I get asked a lot by people who are thinking of providing social customer care: “I’m so confused, I don’t know where to start?” Let me offer my thoughts on the matter.

Don’t internalise the problem. All too often we keep the problem in our head. We don’t share the problem, because we don’t know who to talk to or we don’t want to show any sign of vulnerability in this perceived gap in our knowledge (beleive me you know more than you think, you just don’t have the confidence to trust yourself). We mull the problem over in our heads. We look at it from different angles. We consider different starting points, and rationalise each one. We do a Google search – first steps in social customer care – we browse through some of the first few links, but soon glaze over as, once again, we suddenly feel the weight of confusion bear down on us, as well as the fact that there seems to be over 10 pages of results. We have no reference points or experience to inform us whether what we are reading makes sense, neither do we trust our instincts. There suddenly seem to be so many gurus out there!

My advice, grab a bunch of Post-Its, a Sharpie pen (but any pen will do), find an available wall somewhere, and then simply start to get your concerns, blockers, assumptions and ideas on to those Post-Its; one concern, blocker, assumption or idea per Post-it.


Don’t try to analyse what you’ve written, just get everything out of your head, no matter how trivial or absurd it seems. When you feel you’ve got as far as you can, take a break, make yourself a coffee, let your mind rest a bit!.

When you’re ready to start up again, you’ve got various options on what to do next. So in no particular order:

a) Group similar Post-Its: Look over all the Post-Its and group similar ones together, label the different groups. Whatever is left over, if you really can’t put them into any of the groups, just label them ‘other’.


b) Stakeholders: For each Post-It identify who the key stakeholder(s) might be. For this, you could then repeat the activity from a stakeholder perspective ie. if one of your stakeholders is the Chief Marketing Officer, what might their concerns or blockers be.

You can add further degrees of granularity, by specifying:

The stakeholders can be individuals (customer service agent, compliance, social media director) or a group of individuals (ie. management, customer service etc)

Show the relationship between the different stakeholder groups

Show the specific concerns or blockers each stakeholder or group might have

c) Risk: Draw a vertical line, add ‘High Risk’ to the top of the line, and ‘low risk’ to the bottom of the line. Now take each Post-It and add it in the appropriate place on your graph.

d) Timeline: Draw a horizontal line and label the left hand side ‘Project Start’ and the right hand side ‘Project Close’. Now start to add each Post-It to the appropriate place on your graph. You can also combine more than one variable into the same graph ie. Timeline + Risk, Timeline + Category.

e) Likelihood: Draw a vertical or horizontal line, label one side ‘High Certainty’ and the other side ‘Low possibility’. You could also combine this with Risk.

stakeholders etc

You could also look at specific categories and plot them against the timeline and risk. There may be other ways to categorise or organise the Post-Its, so have the confidence to experiment. Some will work, some won’t. However, you choose to do it, just make sure you don’t leave it inside your head!


Once you’ve finished the above, you can then take each concern, blocker, idea and assumption and think of ways to resolve them. One resolution per Post-it.



You can repeat this approach at any time, and I would recommend that you revisit your concerns, blockers, assumptions and ideas at regular intervals.

You can do this activity on your own to begin with, simply to familiarise yourself with how it works. And then, do it with your team, and when you’re ready expand it to include some of the stakeholders you originally identified.

This becomes a great way to bring together and align people from across the organisation, who will all have their own perspective of and opinions on social customer care. They will add new concerns you hadn’t thought of, or bring nuances and subtleties of meaning to shared concerns. This will result in a richer and fuller understanding overall of the potential blockers and concerns that exist. And by bringing these blockers and concerns out into the open, you’re not only starting to work in a more open and collaborative way, you’re also bringing clarity and focus, and importantly instilling a sense of confidence in your ability to provide direction on a subject that people still struggle with.

I fell out of love with social customer care. It felt like it was going nowhere…perhaps in reality, I was going nowhere. I hear Esteban in the background saying – told you so! I felt like the same old stories and case studies were being churned out by the same old experts and vendors. I include myself in that mix, we/I got stuck in some kind of a ‘seven steps to social customer care’ time warp, that lasted about five years. There were the predictable variations on a theme – three steps, five steps.

I wanted someone to rock the proverbial boat. I wanted a vendor, any vendor, to come up with something novel. HelpSocial tried to do that. I wanted some kind of self-proclaimed guru to come up with something controversial. But all that seemed to happen was that people became highly creative and inventive in the art of constructing attention-grabbing headlines for their blog posts; the content remained the same. The same story told over and over again. The same quest over and over again – scale and ROI – and yet no one really ever had any answers.

United Breaks Guitars, giffgaff, #Twelpforce, KLM, #Tweetserve… great stories, but we needed new ones. Not just new, but different, ones that pushed boundaries, ones that challenged the very existence of the contact centre. Ones that challenged. I wanted organisations to truly rethink customer service and design innovative services with the characteristics of social in mind. But it never really happened. Even now, the only real examples IMHO where companies have designed with social in mind are Best Buy and #Twelpforce, O2 and #Tweetserve, and KLM and #HappyToHelp; all between 2009 – 2014. That’s five years ago. KLM has largely been a lone beacon of hope. But the challenge is too large for one company to bear alone.

Vendors simply tried to make their social customer care platforms look more like an inbound email queue by the day. The technology had changed, but everyone forgot to try to change the service model as well.

Twitter and Facebook, in turn, made the use of their channels suddenly far more appealing to organisations clinging on to the coat tails of the contact centre, by offering up to sacrifice the very cornerstone of what makes social customer care, well…social. They placed on a silver tray the very characteristics of social – openness, authenticity and transparency, and no one raised even so much as half an eyebrow: they offered organisations the ability to take conversations out of the public domain and into a DM as quickly as possible. They were letting organisations off the hook. Organisations embraced it, breathing a collective sigh of relief.

