I (Still) See You

A couple of years back I wrote a blog post called I See You. It was based on a concept borrowed from numerous groups of indigenous tribes world wide but re-presented in the runaway hit movie, Avatar, where the native inhabitants of planet Pandora used the term to acknowledge one another in a deeper way than just saying “hi” or “what’s up.”

What reminded me of this post and thus this concept were interactions I had recently with several different companies across a few different industries. Some of these customer service interactions were better than others but in each case, there is a key take away that I would suggest other companies — big and small — take note of.

JetBlue – I fly JetBlue about 50% of the time I fly. This has a lot to do with the fact that they service many of the direct flights from my hometown of Austin, TX to places like New York, San Francisco and Boston. However, I also like JetBlue because of their friendly service, snacks, built in televisions and comfortable seating. Two weeks ago, I was flying home on a fairly packed flight from SFO to Austin. It’s not a long flight (3 hours) but a little tricky to try and use my laptop when stuck in a middle row. After unsuccessfully asking the kind woman at the ticket counter if I could switch to an aisle or window seat post-check-in, I reached out to Twitter. Believe it or not, I wasn’t expecting anything as I really try to not be “one of those people.” If anything, I like to use my social channels and reach for good versus anything negative. And in this case, I used a little of both by saying, “@JetBlue, you know I love you but not looking forward to the middle seat from SFO >> AUS. ;(”  Much to my surprise, JetBlue tweeted me back within minutes and asked me to direct message them my flight info to see if they could do anything about it. Unfortunately, the flight was so full, even the social media folks couldn’t pull strings but as you can see from this blog post (and my ensuing tweet), just the fact that they acknowledged me and made an attempt to help went a long way toward making me feel like I was a valued customer. Now other people in my social graph know that too.

Key take away: sometimes just reaching out and trying to help (in a meaningful way) goes a long way toward surprising and delighting customers

Lexus – if you’ve never owned a Lexus, it’s worth buying one some day just for the service (and trust me, they are damn good cars). This past weekend, I needed to drop my car off to be serviced. In addition to arranging a loaner car for me, Lexus walked me through all the work that needed to be done (new breaks and a tire replacement). What I appreciated most was that they presented me with all the information, the pricing and the pros and cons of waiting versus doing certain things sooner rather than later. And in particular, I was very impressed when after letting me know that my tire wasn’t in stock but that they could have it within two days, the service representative agreed with me that taking my car to a tire specialist was actually a better idea than waiting and letting them do the work. You can bet that I tweeted positive feedback about my experience with Lexus.

Key take away: Being transparent and providing your customers options, especially when big price tags are involved is much appreciated.

American Express – While reviewing my online statement, I realized that I had been errantly charged for four purchases that I hadn’t made during a recent trip to JFK airport. After trying to remedy the situation directly with the vendor in question, I called Amex (business account) and immediately got in touch with a customer service rep. Within three minutes, they had taken all the necessary information they needed from me, walked me verbally through what the next steps looked like and let me know that they would take things from there. On top of that, they thanked me for my business (in a genuine “I’m not reading off a script” kind of way). They also reminded me of a valuable service they offered every time I used the card to purchase airline tickets (something I do regularly).

Key take away: Quick access to a customer service rep, minimal operational nonsense and then a well-informed acknowledgment of my relationship and a genuine thank you for my business.

Bank of America – In stark contrast to my experience with American Express, this one was a little rocky. Similar to my American Express story, I also had an errant charge on my BofA Visa card (tried paying for food at the same broken kiosk with a different credit card). After calling BofA and entering all my pertinent information into the system, the first customer service rep I spoke with asked me to provide significantly more information. That wasn’t a huge deal except after giving her all the necessary information, she let me know that she was going to have to transfer me to another specialist rep. While I wasn’t thrilled with this, I expected that she would hand all of the information I had provided (in addition to the fact that I had been “validated”) to the new rep. Not so. Instead, I had to provide all of my information again from scratch, a fact I let the rep know I was not happy about. Here’s where BofA scored a few points back. The rep apologized several times and acknowledged my frustration. It didn’t make it go away but I appreciated that she at least tried to smooth things over.

Key take away: Create smoother hands offs between systems and reps. And when you put an 800 number on your website (particularly, the logged in portion where you know what my relationship is with you) for a particular type of call, you should be better about actually getting me to the right place. Oh, did I mention that I’ve been a customer since 1993?

So which company has “seen you” recently? Which company didn’t that should have?

Channels

A couple of years ago, I remember my friend Mukund Mohan asking on Twitter how many channels people had engaged on in a particular day. I was always amazed when I sat back and thought about the fact that I was usually somewhere near 10-11 which included things like:

