Is Public Shaming Online the New Customer Service Call?

When Twitter came into its own at SXSWi in 2007, it became known by tech geeks and media alike as the SMS of the internet, and the third social network. Over time it became recognized as a valuable news source (Arab Spring anyone?), and microblogging became the marketers’ buzzword to entice clients onto the platform. A prediction I could not find in the internet articles of yore was the customer service value Twitter would have for brands that knew how to exploit the strengths of the platform.

The case studies of brands such as Dominos and Dell taking to online platforms like Twitter and YouTube became well-worn campfire tales a few years ago, permeating the Social Media Strategist’s public speaking and pitch decks alike in a bid to mainstream the technology, and woo potential clients onto the platform and into the age of the digital marketing strategy*. Flash forward 5 years, and more brands than ever seem to have bought into the Twitter customer service game. In 2013, Simply Measured analyzed how the Top 100 Brands (as named in 2013 Interbrand Report, including names like Nike, Samsung, UPS, and AmEx) use Twitter for customer service. They found that 99% of the brands in the report are on the platform, and 30% have a dedicated customer service Twitter handle. Let that sink in – 1/3 of the best global brands in the world are using Twitter to manage customer service complaints. Whoa. The study also looks at response rates, response times – the fastest 42 minutes, the average 5.1 hours – and a myriad of stats that I won’t be discussing here but are worth checking out. Note to market research teams: I’d LOVE to see a side-by-side comparison of data from call center customer service complaints vs. Twitter customer service complaints to see how it all shakes out.

*I’ll let you in on a secret: there is no such thing as a digital marketing strategy, there is only a marketing strategy.

Not too long ago the headline read: Consumers Force Brands Online to Maintain Their Market Share; i.e., if a brand wanted to remain relevant to the growing demographic with purchasing power – at the time the millenials – they would have to go online to reach their consumers. As brand marketers struggled with what they saw as this new marketing and advertising broadcast channel, another hammer fell: it wouldn’t be enough to broadcast to your consumers, to build their trust and earn their business – and more importantly their loyalty – you would have to engage with them. As in dialogue with the consumer you’d held a bit at arms length through a carefully crafted marketing strategy. Again, whoa. But that was then, circa 2008/2009 or in terms of today’s lightening-fast technology evolution, the Internet Jurassic period.

Now, as we emerge standing upright in the primordial ooze of Internet evolution, I’m thinking the headline might read: Brands Force Consumers Online to Resolve Customer Service Complaints. A few recent experiences I’ve had with customer service over the phone vs. online has led me to ponder this. The most clear example is a recent series of exchanges I had with TD Bank. I have been a TD Bank customer for well over a decade, a holdover customer from Commerce Bank, which was merged with TD in these parts back in 2008. I LOVE TD Bank. Or, I at least love the experiences I have whenever I go into my branch. From their greeting “How can I exceed your expectations today?” to the customer-focused service and fabulous hours they offer, I love this bank. Until I have to call corporate, then my head wants to explode; I narrowly avoided splattering brain bits earlier this week when I discovered an error on their part that was costing me upwards of $40 (more like $52). Mistakes happen, and my branch was quick to find, admit to, and rectify the error (yay); however they were not empowered to refund me the additional money their error was costing me (boo). If I wanted funds returned to my account, I’d have to call customer service. Sigh. So I did. Three times. Spoiler alert: this did not go well.

My first two calls to customer service resulted in a combined 52 minutes of hold time, I’m told this happens at tax time due to the volumes of folks calling for statements, and twice being disconnected. Twice. On my third attempt I was connected with a very pleasant customer service rep, who very diligently followed her customer service script. She did not however seem to grasp the situation, stating again that there was no error (it had been corrected by my branch within the last hour), and she would have to put me through to her supervisor. Frustrating, but okay. Another 30 minutes on hold, and then, well surely restitution, right? No. Yes, said the supervisor that error occurred. Yes, he could see my branch fixed it. However, they could not refund me the additional funds that their error caused. Paraphrasing his words, he did not have the power to do credit my account, there was nothing he could do, and no one else I could speak with. So I asked, can you do something else? I’ve been a loyal customer for many years – can you do something to make me feel better about this? His reply: No. So, not a very satisfactory customer service experience.

What did I do? I did what approximately one in three social media users do – I took my complaint online with this tweet:

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Within one minute, my friend and brand strategist extraordinaire @MackCollier replied with a tweet of his own:
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Within fifteen minutes of my original tweet, I had this reply from the social media folks at TD Bank:

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By 6:00PM ET they had investigated the matter, called me, and made restitution. All it took was one tweet, one reply and a follow up. And four phone calls over three man hours. But that’s not the point, that’s just me grousing. The point, or one of them, is that the social media representative I spoke to confirmed that the call center folks were not authorized to reimburse me. In fact, she had to do the research independently and approach her supervisor, an online customer service supervisor, for authorization. So, had I not gone online to complain, and publicly shamed TD Bank to a collective 37,261 people, I would have been left with “Sorry, we made a mistake and we can do nothing to make you feel better”? I can’t definitively say yes, but wow that’s how it felt at the end of the day.

