, I went from Nigeria to St Kitts with my sister and my dad. Whilst we were there, my Dad took ill and died.
We had never been to St Kitts before and, even though it is where Dad was born, we were in an unfamiliar place. We had to rely entirely on the kindness of friends to get through. With no idea how we would pay for his funeral, it was an extremely stressful time. Then we discovered that my Dad had a bank account in the UK with NatWest.
My mum contacted them and spoke with the manager (in the days you could still speak to the manager) and although he didn’t know my dad personally – he saw he was a long standing account holder and had either had funds in his account that could be used to bury him or had some kind of life insurance policy. The manager asked for the contact details of the Funeral director in St Kitts and between them, they sorted everything out.
To this day I have a NatWest account and hold them in high regard. When I first set out as a consultant I opened my business account with them and put over £250K in revenue through their bank. That is the power of resolution.
This bank manager could have made things very difficult. He could have cited some policy that would have made a sad situation desperate. But he didn’t, he valued my Dad’s established custom over all those things and he had the authority to resolve it successfully. In reality I don’t think it cost them very much because they were covered by insurance or by what was in Dad’s account – but it was hugely valuable to us.
It should come as no surprise that satisfaction increases the further you go down my ABCs.
In the early 1990s, I walked into a Richer Sounds store to enquire about upgrading my entertainment equipment for my new apartment.
As soon as I walked in, a really friendly sales person named Simon walked up and asked how he might assist me. I explained I had just moved into a new apartment and that I wanted to upgrade my equipment.
Simon listened intently, asking relevant questions about my current entertainment kit, how much I wanted to spend and what I wanted to experience from my entertainment unit. We talked through the options and I finally went with his recommendation which was both surprising and delightful. Simon recommended that I not buy any more equipment, instead to invest in some better cabling. I had a few hundred to spend and I left that store with perhaps £50 worth of gold plated chunky audio cable.
He was absolutely right – it made a huge difference to my enjoyment.
On the face of it, Simon cost Richer Sounds a few hundred pounds by losing them a bigger sale. But in reality, he gained Richer Sounds a lifelong customer by demonstrating excellence at each of my ABCs. I was satisfied at how quickly Simon responded to my presence in his store, happier still that he engaged with me intently, asking relevant questions and collaborating with me through the options. Finally I was totally satisfied by his help in getting me the experience I wanted from my entertainment equipment and unexpectedly saving me money.
When I did finally upgrade my equipment a few years later, I spent a couple of thousand pounds at the same Richer Sounds store!
The Elephant In the Room
Many companies, perhaps through ineffective leadership, policies and/or a culture of disempowerment consistently undervalue the ongoing satisfaction of their customers. They do so whilst playing lip service to the ‘highest levels of customer service’. What is this thing that always seems to be considered more important than satisfying customers?
Cost. There, I said it. Time and again, businesses choose to not do things that would satisfy their customers because they think it costs more than they are prepared to accept. I say ‘think’ because actually what they are basing this decision on is a short term perceived cost. When the few companies that even consciously do any kind of cost/benefit assessment of what it might take to satisfy the customer, they almost always undervalue the benefit.
Resolution challenges the business with the fundamental question of “what are you prepared to do to keep a customer happy?”. This question bumps straight up against the elephant in the room – that which no one likes to talk about because it feels ‘dirty’ to say you didn’t do the ‘decent’ thing because it would have cost more than you are permitted to spend.
Most companies I know and know of, at least those with run-of-the-mill typical MBA educated executives, believe they should track cost. Keeping it low is paramount. Unfortunately, this focus on keeping costs low is often at the expense of other things -namely value!.
A vast industry has grownup around cost-driven customer service. There are experts in offshore call centers, IVR software focuses on ‘intelligent’ routing and queuing. Passionate employees are replaced by cheaper outsourced agencies – who might know the product catalog by heart and may be great at the script, but can hardly talk passionately about the business, the products or the vision. I am sad at how cost driven customer service is so prevalent as to seem like the only way customers can be supported.
Customer Service is Fundamentally Simple
Bizarrely all this is rather simple. Humans desire attention, many crave it. We want to connect with other people – even for information that is readily available in non-human form, humans generally choose to receive the information from another human. We desire attention for many different reasons – to feel less alone, to have our anxieties reassured, to feel heard, to connect with another human being. Whatever the reasons (and they can be quite complex), we mostly value human to human interaction over other forms.
