Customer ExperienceOn a recent day I was helping my 86 year old father with his email.  I had to stop by the house because any attempt to try to resolve the problem over the phone is almost impossible.  Some day I may do a comedy post about how some of those conversations have gone, but today’s post is serious.

As I had been thinking over the past several days, there are a number of things that a brand new, or even a long term CEO, should do to understand how their customers and prospective customers view their company.  Most of these are very basic steps, but it is these very basic steps that so many companies don’t seem to get right, or even outright neglect.

This comes to top-of-mind for me as I sit on hold waiting for someone at Yahoo! Customer Service to answer my call.  While this post is not specifically about Yahoo!, it does highlight some of the issues that many companies have.  And as an organization that has been working to rebuild its reputation and business model, some of the ABCs of keeping existing customers happy will be part of the key to its success.

If you go to the Yahoo! Customer Care Facebook page, you will find weekly posts by the company, and then lots of angry comments by users of Yahoo! services, mostly email.  Yahoo!’s voice is not found in these conversations, leaving their customers frustrated and disappointed.  This is a tough way to build back a brand.

As someone who works in social media and looked at how companies need to be managing their ‘customer’s journey’, there is so much more that can be done.

Here are 10 things for every new CEO to do, but you should do them first before your CEO calls you into his office.

1) Call the company’s 800 number, or main line – Do this a few times and ask for different departments, such as Sales, customer service and maybe even ask if you can get transferred to the CEO.  See what the experience would be like if you were a customer.  Can you find a human?  Do people have greetings on their voicemail? How would you view your company?

2) Send an email – To the address found on the company’s corporate website asking for more information on a product or service.  Check for how quickly you are responded to, if the level of information you’ve received is appropriate and is there a follow up.  Can you respond back to the email, or is it a one-way send to you with a ‘do not reply’ address?  Have you been added to the CRM system?  Is there a personal follow up or are you just added to the email marketing system, and hence, the top of the impersonal funnel?

3) Check your online chat – Many websites will have the option to connect with someone directly (via chat) for either the purpose of sales or customer service.  This is another channel into your company that can either increase the customers perception of your brand, or decrease it.  Have a chat with your company, ask a few questions and see what you get back.  How was your experience?  Would you be happy as a customer?  I was in a queue for over an hour the other day, starting at customer #420.

4) Call Customer Service – Dial the number for customer service and see how many prompts it takes to get through.  Hit the wrong one on purpose to see if you get to transferred later to the correct location.  What was the experience?  Was the person able to handle your issues or transfer you to the right location.  How many times did your call get dropped.  I was dropped 3 times recently in a customer service experience.  Sometimes they had my call notes from the prior call when I called back, and other times they didn’t.  I had another call where we couldn’t hear each other for a couple of minutes and then we magically reconnected.

5) Look for your answer – For the sake of your customer, and your company, provide the information online that most of your customers need.  You should be able to very easily find answers to common question online via any of the popular search engines.  Many of your customers would prefer that they didn’t have to call your customer services, but when you don’t provide them with the resources that they need, they are left few options.

6) Review your website – I look at a lot of corporate websites and I am still stunned by the number of them that are poorly designed, have confusing navigation, or just don’t work.  Can you find the information that you are looking for?  Does the navigation make sense?  Is it difficult to download available content?  Most of the time when I am on a corporate website, I’m looking for specific information which can be rather detailed.  Finding it can many times be impossible, at least on the corporate website.  Many times I will need to find the information elsewhere, but does that make sense for you to lose a visitor because you don’t have the information (or a link to it) available?

7) Request a demo – If I am going to be talking to a company, or even interviewing for a job, I’ll request a demo of the product from the website.  I’ll enter the appropriate information about the size of my company and its annual sales (both the lowest option possible) and many times I’ll never hear back.  There are companies that provide demos on a weekly basis (Tuesday at 11:00 am) and I can be referred to that session, or someone will provide me a one on one demo.  Sometimes I hear nothing, and if I’m interviewing for a position, I’m wondering how the company will survive.  If you do get a one-on-one demo set up, you will need to play some Undercover Boss.  But this is perfect!  It gives you a hands on view of how your product is initially presented to potential customers and what a first impression would be like.  You may even want to ask your VP of Sales to listen in.

8) Social Customer Service – This is where I got started on this whole rant (and by Rant I mean solid business advice).  Social customer service has become more and more important to organizations, mostly due to the fact that poor customer services can quickly be publicized on social channels.  These publications not only effect consumer’s perception of your customer service, but that of your corporate brand.  These messages bleed over into many areas when consumers are looking at your company.  In my case, I’m looking to find out what has happened to my father’s yahoo email address which appears to have evaporated.  Since I was looking at the Yahoo! website trying to find an answer, I thought that I would take their suggestion and check out their Facebook Customer Service page.  WOW!

I’ve done many audits of corporate social presences and this one is very rough.  Without slogging through the details, the Yahoo! customer service page provides for 2 one-way conversations.  #1) Yahoo! posting weekly, and #2) customers commenting about their issues and need for help with Yahoo! services.

If you’re not providing your customers with customer service in the social space, don’t set up a presence there and hence the expectation that you’ll engage and respond.  You will only disappoint.

9) Apply for a position – I used to work for a company where we had a philosophy that no matter how anyone interacts with our company, they should consider it one of the best experiences they have ever had in dealing with a corporation.  It didn’t matter what angle they came at us from.

Most companies do a poor job of communicating effectively with those that may be looking to make a career change.   These candidates are consumers, and many times influential ones since they are obviously interested in your company/industry/market.  Even the candidates that do not get hired should walk away saying ‘That was a great experience.  I’d still like to work there even though I didn’t get the job’.

I received an email back after applying for a position that began… ‘We appreciate your interest in the [Invalid Variable] position here at……’  I wonder what the job responsibilities are of an Invalid Variable.  Do you need a college degree?

10) Purchase your product/service online – Buy something that your company sells online, and make it a bit more complicated.  Add a gift card, get it wrapped, provide special instructions or order a configuration that may not be common.  Even calling your company after you place the order to see if you can change something would be a good test to see how they respond to a non-standard request.

Bonus – Do you feed your communities?  Anytime you create a community site, such as the Yahoo! Customer Care page (https://www.facebook.com/YahooCustomerCare) on Facebook, you need to take care of your audience.  As far as I can see, Yahoo! does not engage in the conversation on this page, and only posts to it occasionally.  Yet there is a very vocal set of users that are feeling very frustrated with their experience.

If your company supports a community, be it customer service or other topic areas, make sure that you support your audience on the channels where you have established a presence. If you’ve specifically built a presence for peer-to-peer support (which I recommend) then establish that this is the intent of the site and that your company will/may not actively participate.  Apple is an example of a company that does a good job of this

Running through these 10 exercises will provide you with a great feel for how your company is represented externally.  And as CEO, they will also give you lots to work on in your first-90-day plan.

After waiting for 1 hour and 13 minutes for someone to pick up at Yahoo! customer service, I had to drop the call.