by Nancy Dobrozdravic on August 7th, 2011
Most major corporations have developed customer engagement strategies that reach across a number of channels, from the contact center to social media. The market leaders often distinguish themselves by how they use each mode to differentiate themselves.
Take Southwest Airlines. Recently, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) released its 2011 rankings for a number of industries, and among major airlines Southwest was in the top spot by 17 points over its nearest competitor. As a low-cost carrier, Southwest’s lack of seating assignments and meal service might be deal breakers for many travelers, especially businesspeople. However, Southwest has built its reputation on the strength of its flight attendants and service staff, who not only seem to like what they do but also go the extra mile to create a great in-flight experience.
As the report notes, Southwest also seems to have developed a knack for understanding what their customers care about and will pay more for without affecting overall satisfaction. While other airlines made the move to charge for bags, for instance, Southwest made its “bags fly free” policy a centerpiece of its marketing campaign.
Interestingly, the report made no mention of Southwest’s embrace of social media and its multichannel approach in the contact center to drive loyalty and understand what customers want. Now, we’ve talked a lot about the contact center as the natural nexus of marketing, communications, customer service, and sales, and Southwest is the embodiment of how an integrated approach can pay off. By providing so many different options for customer interaction, Southwest not only speeds the resolution of issues but also ensures that it stays aware of customer feedback.
Its customer contact strategy features a multichannel approach to address how Consumer 2.0 wants to engage with companies. Customers can book tickets online or through a service agent and sign up for updates and notifications through e-mail, mobile, and text. The trick, however, is ensuring that all of these channels offer a consistent customer experience and provide easy access to information in the event of delays or cancellations.
To provide multiple consumer touchpoints, Southwest also maintains a robust presence on Facebook and Twitter. Southwest’s Facebook page, which has more than 1.6 million fans, is used to promote special deals and offer information. In addition, the company makes good use of self-service tools on its website and also maintains a blog that offers a variety of internal perspectives.
Companies that aspire to deliver outstanding customer service in this new consumer landscape can take away several lessons from Southwest.
1) Use different channels to achieve different strategic goals. Although Southwest states that it won’t address specific customer issues on Facebook, fans can still post questions and comments. The airline uses its Twitter account to monitor customer feedback and dispense pointers. While not every company has the resources to be active in all media channels, selecting the right channels to support strategy can still create an impact.
2) Recognize the value of customer contact in building loyalty. Because Southwest’s employees—from flight attendants to contact agents—are united by their commitment to customer experience, customers keep coming back even when fare prices jump. Once companies are able to forge this kind of emotional bond with their customer base, they can begin to redefine the company-customer relationship.
3) Understand what your customers value. The ASCI survey notes that when Southwest decided to begin charging for early check-in, customers weren’t bothered by having to pay for this perk. By engaging customers in a variety of ways and monitoring their feedback and trends, companies can identify new opportunities to market products and services and extract more value from existing ones.
4) Integrate emerging consumer technologies. As smartphones have become more popular, Southwest and other airlines have developed mobile apps to allow travelers to check in, monitor flight status, and change reservations. Such technologies serve to strengthen the bonds between the company and consumer, so executives should stay up to date on new trends and determine the right time to invest.
All of these efforts can complement the contact center, but to get the most value they must be integrated so that agents have transparency into the conversations taking place in different channels.
Let me know what approaches have worked for your company. I look forward to continuing this dialogue in future posts.
by Tim Dreyer on April 8th, 2009
Since social media’s birth, public relations and marketing professionals have been using it to gauge and help shape public perception of their companies. These days that’s just not enough. Consumers are crying out for companies to use social media for much more. In fact, according to a study conducted by Cone, a strategy and communications agency, 43 percent of consumers think that companies should use social media to solve their problems, while another 41 percent say that companies should embrace social media as a way to solicit feedback on products and services.
Whether you like it or not, social media is helping to shape a new paradigm for the contact center. It’s about even more real-time, anytime, anywhere customer service than we’ve seen evolving over the past few years. Sure. This paradigm includes more traditional methods of communications, like phone and email. But, it also incorporates social monitoring and media – reactively and proactively responding to blogs and tweets.
Customer service organizations that haven’t begun planning or implementing their social media strategies should definitely get started. There are companies out there that have already allocated people to the social media cause, and are seeing it pay off. I recently read a blog about a consumer who tweeted a Dell contact regarding an ongoing computer problem. The Dell contact immediately responded to the consumer’s request, resolved the customer’s problem and probably earned his continued loyalty through social media.
Some companies are extremely proactive, using social media to “take the bull by the horns” so to speak, and turn bad situations around. If a consumer posts or tweets about a negative experience with your company or products, why not use your customer service department to mitigate the damage or change the outcome by reaching out online? Likewise, when a customer posts a negative comment about your competitor, what’s stopping you from swooping in, turning them on to your company as a viable alternative, and changing a bad experience with your competitor into a revenue generating opportunity for your company? Southwest Airlines for instance, has a whole social media team that responds in a personal way when someone posts an online complaint.
Forward-thinking companies like Dell, Southwest Airlines and Comcast provide great case studies for how to use social media to wow customers and improve their experiences. This is just the beginning. Moving forward, many more companies will integrate this function into their customer service organizations.
How is your company incorporating social media into your overall customer experience strategy?