Tag Archives | word-of-mouth marketing

AT&T Proves It Knows Zilch About Positive Customer Experience

Want to know how to quickly turn a new customer into a vocal ex-customer? Offer pretty talk without delivering meaningful results. This is my personal experience dealing with AT&T.

First the set-up. As a part of our family’s end-of-year review of finances, we realized we were paying too much for cable, internet, and phone with TimeWarner. We went out and researched other providers and settled on AT&T’s DSL and phone bundle (we decided to nix cable for a while) based primarily on price. We placed our order on January 9 and were told the effective date would be January 17. So far, so good.

The evening of January 17, I plug in the DSL unit and nothing: no phone, no internet. I call tech support and I get a friendly guy who tells me there’s something wrong with our account but because it’s after-hours, he can’t get more information. No problem, I’ll call back in the morning. When I call New Services the next day, the individual I talk to verifies the problem and tells me the internet order has been pushed out 45 days. Why? Well, she couldn’t be sure but would get it resolved. Just give them a couple of days and it would be taken care of. A couple of days later, we are met at our door by a tech who says he’s come to turn on our phone. My first thought was, “Why the hell are you here on Friday instead of Tuesday like you were supposed to be?” But I’m happy we’re finally going to get our service – as promised – so I say, “Great, go ahead and help yourself to whatever you need.” Thirty minutes later, he returns to the door and says there’s a problem with our line and will need to come back with new equipment. Unfortunately, we don’t see him again that afternoon and I guess AT&T doesn’t work weekends so we don’t see another individual until Monday. Never mind the fact the tech screwed up the phone line and we were without home phone service for the weekend.

Monday morning another tech arrives to fix the problem and after 2-3 hours of work feels confident he’s got us all sorted out…without fully checking that both phone and internet actually work. Unfortunately, I have the mother of all sinus infections that day so I take him at his word. Later in the evening, I check on the DSL unit and I’m amazed to see the red blinking light that tells me it’s still not functioning properly. The only service that appears to be working is the phone but it only works if using the phone jack in our upstairs office (the downstairs kitchen jack that is our preferred location is broken).

Next day, I try to call New Services but because of the labyrinthine phone tree, I think I ended up talking with a central call center rep. Yes, there appears to be a problem with our account. No, she can’t determine what the problem is. Yes, I’m still going to be fully charged starting on our effective date of January 17 even though I haven’t received close to satisfactory service. Yes, she’ll make a note of my objection.

If you’re keeping score so far, I’ve spoken to at least three AT&T contacts over the phone and two techs. And our service problem is far from being resolved. Not exactly the best experience you want for a new customer, particularly one who works in customer experience.

I decide to take a different route and contact AT&T via Twitter and see if I can get someone to give a shit about my problems. I manage to get a fairly quick response from @ATTCustomerCare on January 26 and am told to send an email with an accounting of our problems.

Hallelujah! A response from Algeria, Social Media Manager at AT&T. Finally, someone who will own my problem and finally help me get our service started. Right?

Imagine my raging frustration when all I get is more sweet talk about wanting to help and escalating the issue without seeing actual results. Since the nine days since @ATTCustomerCare told me I could expect a call about resolving this issue, I’ve received ZERO calls. But I sure have received plenty of tweets of apology and reaffirmations that I’m important.

Guess what? Every one of those tweets might as well read, “Blah, blah, blah you unimportant asshole customer, we’re big and we really don’t care.” Do I believe Algeria was sincere? Yes, but it doesn’t matter if everything she says is counteracted by a company without a clue when it comes to delivering a positive customer experience.

So as I mentioned yesterday via Twitter, AT&T has not only lost a new customer but gained a very vocal detractor who will be more than happy to share his customer experience with anyone, anytime, anywhere. All the nice words, all the marketing and PR bullshit, all the empty promises mean nothing if a problem isn’t resolved. Because in the end, that’s the power all customers have over companies that prove they really don’t care through their actions.

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Buzz Is Overrated – Do This Instead

Last week, Reuters published an article called Americans more loyal to brands, country than company. For employers, it poses a wake-up call. But what I found most interesting was this statement at the end:

When asked how companies could improve loyalty the top answers included offering cash awards to consumers, replacing automatic answering machines with real people, making good products and not raising prices.

