Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The insensitivity of process versus sanity - Shame on you Churchill and T-Mobile!

I want everyone to read this and feel as appalled as I was by the insensitivity of two major global brands, namely Churchill Insurance (owned by RBS Group) and T-Mobile.

The story is partly personal as it involves an ex-work colleague of my Wife who tragically lost his whole family in a road-traffic accident days before Christmas while they were en-route to deliver Christmas presents. The deaths affected the whole community where they lived and worked and though I did not know them personally I swear I hugged my own children a little tighter the night I heard of the tragedy.

Anyway, it seems such empathy and humanity does not exist at either Churchill OR T-Mobile, well, not initially anyway, as they forced poor Ian Owen to go through a nightmare of insensitive, customer-unfriendly process in an attempt to recover THEIR losses in respect of his late wife's car insurance policy premiums AND mobile phone contract.

The insensitivity was compounded by T-Mobile 'suggesting' that he could "transfer the mobile phone contract to that of a younger family member". Now STOP! Just for a moment and pause..... 

Imagine being asked that question by someone in a call centre and having to explain with some kind of dignity that that isn't an option because their is no longer a younger family member to transfer the contract to!

See the full article here: http://bit.ly/ddafxP

Anyway, since then, and only through the intervention of the national press, have both firms seen sense and offered Ian their apologies and promised a 'full investigation of the case'. I don't think its cynical at all to suggest that this is too little too late and frankly just not good enough. It is also not the first time (this year in particular) I have heard similar stories relating to the insensitivity of insurance companies and other service providers when handling the 'Death' process - the only people who seem genuinely good at this are, alas, Funeral directors.

But what could they have done better apart from the basics of handling a customer with respect, understanding and showing empathy at an extremely disturbing and traumatic time? I think we will all agree that even the small amount of effort required to do that would have probably been welcomed but what more could have been done? 

Could a better understanding of the customer have helped? A more complete view of the customer and their information? Undoubtedly! 

Could their internal processes have provided better guidance to the agent in terms of how to handle this situation? Yes! BUT there should also be significant enough scope in the design of the customer-facing process to allow the agent to 'step-outside' of the scripted environment AND apply appropriate levels of language, common-sense, and empathy in keeping with the situation they are dealing with rather than 'cross-selling' an alternative solution outcome that benefits the business - which is, in essence, what they were doing by suggesting he transfer the tariff.

Could the ability to manage a 'social' profile of the customer with aggregated information from additional sources (Facebook, Bebo, News Feeds) have helped? I think this capability may have provided useful insight in terms of how to handle this situation. I understand the need for an Insurance company to see a death certificate BUT I think information from other sources aggregated to the customer's file that would have allowed them to assume he was telling the truth and treat him with a degree of sensitivity rather than having to prove (twice) that his family had been killed.

It comes as no real shock to me that at the core of these businesses there is seemingly still the attitude that the customer represents no more than an Account Number. This is despite their 'customer-friendly' images - take Churchill's nodding dog as an example. Nearly 20 full years have elapsed since the inception of CRM and still the major brands are getting it very badly wrong and yet today we speak about Social CRM (something of which I am an advocate). The fact though remains that unless firms truly get the basic CRM bit right everything else they do will be built on pillars of sand.

So Churchill, question for you, "Are you a shower of incompetent, unfeeling wankers?"

"Oh Yes!"

Thursday, 4 March 2010

What does Social Media and Marshall have in common?

One word - Amplification!

Let me explain.

I have been working with CRM for some 15 years now. During that time I have helped major clients implement what were, and in some cases still are, state-of-the-art customer management platforms. I have also seen CRM fail, and fail spectacularly for a whole host of reasons, too many to go into here. If I were to draw some kind of conclusion I would say that people still remain the key component to the success of any CRM-related initiative and in particular the cultural alignment and desire of the business in question to be truly customer-focused. Anyway, that discussion and debate is for another day along with topics which still rage; like Single Customer View and Multi-Channel. In particular, the multi-channel story is one that continues to prevail as customers find more and more ways to connect and demand information from their service providers.