So I’m left wondering if the tables haven’t turned on consumers. We may have driven brands into the online game, but are we now losing out if we don’t pursue every, okay most, customer service interaction with brands online? Do we need to publicly shame brands online for them to provide the customer service we expect to remain loyal brand consumers? (Hat tip to Stan Phelps@9INCHmarketing – who’s excellent #MENGPhilly presentation led me to thinking about the importance of retention, loyalty, and the link to revenue growth).

PS: not one to only complain online, I also thanked TD Bank for their resolution. After all, manners are important. And yes, I also thanked Mack.

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Jump for joy photo of the day – Mark Hildreth! July 2, 2013

Gigi Peterkin:

I just discovered this through my Social Media Lifestyles tribe on Triberr.com. If you don’t know about (or use) Triberr, check them out – a must for bloggers and anyone who wants an endless stream of intensely fabulous content. Now, back to the Jump for Joy Project. I saw this post on Triberr and had to comment, follow, sigh up for the newsletter *and* reblog it. Why? This quote from the website did it:

“My hope is that by focusing on positive actions and the compilation of joy expressed by a variety of inspired people from around the world, I will create a unified community of joy, express the importance of joy and fun in the lives of all people. Capturing the expression of joy through the simple act of jumping, we can be reminded that humanity can come together as one.”

The artist Eyoalha Baker wants to create a unified community of joy. Can you dig that? Who wouldn’t support such an awesome goal? I, for one, am all in.

Originally posted on JUMP FOR JOY! Photo Project:

Some fun jumping for joy in an open field in West Hollywood, California.

Have a fantastic. day!

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be irresistible.

If you’ve ever visited Liz Strauss’s website, you’ll recognize the title of this post as the tagline to her site. They appear across the top, two words, written in lower case letters, punctuated with a period at the end to connote a foregone conclusion, and that – really – nothing more needs to be said. I’ve talked a lot about the elegance inherent in simplicity lately, and this two-word call-to-action embodies that notion, as does the woman who’s placed them as the tagline to her website.

It’s been a very insular 8-10 weeks for me, ironically at a time that I should be anything but insular and introverted – this is a time for me to build my business, connect with others, convert contacts into clients, make magic, and fuel my entrepreneurial bonfire. It’s true – as timing goes my now insistent internalization is not well scheduled. So, I’ve decided to schedule externalization in ways I’ve not had to before – to visit the blogs of others, steep myself in knowledge, ideas, and facts that are outside of myself, and reach out to those with whom I need to connect in order to turn notions into business practice – and you know continue to support my kids. That said, it should be of little surprise that one of the first stops I made on my journey was Liz’s website, and there I read her latest post What’s Your Most Irresistible True Story? replete with this truly irresistible photo.

photo: Pots and Plants Austin, TX courtesy Liz Strauss http://www.lizstrauss.com

In this post Liz tells us her most irresistible true story. One of the things I found remarkable about this story is that it’s not about her. Instead, Liz has chosen to convey a story that is irresistible to her, and undoubtedly to many of us who have read and/or heard her tell it, as a means of connecting us to a larger notion of becoming a part of something irresistible. That got me to thinking – this call-to-action to be irresistible isn’t about telling others how irresistible you are, or even about showing them. It’s about conveying something to others – a moment in time, a narrative, a story – that lets your audience know that you understand irresistibility, you can recognize it, reframe it, and relate it via your own lens and perspective…and that you can, in turn, potentially recognize the irresistibility within them. When we can relate to the stories of others, we can become a part of that story – and in turn we can become part of something outside of ourselves – a business, a family, a movement, or even irresistible.

So, heed Liz’s call. Go and be irresistible. Tell your most irresistible story. Become a part of someone else’s irresistibility. Relate, externalize and connect – we’re all better off for making connections than not making them. And, Liz, if I’ve totally screwed up your notion…well I trust you’ll tell me – in a way that I may or may not like, but will find irresistible. It’s just who you are.

Viva the Healthcare (Social) Revolution!

It’s easy to pick on big pharma. For good or bad, the industry continues to appear aloof and isolationist, and many are happy to wag a finger and declare big pharma solely a revenue-generating machine, sacrificing patient care and access to medicines for the almighty dollar. I happen to disagree with (most of) that sentiment. Having worked alongside diligent colleagues inside of big pharma for a number of years, I know there is an urge to improve patient lives, improve access to medicines, and make life-altering and life-saving drug therapies. It is from this perspective that I say, earnestly, the pharmaceutical industry is fucking up when it comes to social business…big time.

