Wednesday, August 26, 2009

True Tales from the Twitterverse - The Verizon Twitter Ears are Listening!

On August 24th, 2009, my phenomenally good luck with Verizon customer service ran out. I was engaged in my month-end expense filing activity and pulled up my on-line MyVerizon account only to notice that it appeared that I had NOT paid my bill. My knee-jerk, panicked reaction was to hit the "Pay Bill Now" option, as I am far too trusting of technology on occasion. After milliseconds of reflection, I recalled that I had, in fact, paid my bill on the 17th and proceeded to dive into the "to file" pile to find the confirmation number. The Twitter Tale begins:

I call the customer service number on the paper bill (I know, not very green, but I still have to file expenses in a fairly dated fashion). I chose option #1 for billing and waited. As I was multi-tasking, I enabled speaker-phone and listened to the hold music and various disclaimers for some time before the theoretically billing-questions-enabled customer service representative answered. When I explained my "double-payment" and "why was the first payment not reflected in the on-line statement" issue, I was abruptly told that I would have to be transferred to "that" department. ?. I thought option #1 was that department. After some time, the line was answered by another indiviudal, to whom I repeated my phone number (I never really get why they can't transfer the number along with the call) and my concerns and was immediately told that she did not have access to my billing records. Back to on-hold land. This is where the Twitter Tale truly begins. I actually was able to create pineapple upside-down cake batter FROM SCRATCH and get it in the oven before I decide to start Tweeting. As I am ultra-sensitive to the nuances of customer service and I have (unlike many others) had fantastic service from Verizon in the past, I don't think I was ever vitriolic, just stunned and curious about not only the initiating circumstances, but how Verizon would respond.

Tweet #1:
Luck w/Verizon Customer Service just ran out....47 min and counting on hold for simple bill ? two transfers so far! from TweetDeck

Minutes after posting this Tweet, the hold music stopped and I heard the initial IVR message regarding my various options for service, including "Press One for Billing Questions." What? Is there a time-out feature? I thought that we were looking at my billing records? Back to Tweetdeck with the following:

Tweet #2:
If Verizon had active SM Twitter Triage they could turn this getting same msg about verifying acct. from TweetDeck

As part of my research for an earlier post about Social Media Risk Assessment, I created a Tweetdeck column around "Worst Customer Service." Verizon shows up daily and I have made the assumption that the individuals posting these truly nasty remarks are the exceptions. I also made the assumption that as a digitized, communications enabler, Verizon had developed a robust multi-media strategy for facilitating customer interaction in a variety of ways. (That is what I would recommend to them if they hired me to do an assessment.) So, I decided to make the best use of the hold-time and turn this experience into a metaphor around social media and networking's use in customer service practices. Thus:

Tweet #3:
Verizon customer service analysis Tweeting live right now! from TweetDeck

Tweet #4:
Verizon-1st billing transfer had to look up billing records 43 minutes later back to original account verification process?!? 51 mins now! from TweetDeck

Very shortly after this Tweet, (I had chosen Option 1, again, and repeated my phone number), my call was answered by Nicole (sp?) in Arizona. After relaying not only my initial query but my travels through the land of interminable hold and transfer-land, Nicole apologized profusely and immediately offered a couple of solution to the initial dilemna. Unfortunately, one of them would involve yet another transfer to another department and quite frankly, my time outweighed my curiosity at this point so I chose to keep the second bill payment as a credit. Nicole's apparently sincere concern regarding my experience and her immediate offer of two solutions were sufficient, however, for me to offer:

Tweet #5:
Verizon-Nicole in Arizona is the way that customer service should happen! from TweetDeck

Although not completely satisfied with the outcome (I make a lot of phone calls and abuse my Blackberry for all kinds of random and directed messaging and browsing so a double-bill pay is not insignificant), I was willing to focus more on the metaphor for social media use in customer service than flaming Verizon so I thought, "Why not test their Twitter Triage capabilities?" So I did:

Tweet #6:
Verizon-Are your digital ears burning? I challenge you to respond to this experience ! :) from TweetDeck

Clearly, Verizon does have a Twitter strategy of some sort as the next day, I received the "following" :) message:

Hi, Lisa Hoesel.
Verizon Help Network (VZHelpNetwork) is now following your tweets on Twitter.
A little information about Verizon Help Network:

