Master Web 2.0 For Service Before Twitter

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Old vintages: Good for wine, bad for websites

What’s your Twitter strategy? What’s your Facebook strategy? As many organizations plan their 2010 service efforts, they’re wondering about how—or whether—to factor social networking sites into their service efforts. And yet, I’m struck by how many currently have poor customer service strategies or outdated online self-service capabilities.

Instead of chasing the latest social networking trend with new service strategies, I first recommend pausing to assess your organization’s current customer service capabilities on two fronts:

  • Business practices: Is your customer service operation truly responsive?
  • User-friendly interfaces: Have you invested in Web 2.0 technologies that save customers’ time?

Comcast’s Customer Experience Sins

When it comes to business practices and user interfaces, here’s an example of what not to do: In the process of moving house, I tried to subscribe to cable service via the website of my local cable provider, Comcast. But I found the website to be completely unhelpful and had to call (at a cost of probably $50 to Comcast) to figure out which of its packages most closely matched what I was willing to pay for.

From a service perspective, I know Comcast pays attention to Twitter, from reading articles such as @comcastcares Dishes on His Top Twitter Applications. In fact, Comcast apparently has 11 people dedicated to massaging its image on Twitter.

But from a customer-centric standpoint, I’m wondering if the Comcast ethos isn’t akin to “let’s try to confuse the customer and make them buy more than they need.” Specifically, I see Comcast committing three customer-focused sins:

  • Product proliferation: Too many products to easily navigate. (Read more about why product/SKU proliferation is bad.)
  • Bundling: Offers 13+ bundles of channels, so if you want to watch the Red Sox, you must also buy the Food Channel; no thank you. (Read more about why bundles are bad.)
  • User interface: Comcast flogs its most expensive bundles on its top-level website pages, but you have to dig down—and navigate pages with different user interfaces—when attempting to compare different packages

So, when I read articles such as @comcastcares Dishes on His Top Twitter Applications, and see that Comcast has 11 people dedicated to massaging its image on Twitter, my reaction is, “Please, Comcast, pay attention to the basics first.” (For more on getting your service priorities right, see The Tweet Must Die.)

Set the Web 2.0 Bar Higher

Which sites really get online self-service right? For this, our high-technology customers excel. High-technology companies were the first to go “Web 1.0″ for support, chat on websites, and “call me back.” They’ve always offered downloads, interaction and an overall rich user experience online; it’s all part of their customer-centric service ethos. (Read our Q&A with Akamai to learn more about how organizations translate this ethos into CRM practice.) Most of the online service innovations you can think of come from this sector.

Now, non-high technology companies have to provide that same level of customer service online. Start by modeling your approach on the high-technology sector. For example, if you’re a health insurer, think about what your self-service portal can do to save time for your members. By my rough estimate, 75 percent of the activities a member will do on their insurer’s site will involve filling out forms. But we could do that online in 1998. Here, then, is the Web 2.0 spin for health insurers:

  • Can health plan members preview documents before downloading them?
  • Is there integrated chat, to provide immediate help with tricky forms?
  • Can members access visually rich analytical tools to study their spending patterns, and determine whether a different health plan would better suit them?
  • Can members track their health savings account spending, and create email or Google Calendar alerts to warn them when they will (or will not) exhaust their balance before it expires every year?

Master the Business Basics Too

Of course, Web 2.0-style interfaces are no Band-Aid on poor customer service practices. Organizations must also ensure that they’re taking a user-centric approach.

Sticking with health insurers, here are two examples of how that looks in practice:

  • Form routing: Today, when a member submits a form online, health plan employees often just receive a request that it be viewed. The customer-centric approach, however, would be to immediately funnel the form to the correct department, and link it to a user-retrievable status update (aka trouble ticket).
  • Constant refinement: Smart insurers also ensure that when their customer service representatives have a member on phone, they’re helping members navigate the site and capturing their feedback, then funneling this feedback directly to the user experience group, to help them create a more user-friendly site.

Savvy Service Sells

Any business can benefit from the above approaches to sell more—whether it’s cable service, laser printers, or medical devices and related consumables or mortgages. Yet, with organizations tightening their belts, I’m seeing much less of a focus on customer satisfaction, and much more on improving efficiency. Of course, that’s business.

But if your self-service portal looks circa-2006, your call center practices aren’t perfect, or your website is filled with incomplete and confusing lists of products and bundles, then you’re going to be seeing less business. And no amount of image management on Twitter will help you.

Learn More

Our white paper on Advanced Portal Capabilities contains numerous insights to help health insurers create more flexible and interactive self-service portals. That advice is pertinent to any organization which has members, rather than customers.

When it comes to mastering the basics of customer service, our white paper on treating the call center as a strategic asset contains insights to help organizations remake their call or contact center into a valuable corporate asset, and stop treating it as a necessary evil.

Finally, for more on getting your service priorities right in a social networking world, see The Tweet Must Die.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adam Honig
Adam is the Co-Founder and CEO of Spiro Technologies. He is a recognized thought-leader in sales process and effectiveness, and has previously co-founded three successful technology companies: Innoveer Solutions, C-Bridge, and Open Environment. He is best known for speaking at various conferences including Dreamforce, for pioneering the 'No Jerks' hiring model, and for flying his drone while traveling the world.

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