Jul 20

Won’t you listen to what the man said?

Listening Listening is critical to success. That’s what I’ve heard or read three times in the last few  days.

The first occurred at a Cablefax-Peppercom daylong workshop for some 26 sales, marketing, operational and IT types representing programmers, broadband providers and multiple system operators. Some of the participants were incredibly savvy when it came to social media; others were relative Neanderthals. Yet, all agreed the key to social media success was to listen to what customers were saying, where they were saying it and how they’d like to be engaged. Almost all agreed that, while they got the importance of listening, their C-suite bosses were still entrenched in the old, top-down ‘…here’s my corporate message’ school of communications. While there are no silver bullets to convince old school executives to cede control to customers, the group did agree on a number of smart strategies to start the ball rolling: suggest a ‘walk before you run’ approach, share what best-in-class competitors are doing and, most importantly, demonstrate ROI.

The next reminder came during a podcast with Joanne Davis, a top marketing search consultant. When asked the number one mistake most agencies make when pitching new business, she said, “Listening.” Ms. Davis said agencies are too quick to force their own thinking and past experiences on a prospective client. Instead, she said, it’s critical to pick up on the verbal and non-verbal cues being sent and provide real-time solutions to the pain points.

The final example came from the book “Your Call Is (not that) Important To Us.” In the text, the author quotes a JetBlue Airlines supervisor as saying he uses ‘sympathetic listening’ with the most irate customers. “I’ve found that a huge amount can be defused by just taking the time to listen. If you’ve got an irate call and the person is in tears, it’s important to take the time and listen— listening for when they’re wound down and then resolving the problem.’

While it seems so obvious, too many organizations continue to pursue a ‘field of dreams’ strategy in their marketing and customer service. It’s not about what we say but, rather, how well we listen to what our customers and prospects are saying that will determine success.

Jul 02

Mark Twain and me

Every now and then it’s comforting to know that the more things change, the more they stay Telephone2 the same. Take customer service for example. Please!

This past Saturday, we suffered a lightning strike in our back yard and lost power for 15, count ‘em, 15 hours! Desperate to keep the refrigerated food fresh and be able to watch the new HBO series ‘Hung’, I feverishly dialed Jersey Central Power & Light (and, unwittingly entered the automated attendant Twilight Zone).

I never spoke to a live person. Instead, I interacted with a voice activated service representative from computerized hell. His voice began by asking me to either dial or speak my account number. I did so. But, he refused to recognize either for a good 25 minutes. (“I’m sorry. I didn’t quite understand what you said. Can you repeat it?”) When I finally got past that initial hurdle, I next had to orally describe my problem. ("Please answer by saying: ‘Payment,’ ‘Power outage,’ ‘Power outage with a downed power line’ or ‘Miscellaneous.’ Thank you.”)  I repeatedly screamed “Power outage, Dammit!” But, I kept being forwarded to the miscellaneous automated attendant, who wanted to know if I’d like to know about Jersey Central’s package of service value adds. I didn’t.

Long story short, I finally broke through the voice recognition system, reported my outage and, voila, a Jersey Central service van rolled up my driveway several hours later.

Customer service is always included alongside military intelligence as the ultimate oxymoron. That said, it’s nice to know that poor customer service isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, upon reading Emily Yellin’s excellent new book on the subject, entitled, “Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us,” I see that I have some rarified company. To wit, none other than Mark Twain who, in 1890, wrote the following letter to AT&T:

‘The Hartford telephone is the very worst on the face of the earth. No man can dictate a 20-word message intelligibly through it at any hour of the day without devoting a week’s worth of time to it, and there is no night service whatsoever since electric-lighting was introduced. Though mind you they charge for night-service in their cold, calm way, just the same as if they furnished it.’

Customer service. It stank in 1890 and it stinks in 2009. At least ‘Hung’ was good.