Twitter and Facebook had the opportunity to truly disrupt the service model that emerged with the mass production of the Model T Ford and the thinking of Frederick Taylor, and hasn’t essentially changed since. There was a time I thought Apple might save customer service from itself, and in the same way that it brought simplicity of beauty and innovation to the cellphone, do the same for customer service. My hope is that Google, perhaps Amazon, may be the light at the end of the tunnel; but my sense is that Google or Amazon would only do it inadvertently. But actually, my belief is that for the customer service model that exists today to truly change, it will take a fundamental shift in the way the knowledge base is viewed. Only when the knowledge base is freed up might a profound change in the model take place.

But why couldn’t it have been me?! I lost interest. The passion was gone and I mentally left social customer care. I was tired and jaded of playing the ‘Cluetrain Manifesto’ record over and over again. You were tired of hearing me play it. I know. Many of you are asking ‘What’s Cluetrain?’

So here I am, the forgotten old man of social customer care, ready to wake up again. I’m still cynical, I’ll still be critical, I’ll still be scathing of consultants and gurus who peddle the same stories that they were telling five years ago. That’s a challenge to me as well; and if you find I’m telling that same story, you’ve every right to be critical of me. And why am I saying this? Because, quite simply, I think we/I can do better, should do better, have an obligation to do better, not for the sake of it, but because there is a ‘better’ out there that we should all actively aspire to. Complacency in our thinking, in our advice,  in our writing, is a scourge that we must all fight off. As social was the catalyst that disrupted customer service, so too must we reinvent ourselves and our thinking. Otherwise we too will become that self-proclaimed guru, peddling lipstick fit only for that proverbial pig.

I can’t believe this post has sat in my ‘drafts’ for five years! Finally publishing it now…perhaps it should have stayed a draft? Anyway, you decide


I came across a great poem the other day – The Dash, by Linda Ellis. The poem has a very simple and profound message, and it gave me the inspiration to write this somewhat far more mundane post. I’ll let you read the poem to make up your own mind about what it means to you.

From a social customer care perspective, however, you are faced with constant, split-second choices about what that ‘dash’ means to you, and the way you want to take your choice in that moment.

What am I listening for?

Who should I be listening to?

Do I respond?

How do I respond?

Do I say ‘sorry’ or ‘with regret’? Or not at all?

How do I be open? Empathetic? Transparent? Authentic?

What if a customer doesn’t respond to my Tweet?

If you worry too much about the questions, you’ll never have time to find the answers. Between the Tweet and your response, lies anxiety and concern, tension and friction, what if and could be…

Between picking up a Tweet and responding to it you have choices. In that brief moment, you are in control. You decide.

Over the last six months I’ve been training Digital ReinventionTM to IBMers around the world. What’s been so interesting to me is seeing just how different each market is. Different nuances. Different approaches and learning styles. Different cultural traits and idiosyncrasies. I thought I would take a moment to share with you some of my reflections on what I’ve observed over this period. Views mine.

It’s a journey

Digital Reinvention: more reinvention than digital. More organisational change than technology. More a shift in mindset. The business model we’ve had is shifting, shifting to something different

We are moving from disruption to reinvention

Going on a Digital Reinvention journey begins with shifting the way you think, not with building an app

What will be the trigger or event that gets you started on this journey? As a trainer you get to know some of these trigger points. You set them up in the hope that some may unwittingly accept the offer of help. Once accepted, there is no turning back


Big Ideas are difficult. What does one look like?

We set out to generate Big Ideas. The unfortunate thing is that we fail to recognise our Big Ideas are in fact small ideas

Big Ideas are simple and elegant. We inevitably try to overcomplicate them

When thinking about an idea you need to understand whether it is set within the context of the company and what it currently does, whether it’s informed by the opportunities and threats that exist within the context of the industry the company currently operates in or whether the idea goes even further across industries. One is an incremental change, the other is what we call a Big Idea

Incremental ideas form the bridges to Big Ideas that ultimately may disrupt existing models

In order to set a Big Idea free you need to uncouple it from what you do today. The big mistake people make is to ideate in terms of what they do today. To do so limits the idea, restricts it, stifles it, binds it to the here and now. You simply end up with incremental ideas that might streamline existing processes and operations, but won’t change the world

Language & meaning

Do you speak the same language as each other? As your client? Do you operate by the same rules of engagement? Or do you just make assumptions?

Companies need to define a common language or taxonomy for themselves and their clients. Digitise, digitalise, digital transformation, digital reinvention. Digital has become a word like – authentic, collaboration, transparency. Overused, but rarely defined. You might just as well replace it with apple, lemonade or egg

Digital is a catch-all that almost just means – what I currently don’t do, regardless of whether that is online, mobile or in the physical world. Sometimes it represents the idea of improvement, modernisation or just gaining parity with what other companies are doing, other times it represents disruption or future survival


Digital Reinvention is about people. The way people engage. The way people work. The way people communicate. It’s about our individual and collective ability to adapt to a shift

Organisations don’t reinvent, people do. Game-changers don’t disrupt, people do

Everyone is different. That is the challenge. Moving at different speeds. Some more accepting of change. More open to disruption. As a trainer you have to adapt to different speeds and levels of acceptance. As a trainer you also have to accept that no matter how hard you try some will never cross the bridge. Some can’t even see the bridge


Can’t escape the word! The word forces me to recognise that I can no longer succeed, exist, survive on my own

The corporate monolith is no longer the centre of your own reality. You are just another player in an interconnected web of players

The idea of the platform is now instrumental

Context and value are key in a world of partnerships. A world where a partner can just as easily be a competitor

How well do you understand your ecosystem? How well do you understand the value chains that bind that ecosystem together? What is your currency?


