Customer Service – the Great, the Bad, and the Ugly

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We recently read Peter Shankman’s raving experience report about Morton’s Steak Houses where essentially the management of the restaurant chain went out of their way to provide a loyal, valuable (and influential on the web) customer with a surprise meal after he jokingly tweeted that he is hungry and would really enjoy a porterhouse steak on the airport. Morton’s made this happen and excited a customer who created a buzz on the web in terms of tweets and re-tweets, an intensely discussed blog post, numerous mentions in other blogs (including this one here).

The consequences of this not so simple action are obvious:

  • An influential and already loyal and happy customer turns (even more) into an advocate. He talks about his amazing experience – and justifiably so
  • A customer originated marketing message is sent that promotes the brand
  • Morton’s brand perception increased even more (I didn’t even know of them before, but then I am a German who lives in New Zealand…)

I really would not be surprised if the incremental revenue that is directly attributable to this smart move of a company that is consequently and consistently active on the social web outweighs its cost by orders of magnitude.

This episode clearly shows the potential for businesses that lies in actively using the social web.

Unluckily it is still an outlier.

Reality looks different.

Let me bring three examples of very different businesses in Germany that could use Morton’s as a guiding light. The businesses are

  • A major railway operator
  • A leading mobile carrier
  • An online bank

Three very different businesses – yet they share a lot! E.g. their lacking focus on their customers, although expressed differently.

As this tends to become a little longer I’ll make a mini-series of two posts out of this.

Let me elaborate on the first one.

I used the railway to get from one place to another. Actually I used them a couple of times during that trip, with mostly a good experience (apart from grimy train stations, but lets not be picky – the weather was good).

Being a “typical” German (yeah, I love driving fast on the Autobahn) I was sort of suspicious, but I liked the experience…. till everything ground to a stop. Fire in a control center ahead. Thunderstorm. Well, that happens.

But how about our connections? No info in the train. The company’s iPhone app told me that my connecting train has enough delay to not be worried … but no info in the train …

Arriving at the station where I needed to change train the information on the delay was different from the delay advertised on the web, luckily less than the app told me at the same time.

What?

Needless to say that the actual delay, when announced via the speaker system, was different again (albeit closer to the info from the web).

Just that it wasn’t true.

The actual arrival of the train I wanted to board was about 10 minutes after advertised. Looks like the officials think that we cannot take the truth.

Now, what does this all tell us?

The good news is that we seem to see a company that devises some way to inform their customers, even via a Twitter account @DB_Info. They are, frankly, better than their reputation although they could do with more competition.

We, however, look at a company that is not there yet, that seems to work with disparate systems. Some aspects express this:

  • Information that gets published in their branded iPhone app seems to be different from the information that is available to their platform information systems
  • The personnel in the trains seem to be largely left out of the loop, which puts them into an awkward situation. Or worse, the train personnel does not have a work order that includes keeping the passengers informed about what they care most: Their connections and how they get to their final destination

One can also get the impression that information about actual delays is provided only in a piece-meal manner, instead of providing a real account, when being on the platform

My recommendations?

Well, at large there are three:

  1. Integration is key. It is good that customers can get good information if they have a smart phone. It would be better, if the own personnel and the platform information systems had the same. There is no reason or excuse for distributing different versions of the truth
  2. Be transparent. Don’t provide piecemeal information about delays. Delays happen – for reasons inside and outside the realm of best possible efforts. Passengers will be upset – but they will be more so if they feel cheated. So, be transparent. Treat them like you would like to be treated yourself.
  3. There are a number of real time information channels. Use them, aggregate them, and make sure that information at least as good is available for the own personnel

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