I think this shows why consumer opinion and sentiment shouldn’t always be taken at immediate face value. The way we think about things is complex and requires us to go exploring for more specific answers. This is were doing more qualitative work is an important complement to the quantitative work of surveys and polls.

Thinking about the snippet above from the Reuters article…What does making good products mean? How about not raising prices? Before you go thinking you know exactly what the answers are, take a step back and consider how many different possible answers are possible here. A good product can have a multitude of meanings in the mind of the customer. Now amplify it by hundreds or thousands of customers. And the desire to not raise prices may be contradicted if there is the possibility of adding more value to the product.

As an anthropologist, we’re trained to not just look at what’s said, but also look for what’s not said. Interestingly, what’s omitted here is listening. Well, sort of. We might be able to extract listening from the desire to talk to real people instead of answering machines. But…

What would happen if our companies set up experiences that encouraged customers to talk, to share ideas, to voice frustrations?

What would happen if we genuinely listened to what was said and not said?

What would happen if we took all of those opinions and sentiments and put them to action so our customers would feel heard?

Can you imagine how powerful that might be? Forget short-term buzz. Think long-term customer movements.

photo credit: abrinsky (via Flickr)

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Are All Passionate Fans Worth Listening To?

A few days ago, I managed to wade into a bit of a crapstorm that we’ll just call the Ikea Verdana Incident of 2009 (AKA Verdanagate). I heard last week about Ikea’s decision to stop using their customized version of Futura and switch to more universally available Verdana for their catalog. Now if that last sentence sounded a bit like ancient Greek to you, don’t be alarmed. Futura and Verdana are fonts and apparently Ikea’s decision has been construed by certain circles as one more sign that the apocalypse is upon us.

Here in the States, this news has been covered by Time, NPR (via Associated Press), and BusinessWeek. Meanwhile, other than this article from The Swedish Wire, there is very little hubbub about this in Sweden, where Ikea is based. And even more interesting is this article from the Norwegian Afterposten (translate) where some groups actually are welcoming the font change decision.

So, what’s going on here? And what is the connection between Ikea, their customers and their passionately loyal fans? Further, what how does this relate to other businesses that engaging in the work of creating strong relationships with their customers?

Passionate fans or passionate customers?
One of my core issues with this whole imbroglio is that the most enraged folks – graphic designers and typographers – are being labeled as Ikea’s most passionate fans. I’m certainly not going to devalue their feelings over the use of Verdana font (because it really isn’t as attractive as Futura) or dispute their disappointment with the company (their ideals concerning design have merit). They have every right to have their opinion and share it with others. But I think it’s incredibly lazy and disingenuous to call these very same designers and typographers Ikea’s most passionate fans. That ignores Ikea’s passionate customers who not only provide strong word-of-mouth, but actually purchase the company’s products. Sometimes passionate fans don’t sit in the same circle as passionate customers.

Which passionate fans are worth listening to?
Each of the news items above – along with several blogposts from folks I respect like Jackie Huba – make the mistake of assuming that all voiced outcries on the web are equal. In this case, a relatively small number of designers are treated as being the definitive source for whether Ikea’s decision was sound. But what about those individuals who shop the stores and purchase from the catalog and online? What do they think about all of this? Well, what’s interesting is that none of the bloggers or mainstream media sources bothered to ask that question and talk to actual customers. The assumption seems to be that any outrage, regardless of where it originates, constitutes the end-all, be-all of the discussion.

What this suggests about journalism…and our own media consumption
Somewhere along the way, journalists decided to gather one angle of a story and just stop there. Nothing new there – this point has been lamented for the past decade or so. Literally, none of the stories about “Verdanagate” bothered to include perspectives from customers. And it would have been so easy to gather this information. Hell, if journalists wanted to stay lazy, they could have just asked the average “person on the street” to take a look at the catalog and ask if they noted any problems. Or they could have went to the local Ikea store and gathered opinions.

Why the hell wasn’t the Ikea customer community involved?
IKEAFANS is an online community of 112,000 members. It’s unaffiliated with the Ikea corporation, but still a fantastic example of truly passionate customers coming together to share their love for all things Ikea. If this whole font issue is going to be a problem for passionate customers, this would be the first place to look for trending, right? I spoke with Susan Martin, one of the community managers for founder and owner of IKEAFANS and there has been zero chatter on their forums and blogs. Meaning that the people Ikea should be most concerned about don’t give a hoot about Verdana or Futura…they simply want the same quality of furniture they’ve come to expect from the company. It’s truly a damn shame that no one bothered to ask Susan or her community members for their thoughts.