While many of us have led the charge to bring pharma into the age of social media marketing, pioneers like John PughAlex ButlerMarc MonseauRay Kerins, and Shwen Gwee have broken barriers in the use of social media within the pharmaceutical industry, and there have been breakthroughs in the use of social media to advance the industry (@PhRMA, pharmaforum) and improve engagement with patients (Roche Diabetes Blogger summits), it’s not enough. Over the last several years, many of us have had the conversation about how, if, and why pharmaceutical companies should, or should not, use social media. Honestly, it’s time to change the conversation and have a new one, because the old one is stagnant, and – frankly – I don’t care about the latest Pharma Facebook page that’s been launched or taken down, or about the number of Tweets sent by pharma Twitter handles in the last hour/day/week. I care about better patient outcomes, access to medicines, empowering both patients and HCPs in the treatment and prevention of illness, and accurate information about therapies on the market – and about using social media to facilitate and forge the partnerships necessary to enable this new reality. So, to pharmaceutical companies I say this: some of you are “doing” social, but you’re not “being” social, and here’s why – you’ve not done enough to alter your DNA so you can (begin to) function as a social business.

What is a Social Business Anyway?

The term social business was originally defined by Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammed Yunus as a non-loss, non-dividend company designed to address a social objective within the highly regulated marketplace of today [that should] seek to generate a modest profit [which] will be used to expand the company’s reach, improve the product or service or in other ways to subsidise the social mission*. This definition has morphed in the last few year into a fiery buzzword, its meaning has become mutable to suit the speaker and conversation. Of these mutable definitions, one of the most apt I’ve seen comes from Peter Kim who, along with David Armano and Jevon MacDonald wrote about Social Business Design, saying:

Social business draws on trends in technology, work, and society. Companies should care about social business because they can improve business outcomes (i.e., increase revenue or decrease costs). The core principles touch on all areas of a business, whether for business-to-customer engagement, employee-to-employee collaboration, or supply chain optimization. Making social business work requires focus on a company’s culture, connections, content exchanges, and measurement and analytics.

This is a brilliant piece of writing. It not only tells us what a social business is, but takes the time to inform us why we should care and how to make it work – in reality it’s a social business blueprint in the purest form.

Don’t regulations stop Big Pharma from adopting a social business model?

In a word, no. More specifically, they don’t have to. Don’t take my word for it – former FDA Associate Commissioner Peter Pitts has been vocal about the pitfalls, and opportunity, for Big Pharma when it comes to social media use in his battle cry Pharma, Guide Thyself. And FDA regulations, or the lack thereof, haven’t stopped companies like Boehringer Ingelheim or Sanofi US, companies who continue to roll out social programs as a matter of course and are beginning to evolve into a business with social DNA. So if regulations are a red herring, what is standing in the way?

Rigid, unchanging culture, a blinding focus on a narrow definition of ROI. A continual push on profit as THE leading indicator for pharma marketing business decisions instead of making the pivot to seeing profit as AN indicator, along with acknowledging the business benefit of building relationships in today’s marketplace – the return on relationship (#RonR), as Ted Rubin would wisely counsel us – these are all factors that continue to block major pharmaceutical companies from embracing a social business model.

If relationship building and #RonR still seems too squishy to be a “real” measure of business success, and therefore not something big pharma needs to focus on to be a social business, Harvard Business Review disagrees by the way, and you can read why in recent posts like Tweet Me, Friend Me, Make Me Buy and The View from the Field, I would point you instead – my doubting friend – to the trend the pharma industry is missing out on: harnessing big data. Big data, access to it, and adaptability, scalability, and usability of it by patients, payers and HCPs is THE future of healthcare social media – not Facebook, Twitter or any of the other current platforms out there. End of. We need to create new models for a new hybrid of business; just as our healthcare system needs a major overhaul if it’s to support a growing and changing populous, the healthcare business model needs to change, grow and morph into something consumers, payers and PATIENTS can use to gain access to the medicines they need for proper care. And, speaking of Big Data, if there was ever a time to join Todd Park, Aman Bhandari, Aetna, Kaiser Permanente, Health 2.0, and others in the Big Data Revolution it would be now, when VCs are looking to hackathons in record numbers for innovative ideas, outside-of-the-box thinking, and startups are stretching the limits of what’s possible in a resource-constrained economy (more about the next Big Data Hackathon here: Hackathon for the Human Brain and about the groundbreaking SXSW 2012 Healthcare Hackathon).

Viva Revolutíon!

Yet there is no groundbreaking news of a major pharmaceutical company leading a charge to be present at, promote or host a hackathon in any way. No one loudly promoting more patient engagement. There are no new faces at the table, but the same heroes pushing against a tired agenda and caught in a loop of off-label and adverse event conversations, debating ownership, legalese, and phantom compliance pitfall scenarios.

So, pharma where art thou? Who will lead your revolution? Your brand managers? Your CEOs? Who will step up. Even your agencies and thought leaders are failing you, becoming insular bobble heads delivering not on what you need but on what you ask. We must break from the norm, break out of our self-imposed silos and look outside of our expertise and our industry for the groundbreaking ideas that will lead us beyond a self-limiting focus on the current platforms and fear of regulations we can work within to optimize results. It can be done, because it has been done. The time for revolution is here. Who will join me in taking the first step? Who will stand beside me to lead the charge?

Revolutionaries to follow: I’m continually inspired by friends and colleagues who are pushing the bounds of the norm to disrupt the status quo.