Can CX save us from a bleak future?

Dystopian visions send Nick Bush a warning about the future of customer experience

I misread a message from a colleague yesterday telling me that Gordon Tredgold’s article on 15 things teams hate about you was on LinkedIn. I clearly hadn’t woken up as I thought the article was 15 things you hate about LinkedIn. To which my initial reaction was “only 15?” – harsh maybe but I then realised I had a beef with most of the social media I use. (OK, I know LinkedIn doesn’t really class itself as a social media app but you get my drift.)

But that doesn’t stop me from spending considerable chunks of my day on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram (I went cold turkey on Twitter a while back and feel much better as a result)…

And then I read an excellent, if slightly depressing post from Chris Skinner entitled “We are the robots” which asked the question “Is technology making us slaves” and in which he gives an account of a ride from an airport in a driverless car to an automated check-in his hotel. No human contact at all.

Welcome to the future… a bit like science fiction but without the jetpacks and flying cars.

Now that’s what I call dystopia

Back at home I’m being entertained, if that’s the word, by a great TV drama series, “Years and Years”, a family drama set against the backdrop of social, political and technological turmoil in an imagined future UK. It contains some brilliant writing and some great actors but what strikes me most is that its speculative future is entirely believable, being based on issues that concern us today: migration, climate change, populism and the unstoppable rise of technology.

With The Handmaid’s Tale getting into its third season and Black Mirror tempting as a Netflix binge, dystopian drama is back on my agenda.

But are these dire warnings couched as entertainment making a difference?

My use of technology – Twitter aside – has not reduced a bit since I can get the following benefits from that little device in the palm of my hand:

  • News from various sources.
  • Music and live radio.
  • Connections with friends and family via Facebook and WhatsApp.
  • Emails whilst on the move.
  • Work connections via LinkedIn.
  • Optimal navigation of the roads and transport networks
  • Instagram (I still haven’t worked that one out fully as a trip to my page will show).

…and being a Brit, the weather app is a constant source of info – and a source of disappointment as another British summer fails to appear.

As a piece in the Economist reports, over 50% of the world is now online so my experience – my addiction you might say – is by no means unique. But I worry that with the many advantages of technological connectedness come the disadvantages of social isolation and a lack of human connectedness.

Customer experience to the rescue?

The drive to automate customer experience continues with a recent Gartner survey showing the over half of respondents expected AI to have the biggest impact on CX with chatbots and virtual assistants coming second. I’ve no doubt that automation can improve and streamline customer experience but increasingly I wonder what the cost will be, particularly where the needs of vulnerable customers are concerned. Increasing automation still requires the customer to do most of the work and if there are elements in process that the customer doesn’t understand or if something breaks the streamlined flow, bots are unlikely to help.

I’d like to see CX maintain a focus on human-centred interactions which may mean kicking against the trend for mass automation and focusing instead on the emotional capital that customers invest in your organisation. Customer journeys that pay attention to this and voice of the customer programmes that go deep enough to understand it will make sure that even if our phones become more and more integrated with our daily lives (a character in Years and Years has her tech integrated with her body) we won’t lose what makes us human, and ultimately what makes life worth living.

This post was originally published on The Next Ten Years

Is poor service letting down your social media strategy?

According to a recent survey it is – but fixing it requires commitment across the whole organisation

Whatever you may think about Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, their ethics or market capitalisation, social media companies are not about to disappear as a channel through which brands can connect with the current or future customers. But success in social media – as in real, bottom line business benefits – depends on a much more coordinated approach than is currently evidenced.

According to a recent report by social media management company Sprout Social, 50% of consumers follow brands to learn about new products and services and 48% to be entertained – a good basis then to promote your products in a fun and entertaining fashion. But wait – 56% of consumers say they unfollow brands because of poor customer service.

If you’re a social media marketeer that’s a bummer because it happens somewhere else in the company. There you are creating campaigns that are fun, funky and geared towards your lovely Facebook audience (the most popular channel – 89% of marketers use it) and you’re getting some great engagement metrics but someone in customer service is screwing this up!

What can you do?

I’d hazard a guess – actually it’s more than a guess as this is what I’ve observed in companies over the years – that the problem is that despite the great advantage of all kinds of social media to create connections with consumers, connections across businesses still seem much harder to achieve.

Let the train make the strain

To illustrate, let me go back to a piece I wrote last year about UK train operating company GWR. Its main point was that despite the very poor service customers were getting, following the introduction of new rolling stock, there was no acknowledgement on any of their social media. From what I can tell – my wife is a regular GWR traveller for work – the service has not massively improved and the social medial feedback situation is unchanged.

