Carol is a consummate customer service professional and she delivers the best customer experience I have ever received from just about any company when I have been at the point of giving up all hope.
So I had a very unique experience last month. Way back in January I discovered that I could earn additional cash back points for automatically paying my Sprint cell phone bill with my Discover card. Setting up my automatic bill pay, I thought was relatively easy. Sprint sent me an email explaining that bill pay would take a month to kick-in, so it wouldn't be until February that I would have the convenience of the service.
Well, sure enough when I got my February e-bill from Sprint they informed me that my automatic payment would take place the day before my bill was due. Now, I happen to be one of those people who pay all of their bills on time, and I regularly check my bank account to make sure things are set to be paid. In this case I trusted Sprint had it all under control. However, a few days before my bill's due date I received a bill reminder email from Sprint, and this one didn't mention the fact that automatic bill pay was set up to pay my bill the day before it was due. So, the trust I had in Sprint began to fade.
At the end of the day when the first automatic bill payment was to be made I monitored my online Sprint bill to see if my payment status would change. I also monitored my Discover card transactions to see if my Sprint payment would post. Nothing. The next day, the day my Sprint bill was due, I did the same thing. Again nothing. A few minutes before midnight I made a manual payment using my Discover card to avoid any late fees (according to the language on my bill), which overrode my automatic payment setup.
When I received my March Sprint bill I once again set up automatic bill pay using my Discover card, thinking that perhaps I’d done something wrong back in January. Once again I waited one month for the service to kick in, received my first bill with auto payment the day before the due date, and went through the whole ridiculous process just like before only to wind up paying manually to avoid those late fees.
In May I decide to call Discover’s customer service and see if they can help me successfully sign up for the service. While it does take transferring me twice, each time after confirming my personal and card information and then explaining my situation, which makes three times in total, I am at least directed to the appropriate person. She explains that the automatic payment process is initiated through Sprint and not Discover, so it’s not something that Discover can fix for me.
Now, I'm exasperated, frustrated, and pretty darn angry, but this woman, we’ll call her Carol, is a consummate customer service professional and she delivers the best customer experience I have ever received from just about any company when I have been at the point of giving up all hope. Here’s what she does:
Now, on the other end of the experience there is Sprint, where the initial agent that Carol speaks with hangs up on her—not on purpose, but still. The agent that we eventually deal with, let’s call him Fred, is an okay guy, but he is no Carol. He's knowledgeable and does impart two very interesting pieces of information, namely:
I am a customer who has gone to considerable lengths to sign up for a service that guarantees his employer on-time monthly payment of my bills. As an agent of this company, I would expect Fred to be more motivated to both help me and make up for the inconvenience I have suffered through no fault of my own by offering to assist me in reactivating my automatic bill pay or forwarding my feedback and experience with this service to the appropriate areas of the company. Fred does neither. Now, I understand that he may not be able to reactivate my automatic bill pay, but he can collect my feedback and he can also offer to compensate me for my troubles in some way. Even more importantly, throughout our time together, I expect Fred to treat me with respect, which I think is the very least he can do.
So, I guess I’m disappointed Fred isn’t smart enough to understand all this and take appropriate action. Because, let’s face it, even if Fred himself couldn’t care less about my Sprint automatic payment experience or me, his job should be to make me think there isn’t anything more important to him in the world, at least while we're on the phone together. After all, that's exactly what happened with Carol, and in the process she earned my undying personal gratitude and boatloads of corporate loyalty for her employer, Discover—and, that’s the point of delivering great customer service, even when, or rather, especially when you can’t solve your customers’ problems.
Is your customer experience in line with your communications strategy? Are you building loyalty with every interaction? If you’re not sure, let's discuss how I can help you find out.
At its core, a brand is ever only the people who represent it.
This weekend I attended the Clearwater Festival for the first time. If you’re not familiar with the festival, here’s a brief description from Clearwater's website: Since the 1960s, the Clearwater festival has grown into the country’s largest annual environmental celebration, its music, dance and storytelling, education and activism attracting thousands of people of all ages to the shores of the Hudson River.
Now, Saturday here was just a gorgeous day—the kind of day invented for outdoor festivals held in expansive parks tucked up along a beautiful stretch of river. I have no idea how many people passed through Croton Point Park that day; my friends and I stayed till the chilly end where a “full house” at the main stage enjoyed Arlo Guthrie and family doing the honors of closing down the day’s events. During the 8 hours we were there, we saw many, many families with young children, and many folks who toted in their own food and beverages, but what we didn’t see was a scrap of litter—even with an artisanal farmer’s market offering all sorts of delicious wares for sale and sample, food vendors, and beverage stands and water vendors stationed through the park. No napkins, food wrappers, empty bottles or cups; not even a cigarette butt carelessly tossed aside or abandoned in the grass.
Make no mistake: we didn’t see litter not because there were cleanup crews working round the clock to manage the mess that a boatload of thoughtless people can make in less time than you can say, “landfill” and “non-biodegradable”, but because people simply didn’t leave their trash behind. The environmental message of the festival and Clearwater itself, I’m sure, was a potent motivator, but more compelling was the highly visible “zero waste“ campaign Clearwater incorporated into the festival—the message clearly reinforced by trash and recycling bins placed in key locations around the grounds. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a cleaner event attended by even half as large a crowd!
Lining the main thoroughfare of the park, which gets you from one end of happenings to the other were banners displaying inspirational quotes by a diverse and varied group of contributors extolling activism and personal responsibility toward community. In this clever manner Clearwater compelled attendees throughout the day to aspire to “the better angels of our nature.”