People assume they can tell stories. But end up listing a set of features and functions. A workflow mistaken for an experience. A persona becomes hijacked and ends up taking on the personality and language of the company they are trying to break free from. The tragedy is that they’re not even aware they’re doing it…

Being able to tell a story sets you free from features and functions. It sets you free from solution-speak. It empowers you to solicit empathy. It enables you to take me on a journey. Do you know any stories to tell me? Are you confident enough to tell me a story and take me on a journey?

Confidence is key. Are you confident enough to do things in a different way? To tell a different story or even just to tell a story… it’s difficult. Really difficult. Tomorrow you’ll just go back to doing what you did last week. Digital Reinvention a simple blip for you. A box ticked and forgotten. On to the next thing


Probably the most difficult question to answer… can you?

Always provocative! Always a bit contentious. Intentionally so. I believe he wouldn’t have it any other way. A wry smile not very far away either. I’ve never met Esteban Kolsky, but our paths have crossed virtually across Twitter, blogs and LinkedIn since about 2008. His is one of the few voices in a sea of noise whose opinions and views I genuinely respect.

As I have remained faithful to the possibilities that social customer care brings, Esteban – I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him by his first name – has remained steadfastly critical of it. And rightly so. But the critical word here though is ‘possibilities’. For me, social customer care per se has been a means to an end, a platform on which I can explore, experiment and converse about the changes, the disruption, the need for change that is taking place today. Where Esteban sees limitations in social customer care, I see it as a starting point. A starting point to understand that it is simply a different way to interact; no more, no less. The inability of Twitter or Facebook to scale in customer service, is less about their limitations (things only have limitations when compared to something else; they are what they are), and more about our limitations, our desire to force these platforms into a model that evolved decades earlier. Twitter and Facebook emerged serendipitously, they filled a narrow gap, and that gap widened and began to disrupt, not just the status quo of customer service, but the status quo of how people consume and share information with each other. The shadow it cast encompassed notions of trust, transparency, privacy, ownership…

So coming back to what Esteban said in a recent talk: “Customer service in 2025 is not going to exist. We’re not going to have customer service anymore in 10 years at the pace we’re going in. Customer service is going to be so bad that nobody’s going to want to do it. And the question that I have for you is are you ready for this. Is your company ready?”

Whether your company is ready, is another question entirely, and one that I’m not going to address in this post. But the simple answer is: probably not. Your company is probably not going to be ready, regardless of what happens in 2025. But that is the nature of companies. But my question would also be – ready for what? Perhaps a different question might be – is your company able to adapt at speed to change?

When Esteban talks about 55% of requests in social and social channels being ignored, that social offers no benefits, doesn’t really work, or that over time the number of companies trying customer service through Twitter and Facebook decreases, my sense is that he is looking at social customer care from a company perspective. Let’s also not forget that social won’t scale either; although Best Buy tried to do it with #Twelpforce and giffgaff with their customer service community (Why was 2009 such an innovative year in social customer care?!). But based on this logic, why have companies persevered with email campaigns, when click-through rates are still woefully low?

For me, the point about social is that it has flipped the status quo. Whether it scales, whether it works, whether it offers benefits to a company, in my mind, is a moot point. For the person complaining about poor service, I’m not sure they’ve ever considered the benefit-cost ratio of Twitter vs Email vs Phone, as they click the ‘Tweet’ button. As a company, however, I am sure you have spent countless hours trying to work this out; actually many people have been trying to work this out since Frank Eliason sent that first tweet.

I agree that Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp aren’t great channels for customer service, but debating the benefits of each is a largely pointless exercise. Customers use these channels, get over it. If you want to be truly forward thinking my suggestion is to do the following:

  • understand the behaviour of your customers, but pay very close attention to the relationship between context and communication channel; single view of customer is not always king
  • add Google to your Help page and focus on the 20% where you will make a difference for your customer
  • think about the characteristics of the medium of the telephone and innovate around that with Skype or something that offers a more visual option of engagement
  • really think about the agent experience. Is it really the customer you always want to make happy? What about an agent satisfaction survey? Are your agents genuinely satisfied with the experience you have created for them? The reality is that you’ve given your agents processes and workarounds.
  • adopt a social- and mobile-first mentality. Notice I wrote ‘mentality’ not ‘technology’. Don’t succumb to a contact centre mentality!
  • be bold and embrace change

…and if all else fails, as Esteban says, prepare to get rid of your customer service entirely by 2025!

It’s been awhile since my last post and although I’ve had a few starts, I’ve never quite had enough impetus to finish any of them. But I was attending a conference yesterday about social customer care, digital contact center and customer experience which got me thinking again about various things. So here goes…

I read a post today about five customer service trends you need to know about. For some reason, the more I read these types of posts, the more I feel that the conversation around social customer care hasn’t really moved on since 2009 (I’m being generous, I was originally going to write 2008, but so much in the social customer care space happened in 2009 – giffgaff, #Twelpforce, Dave Carroll & UBG, Conversocial founded). The posts still cover the same generic ground, they still churn out the same five or seven steps to social customer care-nirvana, they are still full of aspirational cliches backed up by seemingly irrefutable statistics, and the inevitable unanswered question about how do you industrialise social. Oh, and the posts are still dominated by technology; today it’s all about bots! And I’m sure @ekolsky will have something to say about it at some point in the next ten years before customer service disappears. The reality, though, he is one of the few voices of reason out there actually worth listening to.

So, let me add to the burgeoning corpus of social customer care writing by sharing my random musings on social customer care in 2016.

