Digital humanity

This morning I left my smart phone at home. Realising half way to the station, and in a rush as I had a meeting I *had* to be at, I could not screech back to collect it. I mentally scanned through the things I needed my mobile for… dammit, how was I going to be able to park? Where I park my car (a council carpark) they insist on you paying through an outsourced telephone service: you call, book the car in for a number of hours or days, pay and go – it is all automated and generally a good thing (I think). However, in this instance, I had to accept that I was going to get a parking ticket for today.

Then I thought that perhaps I could call the Council as soon as I got into work and explain what has happened, perhaps pay them directly over the phone for the day, or  pay tomorrow for an extra day to cover today, even though I would not use it. Something like that – anything to avoid the annoyance and high price of a parking ticket. (When it came to it, I didn’t but it did get me thinking.)

I feel I can pretty much get away with the sweeping statement that everyone is needing to hold back on unnecessary expense and save the pennies that they can, certainly avoid additional costs such as fines. You could say that we should therefore be far more vigilant about the tools for doing so – like remembering mobile phones – but when we don’t, wouldn’t it be so much better for the Nation’s collective blood pressure if we could just telephone a human and explain exactly what has happened and find a way to rectify the mistake that perhaps does not incur an automatic fine.

In this financially woeful time, when very few are left unaffected by less money being available, and the resulting stress; what we all begin to value is humanity and community. At the same time businesses, service providers and governments look for ways to save vast swathes of money and naturally test the digital delivery waters, to see if there are any substantial savings to be made.

For the less digitally savvy it is very easy to be swept away with the ease of construction of service delivery tools, ways of (on paper) cutting out expensive staff costs and saving quantities of time. Whilst it is true that savings can be made and that consumers are becoming used to expecting there to be a digital option for pretty much everything – it is a mistake to cut out humanity completely. It is the kind of counter-productive behaviour that makes people very cross and frustrated, normally in times of deep stress or just general state of worry such as we find ourselves in today.

I admit that a parking ticket is not that dramatic, but that is not really the point. The point is that it illustrates a very small example of a problem that, if magnified, quickly becomes a substantial customer relations/satisfaction issue. In the world we find ourselves in at the moment business, service providers and governments cannot afford to have deeply unhappy and frustrated people – ones who genuinely will break if they have to find that extra 3/30/300/3000 quid; emotions are fragile and people depend on the understanding of others in order to resolve problems that work for everyone and break no one.

Digital solutions may well be a great idea for automating some services and making everyone’s lives easier, saving time when staff are suffering under headcount culls and having to do a lot more work during the course of their day, or customers are needing to get access to information quickly and easily, or fill in a form, anything – it is pretty easy to identify those things that can be better processed by a computer than a human. But we should not forget the natural state of worry and concern the majority of people will be feeling whilst money is universally tight – and snatch away the humanity of our respective business, services and governments.

…and so to (put this to) bed…

The UK Gov web guidelines and standards are not up for consultation, as clarified by Podnosh on his blog here: http://www.podnosh.com/blog/2008/06/12/coi-response-on-metadata-and-social-media-consulations/

I now bow out, and am looking to the future, when these things will be consulted fully – hopefully through the citizen empowerment agenda – upon which I base my future happiness.

No pressure, Sheenagh 😉

More soon, I need to go understand this before I say anything!

I have a frontal lobe? Or two?!

Here is a description of what your frontal lobes do:

The frontal lobes are involved in motor function, problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgement, impulse control, and social and sexual behavior. (This was copied from here)

The most important roles of the frontal lobes for me as a communicator are:

  • their ability to exercise judgement
  • initiation
  • problem solving

Many of you have mentioned the fact that you have one (or two :)) – presumably triggered by a throwaway comment on one of my other posts. We do have them, they have taken many millenia to develop and adapt, so we do not need to have our information mashed and nuked in order for our brain to digest it.

What we do need is for the information to be targeted enough and delivered to us in the format we are most comfortable with. (Without any data mining or any of that rubbish).