The tyranny of the instantaneous (and the minority)
What’s somewhat more troubling is that far too many respected bloggers covering word-of-mouth and online marketing just blithely accepted the mainstream media’s portrayal of the issue. There was little critical thinking along the lines of “Wait! Does this actually constitute a problem for Ikea’s business?”

All of which leads to something that is causing me some concern. Is social media and our demands for instantaneous opinion undercutting our ability to think deeply about issues? It’s taken me a couple of days to put together this post because I needed to research the issue and think through different perspectives. Will I miss out on the buzz of the Ikea font debate? Maybe, but this post is really not so much about Ikea as it is about the issues it surfaces.

Are we suffering from thought erosion?
And another problem I see arising with social media is how easily a minority of individuals can grab public attention and convince us that their way of seeing things constitutes the majority. When our own attention is so scattered and thin, it’s not hard to see why this is. In nature, when plants are unable to take root in the soil it’s called erosion. Similarly, when critical thinking doesn’t have time to take root in our minds, we might call it thought erosion.

What are your thoughts? Should a company listen to every passionate fan? Maybe so, but should it alter its course of action when core customers are not among the vocal critics? Hope we can have a passionate and deep dialogue about this here.

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Five Steps To Make Employees Your Best Brand Ambassadors

The modern concept of branding and word-of-mouth-marketing focuses primarily on getting customers to become raving fans and talk positively about a company to their friends and colleagues. In the past few years, this focus has come to also include the value of getting employees to be raving fans of their own company, to speak openly and honestly about their company’s virtues, and to share their pride for their own and the company’s work. The thinking goes that if a company employs happy and satisfied employees, then that adds to an overall positive reflection of the company brand.

Yeah, but what does this have to do with non-profits…or maybe more importantly, how does this help you achieve your organizational mission? I’d like to argue that your own staff is the critical, yet underdeveloped, edge you need to meeting your fundraising, advocacy, and other goals. You have powerful resources that extend far outside of your own marketing department. Here are five steps in figuring out how to use them.

1. Know your internal broadcasters.
Your staff can be roughly divided into two groups: consumers and broadcasters. Consumers take in content through various channels like newspapers, blogs, and websites. Broadcasters do all of this and also create the content. They’re your bloggers, Twitterers, Facebookers, Plurkers, etc. They’re the ones who are connecting with others far outside your particular marketing focus. They’re the ones you want to build your employee brand ambassador program around.

2. Reward your broadcasters.
Broadcasters live for information. They want to know all the cool and worthy initiatives that are going on in your organization and be able to share that information with others. Don’t be shy about opening access and sharing this valuable information. And ask for their input and insight into how to penetrate your organization’s messages deeper into your target communities and wider into new areas.

3. Allow for creativity.
The social media space and branding world evolve at a rapid pace, which means that your dedicated and passionate broadcasters tend to live at the cutting edge. Don’t make the mistake of binding them or restricting their platforms. Innovative social media broadcasters are always finding new ways to use current tools. And for every one of today’s Twitters and Facebooks, there are several undeveloped tools waiting to be created and used.

4. Show them how to recruit other staff.
Broadcasters shouldn’t be an exclusive clique within your organization. Help them create more broadcasters and new brand ambassadors. Ask them to do “lunch and learns” about social media. Create knowledge sharing orientations to help them discuss their brand ambassador work when asked by others in your organization. The objective isn’t necessarily to get 100% of your staff involved in social media and branding…instead, show that every individual has an opportunity to contribute.

5. Keep an eye on the relationship.
I can imagine one objection or question that may be sitting at the tip of your tongue: how do we make sure that our broadcasters don’t put the organization or our formal branding work in jeopardy? The simple answer is that you can’t and the brutal truth is that you no longer have total control over the message. Sorry…those days are long gone, which is why #5 is so important.

It may seem obvious, but in order for your staff to speak openly, authentically, and enthusiastically about your organization, they need to be in a positive relationship with your organization. That means being focused on your staff’s level of engagement with their work and tapping into the pride your staff has working for your organization and it’s mission.

If your organization has had great results from cultivating organization-wide brand ambassadors, what’s your story? Share the wealth in the comments below.

From Bailey WorkPlay, first published July 28, 2008

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