Collaboration increases productivity: 61% of organisations in a recent survey said that collaboration was key to improving productivity and the flow of information within an organisation. It’s increasingly all about collaboration using platforms like Slack, Yammer (you remember Yammer, just like you remember Four Square)… Everyone knows how to collaborate right? Everyone knows that sharing is the way to go, and sharing is about trust or being ‘trustful’ (subtle difference between trust and trustful on where the trust lies, and who does the trusting). So my question is this: If collaboration is at the heart of how organisations need to work, when was the last time your organisation had a conversation about collaboration? What does collaboration mean to you as an organisation? As an individual? What does successful collaboration look like? I bet you get the tool way before you have these types of discussions, if ever!

PS. I made up that statistic about 61% of organisations… but you believed me right?! Perhaps you’ve even started to look for the source of it or copy it for an upcoming business case presentation.

Culture eats telephones for breakfast: Okay, so I’ve messed around with this one a bit. Quick aside: apparently Peter Drucker was not the first person to come up with the phrase: “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. It is my belief that there is not enough focus in organisations on social as an agent of change. Change in mindset. Change in thinking. Change in ways of working. Change in ways of communicating. Change in the ways decisions are made. Change in culture. I come across individuals in customer service or on vendor-side (is it in their interests to question?) who have done little to challenge or question the historical baggage of ‘corporate assumptions’. Sadly, all too often, they aren’t even aware that these assumptions and shortcuts are just that. They accept them as golden truths. These individuals have forgotten how to think, perhaps don’t dare to think in pursuit of promotion. They have forgotten how to be creative, imaginative. They mistake process for experience, they think that simply saying ‘putting the customer at the heart of the organisation’ is enough… it’s not that easy to dismantle and re-wire your thinking!

Context is king: For I don’t know how many years the goal has been to create a single view of customer. To bring together in one place all the known interactions that a customer has, including social now, and I guess you’ll need to add messaging… I’m not sure what this omnipotent repository of ‘me’ looks like. I’ve never seen it. I just know that the companies I engage with have been trying to create it for longer than I can remember. And if it did exist, what would businesses actually do with it? Would it give me (not you) a better service, a better interaction, a better experience when I (not you) needed it? Let me explain with a simple example. A couple of weeks ago I was taking a German exchange student to Heathrow Terminal 2 and I tweeted to @Lufthansa:

Amazingly, Nes from @Lufthansa replied to me within ONE minute. Yes, we are still amazed when companies respond (but we shouldn’t be!). However, even though I started the ‘conversation’ on Twitter, they immediately tried to push me to the phone, but that’s another story for another time. Now, what got me thinking was not the interaction with Lufthansa, but actually a question I was asked about it at a conference. The question was: How does a company, in this instance Lufthansa, collect all the information about you in one place so that in situations like the one you described they could deal with your issue satisfactorily? I was somewhat bemused by this question and I answered it with a question: Why does @Lufthansa need anymore information about me beyond what I have written in the Tweet?

Why is there this overriding need, paranoia perhaps, from companies to know everything about me before you resolve an issue I might be having? Why is it sometimes, not enough, just to answer the question at hand and not ask me to confirm whether my phone number or email are still the same? Isn’t it enough to simply understand my context, and let that determine the best course of action to take and how much information you genuinely need about me? Perhaps empathy should sometimes eat single view of customer for breakfast!

Twitter is not email: You have at your fingertips the most powerful tools of self expression – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp… – and yet you are doing everything you can to turn them into the very thing they were created to disrupt. The customer service model that we now use came out of the drive towards mass production, mass consistency, mass commoditisation. A customer service that drives for efficiencies in productivity and cost. A customer service that is stripped of empathy, intimacy and humanity. A customer service of SLAs. Social customer care is the antithesis of this. Look ahead, not behind. Look to what could be, not what is. Design different or new services with the characteristics of social in mind. Design different or new services with the characteristics of messaging and mobile in mind. Don’t be masters to a service model that is increasingly no longer fit for purpose. And Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple, Uber, Skype… I include all of you in this as well. You have the opportunity to influence and design a new type of service model. But will you look ahead or will you continue to be a slave to an ageing master? And by the way, coming up with new technology, is not a proxy for looking ahead.

Being bold is an option: Not enough people are bold enough! Question your thinking. Question your assumptions. Push your boundaries. Don’t be content to leapfrog the competition. Don’t be content to think outside the box. Be restless in the pursuit of being bold. If anything, forget about the box, don’t be constrained by it, and aim to leapfrog your customers, because if you can leapfrog them, you’ll always be ahead. Being bold means accepting things will not always go the way you want it to.

I’m also wondering, if the average social media response is 78 minutes, and customers expect to be answered within 15 minutes (these are genuine statistics), why you’re not using the phone? If social customer care is clunky, is of such limited value and doesn’t really work as a customer service channel, as stated by Esteban Kolsky, why are customers still using it? Perhaps as a customer, I’m simply not concerned about clunkiness and value? Perhaps as a customer using Twitter subconsciously reminds me that I’m in control. And perhaps, that is the point. And whether or not you answer my tweet, in a funny sort of way, I win. I win because if you don’t answer, you’ve just re-inforced to me what I’ve always felt – that you are uncaring, and if you do answer, bonus!

If nothing else, it gives us all a glimpse of what customer service might look like in the future (if it still exists). And even if it is only a glimpse, will you be ready for it or will you still be trying to cut seconds off your SLA?

I’ve been listening a lot to Tom Rosenthal recently, and in particular his song ‘Take your guess‘. In the song he writes:

‘I didn’t dance how I wanted to dance, I did a bit of prance and that’s fine’

And for me, that’s a bit like social customer care. It doesn’t matter whether you prance, jive, tango, sway, do ‘old man’ dancing… it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you dance. What matters is that you get on to the dance floor. There will be those who laugh at the way you move, there will be those who are critical of a wrong step, you may even trip over… but you will learn along the way, and the learning will give you the confidence over time to be the next @KLM, to be the next @MaxisListens or the next @HPSupport. Without trying different ways of prancing, you won’t know what type of dancer you want to be or can be.

