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Issue 12 | May 2015

I've been teaching my daughter, Grace, to drive. We live near a ski resort, and there's a spacious gravel parking lot at the base of the mountain that goes largely unused between the winter and summer seasons. It's a great place for her to practice turns and stops.

"Want to see how it feels to lose traction," I asked her recently? (Of course she did!) Before long, we were doing "donuts"?wheels spinning, dust flying. Obviously enough so that security soon sped to the scene and stopped in front of us. The very-official head of security stepped out of the black SUV and began taking pictures of our license plate.

"Are we in trouble?" I asked as I stepped out. Probably expecting a car full of high-schoolers, he seemed surprised to see me and my tween daughter (who still had an ear-to-ear grin). He explained that they spend a lot of money grading the lot, can't assume the liability, etc. I apologized and promised we wouldn't again do spins in his lot (and we won't). He shook my hand, gave us a guarded smile, and let us go on my word.

As my new friend at security will attest, you just never know what you're going to run into with customers. Which is why the vast social ecosystem, with all of its vagaries and dynamism, is becoming an essential part of the fabric of customer service. There's no better way to keep a pulse on things?and to converse with customers where they are. I hope you enjoy this issue!

Warm Regards,

Brad Cleveland

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Being part of "the conversation"?listening to customers and interacting with them where they are?was until recently a powerful differentiator. But it's now becoming a competitive necessity. And that's true whether you're a small startup or a multinational corporation.

No surprise, then, that customer service and support is one of the fastest-developing and dynamic aspects of the social phenomenon. But how do you get it right? Where do you start, given the vastness of the social landscape?

In working with organizations that are both leading the charge and peddling fast to catch up, five key steps continue to emerge. This isn't quite as easy as paint-by-numbers, as every component requires some thought and work. But getting these things right will ensure you're moving in the right direction.

Join the conversation. I recall an executive at an automobile manufacturer tell of standing behind a computer with several others on her team as the organization "flipped the switch" on a new social media listening tool (these services range from free to high-end). The conversations?blogs, tweets, posts, feedback sites?began scrolling across the screen: comments about the company's products, services, policies and brand. It was like putting on a snorkel mask and jumping off a boat to explore a coral reef?a whole new world became visible. She wanted to sit down and begin interacting right then and there (and to think they hadn't been). The first step is to get in the game!

A Coral Colony Shape Your Strategy

Harness your service operation. Many organizations start out by treating social channels as a part of marketing or corporate communications. But with any kind of volume, one of two things begins to happen: either customer needs go unanswered, or these areas began to grow a quasi contact center (call center) as they find themselves handling interactions that are more in the realm of customer service and support. The sooner you are ready to pull the full range of interactions and channels into your normal service operation, the sooner you will be able to scale resources and respond as opportunities unfold.

Reshape your customer access strategy. This involves thinking through and defining access alternatives, hours of operation, service level objectives, skills and knowledge required and other key components. For a summary, see Updating Your Customer Access Strategy for Social Media. Also see To Do's section, below.

Forecast the workload. Think along the lines of forecasting the weather: Partly cloudy this morning, with a warming trend this afternoon. Underlying patterns in social interactions almost always exist. (Yes, trending topics can quickly multiply, but being responsive in their early stages can help head off what would be repetitive contacts.) So, the same basic principles you'd apply to phone, email, chat and other customer contact channels apply: Look for patterns, consider the variables, and use what you're seeing to project future workload. Then, staff accordingly.

Cultivate strategic value. What are you hearing and learning that can help you shape products, services and processes? Social channels are providing unparalleled access to your customers' perspectives and ideas. It's an unprecedented opportunity to differentiate, build your organization's brand, and innovate. See A Multichannel World, Issue 11.

Recent Issues

55 billion
Agent-assisted interactions handled in the U.S. annually.

Customers who have interacted with brands through social media
Ages 18-24 ? 49.5%
Ages 25-34 ? 44.6%
Ages 35-44 ? 37.5%
Ages 45-54 ? 31.8%
Ages 55+ ? 27.4%

Organizations worldwide that predict an increase in customer interactions.
(Dimension Data)

Consumers who quit doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience.
(Harris Interactive)

Seven-year stock price change
S&P 500 Index: +51.5%
Customer experience leaders: +77.7%
Customer experience laggards: -2.5%
(Watermark Consulting)

"It's easy to accept the easy customer. But as Morantz [Craig Morantz] aptly points out, you will always deal with angry, bitter, frightened and emotional customers. Acceptance is not judging them, it's embracing where they are at and focusing on the challenge or opportunity. Once you have identified the buyer personality before you, it will be easy to show acceptance. Are they hungry for knowledge? Show them you are eager to provide it. Are they nervous and untrusting? Share your own fear of being taken for a ride. Ask yourself, 'What will show this person that I am willing to meet them where they are?'"

Source: Kevin Daum,, May 6, 2015.

To put effective social customer service in place, you need an updated customer access strategy. Put a team together and think through the following questions:

  • Customers: Who are they, where are they talking about your services, company, market and competitors?
  • Contact types: What kinds of conversations occur, e.g., inquiries, orders, policies, support, feedback, etc.?
  • Access alternatives: In additional to traditional connections (phone, email, et al.), what channels should you have for listening to and engaging with customers (e.g., blogs, rating sites, peer-to-peer communities, and key social sites)?
  • Hours of response: When will you be reachable? What will your customers expect?
  • Service level objectives: How fast do you intend to respond?
  • Agents required: Who will be trained and equipped to handle social interactions?
  • Information required: What information on customers, products, services and policies will they need?
  • Business unit collaboration: How will you capture and share information that can be used to improve products, services and processes?

Just-released resources for 2015:

We hope you enjoy! Please keep us posted on topics you'd like to see covered.

*Brad delivers many private keynotes, workshops, and executive briefings to organizations and associations. For more information, contact

Brad has devoted his career to maximizing the value of customer-facing services. As a speaker, consultant, entrepreneur, executive, and president/CEO, he has seen change from many perspectives and has a deep understanding of the critical importance of customer service delivery to an organization's success. He has worked across 45 states and in 60 countries, and has been privileged to assist in the evolution of service delivery for clients such as American Express, Apple, Coca-Cola, USAA, and others, as well as for governments across the globe. Brad serves as a senior advisor to the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), and is an in-demand speaker and consultant.

To inquire about consulting or speaking, connect through any of the channels below.

? 2015 Brad Cleveland   All Rights Reserved

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