So, rather than spending time and energy looking at all the hundreds of possibilities for ‘engaging with target audiences’, we should employ experts to deliver those once that has been identified as a valid route. (der)

We need to go back to the drawing board and understand what people need to know and how they would prefer to get that information. This is not new, people have been creating great businesses gleaning customer insight/intelligence – my very favourite company who were always brilliant have now gone out of business… hmmm (they had the best contracts and consistently performed well, the market has moved on). This leads me to the conclusion that the value of social media might be in looking at customer behaviour and finding out where they would prefer to receive information – or how they interact with an organisation – without sticking them in front of a computer and watching them through a two-way mirror whilst they complete a set of tasks, or shoving an annoying pop-up box on a website when it is visited.

I have no idea how you would do this without echoing the voice in the pub I spoke about in my last post – I am not trying to solve that here, I am just suggesting that someone does.

Let me know when you do 🙂

Bye-phone

I know you are all gagging to hear about the latest update on the i-phone saga. I got back from Kenya and received a call from O2 saying that my i-phone is now clearly broken so they need to look at it. I am not about to schlep to anywhere so they promised to send me an SAE for me to send it back.

This was last Wednesday… nothing yet. UPDATE 15/4/8 SAE turned up – phone dispatched

You know what? I really do not want this thing any more. I will send it back – eventually – get my money back and breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Now I need to wrench back my i-Touch from my sister, or get a new one.

Never again.

The new Foreign and Commonwealth website

As you all know, I have been involved in the development of the new Foreign and Commonwealth (FCO) website – www.fco.gov.uk – looking pretty lovely right now.

Many of you have asked me why I have not blogged the ‘launch’, or switch over, from the old to new site… well, because actually my role had little to do with it. Not that I am not proud of what has been achieved, rather it is not right for me to lay any claim to it at all!

I did do last minute frantic CMS work for a week; however, I was hired to ensure that the 220 posts around the world knew what we were doing, understood what they had to do and felt as if they were a part of this big change.

This does not warrant me doing a big HAZZAH!! when the new site goes live

It is not me being myopic, I just do not feel as if it is exactly my place.

However, the e-media team at the FCO have given blood, sweat and tears to make this happen, and they deserve the plaudits.

Go say something nice 🙂 there were many 1am moments in producing this site

Em

This is not a considered post at all – wait for the proper one on validation :)

As a working mother of two girls, one cat, a dog and 26 fish (long story) – I write, but sometimes it might not have as much thought as one who does not have quite so many responsibilities – the fish are a ‘mare, they are tropical.

This is one such occasion. I want to tie up the iphone story, but it does not sit naturally with my ‘brand’ whatever that may end up being. So I will explain what has happened, with no moral, no value to the story, however perhaps you will be better informed the next time someone says: iphone or N95?

Justin Kerr-Stevens very kindly dug out the number of the Director of Communications for O2, Europe. As soon as I had the details I contacted him, and within minutes received a response. I must admit that I emailed from my FCO account… hmm. Anyway, he responded and by the afternoon I had some chap – sorry Alan Chapman – a very good chap – from O2 customer services, dealing with ‘my case’.

He sorted my iphone, well nearly, it should be working tomorrow sometime (27th March 2008). He sorted the fraud, he accepts that I have not tried to defraud O2. It is all so perfect, well kind of, I am still smarting about the fraud and inconvenience to be honest… and then:

‘Emma, I need to speak to you about your iphone’.

Tentative: ‘Uhuh’

‘I know we have sorted your original complaint of the iphone not working’ … well sort of… ‘ and fraud… ‘um yes, if I were to commit fraud I hope I would be sensible enough to do it to SAVE money…’

‘… well I have just looked at your account and you upgraded two months ago’

Me: ‘Yes, I did, it was due and I made a good saving on the tariff’

‘… thing is, you signed up for 18 months’

Me: ‘Yes I did, it was a good deal and I knew iphone would obviously override that as I was buying one at some point v soon’

‘… thing is, the 18 month tariff you signed up for is now defunct (or equivalent word) because you have chosen an iphone tariff’

Me: ‘Er yes because that is all that was on offer, the one on my Sony was better can I have that one?’

‘… there are three options, and you have chosen the middle one… so we now need you to pay us either – and we are being kind here – the full amount of your original contract… some £400 plus OR… we will be lovely and let you only pay £269’

Me: ‘Right… so the cost of the iphone again?’