Start dancing today…


I was having a look at Conversocial’s Social Maturity Index. It was only a matter of time before a 2×2 eventually made its way to social customer care. Whether you agree with their axes of ‘investment’ and ‘innovation’ is a moot point. It’s simply one way of looking at the world and how you navigate through it. It could just as easily be effort, satisfaction, empathy…

These sorts of things are always useful, both as a realistic measure as well as an aspirational goal that brings people together: we are united together behind a specific objective. We like to be able to understand where we are, so that by knowing where I am today, I can track my progress for the future. It also helps me understand where other companies or competitors might be as well.

My natural inclination is to aspire towards being a ‘SocialFirst’ company, regardless of where I am today. My journey may start as an Observer, then perhaps move into the Conservative quadrant, and as I build up more of an understanding naturally progress to becoming a Contender. I gain a sense of comfort from the knowledge that what I am doing is part of a known journey. Others have been, where I go now. I’m not on my own.

While I see value in these maturity indexes, I’d also like to see them acknowledging the existence of the customer, and not be so organisation-centric. Your social customer care operations can’t be viewed in isolation. You might be in the ‘SocialFirst’ quadrant, but how does this translate to having delighted or even satisfied customers? Do your agents have a frictionless experience in providing that service? Responding to a customer in less than a minute on Twitter is meaningless if the experience is disjointed and results in that customer being escalated to multiple channels and agents.

Like many things with social customer care, it’s a journey…


I’m thinking a lot about content at the moment. Content within a customer service context: knowledge articles, tips, resolutions, ratings & reviews, product specifications, warranties. FAQs, community content etc.

  • What happens if we start to think about content as we might in a marketing context?
  • What happens if we start thinking about newsrooms and content hubs?
  • What happens if we were to start posting resolutions and other types of service content on Pinterest?
  • What happens if you applied the principle of Snapchat to your content or knowledge? What if your content was not permanent? How would it impact your decisions about content?
  • What patterns would organisations uncover if they started to analyse the content?
  • Would analysis enable you to match content to customer journeys and deliver it automatically before it was needed?
  • Would analysis of your customer’s demographics and behaviour help you understand how best to package up that content and which channel to deliver it on?
  • How well do you understand the different types of content: text, image, video? How well do you understand how your customers interact with each one?
  • How much have you thought about how your agents interact with the different types of content?

Or do you simply make assumptions and churn out the same old content in the same old tired format?

I was at one of the few social customer care conferences, or should I say ‘summits’ last week, run by the inimitable Luke Brynley-Jones – Social Customer Service Summit 2016. This summit has been a fixture on the circuit (that makes me sound so jaded) for at least four years now; it seems longer than that somehow. Luke has managed to carve out a niche, amongst the many big conference producers out there now. Well-respected, always a good bunch of people in attendance representing brands and agencies, and a solid line-up of speakers.

I genuinely thought this year’s line-up of speakers had some great stories to tell. I’ve been searching for a few years now for new stories to come through; I’m sounding jaded again! The last batch of great stories to leave their imprint was back in 2009 or so: Best Buy and #Twelpforce, giffgaff and KLM.

Although to their credit, KLM are still making stories. Unfortunately for them, we are all a bit blasé about their stories now, we simply expect it of them. What was it that Clay Shirky wrote in ‘Here Comes Everybody’: “Communication tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring”. Perhaps KLM are just starting to get boring. This is a compliment by the way!

I would also add O2’s #Tweetserve to that list, but that wasn’t until 2013. I’m not sure if they are still doing it; I presume so.

Back to LBJ’s #SCSS16. We had three fantastic case studies from Sabrina Rodriguez @TravelexUK, Steven Gutierrez @TfL (Transport for London) and Josef Bergman @HPSupport. What was great was how open all three of these companies were to sharing some of the challenges they faced, that they didn’t have all the answers, and what lay ahead for them (yes, you’ve heard it before: it’s been emotional … it’s a journey). I would definitely recommend you keep an eye on these three. I’m sure there are more stories to come, and perhaps some of them may even venture into the world of messaging before too long.

For me, it was good to catch up with some ‘old timers’ (not a comment on their age) – Martin Hill-WilsonBian Salins and LBJ, meet some new faces Jonathan Glover at Heerd, Laura Dinneen, who did a great off-the-cuff summary of social customer care (see pic below), Paolo Fabrizio, Italy’s answer to Martin Hill-Wilson, and reminisce about #tweetups with Thomas Power.

As for me, I was chuffed to be asked by LBJ to do one of the keynotes. I’ve not agreed to do many keynotes over the last few years, but decided only recently to come out of self-imposed retirement, as it were (sounding really jaded now). The deck is below, and please do feel free to use whatever slides might be helpful to you, but please just acknowledge the source. Click ‘Re-imagine’ below.


I realise you don’t necessarily have the context of what I was speaking about, so where I talk about speed for example, I’m really asking you the question: Is speed everything? But do feel free to get in touch with me via Twitter @guy1067 if you’ve got any questions.

Overall, I was hugely encouraged by what I heard, and the fact that ‘chatbot’ wasn’t mentioned too many times. I’m looking forward to next year, and who knows what the landscape will look like then. But let’s hope we keep hearing new stories!

Short post this time on how two companies manage customer expectations on social and what this tells us about social customer care. Of all the companies now providing social customer care on Twitter I’ve only come across two companies that publicise customer response times: @Telstra and @KLM. Thanks to Dean McCann at @HelpHandles for bringing Telstra to my attention.