179 followers234 tweetsfollowing 174 people

I have to be a little curious about the low number of people that Verizon's Twitter "Triage" group is following or is it that they just implemented a strategy, but I did feel alternately ego-stroked, a little nervous, and affirmed that establishing a conversation with customers seems to be the goal of this corporation. It is something that I have offered often in this humble blog and consult about daily. At minimum, we should all be "listening" to and for opportunities to engage with our clients, even those home-officed, low-profit (comparatively) ones. Just this "following" message inspired me to Tweet this:

Tweet #7:
@VZHelpNetwork Kudos to Verizon for initiating a conversation in response to a Tweet! Blog post to follow! from TweetDeck in reply to VZHelpNetwork

Clearly, Verizon is dipping their digital toes in the social media and networking world as a way to enhance, inform, and expand their customer service strategy.

Even though the initiating circumstance was NOT resolved to my satisfaction, more due to my unwillingness to be transferred again and the time I had already expended on the exercise than their ability to issue a credit, I was still encouraged enough by the fact that their digital ears were burning and they did respond to let the issue drop....for now. I am stunned by the multiple transfers and have a lot of thoughts (as I always have in these circumstances) about why the information about my numbers and records can be transferred with my call and why individuals in different customer service departments are not empowered to offer true customer resolution. Overall, however, I am feeling as if I am a valued client.

What Else Can Verizon Do:
1. Really turn this experience into a customer reference profile. If Verizon's Twitter Persona takes some initiative, he/she/they could potentially use this anecdote as a way to inform their social media strategy, customer service workflow, etc. Either for internal or external purposes, I might be a good candidate for illustrating success and failure and certainly could provide a positive testimonial about pieces of this experience.
2. Do the follow-through and follow-up. Verizon is following me now, so I "assume" that they may be more than usually attentive to any future issues. Certainly, they can mine some new search words for their listening activities.
3. Continue to offer multiple conversational/customer service portals. My elderly parents DREAD calling the 800 number for Verizon and are somewhat email literate, so certainly would respond to other options for engagement.
4. Respond in the same way to the messages that I am seeing in my Worst Customer Service Tweetdeck column as they did to me. I have strongly recommended responses in some fashion to Negative Tweets in the past, and I certainly recommend it to Verizon.
5. Free wireless, Blackberry, land-line, FIOS, etc. for life...... :) Kidding.

What We the People Can Do:
1. Offer our vendors the opportunity to converse with us in a mature, non-enraged, expletive-free fashion. If we need to vent, is it really useful to our end objectives to do so in a vile, nasty fashion?
2. Find ways of communicating with our vendors that are most comfortable to us and if they are not available, ask for them.
3. Share all sides of the story, including our own errors and any positive pieces in the hope that not only will the vendor be more open to listening to our problems/concerns but that our experience may inform and improve our future conversations with them.
4. As I have suggested/strongly recommended in the past, the digital conversation should be a reflection of our face-to-face and voice-to-voice engagements. The more information that we exchange digitally and the more reasonable that we are, the better the chance that we may actually see resolution and the potential for change.

I am hoping that this Twitter Tale turns into a series....Verizon, this is your opportunity to really become the poster child for customer service in the social media and networking world!

My best, as always,

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Do We/They Really “Get” Social Media or Did We All Just Change our Titles?

Okay, I'm waving the white flag today. I started playing around with the concept of a corporate "Social Media DJ" a little over a year ago (to some laughter, some scoffing, and very few, "Gee, that sounds like you might have something there Lisa's." This morning, in a strictly scientific analysis of the industry, I analyzed the landscape for social media consulting and found the following:

     Results 1 - 10 of about 36,900,000 for social

    Results 1 - 10 of about 38,600,000 for social

    Results 1 - 10 of about 15,300,000 for social
media and networking

Is it possible that my self-anointment as the Director of Customer Conversation and Social Media DJ was somehow on the right track or has the confusion, opportunity and multitude of options just generated a tidal wave of title changes and business card re-orders? In my hope that I have not contributed to any parlor trick of title-shifting without true comprehension of change and responsibilities, I'd like to offer some thoughts about the paradigm shift that I think accompanies a focus on social media and networking in the B2B customer relationship and reference world…..

