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Archive for May, 2008

 Customer Service 2.0: Clients become brand managers

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

By Heather Havenstein

From article in

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May 28, 2008 (Computerworld) Comcast Corp. scored a public relations coup in April when an executive responded within 20 minutes to complaints about a cable outage posted by a prominent blogger on a microblogging site.

Michael Arrington said that a top official from the Philadelphia-based cable company responded to his post and made sure that a technician was dispatched to fix the 36-hour outage.

Comcast is one of several large companies that have recently started using Web 2.0 tools to monitor blogs and social networks to discover user concerns. The companies are also using such tools to communicate with and learn from customers, according to analysts and executives.

Arrington said that he first notified Comcast of the outage by a more traditional means -- the telephone help desk -- but technicians there had no idea when the widespread outage could be corrected.

Granted, Arrington's stature in the blogosphere may have hastened the response to his complaint, but it did come in the midst of a months-long program, called Comcast Cares, started by the company to monitor Twitter and respond to customer concerns posted there.

In October, 2007, prior to Comcast’s launch of the Web 2.0 effort, magazine columnist and radio personality Bob Garfield created a blog called "Comcast Must Die.". Garfield's goal was to help Comcast customers publicly air complaints about the cable company. At about the same time, a 76-year-old woman made national news by taking a hammer to a keyboard in a Comcast office after becoming frustrated with Comcast’s customer-service response.

A cursory check of Comcast Cares on May 22 found multiple examples of employees responding -- often in less than 15 minutes -- to complaints that customers posted on Twitter, where users can create 140-character "miniblogs." Comcast employees mostly apologized for the problems and requested the information needed to solve them.

A Comcast spokeswoman said the company created the program to proactively address customer concerns. She said the company can now engage its customers wherever they are most comfortable.

Most early corporate Web 2.0 efforts included internal blogs, social networks and online communities that focused on improving communication among workers. The growing popularity of such tools among consumers has led to the launch of products that fit into what some companies are calling "Customer Service 2.0," which monitors what customers say in online forums.

In late April, New York Life Insurance Co. began a move to Customer Service 2.0 by providing a platform for customer feedback on articles and other content in its Web site. The company also added links to various social networking sites so users can bookmark and share information across the Web.

Ken Hittel, vice president of corporate Internet development at the insurance company, said the initial version of the site is designed to first give customers a way to "talk" to New York Life. The feedback program is a first step in a plan to make better use the company's Web site to gain insight into customer needs, he added.

The next step will be to allow employees to actively respond to the customer comments on the site.

The New York-based insurer, like many other companies, took the first step toward Customer Service 2.0 with some trepidation, Hittel said.

He noted that some executives worried about what customers would say about the company once the "barn doors" were opened. "In fact, if there is some particularly bad thing that people want to say about us, it's better that we find out about it," Hittel maintained.

"People are talking about us on the Internet just like they are talking about everyone else. This gives people a chance to talk about us directly to us as opposed to behind our back," he added.

Therein lies the key reason why IDC analyst Rachel Happe criticized companies that are reluctant to embrace the new form of customer service because they fear negative feedback. She called such concerns a "red herring."

Customers have always been in control of the brands they use, she noted. Now, however, they can arm themselves with virtual megaphones and shout their concerns throughout the blogosphere. It's only common sense to at least listen to what these users say, Happe said.

In many cases, just acknowledging a problem can help ease criticism on the Web, she noted.

For example, Dell Inc.'s public admission that some critics of its support programs were correct has led to a slow shifting of the company's image. Since its admission, the tone of some initially critical bloggers has become neutral or even positive, she said.

Meanwhile, SAP AG's online social community for developers and business process managers now includes more than 1 million users, she added. Many small and midsize companies are using SAP-sponsored online communities to gain access to a network of peers to discuss questions and concerns about SAP products.

The SAP program is improving the lot of users, who can get quick answers from fellow customers. It's also cutting SAP's support costs as fewer questions make it to help desk personnel.

"Customers are actually starting to feel like they can ask questions, which is good because they are engaging and they are getting more satisfaction -- at a lower cost to the company," she added.

In addition, company executives can use the customer input as they make strategic business decisions.

For example, The Artful Home, which sells art and other home decorating items, significantly changed the content on its Web site based on user suggestions.

The Artful Home site is run by The Guild Inc., a Madison, Wisc.-based art dealer that links artists with potential buyers of their goods.

By monitoring the number of customers participating in specific discussion topics and analyzing the content they posted, the company found that they are mostly interested in how to use the products they buy in design and decorating projects.

"That was a pretty resounding answer to a very big question for us," said Toni Sikes, the founder and artistic adviser at The Guild.

The user needs surprised the company because some executives thought that bolstering information about individual artists and their artistic motivation would most benefit customers, Sikes said. Others had maintained that it was most important to tell customers how products were made.