@Telstra, Australia’s largest telco and media company, has been on Twitter since July 2009 (an old timer!) and has sent over 436k Tweets, while @KLM has been there since, wait for it, July 2009, and has sent over 746k Tweets. Both started in July 2009! Co-incidence? Maybe not. I’m assuming you’ve heard of Dave Carroll and “United Breaks Guitars”? Published on YouTube…wait for it: 6th July 2009! I’m wondering if there was a sudden rush of companies joining Twitter in July 2009?

So what can we infer from how each of these companies treats customer response time?

@Telstra’s Twitter bio reads: We’re here 24×7 to provide customer support and answer any Telstra questions you might have. Last week our average response time was 45 minutes

@KLM’s Twitter bio reads: Official global account of KLM, We are here 24/7 for service in 13 languages. Share personal details only in private messages! And above their bio in large type is published: We expect to reply within: …mins Updated every 5 minutes

Firstly, well done Telstra and KLM for not hiding how long customers have to wait. I think this is called being customer-centric. I think that’s what most companies have somewhere in their mission statement or annual report. Although, I’m not sure what company tries not to be customer-focused? Perhaps there’s something about repeating it over and over again?

As a quick aside, read an interesting post by Seth Godin today: And what else will you lie about? The post starts with the following:

“When did companies start talking about, “unexpectedly high call volume?”

Are they really so inept at planning that the call volume is unexpected? For months at a time?”

Godin describes this as a ‘reality distortion field’. I’ll leave you to read the rest of the short post, but it brought a smile to my lips this morning.

Back to response times. Before I continue, I should point out that I have absolutely no dealings with Telstra, don’t know them from any other telco. I’m simply sharing my observations with whoever cares to read them. And as for KLM, all I know about them is what I read online.

My perception of Telstra. Gets social, been in the space long enough to likely have some scars and I’m sure they’ve built up a war chest of stories over the years, but can’t quite bring itself to shake free from the safety blanket of the past, the familiar. Email by another name, if I’m being harshly critical. Twitter brings with it possibilities and opportunities (or threats and risks, depending on which side of the coin you’re on) of an emerging service model. A different way of thinking and engaging that is more relevant to how we communicate and engage with each other today. Last week our average response time was… almost written as an after thought, slightly apologetic perhaps. We’re social, but cautiously so, our thinking is still a little outmoded, but we’re getting there, give us time. The use of the words ‘average response time’ doesn’t strike me as particularly customer-focused. As a customer, I don’t really care about your ‘average response time’! Your customer service director or team leader will, your Customer Experience Director or Chief Customer Officer (if you have one) might at a push, but not me. I do care, however, about how long I might have to wait for a reply, especially if it’s an emergency. That’s an emergency for me, but for you I might still be a ‘statistical insignificance’ (to coin Dave Carroll’s words from a long ago talk about United Breaks Guitars). And actually, I’m not that bothered if it’s three minutes or three hours, but I’d just like to know. Okay, I am bothered if it’s three hours, but at least I’ll know.

What this tells me is that even just to publish last week’s average response time can take a company almost six years. I’m wondering how many meetings took place before it was agreed to do this? Social is a journey of individual and corporate self-discovery. Of building up one’s individual and collective confidence, trustfulness, belief in each other. Of finding a sure footing for your next step or knowing if there’s no sure footing that there’ll be someone standing alongside you. Perhaps in a year’s time we’ll see Telstra publish: Sorry, we’re really busy right now, but we’ll do our best to respond to you in X minutes OR We’re rocking through your questions at the moment, we’ll be with you within five minutes! Hang tight.

My perception of KLM. What can one say about KLM? They get social. They experiment. They push boundaries. They have been pushing boundaries like no other company in this space over the past few years. Hat tip. But scratch a little deeper, and perhaps they, like Telstra and many other companies, find themselves also having to navigate between two service worlds. Once again, although they don’t use average response time, the perspective is very much from their point of view. The customer will have to wait until KLM agents are ready: We expect to reply within… rather than ‘You will get a reply within’. It’s still a journey of self-discovery, even for KLM.

What I applaud these two companies for though, is not some random number which will cover all eventualities as we get with emails: You’ll get a reply within 48 or 72 hours. The world has moved on in 72 hours! My life has moved on. My need at this moment in time is not the same as it will be in 48 or 72 hours. Here’s what happens in one second on the internet!

In some ways the posting of a company’s response time, average or otherwise, is at complete odds with being customer-centric. An average response time (who wants to be ‘average’ anyway?!) addresses the issue from a company’s perspective. You might think you’re doing me a favour letting me know how long I have to wait, albeit – on average, for my Tweet to get through your system, but what you’re doing is simply reminding me you’re not actually customer-centric. You’re system- or process-centric. You’re thinking about the efficiency of your system (or lack of it?). I’m also wondering what a ‘good’ average response time looks like?

What’s also interesting is that if you use a service like HelpHandles and do a search for @Telstra and @KLM, their respective average response times on Twitter are – 5hrs 35mins (335mins) and 2hrs 37mins (157mins). I’m not sure how average response time is calculated on HelpHandles, but the point is that not only can anyone with the skill and inclination set-up their own dashboard to track average response times of companies, but that we can get hugely differing results. Whose reality do we believe?

Perhaps at the end of the day a lot of it is about perception? Perception matters: but whose perception? Mine, the companies, influencers… perhaps it’s not that clear cut.

Okay, so this post wasn’t as short as I thought it might be when I first started writing it. And by the way, remind me: what lies at the heart of social again?