  1. It's NOT about throwing away all of your old content and developing specialized messages that are unique to the social media and networking world. I believe that establishing a corporate profile in the SMN applications available today and inviting your current and prospective clients to a new conversation with you in a new medium is a perfect opportunity to re-purpose your existing collateral. I have opined before about the dusty shelves of case studies and video vaults that should be re-visited and re-presented to the new audiences and conversations that are available to us today. If you are told that you need all new content, I believe that you are being mislead.
  2. It's NOT about scrapping your website and completing redesigning a new one. A website is just one way that our audiences conduct their discovery, research, and initiate their conversation with us and it has perhaps a lower priority in our exercise of embracing SMN than others. Certainly, our websites can be augmented to include RSS feeds, blogs, SMN contact and follow information and can be rich referral sources, but they are not the kingpin in the social media conversation nor should they be the endpoint of the SMN Audit and Assessment.
  3. It's NOT about creating audio and video content to present to our conversational partners. Although the TOOLS that are emerging in, and as adjuncts to the SMN application environment are rich with opportunity for presenting in a multi-media format, they are (I've said this TOO many times) merely tools and NOT the end objective of our engagement. Having a social media consciousness does not mean that I can produce customer testimonials on Youtube; it means that I am creating a conversation using these formats in an environment that supports an open review and exchange of opinion and information about these formats.
  4. It's NOT about having a corporate Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. profile, but that's where most of us start and END with our social media strategies and discussion. If we don't understand our objectives for being present in the conversation, creating a corporate Facebook account can be extremely counter-productive to our educational, marketing, and sales objectives. Our marketing, business and sales strategies should drive our presence in the SMN world; not the responses, FANS, followers, or comments that may or may not follow.


It IS about engaging new audiences in a deeply compelling, open, transparent, honest, agnostic, multi-media, complex conversation with and about us in a variety of environments. Social media and networking applications and opportunities are about participating and supporting a broader and deeper dialogue with our constituencies. My ever-handy desktop Wikipedia icon tells me the following:

    "A conversation is communication between multiple people. It is a social skill that is not difficult for most individuals. Conversations are the ideal form of communication in some respects, since they allow people with different views on a topic to learn from each other. A speech, on the other hand, is an oral presentation by one person directed at a group.

For a successful conversation, the partners must achieve a workable balance of contributions. A successful conversation includes mutually interesting connections between the speakers or things that the speakers know. For this to happen, those engaging in conversation must find a topic on which they both can relate to in some sense. Those engaging in conversation naturally tend to relate the other speaker's statements to themselves. They may insert aspects of their lives into their replies, to relate to the other person's opinions or points of conversation.

Conversation is indispensable for the successful accomplishment of almost all activities between people, especially the coordination of work, the formation of friendship and for learning."

If our participation in an SMN conversation focuses on "mutually interesting connections" and its objective is the "successful accomplishment of almost all activities between people" it certainly is worthy of more than a website readjustment or new customer video. Our SMN objectives to augment our brand positioning, our customer care philosophy, our entry into new markets, and our cementing of lasting relationships with our existing client base. This "conversation" affords us the opportunity to tap into an exchange of ideas about our solutions that may have been hidden from our traditional methods of communicating with our user base. Raising our hand in these new communities and discussion groups should provide us with far richer business intelligence about our competitors, customers and our own business and solutions.

I think I've answered my own question……If we are approaching the SMN conversation from the standpoint of a paradigm shift in the way that we offer, exchange, review, and synthesize intelligence about the marketplace and business that we are in, we have certainly done more than merely change our titles; we are exploring new ways of relating to the known and new "speakers" that inform our solutions and services.

Your thoughts and feedback are, as always more than encouraged and anticipated!

Warmest regards,

Lisa M. Hoesel

Friday, August 7, 2009

Click on Links Twice; Insert Links Once

Often, I am so excited to share information with my colleagues, friends, and family that I hit the send, paste, publish buttons far too soon. Being an English/Poli-Sci major by secondary education, I am pretty particular about spelling and grammar, but my vision for the message that I want to convey and the perception of the material that I am sending to you does not always mesh with the way that you will perceive or even review the same material. I have been schooling myself in techniques for reviewing my blog posts, emails, HTML creations, etc. from a variety of angles and humbling myself to ask for second opinions, thoughts and feedback. The rapidity and ease with which I can publish my thoughts in abbreviated 140 character Tweets and in a flash, copy and paste a web link into an email message or share it on my Facebook profiles only exacerbates the risk. The social media and networking applications that are so prevalent today often do NOT offer a "preview" option. Once it's out there, it's out there. Let me provide an illustration:

