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Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 2.23.31 PMGuest Relations Marketing will be extending our ‘Zealotry Marketing’ practice by taking on a new assignment – handling online customer service issues for client Milani Cosmetics. This assignment is an unusual twist for a traditional marketing or ad agency. Typically, agencies handle the external media brand communications, but not the follow-up.

In this particular case, Milani views the online service as a logical extension to the social media work already being handled by GRM. Our ability to respond quickly and in brand voice was critical to their decision to place this additional program with GRM.
For us, it is a validation of not only our relationship and work to-date with Milani, but the increasing value of building marketing from the basis of referral. As we like to say, turning customers into Zealots.
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email-etiquette-300a

If you take the time to send email to someone, this is not the way to respond.
Especially if you are asking for information or action to be taken.

“This mailbox is exclusively used to distribute outgoing email. Unfortunately, email sent to this mailbox will not be reviewed or responded to. If you are attempting to contact  Customer Support, please visit our support site locate at https://www.wellsfargo.com/help.”‘

Um, Wells Fargo. You, in fact contacted me. What is unfortunate is I’m sharing this as a poor example of customer engagement.  If it was worth sending, it was worth having an employee manage responses.  Finish the drill, Wells Fargo.

I have been a mobile customer with Sprint for the past five years. As a college graduate with only $200 to my name, I was enticed by the cheap plans that promised unlimited data and text messaging. Yes, that meant unlimited Facebook and YouTube access for approximately half of the cost that Verizon or AT&T could promise.

Then, to make things even better, Sprint announced that it would be the main sponsor of NASCAR {Insert redneck jokes here.} According to Sprint, there would be a ton of perks as a mobile customer if you were a NASCAR fan: exclusive content in related apps, behind the scenes action, and improved mobile service while at the track.

So, while I have not always been pleased with the service or data speeds that Sprint can provide – I have stuck by their side.

However, there has recently been a constant debate in my household as we plan to finally merge our cell phone plans onto one family plan: Which is better – Sprint or Verizon?

There’s no doubt that Verizon has faster data and better service, but you simply can’t rule out the competitive pricing of Sprint or the NASCAR partnership. (Seriously, I can hear the redneck jokes from here…)

So, how did we solve the debate? Simply put: the customer service I received or didn’t receive via Twitter.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Sprint Cup race in Bristol. With around 100,000 race fans in attendance, it’s doesn’t surprise me if I can’t get service on my phone, even if Sprint tells me I should. However, when I looked over at my friends phone to see that their Verizon service was running just as strong as ever, I became instantly frustrated with Sprint. My reaction? I did what any civil 20 something would do and I tweeted about it.

Sprint Customer Service

Now, let me tell you why this response only infuriated me.

1. It was sent to me the next day – when the race was over and I was home.

2. Sprint is the main sponsor of NASCAR! The events that they put their name on is part of a multi-billion dollar sports industry. So, how on earth would somebody responding to me via Twitter have absolutely NO idea where Bristol is located?

OK, now that I got that out of my system. Let me share with you the response that Verizon provided another day or two later.

Verizon Customer Service

While I admit that the response is less than clever – it is still a response. It shows that Verizon not only monitors the conversation that people are having directly with the brand – it is also listening to what others are saying. If nothing else, Verizon took an opportunity of frustration and turned it into a time of research.

I inevitably clicked that link. And because of that, I will inevitably switch my service to Verizon.

So, who still says social media is stupid? Because, for Verizon, a simple tweet that took 30 seconds to write earned them a new customer.

Seriously, Sprint, share your marketing plan with the rest of your company.

Reveries tells the story of Ellen Heberer, an American Airlines gate agent. The airline industry is notorious for treating customers as a number, removing people with technology and otherwise commoditizing services. Then there is Ellen.  “You’ll always have status with me,” Ellen recently told a flier who had lost frequent-flier standing, but whom Ellen remembered and rewarded with a better seat in the front of the plane.
Among other customer-centric acts: Ellen knows repeat customers by name; juggles seat assignments to keep families together; provides passes to get customers into the airport club; doesn’t lie about delays; and is straightforward about what can (or cannot) be done.
 

American Airline’s response to the reporter: “It shouldn’t have to be that it only happens with a great agent,” says Maya Leibman, American’s chief information officer.

American Airline’s response to the reporter: “It shouldn’t have to be that it only happens with a great agent,” says Maya Leibman, American’s chief information officer.

Well, no it shouldn’t. But for too many companies, the bean-counters have measured the short-term cost of staffing people and training versus automation, Internet tools, self-service scanners and the like. Marketing has been silent on the long-term impact of such moves. Who is voice of the customer in your company?

Ellen is building Zealots for American Airlines. Technology can also help, but it is almost never a substitute for great personal service.

American Airlines can learn a thing or two from Waffle House. All employees are required to spend at least one day a month in restaurants. The CEO doesn’t want his management to get too far from the roots of serving customers. The financial (and CIOs) of American Airlines should spend a few days in Ellen’s role. They might learn the value and costs of service.

 

In my experience, and from grumblings I’ve heard elsewhere, customer service is not the biggest thing Comcast has going for them from a business standpoint.

There are times when marketing is marketing, sales is sales, and operations is operations. But, from a brand standpoint – the customer experience crosses all platforms and thus businesses are forced to integrate, communicate and work together to ensure the experience is both consistent and pleasant.

There are also times when this is challenging for businesses, to instantly align all departments for a consistent brand experience. For this reason, we applaud Comcast at taking action at making the customer service experience just a little bit better and more personal for their customers.