I’ve recently been reading many posts about the launch of @AppleSupport on Twitter. The posts are all supportive, list the number of Followers, the number of Tweets they’ve sent and the initial observations and insights from the authors’ own social customer care journeys.

The week before @AppleSupport launched, I was reading a post by Esteban Kolsky(someone whose opinion I have always respected) – Vindication of my position: Social customer service sucks. I’m not here to counter Esteban’s view of social customer care, which has never really changed since I’ve known him, but it does serve as an interesting counterpoint to the launch of @AppleSupport.

I’m always delighted (ok, that’s a strong, and somewhat overused, word) … pleased, perhaps (although ‘pleased’ is a bit of a nothing word … any way you get what I mean) … when I read about a company that decides to provide social customer care. Not because I feel that to be an enlightened company you’ve got to offer social customer care, but because, it’s a recognition, an admission, without becoming too Dylan-esque about it, that the times are changing.

But what do I feel after that?

Usually, I feel that it’s a missed opportunity: unfulfilled potential. And here’s why: Because the majority of companies that set out on this path will remain the same. Once the novelty of being on Twitter has worn off, they will become like any other company that has ever had a contact centre. Perhaps I’m being unfair?!

I’m not talking about maturity either. As in, give this company time and it will become more socially adept or aware, more empathetic, authentic, trustful… For most companies, providing customer service via Twitter or Facebook is enough. The end goal is to become faster and leaner. The inherent characteristics that make Twitter or Facebook what it is, that afford companies the opportunity to be bold, are overlooked and nullified in preference to industrialising operations through Target Operating Models, Cost to Serve, Average Handling Time, Workforce Management, First Contact Resolution…

For me, that’s not enough. It’s not enough, simply because, the goal shouldn’t be to conform to a type of customer service that grew out of the mass production of the Model T Ford in 1908. Twitter was the serendipitous result of a momentary need on 21st March 2006. Twitter disrupted the status quo, not by intention, but as a natural by-product of its inherent characteristics. This sense of unintended disruption gave companies the permission to innovate and inspire, and perhaps even, to be bold and delight, not as a cliche, but as a reality. The opportunity for a company to extend its brand footprint from within customer service of all places, was a novelty, that is increasingly becoming ‘business as usual’. Here was customer service, traditionally associated with cost efficiencies and operational rationalisation, suddenly being at the forefront of delivering on a company’s brand promise, not as a theoretical exercise, but directly with its customers, every day.

I want the goal to be the pursuit of a type of customer service that recognises not only the unique characteristics of social, but also what social represents: a mindset, a way of doing, a way of communicating. That recognises that whilst the needs, motivations and desires of the customer has not necessarily changed, the way we do things and what is relevant to us, has moved on since 1908.

I want companies, like Apple, to fundamentally challenge the service delivery model as we know it. Not for the sake of doing so, but because service can be better, should be better, ultimately promises something better. I want it to not just continue the story started by the likes of Comcast, Best Buy, giffgaff and KLM, but to create new storylines, with new plots and sub-plots, and new characters. Goodness knows, we are in desperate need of new characters! This applies to you too, vendors.

It is my hope that out of the friction that exists between traditional and emerging modes of communication, between experience and cost efficiencies, between empathy and response times, trust and privacy settings, the stimulus to be bold, experiment, create new boundaries, enable new ways of doing, engaging and communicating will take flight. I want Apple to do for customer service what it has done for design. I am waiting for customer service’s ‘click wheel’ to emerge and take us to the next part of the journey. Serendipity is only part of the answer.

Image courtesy of – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AIPod_wheel.svg

I was reading the following post a moment ago – Avaya Unveils Customer Engagement Innovations. What struck me as I read the first paragraph is how pervasive numbers have become. We are seemingly ruled by numbers, percentages and surveys.

Numbers are important. But often the very numbers we cite, seek out, almost come to revere, are compromised and manipulated at the outset. We use them to suit our needs. We search for the numbers we want. Not just any numbers, but the numbers that feel ‘about right’. The numbers that will help us tell our story. The numbers that will wow and make the audience gasp. The numbers that are supposedly memorable, meaningful, unforgettable. The numbers that resonate. The numbers that will make everything right. The numbers that are irrefutable. The numbers that become the truth. The numbers that in time may pass into corporate mythology. Who cares if the numbers are based on a sample size of 73.

But do we need surveys and numbers to tell us that people move between different devices, that customers are less likely to engage with a company because of a bad mobile experience, that more people will recommend a company if you respond to their Tweet? Do we need percentages to tell us that the majority of companies don’t respond to their customers’ tweets within 5, 30, 45 or 60 minutes. What would we do with this information anyway? Would we have the power to change things, so that we could respond to customers on Twitter within 20 minutes? Would we lose hope that this could never be the case, would forever just be an aspirational goal, alongside 2011’s strategy paper to transform customer service into another giffgaff or KLM wannabe…

But in this almost reverential act of trusting in numbers, any numbers, have we forgotten something more important? Have we forgotten how to actually trust ourselves and each other?  We defer to surveys and reports uncovered from a seven minute search on Google, when a quick three minute conversation with your frontline social customer care agents will tell you what needs fixing.

While these magical numbers may help you in the short term to prove ROI and the business case for setting up your social customer care team, it is culture and mindset, trustfulness and authenticity, empathy and humanity, that will win your customers over the long term. It is your agents on the frontline who will keep your trustfulness in tact. The problem is that companies and customer experience is not designed with frontline agents and trustfulness in mind.

I was reading a post the other day about a poll that was done to try to learn from 60 American teenagers “about their digital lives and habits, the apps they use and the games they play, pop culture, and politics” in 2016: 60 teenagers reveal what they think is cool — and what isn’t — in 2016.

As I was reading through the highlights, I wondered to myself what we might infer from this with regards to the future of social customer care, and by extension, customer service.