Our company's CEO recently presented to a group of entrepreneurs at a local networking function. His presentation was phenomenally well received and post-event, published on the host's online site. Their ezine focuses on a wide variety of innovations and futuristic ideas and is quite an interesting read and platform for the genius entrepreneurs of today. We certainly wanted to promote our CEO's slide deck, presentation and thoughts as much as possible (read, "We're proud of you, Bossman!") and so immediately jumped to inserting a link to their ezine on our corporate Facebook profile…without enough review….without testing the link in a different environment…without really realizing that the message that was being sent inadvertently focused on the ezine and NOT on the presentation. Why? Because we used the homepage link for the ezine rather than the full page link. Maybe this wouldn't have been a big deal (or blog post fodder) if I hadn't happened to be posting something to our corporate Facebook profile later and happened to click on the link…and went to the home page of the ezine….which updates throughout the day with new articles about new innovations and ideas….which at that moment happened to be something called "Machine Condoms" which are rubber sleeves that one can place over the handles of public gym equipment to avoid common viruses, bacteria, and the dreaded workout flesh-eating infections. To find the presentation, I had to use the search option on the site and type in our CEO's name, which had I been a casual visitor to our Facebook site, I may not have known. (Later the ezine home page featured an article about EATING CAMEL) As I have administrative authority over the Facebook site, I immediately removed the link and later replaced the update and link with one that takes the visitor directly to the intended page and review of the presentation.

In this particular situation, a remedy was quickly applied and we are assuming, with digital fingers crossed, that no adverse consequences will be forthcoming. Imagine the possible scenarios with a different type of organization wanting to showcase their CEO's presentation and a perhaps even odder online environment: The American Medical Association Neurological Symposium speaker and a misdirected or mistyped link that takes visitors to a study on cannibalism and mad cow disease misdiagnoses; a profile bio of one of your key executives, featured in an online magazine and the current volume ALSO features an article about CEO's at the many bail-out companies; your conservative pastor's sermon included in a directory of press coverage of lawsuits against the Catholic church. The room for error is Grand Canyon-esque, given the complexity and nuance of the WEB 2.0 world and our inability to control the environments in which we are found, even when we digitally place ourselves in them.

I offer some pre-publishing pointers:

  1. As always, think about the message that you are sending, especially in the social media and networking environment. Just because we are configuring our messages differently, doesn't mean that they shouldn't carry the same tone and branding as our standard marketing collateral. They may be shorter; friendlier; even funny, but they should still be on target and not muddied by the content surrounding them.

  2. Click on links twice, three, four times, before you include and publish them in profiles, Tweets, email messages etc. Not only do we want to double-check our work and that the links are not broken, but often they will display differently in different environments. And the site to which we are linking may change its content often so the look and feel that was appropriate, interesting, etc. at one point during the day may NOT be later.

    -Click on the links using different browsers, if you're NOT sure that your audience is all IE

    -Test the links and the email messages with different versions of desktop/laptop software

    -Create your messages, .pdf's, audio and video clips, and email templates in the MOST common (notice I didn't write LEAST) version of the software

  3. Sign up for your own RSS feed; test email campaigns, Facebook Fan Clubs, etc. Review the materials, links, and posts as they will appear to your audience; not just in preview or beta mode.

  4. Have someone else review your messaging, if possible, prior to hitting send and publish.

  5. Look at the context to which you are connecting. Think about whether the reader's attention is focused on the context OR your content.

  6. Spell and grammar check. (J Had to slip that one in, again.)

  7. Conduct a Social Media Audit and Risk Assessment before venturing into the land of Twitter and Facebook, et al.

  8. Designate more than one administrative authority that can pull the plug if necessary.

For us, the error was more or less quickly rectified and has become a source of good-natured ribbing and light-hearted Friday email banter. It could have been worse….a lot worse.

I hope you find this edifying and amusing and as always, my best until next one….


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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Let Them Complain-And Then Share the Story!