‘… yes, because only two months ago we gave you a very expensive phone free, and now you have bought your own’…

Me: ‘Might be an idea to introduce this charge at the point of sale? And you can have the Sony back now…’

‘… did they not tell you? Where did you buy the phone?’

Me: ‘An O2 store, and this telephone call from you is the first I have ever heard about a charge of at least £269 to get my number migrated to my iphone’

‘… I shall go and listen to the recordings of your conversation when you upgraded last’…

Hmmm, OK – do I have to spell it out here? No, you can do the maths… equals me introducing head to wall

I want my iphone… what on earth, and more importantly who on earth do these companies think they are dealing with?

I will blog a far more constructive post about this customer behaviour shortly… but for now? Do NOT buy an iphone unless you are loaded – or want to pay for mine – currently a pile of junk on desk.

I HOPE that by posting here and gathering insight, we will be able to have the iphone and not be fleeced! Hurrah 🙂

If you cannot get the basics right…. what hope do we have?

*By ‘you’ I mean any service provider, by ‘we’ I mean the user of those services*

The Easter break has been an exercise in restraint. Not from mass chocolate chowing, rather from posting here every awful minute of the transfer from my perfectly beautiful and working Sony Ericsson to the delicious and hedonistic iphone.

– before you read on, I have no religious affiliation so please do not be offended by my own earthly frustrations –

Believe you me, it has been a painful journey; rather like leaving a comfortable and working marriage to living with a strutting, pony-esque lover. I did not expect it to be easy – but I did not expect Customer Services to be the stumbling point, reducing me to mono-syllabic mutterings, not suitable for the ears of anyone under the age of 18.

However, rather than indulging in a rather tempting moan-fest I am just going to concentrate on communication in this age, and basic customer satisfaction.

We are faced with an overwhelming number of channels to reach intended, or current customers. Every focus group – yes I say this lightly – will tell you that they have simple needs, just address and meet them, and all will be well.

In all avenues of interaction between any business and its customers, there are brief touch-points of direct contact:

  • when the product or service is being interrogated for value
  • when the product or service is being purchased
  • when the product or service goes wrong
  • when the product or service needs clarification/attention

It matters not whether we are talking about something that costs ten quid, or one that costs tens of thousands… or more. These are the four basic points of contact that any business should concentrate on.

Why these four points matter so much more in this age of social media

People/customers talk. I was ‘tweeting’ my pain whilst I was on the telephone to a certain company that shall remain nameless (unless you click the link… sorry I am human). That led to direct contact from someone who works in marketing for this company. It might not have done my need for seamless mobile contact any good, however it has meant that what I went through is documented and may have an impact on the experience of future customers.

I am sure, absolutely sure, that I am not alone in sharing my frustrations immediately online, with no compunction about naming and shaming a company – especially when reduced to staring blankly at a wall, utterly blindsided by the line: it is against company policy.

So, stepping back from my own experience, let’s take the four touchpoints and address them in this age of social communication (I am not going to include the obvious Internet value in research etc, this is just looking at social media comms and how businesses/service providers need to consider this):

When the product or service is being interrogated for value

Social media will play a part in evaluating a service of product. People will research on the Internet, but will look for endorsement of their decisions in the social networks, accepted both on- and off-line.

Online, there is a less biased group of opinion-makers, as in people not influenced by the knowledge that you have saved and set your heart on that pink parasol with wi-fi and teleportation coming as standard.

In the main, businesses have sussed this one and there is enough out there to endorse any product that will probably calm any concerns raised by friends and online advisers. Let’s face it, you really want this product/service, you will over-ride warning shots from mates/online forums – you WILL find the one article from a respected author that refutes all criticism.

So, businesses have this one sorted at very little expense: perhaps a carefully placed piece that addresses commonly held misconceptions or experiences will do the trick at research stage.

When the product or service is being purchased

Point of sale is important – and that is retail 101. Of course you have sales staff who will flog the product and its benefits, calming any remaining nerves with a promise of full refunds etc etc. This is not limited to shop floors, let’s take this pink parasol with built in wifi and teleportation. The customer is buying this online; online reassurance is easy to achieve – the provider knows your concerns as a consumer (extensive customer research will have been built into the cost of producing the parasol). Before I lose any more of you, I could just as easily be talking about your policy on equipping everyone with energy-saving lightbulbs.