The trouble is, in the world of business, attention costs money. To have people on standby to talk to other people (customers and potential customers) is costly. Businesses have tried to mitigate this with all kinds of strategies. Great examples are contact centers. First they started onshore, but as pressure mounted to reduce costs, the jobs were moved offshore to where labor was cheaper. This was done at the expense of the customer experience – language and cultural misunderstanding.
Another example is IVR – that annoying ‘interactive voice routing’ that exploded in the late 80s and 90s. Routing customers through a maze of options with the intention of ‘getting them to the right department’, in practice all it mostly succeeded in doing was to frustrate customers even further. Again, an attempt at appearing to be responsive and feign engagement. With IVR, every customer call was answered in three or four rings and you were kept busy trying to navigate the maze until you either gave up in frustration or had spent a sufficient amount of time to have made it to the top of the queue.
Each one of these strategies focuses on one or two aspects of my ABCs – ignoring that you really need all three (of course , in different measures) to be consistently successful.
I don’t mean to trivialise the challenge of keeping customers happy. In some industries – like the Funeral Services or health sector – it is tremendously hard workand emotionally wearing. But the customers’ needs are fundamentally the same, albeit more amplified. Also, I recognise that there are some customers who expect and often demand what appears to be an unreasonable amount of attention, but without the skills to really understand the needs that are driving such customer ‘demand’ and a more effective way of valuing both satisfied customers and the opportunity cost of dissatisfaction, I don’t know how a business can truly understand what ‘unreasonable’ means.
The Bottom Line
Current ideas of Social Media Customer Service suck because they are leading businesses to measure ineffective things and simultaneously directing investment and focus away from the more effective things. Too much focus is placed on responsiveness (incidentally because it is, in terms of cost and effort, the cheapest and easiest to fix) and relatively very little is done to improve engagement and resolution.
What does it all mean? Well for one thing, it strongly establishes ‘Customer Service’ as one of the last great frontiers of competitiveness. What value you place on having happy and satisfied customers and how your entire operation – people, products and processes – demonstrate that value, is increasingly becoming the biggest business differentiator.
Once there is parity of production, costs, pricing, logistics and content – the last thing we have left to differentiate businesses is how they make us feel when we do business with them.
Now it’s your turn
What aspects of this post resonate with you? What did you find challenging or disagreeable?
I would really love your feedback and experiences and look forward to your comments on how I might improve on this.
Thanks for reading!
Every passing day re-affirms my fear. I have to back away from the code, close the IDE – quit doing what I love doing and start doing the other thing.
You know – the other thing, the hitting-the-phone, sell-your-vision, learn-the-problems, discover-your-customers, dine-with-rejection-and-unreturned-emails thing, you know Customer Development!
Now, I have a world of love for Eric Ries, Ash Maurya, Steve Blank and the other luminaries of the startup world. But they really could have done a better job of communicating how bloody tough it is to get to talk to customers, to handle the silence and the find the courage to carry on until you find the data you need (some might argue that the lack of feedback is plenty feedback – that is a different story).
This afternoon, I had the pleasure of 30 minutes of conversation with Kevin DeWalt, a really awesome and interesting guy with plenty of experience of creating companies and helping startups. He graciously offers 30 mins of free help to founders and startups via his site. I’ll blog more about that on a later post. Anyway, Kevin was really pragmatic and his view was really similar to @saintsal’s (from a couple of weeks ago). I have to spend most of my time out of the building, pounding the phones, the emails, knocking on doors (virtual and otherwise) and really get to meet prospects, so I can learn.
The last couple of weeks have presented some opportunities that I fully intend on exploring. So , what is my strategy?
I won’t be chasing customers. I tried that and they weren’t interested in talking to me. My new strategy is to help them find me – well at least this is my strategy for the next 3 weeks.
This means interviews, blogs and asking powerful questions about how all the businesses I am coming across do customer service. My intention is that these questions will attract the right people.
So it’s not so much ‘build it and they will come’, but more ‘ask it and the right people will answer’.
With this in mind, here is my check in.
Glad I have a plan, being lost is no fun when you got somewhere to go.
Glad there are people like Kevin DeWalt, Flavio Martins, @saintsal and Ian Golding who are open and invite you to seek their collaboration. Of course it is mutually beneficial – but their openness to connect is amazing.
Really mad that I’m succumbing to carbs – the sugary kind.
I’m grateful for the ability to reflect on my thoughts and the brilliance of others.
Consistent daily Spanish practice.
Testing my code. Recently I have been doing lots of test-free hacking.
For the last few months , I’ve been working on my startup (ServiceChat) and trying to understand how businesses do customer service on Twitter.