I was attempting a tortuous twist on the misquoted and misattributed "qu'ils mangent de la brioche" for this post, and settled for "Let Them Complain." For years, I have remarked to friends and family, that we seem to increasingly inhabit, reward and cultivate a culture of whining, complaining, lawsuits and general dissatisfaction seeking remedy or simply voice. In my years as a customer consultant, strategist, sales person, etc., I have had numerous opportunities to take courses, get coaching, be "trained" in listening skills, overcoming objections, "getting to yes", ad infinitum/nauseum and have come to the conclusion that there are some people who simply will not be satisfied, no matter what. When I overlay this conclusion with my musings on the increasing ability that our customers have to instantly and globally voice their complaints, I've been suggesting social media and networking strategies and risk assessments as critical components of our customer conversation business practices. The plethora of social medial applications that are available at literally everyone's fingertips are being accessed almost as a virtual running commentary to everyday experience with products and solutions. [The Tweetdeck search that I created around "worst customer service" for my last blog post updates so often I insist virtual whirls of smoke curl from the borders of its column!] So I started thinking if some people are going to complain no matter how diligent our efforts at solving their issue are; no proactive our social media strategy; empowered our front-line customer service personnel; comprehensive our customer relationship net may be: WHY NOT JUST LET THEM COMPLAIN AND PUBLISH IT? What if, after exhausting our best efforts for mutual resolution, we detailed in our blogs, Tweets, Facebook "customer spotlights" the exact nature of our worst customer service complaint; the steps we took to resolve it AND the ultimate dissatisfactory end?

Negative Customer Reference Recruitment-Really

Many of us spend a lot of money, time, and energy recruiting customer references that are willing to participate in case studies, press releases, talk to prospects, or record interviews and testimonials on our behalf telling everybody how wonderful we are. We record this precious evidence any way we can; devise comprehensive ways of cataloging, searching for and representing this proof that we are what we say we are and deliver our solutions and services better than any body else. Our entire focus in the customer reference practice has been the careful cultivation of the positive reference while our customer support/service teams have been attempting to fill the pipeline with current customers that may be eligible for this consideration. What I am proposing is that we utilize the same infrastructure that is in place for identifying and promoting the positive experience reported by our customers to the occasional negative, argumentative, "nothing will make me happy but a full refund" client. Why am I suggesting this? Here are some high level reasons:

  • It should be part of our on-going customer support assessment to collect information about our customers' negative as well as positive experience.
  • We need to know where the gaps are in our service.
  • It is interesting.
  • It may provide much needed comic relief: Consumer complaint to Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines

In light of my continued urging that we consider participation in the broader social media and networking customer conversations that are happening about us and around us, considering proactively publishing a negative customer reference makes sense for some additional strategic reasons. The likelihood that a person who is a chronic complainer will publicly and more vehemently report their experience outside of our 1-800 Call Us environment seems to be gaining nuclear steam. If you have implemented even the "listen" pieces of my suggested social media strategies, you have begun to analyze the customer conversation about your brand, solutions, competitors and general business environment. Hopefully, the conversation is dominated by those suggesting that our products and solutions are considered by others and we have invited those individuals to share the same story again and again. What if we applied the same principles of watchfulness and intervention to the "Worst Customer Experience with Our Brand" TweetDeck Column? What if we invited @IHATEYOU to record the reasons why they were dissatisfied with us, tell their side of the story, and offered to publish it on our website? What if we retweeted them and AGREED that we had messed up. What if we told them that we didn't care if they said that they would never use us again, that we just wanted to be honest with our customers and prospective customers and share that we didn't always perform perfectly? Maybe the following things could happen:

  • Best Case-They return as a customer because they are so shocked; or their deep psychological need to just vent has been satisfied.
  • We truly practice the principles of transparency that the SMN world has been preaching.
  • We avoid the ennui that we may inadvertently be introducing by publishing too many positive customer references.
  • We demonstrate, through the voice of our customers, that we really do do anything that we say we will to try and resolve their issues.
  • "Exposing" ourselves first drastically reduces the tabloid-like effect of our customer's self-filmed and self-published FLIP MINO diatribe against us.

Maybe the old 1940's political slog, "If you can't beat em; join em" applies here. My extremely scientific (J read Google) research into the reasons why people complain basically returned the following:

Complaining. Everyone complains, although clearly some people complain more than others. Even though complaining has negative connotations associated with it, there must be some benefit to complaining or people would not do it so often. Very little research within psychology has examined complaining. Robin M. Kowalski

So my bottom line for this post is:

  • We don't understand why some customers will complain no matter what but they will
  • Social media affords everybody the ability to complain much more "loudly", for longer, and to a "ginormous" audience
  • Worst case, poking a little bit of public fun at ourselves can't hurt anything other than our pride……right?

Regards until next time,


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