I am pretty sure that any business or service provider that loses its customer at this point, does not deserve to be in business.

When the product or service goes wrong

Oh it starts to get a bit iffy here, and we all know it starts to get iffy here. The salesman, whether that be person or website, will have uttered every word that the lawyers have demanded in order to conclude a safe sale. So you can be assured that in the first instance you will be faced with an – I am sorry sir/madam, you did agree that in buying/signing up… etc etc

(Minor human moan here – you don’t expect to be threatened with having just committed fraud – but that is another story)

We all know and recognise the feeling of despair, when you know that you will face an immediate ‘It wasn’t me…’ attitude from your business/service provider, followed by days of arguing and high blood pressure before the situation is resolved.

  1. We weigh up the pros and cons before making the call
  2. We decide to make the call, but are very nice – of course it is not the fault of the poor lass/lad at the other end of the phone
  3. Sometimes it works at this point – often more to do with the humanity of the member of the customer service department than company policy!
  4. If it does not work, then the personal decision to be nice starts to slip and you try to apply reason
  5. Reason is failing, blood pressure is rising, but you knew this would happen – and you possibly have friends or partners who will look in disdain at your herculean effort to address the grievance – making you more determined to win
  6. By now the service provider/business faces an incoherent, normally ranting, customer who quotes everything they have read in the Daily Mail and threatens to sue/have a heart attack
  7. At this point social media steps in
  8. Ranting, furious customer sits on hold on the phone whilst the legal team are taped into the call, and starts to open up all avenues of ventilation: Twitter, Facebook, Pownce… EMAIL!!
  9. Eveyone on the receiving end of your shout for help – especially those who do not know you but perhaps recognise the company or the angst – spring to attention. Someone knows the head of marketing, someone knows a supplier, someone has been here before and talks you through what you have to do or say – within minutes you have an army massing behind you. How long before the managers or head of customer services are aware of this civil uprising?
  10. In this day and age of everyone having to work at least the normal working hours to bring in enough money to live, we tend to deal with these personal frustrations during ‘out of hours’ when most businesses/service providers have skeleton staff, often underpaid and more than often slightly put out that they are working these hours… not a good combination with the frustrated and ranting/incoherent customer. It does not take too many brain cells to understand how any communication between these two bodies will end up in one or t’other losing… badly. Unfortunately, it seems to be the customer who will be cowed by the immortal words: ‘my manager says you need to put your complaint in writing to our Post Office Box, address to follow on the automated service…’

Note to Apple: O2 only allow complaints in writing – snail mail – to a Post Office address… not exactly bleeding edge social technology!

When the product or service needs clarification/attention

Now we have a customer who is frustrated, has possibly gone through the pain of the above three steps and slept for 48 hours (and worked) before re-approaching the customer services department.

In most cases, before they do so they will check in with social media: Am I right to think this? Has enyone else experienced the same? Once again a battle line is being drawn within minutes, and without the knowledge of the business/supplier. Is that baying crowd silenced by a solution from you the business/supplier? Absolutely, these people are just human and are behaving in a human way when faced with validation of their frustration. Once validation is granted, you have a fierce and supported opponent in your customer.

How did you get here?

  • You ignored follow up from point of sale
  • You put poorly paid staff on after-hours work
  • You failed the people that you are trying to serve
  • You looked for the quick win

Trust me… apply this to any supplier/consumer analogy.

Online apology: Karen Dickson from O2 – I was rude and patronising… I am sorry

In the age of social media, you will not win this battle, because you do not realise that for us, your customer, as soon as it goes wrong, it is full on war.

Note to Apple/O2

Our Father who art in Apple

Hallowed be thy brand

Thy Kingdom *might* come – if you are careful with your partners

Thy Will be done – because we know you are brilliant

On O2 as it is in Apple

Give us this day our mobile and other communication opportunities

Forgive us our trespasses into Blackberry or the like

And forgive us our rantings against your chosen delivery partners (O2)

Lead us not into temptation – we REALLY WANT the iphone

But deliver us from the evil of O2 customer care

For thine is the iphone, the power and the glory

For ever and ever

Amen

Moral

Do not even begin to look at how social media can attract more customers before you look at how social media already works with your business or brand. The weak spots that were there before, are now magnified.