Only connect

The GWR situation shows how disconnected companies can be: product development designs a great new train, it gets delivered, doesn’t work properly and has seats that almost all customers find incredibly uncomfortable – a sure-fire recipe for poor customer service.

In this situation, social media marketing is an attempt to put sticking plaster over some gaping wounds in the company’s processes and however much engagement there is, none of it will change the design of the trains in the short term.

A histogram showing which teams social marketers wish they could influence more
Image: Sprout Social
A histogram showing which teams social marketers consult and share data with
Image: Sprout Social

The Sprout Social report – which covers a lot more than I have referred to here and is well worth a read – contains some more revealing statistics. Asked which team social marketers could influence more, 59% chose sales. Sales was also the one that most social marketers shared data and goals with – so I’m not sure how effective that is if it’s not influencing sales – but where is service?

It’s clear from the factors influencing unfollowing that linking social and customer service is key, yet the driving factor is sales, sales, sales. Don’t get me wrong – it works: I am now the proud wearer of a pair of blue brogues following a well-placed ad on Facebook (I may also be having a late mid-life crisis – don’t judge) and a company needs to sell, obviously. But if your social media doesn’t listen to and respond to customers’ feedback on service or understand why you are being unfollowed then it’s not adding as much value as it could be.

What’s needed is a joined-up approach that links social, sales and service under a coordinated brand strategy. The evidence suggests that this is an opportunity most companies have yet to seize.

When customers ‘gang up’ – how to handle it

The role of social media as a machine for allowing groups of people to be in a state of perpetual outrage is a trend which shows no signs of abating. Love it or loathe it, what should you do about it? Is responding to organised online campaigning a reasonable reaction to the Voice of the Customer or are you just caving into cyber-bullying?

The recent withdrawal by stationery and greetings card chain Paperchase from a Christmas wrapping paper promotion with the Daily Mail raises just these questions.

Paperchase said it was responding to feedback from hundreds of its customers who complained about their promotion or endorsement of the newspaper, owing to its coverage of the LGBT community and other minority groups. This was orchestrated by the Stop Funding Hate campaign which aims to persuade advertisers to shun papers that carry articles ‘demonising foreigners and minorities’.

There’s a debate to be had about the legitimacy of this approach. On the one hand it could be argued that much of the material produced by the Mail and other publications of a similar persuasion does help to foster a climate of ignorance and prejudice. On the other, there’s an argument about freedom of speech and where lines need to be drawn between different viewpoints and those that are classified as ‘hate speech’ – a meaningless and pejorative term that, in my opinion, muddies the waters even further.

However, if you’re in the business of getting customers to buy your products, organised online campaigning is something you should be concerned about, irrespective of whether it’s wrong or right. And getting it right means a customer-centric approach that requires two simultaneous balancing acts.

Voice of the Customer vs Voice of Reason

First up, you need to determine whether the campaign is significant or not. According to an article in Drum, 14% of the company’s customers are likely to read the Daily Mail they are more likely to read broadsheet newspapers than the public average (27% against 15%, source YouGov). According to Amelia Brophy, head of data products at YouGov, “it’s unlikely that Paperchase’s customers would have left the brand in any case as our brand tracking data indicates that it is a company with solid consumer perception.”

If that’s the case, you could accuse Paperchase of over-reacting to the Voice of the Customer rather than taking a cool look at the data.

But that neglects a more amorphous but equally important consideration…

What we believe vs what we do

Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of this particular issue, it’s given Paperchase an opportunity to state something about its principles. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall when the company took the decision to cancel its promotion: debates on what a company stands for are not that frequent, usually because those values and beliefs are woven into the fabric of everything it does, so they have a depth that discussions on, say, sales figures don’t.

In this case, Paperchase concluded that, effectively, they didn’t want to be associated with the values promulgated by the Daily Mail and I applaud them for taking a stand on this and making their views clear – even though commercially it could be wrong-headed.

There isn’t an absolute right or wrong in these situations, although the opinionated keyboard warriors at all points on the political spectrum would have you believe otherwise. Ultimately it’s a test of what you as a business stand for, and if enough of your customers salute you for it and continue to do business with you, it’s the ‘right’ one.

When customers ‘gang up’ are you ready?