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Wednesday, May 28th, 2008
Court Rules that Dell Engaged in Fraud, False Advertising, and Deceptive Business Practices
Companies to Pay Restitution and Forfeit Unlawfully Earned Profits

According to the decision, Dell deprived consumers of the technical support to which they were entitled under their warranty or service contract by:

• Repeatedly failing to provide timely onsite repair to consumers who purchased service contracts promising “onsite” and expedited service;

• Pressuring consumers, including those who purchased service contracts promising “onsite” repair, to remove the external cover of their computer and remove, reinstall, and manipulate hardware components;

• Discouraging consumers from seeking technical support; those who called Dell’s toll free number were subjected to long wait times, repeated transfers, and frequent disconnections; and

• Failing to provide rebates that were promised to consumers.


 My Life as a Customer Service Rep

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008


By Maureen Rogers

One of the worst jobs I ever had – and, given some of the jobs I’ve had, that’s really saying something – was as a customer service rep at Sears.

In those days, of course, we didn’t have a fancy name for the job like “customer service rep”, let alone a fancy acronym like CSR. I have no idea what the official title was, but we called ourselves “customer complaint takers.”

This job – which I worked for a while when I was in college, well over 30 years ago – was at the Sears regional headquarters in Boston. As I recall, our service area covered New England, upstate New York, Quebec Province, and the Maritimes.

I worked there with a couple of friends, and we were given absolutely no training whatsoever – just thrown on the phones, where we took complaints down on paper forms (those multiple layer ones like you get with a Fed-Ex label). After we took the complaint, we distributed the copies to multiple areas where – presumably – someone would eventually act on them. The pink copy went into a vast, rotary “tub file”. You hit some sort of button, the tub churned to the right letter of the alphabet, and you tucked the file into the appropriate place.

Some of the complaints I remember as vividly as if I had handled the call yesterday.

A man named Peter Rabbitt called one day and, with a pronounced brogue, informed me that Sears had not picked up his old fridge, which they’d promised to do when they delivered his new one.

“I’ve a good mind,” Mr. Rabbitt told me, “To just put the old ice box out on my front lawn.”

Well, that would sure show Sears now, wouldn’t it? (I hope he took the door off of it, which I’m sure that he did, as he sounded like a thoroughly conscientious and decent person.)

One woman called to track her order – Christmas presents for her kids. Unfortunately, she’d sent cash – $17 – rather than a check or money order, so her order was long gone and there wasn’t much we could do to trace it. When I commiserated with her, she told me I was very nice and asked me if I were the owner.

No, I explained, it was kind of a big place and I just worked there.

Another time, I was blasted by someone from Dorchester (a blue collar area of Boston), who demanded that I “get my ass down to Dorchester with the paint” she’d ordered so that her husband could paint their house during his rapidly dwindling week off.

This was in the days before vulgarity was quite so common, but I did tell her that I, personally, was just taking down the information and would not be getting my ass anywhere.

The woman backed down and was actually quite sweet and reasonable. And, of course, she had a point about the missed delivery date for the paint.

I told her I’d see what I could do, which wasn’t much other than put the pink copy of the complaint in the rotary file. I can’t recall where the multitude of other colored copies went. I seem to recall tossing them in the wastebasket but, despite the fact that we received no training, this doesn’t strike me as quite right.

When we weren’t taking incoming calls and/or when we reached the magic hour of 5 p.m., when inbound customer service was turned off, we followed up on orders that were not clear. (In those unimaginably by-gone days, when we were not in such a great rush to get work boots, Lincoln Logs, cross-cut saws, house dresses, and hand-held mixers absolutely, positively, overnight, people actually placed catalog orders via the mail. How very quaint!)

If there was something unclear on the order form, it was our job to call and ask for clarification.

I remembered an attempt to call some old Down East geezer in Maine, who had written in that he needed a “puny” for his “furcane.” I was canny enough to realize that he was probably looking for some thingamajig for his “furnace,” not his “furcane”, but I wasn’t able to interpret “puny”. Nor was I ever able to reach him. I wonder if he ever got his “puny”.

One of my favorite calls was to a French speaking family up in Quebec.

Since my French was limited to the “ou est la bibliotheque?” variety I’d learned in high school, I was not able to get across to Mme. Gary Doyon that we needed to know what name to put on the personalized ballerina pillowcase she’d ordered.

When I explained to my boss that I wasn’t able to get an answer, he grabbed the form and wrote “Gary” where the name went.

I told him I was pretty certain that the recipient of the ballerina pillowcase did not have the first name of “Gary”, but I was overruled.

Somewhere up in Canada, a disappointed little girl found a pillowcase with “Gary” on it under the Christmas tree. What a Joyeux Noel that must have been, eh, ma petite?

Customer complaint taker! What a miserable job!

When I wasn’t laughing myself silly, I hated every moment there – mostly because I didn’t feel that I ever helped one single Sears customer derive any customer satisfaction whatsoever from any encounter with Sears that involved me.

Every time I feel like raging at a CSR, or slamming the phone down on them, I think back to my time, gamely manning the phones for Sears, calling Quebec on a cold, December night, trying to ask Madame Gary Doyon what name she wanted on the ballerina pillowcase.

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