Here’s my summary of the highlights:

  • Teens get their first smartphone when they’re 11.
  •  teens spend about six hours a day on their phones.
  • On average, they spent 11 hours in front of screens every day
  • Teens aren’t only spending a ton of time online — they’re shopping online too.

The most popular [app] by a landslide: Snapchat. 

  • “It’s how I communicate with most of my friends and it’s fun.” — 15-year-old
  • “Snapchat because it’s pretty much just texting, but with pictures of my beautiful face ” — 16-year-old
  • “Snapchat, because it is fun to send your friends what you’re doing, and where you are in a fast and easy way. I also like being able to make stories, for all of my friends to see, and I also enjoy seeing stories of my friends on it and see what they’re up to.” — 17-year-old

Instagram was another favorite.

  • Instagram leads as the “most important” social network among US teens

The dark horse: Twitter.

  • “Twitter because I can update everyone all the time quickly and it’s not annoying like Facebook.” — 17-year old
  • Twitter because “you can voice your opinion on anything you want to and you can somewhat interact with celebrities.” — 18-year-old
  • “My favorite app is Twitter because I am the kind of person who needs to get out my thoughts, and Twitter may be like shouting into the void but at least I am heard and often validated by my peers.” — 19-year-old

Absent from the list: Facebook.

  • Facebook may be dead to teens, but a surprising number of them are texting their friends through Facebook Messenger.

The most common form of messaging among teenagers in our survey was iMessage or SMS messaging (100% of the teens we talked to used one or both of those). But Facebook Messenger was mentioned almost as frequently — 80% of teenagers we spoke with said they used Facebook Messenger as a primary or secondary form of communicating with friends. Less popular were WhatsApp, Kik, and Snapchat text.

We asked teens to identify the coolest app, website, or thing on the internet that adults probably didn’t know about.

  • After School, Musical.ly, Color Therapy, Wishbone, “Neko Atsume”, “Color Switch”

There was just one media company teens said they were obsessed with:

  • BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed Video, Tasty (the BuzzFeed food video Facebook page), and BuzzFeed’s quizzes.
  • But as far as slang goes, “Anything is very uncool as soon as BuzzFeed gets it.”

So what slang *is* cool, by teens’ standards?

  • “I use YASSSSSSSS a lot when I get really excited and don’t really realize it. I also like slay, even though I know that’s kind of stupid.”
  • “Regularly use: hype (as in ‘I’m so hype for this’), mad, dope, low key/high key, lit. Uncool: on fleek, bae, fire, etc.”
  • Goals. You might look at a beautiful celebrity or your favorite couple and say they are goals.”
  • “Me and my friends use Gucci and squad and #goals a lot but in a joking manner. The ones that are uncool are on fleek and holla @ me.”
  • “I regularly say v instead of very (ex: ‘She’s v aesthetic’) and ‘it’s lit.'”
  • “‘Throw shade/spill tea’ — talk negatively about someone or gossip. ‘Read‘ — make a judgment.”
  • “I normally use flames or lit to sound cool. We need to stop saying bae and on fleek.”


So what can we infer from this about the future of customer service?

Teens start using technology to communicate and share with each other from a young age. They learn through mistakes about what to publish and what not to publish. They are comfortable with technology, and because they start so young, their understanding of technology and its individual and collective characteristics are instinctive and intuitive.

When we use the word ‘communicate’ we need to really understand what this means? We need to understand the nuances of context and urgency and how and when we use different types of communication.

Teens spend a lot of time online, not only communicating and sharing, but also doing things online like shopping, researching, searching. They are learning how to find their way around the internet. They are learning to be proactive, to find the answers they want. They are learning how to inform themselves. They are not necessarily learning how to self-regulate or validate what it is they do or critically sift through the information they find; what Howard Rheingold perhaps refers to as ‘critical consumption’ or ‘crap detection’. Do your agents have the relevant literacies to communicate? Actually, forget your agents, does your management have the relevant literacies to understand or comprehend? Actually, let’s not even talk literacies, does your management simply have the ‘willingness’ to do so?

The most popular ways to communicate are via Snapchat, followed by Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Messenger. Is your customer service designed with these types of communication platforms in mind? Take it a level up: Is your customer service designed with these types (ignore the names) of characteristics in mind: images, sharing, short sharp bursts of text, ability for the user to switch between private and group mode (stories)…?

Have you thought yet about how you might provide a resolution on Snapchat, or even have a conversation there? Have you even thought about the unique characteristics of Snapchat or are you still just getting to grips with Twitter?

Is your customer service geared up for images or a more visual experience?

Is your customer service ‘Gucci’, ‘slay’, ’v lit’ or simply ‘fleek’? Do you speak or use the language of your customer? I’m not talking about using slang either. Does your mindset or culture reflect theirs? Perhaps you need to think about the Laws of Requisite Variety? How long would it take you to know to stop using ‘fleek’?

A word which seemed to crop up a lot was ‘fun’. Is any aspect of your customer service ‘fun’? Perhaps it’s about having a ‘fun’ mindset? It’s not always about scaling or institutionalising a process…

Teens use a lot of apps you’ve never heard of. It’s not that you have to offer customer service via them, but what can you learn from them? What are their characteristics? What is it about the way these platforms do what they do?

The teens of today are your customers of the future. Their habits may in time be your reality. They will expect their customer service to reflect what they are used to: their language, their way of doing things, their tools, their mindset. This expectation will be their baseline. Do you have the literacies or fluencies to meet their baseline?

Do you have the mindset or culture (or will) that wants to understand your customers enough, beyond technology and operational efficiencies dressed up as customer experiences, to create interactions that in their words are “lit’ rather than “fleek”?!