While 800#’s are jammed with customer complaints and questions, Comcast decided to take their service arm online @ComcastCares via Twitter to, as Frank the Director of Digital Care for Comcast says, “meet Customers where they are, listen and assist when we can.”

The customer service Comcast provides through Twitter is personal, immediate, informative and credible. And, as Frank points out, it is delivered in a manner that the customer chooses, through a medium they are already using.

And most importantly, taking a chunk of the operations and service arms of their business in this manner has led to Zealotry actions amidst consumers. Word-of-mouth, people are talking about their Twitter customer service in a positive manner. Referral – people are recommending others contact them via Twitter. And Comcast is turning potentially negative customer experiences into positive ones, turning detractors into supporters, even more, into potential Zealots for the Comcast brand.

Go ahead & follow them @ComcastCares. And follow us too while you’re at it @FindingZealots.

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Guest Relations Marketing
Transforming Prospects to Guests, and Guests to Zealots

When looking for and growing the Zealots for your own brand, don’t look to far. Start first by looking at the employees of your company, those that are representing and living the brand each and every day. Zealotry should start here.

From a feature by Cool News it is easy to see the Four Seasons gets this concept.

“Workers, he says, are vital assets who should be treated accordingly. At most hotel companies, he notes, housekeepers, cooks, bell staff, waiters and clerks are often the lowest paid and ‘the least motivated people.’ But at the Four Seasons, those who might otherwise be considered the most expendable ‘had to come first,’ because they were the ones ‘who could make or break a five-star service reputation’.”

Involving and engaging your employees in your brand – from the lowest to the highest ranks – will ensure without a doubt they are spreading the good word to their peers. Constantly educating, from brand history to the latest news and developments, will empower your people to tell your story both to current guests and to potential guests as well.

Are your employees Zealots? How have you engaged your staff?

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Guest Relations Marketing
Transforming Prospects to Guests, and Guests to Zealots

Companies looking to save costs would do well to pay attention to these stats:  the cost of a live customer service agent averages $7.50 per call.  Outsourcing those calls overseas will drop the cost dramatically to $2.35 per call.  Install an automated phone response system and each call averages just around 32 cents per contact.  This is according to author Emily Yellin of Your Call Is Not That Important To Us.

Of course, if you can build a customer relationship for $7.50 per contact, you might look at this equation differently.  And, if you can turn a negative situation into a positive one, you may just have a potential Zealot on your hands. The word-of-mouth conversations quickly go from dissatisfaction to “listen to what company X did for me” and referral.

Anyone ever claim a better experience because they punched through an automated system?   We do have a friend who has become quite attracted to the Garmin automated voice.  The author says trust, respect, empathy, caring and a little fun are keys to call center success.  Well, maybe the Garmin voice has something going …

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Guest Relations Marketing
“Transforming Prospects to Guests, and Guests to Zealots”

Business Week published their third annual rankings of the top 25 brand leaders in customer service, an insightful study with a myriad of different ways to dig into the findings. So dig we did.

Interestingly enough in this tough economy, this years top 25 scored  higher overall than those brands featured in 2008. Perhaps this can be credited to the brands who have focused in on their most Zealous supporters & loyal fans. You’ll notice a very important point-in-case as to why “customer satisfaction” and “likely to recommend” are not one in the same. If you click to sort by the top rankings in customer service, you’ll get a far different assortment than if you click to sort by likeliness to recommend. And this difference can help us to see the difference and power between our Zealots and our supporters.

Publix is a fascinating study in the Business Week survey.  They rank right along Lexus, the Ritz-Carlton and and Jaguar, yet they deal with a much more diverse and mass customer group.  To maintain high ratings against the sheer volume of customers is indeed a tribute.  Yet, in terms of referral, they are significantly below Trader Joe’s.   Why?

Perhaps Publix has not honed their understanding of who their zealots are and what drives them.  It’s easy to say that low prices is the reason Trader Joe’s gets great referral rating, but most conversations about Trader Joe’s doesn’t go far without “Two Buck Chuck” – their low price wine.  The story isn’t just the price, it’s that it’s okay for “discerning” wine drinkers.   It’s a natural made “let me share a tip with you” story.  What is Publix story to its zealots?   They undoubtably have some.

United Airlines announced they will be closing their phone line with an India-based call center which handles their customer complaint line. What they may not realize, is that they are missing out on potential opportunities for finding Zealots among the customers of their brand.

A customer complaint situation is an opportunity for any company, hotel or airline alike, to take advantage of turning a guest from a detractor into a true supporter of the brand. If a guest is upset enough to complain, the opportunity exists to take the complaint and turn it into a home run for your brand. And even moreso, Zealots for the brand are highly engaged in the brand and highly believe it in. They are potentially among those who are more likely to complain because they are so familiar with it, they know how things are supposed to be, and when things go wrong they are sure to take notice.

Customers don’t want an Indian call center “logging” their issue, they want to feel as if their voice is being heard, with both understanding and sympathy and to have the situation rectified to their liking.  They want the experience to be personal and they want to feel as though a change is being made as a result of their speaking up, that they have helped in some way in the success of the brand.

Brands should make the  process as easy and hassle-free for their guests as possible to provide feedback, both positive and negative, and should always take a proactive and responsive action to such feedback. Perhaps this is an opportunity for United to tackle the competition and refine their customer feedback process; to do it and do it well. And the shocking thing is, a phone conversation gives you a two-way conversation and the ability to ask questions about the experience, rather than a one-sided encounter on paper. Why would you want to only go to a less-effective way of handling guest relations?

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