And, for a festival that includes four different simultaneous music performances going on all day long, a full slate of dance and storytelling performances, a juried craft show, an artisanal farmer’s market, an environmental and activism expo, river activities and educational demonstrations, merchant vendor stalls, a healthy “food court”, accessibility services for wheelchair-bound, hearing-impaired and sight-impaired individuals, and much, much more, everything seemed to run pretty smoothly. No long line at the entrance, no dangerous crowd control issues, and everybody grooving to the music and able to get the information and assistance they needed.
Now, I’ve been to a lot of music festivals, many of them in the out-of-doors, and I’ve certainly been lured to any number of bucolic locales by the promise of a unique musical experience, but here’s the thing that really struck me about Clearwater--
From the compostable plates, forks, knives and spoons used by all the food stall vendors to the nifty hand-washing stations placed next to each port-a-john area to the fountains set up for refilling water bottles to all of the larger messaging mentioned above, Clearwater’s environmental mission that is the core and very essence of its brand identity was, well, absolutely clear and present. These weren’t showy or gimmicky stunts, but thoughtful details and thematic motifs that demonstrate how deeply those that manage the Clearwater organization and plan the festival really embody and live the vision and values of the organization. And that radiates out to everyone in attendance and is the reason Clearwater is truly a very unique and special kind of festival.
At its core, a brand is ever only the people who represent it. If you’re not getting the results you want and you’re wondering why your brand isn’t “sticky”, consider whether it's defined clearly and fully enough to win over your own employees—if they’re not sold, how can they sell anybody else? If you’re a solopreneur, how deeply are you committed to your own brand values; to what level of detail are they evident in how you conduct and manage your business?
Comment below, call or email me about how to create or deepen your brand values and customer relationships and experiences.
Unless feedback relates to an isolated issue for just one customer, the problem will only get worse the longer you ignore it.
I've been thinking that this whole social media thing is like physical fitness; you have to get into the right "good" habits, learn to do things that might be uncomfortable and even hurt a bit at the beginning so you can develop your network, sharpen your social media reflexes, and, perhaps, even become addicted to one or more activities.
This became even more apparent to me last week while I was sitting out on my terrace working away amid the traffic and construction sounds of midday Manhattan. I was deep in my own world of thought when I noticed my cell phone flashing an incoming call from an unrecognized number. Now, it may sound strange but I don’t actually receive a lot of calls on my cell as my business is largely conducted online, in person or via email. To be honest, I don’t even know if there was a last time someone I didn’t know called me in the middle of the day on my cell, so I was definitely suspicious, but too curious not to answer.
The call was from my cell phone company, Sprint. Well, what I mean is, it was from a Sprint representative—more precisely, their Vice President of Customer Finance Services who was calling me regarding an article I had written about my recent customer experience that centered around their automatic bill pay feature.
I'll admit I was kind of abrupt when I answered. This was partly because it's really hard to hear on my terrace when there's traffic and construction, which seems like all the time these days, and partly because I expected it would be someone asking me for money, which, if you work from home like me, is pretty much the gist of every call you do receive from 9 to 6 that isn't from someone you know. However, after I realized who was on the phone and why they were calling, I moved inside so we could conduct a proper conversation.
Like an Olympian, the VP got right down to business. Firstly, she apologized for the inconvenience and dissatisfaction I experienced both with the communications supporting Sprint's automatic payment system as well as for the customer service I had received; this went a long way toward changing my tone. So, we were off to a good start. Then, she mentioned Sprint’s awards for customer satisfaction and how they were a top ranking company for customer experience with small and medium-sized businesses and, to me, that was a definite misstep. Frankly, if someone has experienced the opposite of excellence in either or both of these categories, I’m going to suggest that, yes, there’s a time and place to mention these plaudits to them; pick the wrong time and place and you only succeed in rubbing salt in an already irritated wound. I’ll give you a hint—it’s not right out of the gate, you have to earn back a good bit of trust and goodwill first.
Okay, so things were looking a little iffy, but then something really interesting happened: The VP explained to me that around the time I had originally set up my automatic bill pay Sprint was experiencing an issue that delayed automatic payments. It was this very problem that had prompted me to make manual payments, which then overrode my auto pay setup; a maddening situation that happened twice. Next, she admitted that the company had not properly communicated to customers how their automatic payments would be affected to reset expectations. And finally, she assured me that this kind of oversight would not happen again. For lack of a better metaphor, that was a home run.
Basically, Sprint took the negative feedback it received and turned it into a positive by identifying a significant flaw in their system that could be damaging to their customer experience and bottom line in the future. Now Sprint knows that understanding and addressing the impact on all aspects of their customers' experience is a high priority when issues arise. And this is really important not just to Sprint but to any business that receives customer feedback from whatever forum it may come. Unless the feedback relates to an isolated issue for just one customer, the problem will only get worse the longer you ignore it. Far better to flip that negative around and credit your customers for helping you improve your service, product, experience, etc.
Before we got off the phone the VP scored another couple of easy points—she gave me her direct contact information, a credit on my account and offered to send me her information via email, which I accepted and received in short order.
While my original experience with Sprint’s customer service left quite a lot to be desired, I must give credit where credit is due—in the social media realm Sprint seems to have its act together. Their response was rapid and effective, which is exactly what a social media response strategy should be.
After the VP and I hung up I went back out on my terrace and checked TweetDeck; it seems my article had been retweeted several times earlier in the day, which explained how and why I'd received that personal call. The whole experience gave me a new appreciation for the muscle of social media and the first tangible evidence that, like a good exercise regime, if you stick with it, you will begin to reap its rewards.
If you can't figure out how to reap the rewards you seek from your social media efforts or don't even know where to direct your energies, let's connect. You can reach me on @GrowBeyondNY or by email.