The role of social media as a machine for allowing groups of people to be in a state of perpetual outrage is a trend which shows no signs of abating. Love it or loathe it, what should you do about it? Is responding to organised online campaigning a reasonable reaction to the Voice of the Customer or are you just caving into cyber-bullying?

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Did Dove behave like bad boys? Don’t forget: customers drive your reputation!

Do you remember how Dove not only shot themselves in the foot but then carried on and removed a couple of toes for good measure?

To many it was always going to be a controversial Facebook ad. A soap brand showing a black woman ‘changing’ to a white, then Asian one as she removes her t-shirt appears to be the result of a thoroughly misinformed piece of decision-making.

Dove’s subsequent ‘apology’, claiming that they had ‘missed the mark’ struck many as less then wholehearted. This apparently compounded the initial error, created more column inches and debate across social media than any non-controversial advertisement could ever hope to achieve.

Misinformed mistake or deliberate strategy?

However, as commentator Richard J Hillgrove suggests in Drum, this could just be part of a cynical strategy by Unilever to propel their brand to the forefront of people’s attention.

If you go back to a comment made by Jennifer Bremner, director of marketing for Dove back in March 2016 who said at the time “We want to rally one of the most digitally savvy and socially conscious audiences to join the conversation.” She went on: “Body shaming has sadly become a normal part of today’s online interactions, but sometimes we do not realize the role we are playing in that conversation.”

Perhaps there is a bit more to this than first appears.

Unilever who owns the Dove brand does not seem to have suffered either with their share price rising 5% over the time the furore was going on. The market does not seem to be judging this too harshly when you compare to other viral interventions such as the ill-fated “United breaks Guitars” which wiped 185 million USD off the company’s value in a matter of days. Other airlines such as Delta have stumbled similarly when “doing wrong” for the customer has got into the public eye.

Back to Dove: think about it. How often do you discuss skincare brands in the course of a normal week? Exactly, so all publicity is good publicity, yes?

There are two ways to look at this

One perspective suggests that ‘bad boys’ are running the show and, whilst we might not like what they do, we go back and buy their products because, at the end of the day, they’re cheaper and/or better than other products. (And we’ve forgotten those products anyway because they weren’t in the news).

There’s definitely mileage in an edgy brand that has an element of ‘rebel’ about it – in the brewing industry, Brewdog has been successfully occupying this territory for a number of years (having some reasonable beers in their portfolio helps). Whether Dove thought a touch of rebel was worth pissing off thousands of women and men of colour for is a question worth asking though.

It’s not just Dove that falls into this category, Ryanair has been occupying the territory with a ‘man-you-love-to-hate’ (Michael O’Leary) in the driving seat. Like Dove, Ryanair can shoot itself in the foot – in this case by screwing up pilot rosters – but still stands a chance of posting great results because, if sufficient customers want to endure the many indignities and inconveniences of low-cost flying, then they will continue to do so.

The difference between Dove and Ryanair though is that it’s unlikely that Ryanair made some cynical calculation about the amount of publicity that would ensue from a mistake on pilot rostering.

The second, more constructive, approach to reputation is to place the customer at the centre of all decision-making. It’s hard to imagine that the customer was front of mind in whatever process led to the Facebook ad at Dove. In a genuinely customer-driven company, all relevant customer segments should be ‘present’ when key decisions are made, either by including actual customers or a sufficiently diverse panel of staff who can act as the voice.

In this environment, cynical decisions don’t get made, since the anticipated feelings of customers drive the process. And with social media acting as instant judge, jury and executioner of reputation, it’s worth paying a bit more attention to how any decision will play out in the court of public opinion.

Business lessons from the Edinburgh Fringe: 1) Marketing

Horse playing the accordion - and why not?I went on holiday to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with the expectation that  my take-aways would be mainly fish suppers (the jokes don’t get any better believe me) but there were a few business-related things that struck me about it that I thought I would share. The whole thing was a fun break – and this trilogy of blogs is intended in much the same spirit.

I’ll cover comedy, circus skills and, inevitably, interpretive dance soon but to get started…

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Waitrose hashtag fail: too clever by half?

My social media credibility – recently boosted by having a tweet ‘favorited’ by a jazz pianist admired by my 16 year old – has taken a bit of a dive as I was unaware of Waitrose’s recent Twitter campaign – #WaitroseReasons – asking people to complete the sentence “I shop at Waitrose because….”. Initial reaction in the press and on Twitter suggested that this was serious hashtag fail. I personally think it’s a brilliant piece of marketing.

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