It is with this thought that I ponder the impact of Social Media and the evolution towards what is being described as Social CRM. I use the word evolution in this context because I believe that Social CRM is not an isolated or silo-oriented thing, it is a natural evolution from something that was, and still is, but is leaner, smarter and better equipped to survive in a rapidly evolving customer-driven ecosystem.

If we look at the impact of social media first it is very clear that it has driven a sea-change in the way that people communicate and the way that information is shared. As a pure media platform it has made 'shooting' stars ('shooting' as such fame often shares the same trajectory and fleeting wonder of a shooting star) of very ordinary people doing, at times, extra-ordinary things.

There are not many people in the western world who didn't hear about Susan Boyle - within 48 hours of appearing on a British talent show to some 8 Million TV viewers she was transformed into a global phenomenon with over 100 Million views of her performance on YouTube. Amplification.

Twitter as a media platform is a further example of how information sharing has been amplified through social media. Forget about all  the horrible Z-list celebrities there for a second, Twitter is a bloggers paradise. Twitter has allowed like-minded bloggers to share their thought-leadership, form communities and drive important debate and discussion and have such content amplified through the wonder of the 'Re-Tweet'. Not a bad way to build a bit of personal brand-awareness.

In all of the social media hype though I often wrestle with the following pseudo-philosophical questions:

"Has Social Media resulted in an overall increase in creativity?"
"Are there now more genuinely creative people in the world or have they always been there but without the means to be discovered?"

Now, just for a moment or two, consider the implication of those questions. I am asking specifically has more creativity happened because of social media or merely the discovery of creativity that already existed. Does social media, in itself, represent a platform for innovation and creativity, or is it merely a platform for amplification? Answers on a postcard (or comments) please ;-))

And so to CRM and Social CRM. How can businesses begin to cope with the Social CRM challenge thrust upon them by these new 'social' channels.

If we accept, and this may be difficult for some business models to accept, (e.g. I now work exclusively in Financial Services) that the customer is in control then the amplification of customer experiences and peer to peer exchange of information is both powerful and dangerous. Managed well it can enhance positive sentiment towards a Brand, managed poorly the negative connotations can destroy a reputation.

Both myself and my good friend Laurence Buchanan recently experienced completely separate "success" stories by using social channels to provoke a satisfactory response after giving up on the companies traditional communication channels. You can read the blogs here - Jamie's BlogLaurence's Blog

Though the outcomes may have resulted in eventual satisfaction (though eventual being a key word in my case) what it did highlight was the isolation of these channels in terms of pure Customer Experience Management. Whilst we eventually received either the answers or the service we were looking for from the respective companies the actual resolutions came from the fact that our messages became amplified through the Social channels before someone stepped in to resolve, more as a damage limitation exercise I suspect than evidence of a truly customer-centric organisation. Certainly neither could be upheld as examples of Social CRM.

Two recent posts (or RTs) on the #scrm channel on Twitter caught my eye today as both seemed to underline a very key point. The first is by Natalie Petouhoff (or @drnatalie on Twitter) http://bit.ly/cOdRMg - title The Social Customer Economy. The second is by Prem Kumar Aparanji (or @prem_K on Twitter) http://bit.ly/b9bJOm - title Dumbing down Social CRM. To me, Social CRM represents an extension of CRM. It cannot work in isolation, it needs to be part of an overall multi-channel, cross-channel, CRM strategy where a customer communication can begin in one channel and seamlessly transfer to another at the convenience of the customer. 'Integration' of social channels is therefore the key to success than merely the channel alone.

As a footnote to the post I want to say that having heard various definitions of what SCRM entails over the last few months we need to ensure that, as a community, a consistent message evolves that is understood by all and not fall prey to the misconception that a 'social' tag on the front of CRM represents an isolated, channel specific, customer-management strategy.