My blog is about exchanging ideas and best practices on all things marketing and communications related. I'm interested in your thoughts, feedback, additions, arguments and point of view.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Thank you for calling...

As a marketer, one of the daily to do’s on the priority list is listening for customer reactions to our company, products and marketing initiatives. And we're spoiled with the choice of tools that do it – sales results, research, website profiles, meetings with sales reps, etc. However one way and some would say the best way to hear feedback in all its unfettered pointedness is listening to the customer service team and regularly listening in on inbound customer calls. You hear it all - frustrations, product complaints, disappointing in store experiences – it's where virtually all pain points come to life (I’ll save the positive ones for another article). Welcome to the world of the 1-800 customer service number.

It can’t be all good news.
Collecting and acting on feedback in a timely way is critical if an organization is perceived as one that truly listens. I’m reminded of a meeting I had at Microsoft that helped me understand the importance of always listening for bad news. It was a monthly product unit meeting with senior Microsoft business unit managers (BUMs for short). The goal – deliver a comprehensive update after which the go/no go forward decisions would be made. At this particular one there were no major issues to report - no significant bug fixes, the content deals were signed on time and manufacturing and packaging dates were on target.

To the BUMs, it sounded a little too rosy. Even though we were doing our best to make appropriate decisions and keep the product launch on track, to their trained ears it was all… too good. Once we finished our presentation one BUM piped up, “I’m glad your team is hitting all the launch milestones, but what I’m most interested in are the problems that I haven’t heard about - give me the bad news, not just the good.”

Over the years I’ve taken this insight to always listen for bad news and to troubleshoot problems regardless of what type of marketing program I’m doing – before they have a chance to fester and grow into major issues.

The Customer Service team – your eyes and ears
The insight helped me always be aware of the importance of a well briefed and prepared customer service team. After all these company ambassadors are your front line eyes and ears and truly do have their pulse on what's happening at any given moment. How they interact with customers is a reflection on the entire organization, so the more prepared they are, the better chance we have to create a positive customer interaction.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned (some gladly, some painfully) over the years:

1. Consider the Customer Service Team (CST) a key stakeholder with any project you take to market – they’ll anticipate issues you hadn’t thought of and highlight lessons learned from the past.

2. Keep the team updated on changes
to launch timing – they may be staffing up based on your program and need to adjust levels accordingly.

3. Always give the CST the ‘macro’ view
of the project and not just the components relating to them – it’s amazing how motivated people become when they understand the bigger picture and relate how their work contributes to the overall success of an initiative.

4.Act upon customer feedback as quickly as possible – don’t delay when responding to an irate customer. And circulate the resolution to all teams as history can repeat itself pretty quickly.

5. Give the CST a copy of every marketing piece
– even something as innocuous as a letter sent to a few hundred customers - having it handy to review helps reps prepare and be responsive

6. Use customer feedback to build “Frequently asked Questions” or “Rude Q&As” which can also be used on your website – especially if a flaw has been uncovered in the program and there is a need to blanket message

7. If you’re running a contest, make sure the team is familiar with the rules and regulations
– the less they have to put a customer on hold to clarify a point reduces your overall cost per call

8.Spend at least one hour a month (more if you’re launching a new product) listening in on calls – I guarantee you’ll be amazed what you hear. In one example we moved the location of an 800 number in a direct mail piece for the next wave of activity because customers had difficulty finding it on the layout.

Spending time with your Customer Service Team and listening in on customer calls helps ensure the feedback loop to your programs is complete. And you’ll begin to feel very connected to how your program is impacting your customers and the market. For any marketer, that feeling is very cool.

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