It has been a fascinating endeavour – it still is. I’ve learned so much – mostly how not do it – but also seen some amazing individuals really engage with customers to try and solve their problems. I’ll blog about that separately – consider following me on twitter and signing up for my blogs.
In trying to peel away the noise, I built a tool to help me see the conversations I should be following and the businesses I should be talking to. I would love to share that tool with you. It’s called bizbuzz.
In many ways, bizbuzz is info-porn. But in the right hands – it is actionable data. You can use it to decide to do business elsewhere, demand better service. Businesses can use it to decide to improve their engagement with their customers (I’m happy to share what I have learnt, drop me a line ).
Why are you sharing this?
Well, it’s based on publicly accessible data, only reframed in a certain way – the public , especially customers of these businesses , should see it.
Also, we are all consumers and for far too long businesses have paid poor attention to customers after they have taken their money – I want to end this. We each deserve to have fantastic service from the places we do business with. Competition was supposed to let the ‘best’ rise to the top – it hasn’t. A lack of information is a primary cause of this, followed closely by a lack of care. My part is to help with the first bit and to trust that you will help with the second bit.
I would like you to ask the businesses you spend your money with to listen to you and quit wasting your time and burning your emotion. Demand that they meet you where you are and not funnel you into some queue that suits them, seek to have a human relationship with them instead of the scripted zombie systems they deploy to frustrate you.
What can I do with it?
Find the companies you are interested in. You can search for their names. Have a giggle at their responses, guess which ones have auto-responders and the ones that genuinely respond.
Explore some of the conversations on Twitter, maybe reach out to some of their customers and show some empathy.
Bookmark bizbuzz and check to see how your businesses are doing. I’ll add an RSS feed soon.
Talk about this with your friends, share your stories. Share them on here too (as comments). We all deserve better service, honestly!
Use your consumer power wisely. You do have choices, choose to be treated like a person – with respect and empathy. Make better choices.
But before you rush off to tell the world…
Don’t judge these companies too harshly – these are the ones that are actually on Twitter and respond to their customers (albeit many do it with autoresponders) – there are undoubtedly thousands who are not even on Twitter. There are those who are on and never respond. However, I believe if they are on Twitter, they need to be effective and use the platform to its full potential to change customer experiences, not simply add it as another channel to frustration!
The search that drives the data on bizbuzz is tailored specifically at tweets written in English and which specifically include ‘Sorry email us’ or ‘Sorry DM us’. It has been surprisingly effective at finding businesses offering customer service. Ask me if you want to know more.
Whilst I’ve been iterating on building bizbuzz, there have been inevitable gaps in the data. This is less than 100 tweets over about 80 twitter profiles(out of over 8000 tweets and counting)- so makes very little statistical difference. It has been tracking non-stop for at least the last 12 days.
psst. The tech behind bizbuzz is really interesting too, if you get turned on by that sort of thing (like I do), let’s have a chat.
So I’m trying really hard to chat with some people about the problem I’m trying to solve.
My approach is to talk to my prospective customers’ customers – the ones that have the enquiry/frustration/need they want addressing. It should be easy, right? It would appear not so.
What could be easier – I know who they are and roughly what their articulated enquiry is (that is, what they said) and I can often deduce what their need is (thank you NVC!). But to validate with them what may have helped (hopefully the service I am offering) is proving to be very difficult. Simply because they are not responding to how I am currently approaching them.
Although it’s long and complicated and not really the subject of this post. You might think that people would want to be part of a solution to their own frustrations – but, alas, no!
I will try something different and persevere, this is important!
So here is my check in:
Glad I started trying to talk to customers. Living the 80/20 rule, sending out lots of offers to have a conversation>
Mad I’m not getting the responses I expect. So maybe I need to revise how I make the offer and/or review my expectations.
Sad that how businesses treat engage with their customers (especially in tough economic conditions) is still under-appreciated.
Glad that I am back on track with Spanish and my exercises.
Glad I improved on working late. I went to bed at 11 last night vs 2am the night before. More work is not necessarily better.
I’m grateful for friends in the same startup space as me (albeit at different stages) – grateful for their comradeship and willingness to help talk things through.
How I make my offers.
How well I keep to the fasting program
I will continue (trying) to talk to some customers’ customers to day. I have a different approach. Really thankful to David Harvey (@david_harvey) for helping me think it through despite him being very busy with @Vyclone (which BTW, is totally awesome tech – check it out : http://vyclone.com).
Today I also need to get on with the rest of the warm intros I need to make.
Although my anger has dissipated a little I still want to blog. So a post on ‘Youth Unemployment’ is imminent today – but only after I have some customer conversations.