  • The phone (landline)
  • Cell phone
  • Twitter
  • Facebook (which now has several sub-channels)
  • E-mail
  • Skype
  • Text messages
  • Face-2-face
  • Blog (via comments)
  • IM (AIM, Yahoo and/or g-chat)
  • Discussion forums
While the number of channels continues to proliferate, my preferences continue to stay the same. What’s amazing to me is that more people don’t pick up on other people’s preferred methods of communicating. In particular, this is an important notion when it comes to one’s boss, respective other, family and increasingly, in influencer outreach.
For me, I have about three channels that I like to communicate in (and I’m guessing you won’t be surprised):
  1. E-mail
  2. Twitter
  3. Text messaging
My three least favorite?
  1. Phone (landline)
  2. Cell phone
  3. IM (increasingly Facebook IM)
Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t like using IM with certain people. My co-author, Mike Schneider, and  I use Skype regularly to communicate about our book. It’s also an invaluable tool during the Quick’n’Dirty podcast I do with Jennifer Leggio. And recently, I’ve found it humorous when my three year old daughter Skype calls me AND then manages to turn on the video functionality on my wife’s computer. But this is a fairly private channel for me and I don’t necessarily want everyone using it. It’s also interruptive and requires me to stop what I’m doing to pay attention.
I also don’t mind being on the phone sometimes. But it really is my least favorite channel. I’m not sure where my dislike of the phone stems from but what I will say is that my relationship with my wife has improved 1,000 fold now that we primarily use text to communicate when we aren’t able to talk face to face. And with respect to everyone, I like my wife a whole lot better than I like a lot of other people.
Where am I going with this post? To the world of business of course and the fact that now, more than ever, businesses big and small need to be more in tune with how their customers want to engage them. If it’s Twitter, then provide Twitter customer service… the same hours that you provide phone support. Or IM. Or via Facebook. Or on Skype (like AT&T; does which is brilliant by the way).
Unfortunately, I’m still seeing a lot of companies that live in the world of in person, phone or e-mail. And of course most of those are during hours that aren’t super convenient for most normal people. Hopefully this will change in 2011 as more and more companies look toward operationalizing social media. But I’m afraid it’s going to be a while before we can engage companies in exactly the channels we please, when we please. Until then, I guess it’s more “your call is very important to us… please continue to hold and your call will be answered in the order that it was received.” Oy.

Hotel Nikko Asks: What Could We Do to Get You to Stay?

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the Social Media Marketing 2010 Conference in San Francisco which happened to be held at the Hotel Nikko. If you haven’t visited/stayed at the Nikko before, it’s a nice hotel. Centrally located (just a few blocks off of Market), bright and clean with all the charm of a boutique hotel. The rooms are well-laid out with large flat panel televisions, wet bars and bathrooms that offer separate bathtubs and showers.

Of course I enjoyed my experience at the Hotel Nikko (in fact, this was my second time staying there) but my main criteria for choosing it had more to do with location (it’s where the conference was being held) and price (about $200/night all in) than anything else. While I was there, however, an interesting thing happened that led to the eventual writing of this blog post…

I was riding up in the elevator when a young woman who was interning at the hotel asked me if I was attending the conference. I said that I was which prompted her to ask me why I thought more of the attendees weren’t staying at the hotel. This was a fairly easy question to answer given the fact that I knew a lot of the speakers/attendees lived locally and thus didn’t need a hotel that night. It was her next question, though, that really piqued my interest. The intern asked, “what could we do to get you to stay here next time?”

At this point in the conversation, I started thinking to myself, either this is a very clever young lady who will go far some day OR Hotel Nikko may be taking an innovative approach to their customer research. Either way, I told her I had exactly the answer she was looking for… but she would need to do a little homework. I gave her three names that I told her to write down: The Roger Smith Hotel in NYC,  Brian Simpson aka @bsimi (their director of social hospitality) and Brian’s sidekick, Adam Wallace aka @adwal (new media director at the Roger Smith).

[NOTE: if you don't know the story of the Roger Smith and how unbelievably successful they've been through their customer-centric AND social media efforts, be sure to listen to my colleague, Joseph Jaffe's interview or read Chris Brogan's glowing post about their efforts]

Being as diligent as she was curious, the intern took out her notepad and wrote all this information down, obviously intrigued by what a hotel in NYC and two guys with hip hop sounding Twitter handles could have to do with getting me to stay at her hotel. At this point, she thanked me for the information and we parted ways. Upon our separating, I got thinking more about the question she had asked me and decided to write a prescriptive post about five things I liked about my experience at the Nikko along with five ways they could improve.

The good:

  1. I arrived at the hotel at 8:30 AM and asked if I could check in. While many hotels are strict about their early checkin policy, the woman behind the desk was very polite and let me check in early without even batting an eyelash.
  2. This may not be a big deal for most people but as someone that travels a fair amount AND is married to his laptop, the fact that the electrical outlets were easily accessible and that they had reliable wifi was much appreciated.
  3. Anyone that follows me on Twitter will understand how happy I was that there was a Starbucks in the lobby.
  4. There was a bottle of water on my bedside stand.
  5. I’d like to think that the Nikko was the impetus behind their inquisitive interns line of questioning, even if they didn’t explicitly tell her to chat up guests in the elevator. If that wasn’t the case, they were still smart enough to hire a smart and motivated intern.
The “could use improvement”:
  1. When I arrived to checkin, I was as little surprised that they didn’t acknowledge the fact that I had stayed there before (level of difficulty from a CRM perspective is about a 2 on a scale of 1-10). This also required NO knowledge of social media whatsoever.
  2. The “reliable” in-room wifi was $15/night. And while it was provided by AT&T; (a network that usually allows roaming via my Boingo account), I wasn’t provided with a “roaming” option in spite of the fact that the FAQs on the site said that I could.
  3. Corollary to number four in the “good” column above… while there was in fact A bottle of water on my bedside table, the aforementioned bottle was not a FREE bottle of water. I am of the strong belief that every hotel should offer at least A free bottle of water, even if it’s the cheap, no name kind.
  4. While I don’t expect that many businesses will make an attempt to use or even experiment with location-based services like FourSquare, Gowalla and Whrrl, restaurants and hotels are foolish for not tapping into this capability now. To that end, I was disappointed that the Nikko did not acknowledge of my FourSquare checkin given the fact that I cross-posted it on Twitter for all to see.
  5. They weren’t the Roger Smith
All in all, you’ll notice that my “could use improvement” column isn’t too scathing. While I travel a lot, I have simple needs. And maybe I’ve been spoiled by my stays at the Roger Smith but I am really surprised that more hotels — boutiques AND chains — haven’t done a better job at embracing social media.
How about you? Have you had a good or bad experience at a hotel that you’d like to mention? Please include it in the comments below.