Customer service in the digital age – what changes?

During an exchange on Twitter earlier this year with some folks who were attending #scrmsummit we chatted about customer service and about how costs are a real focus for most customer service activity. Thus, rather than focusing on excellent customer service, most organisations focus on the cheapest and most efficient form of customer service.

But it seems to me the starting point must always be understanding what value customer service delivers to your business.

For most businesses customer service – during the purchase decision making process, during purchase, and afterwards – is critical.

Then the question that a business must answer is: how important is customer service to driving sales, and how important is it to drive repeat business? But it is also necessary to understand what form that customer service ought to take to delight customers.

Based on my experiences as a customer in the ‘real’ world many organisations see me as a bother or an annoyance that gets in the way of something more important. It certainly makes switching to an online shopping context rather easy. Mostly there’s no special customer service person with whom I have a relationship. That lack of a relationship makes switching to another supplier very easy. Especially when the main differentiator is service.

However, a personal relationship is not necessarily fundamental to excellent customer service.

There are a few notable example of this.

Sharon, at the local general store, has built up a great relationship with us. We often choose to shop with her rather than at a larger store in town, even though her prices are slightly higher. Because of the relationship we have (and that relationship might just be in my head, I might actually be just another annoying customer, but she never lets me know that). I often choose to shop there rather than buy something online or at another store.

Net-a-Porter is a great example of how to do online customer service. I have never spoken to them, I just order products online. But if there is a problem with fit the return process is so smooth and easy – usually the replacement item is in my hands within 48 hours of sending the return. No questions asked. This makes me happy.

Another example is the guys who just painted my house (for those on the Sydney north shore KMK Painters = highly recommended). They did a fantastic job. Not because they painted the house (although they did that well). It was the little things like turning up when they said they would, cleaning up really well afterwards, patting my dog when she came sniffing around, and helping me to carry stuff from my car. Those little extras were not part of their core mission – painting the house – but these little extras made them stand out from the last lot of painters. It means they’re top of mind for any more jobs.

Three quite different models of customer service. Each good. Each satisfying in their own way. Each earning and retaining my repeat custom. It seems to me that customer in the digital age does not differ much from customer service in any preceding age.

Some thinkers who have interesting ideas about customer service in the digital age include:

Women having fun, expressing their …

A few days ago I noticed the following tweet and clicked on the accompanying link. The image below was at the other end of the link:

bronwen-pollenizer-girls
Source: Bronwen Clune – used with permission

This tweet and the picture made me laugh. It caught a bunch of women having a moment of feminine camaraderie in the office while all the guys just happened to be away. It’s a pretty informal office and it was amusing to see the girlz having fun on a crazy hot day in Sydney.

Inspiring: Girl Develop IT #becauseiamagirl

One thing I’m passionate about is the possibilities opened up for all of us by technology. And techincal literacy is an important way that we can open up those possibilities for women.

Another thing I’m passionate about is people who make a difference – those who get up off the sofa and take action. Sara Chipps is someone who has seen a need and taken action with her Girl Develop IT program, as she explains:

It can be intimidating for women to learn and ask questions when they are in an extreme minority. While open and welcoming, today’s budding developer community is up to 91% male. There isn’t a comfortable place where women can learn at their own pace and not be afraid to ask “stupid questions.”

We decided it was time to provide a place where all questions are OK and everyone can learn in a supportive environment. Our courses focus on coding, leveraging existing technology, and having something to show for it (aka building sweet websites).

And in Australia Pamela Fox has been inspired by Sara’s lead and is setting up a local version of Girl Develop IT in Sydney.

Kudos to Sara and Pamela for getting off the sofa and doing something to help build up technical literacy for women and girls.

This all fits rather nicely into the Plan Australia Because I am a Girl campaign:

You Can Help Change the World

Plan International says “There’s no greater enemy of inequality than keeping quiet!”

Act now! Spread the ‘Because I am a Girl’ message throughout your network of family, friends and colleagues.

Simple Things You Can Do Right Now …

  • Share your story here
  • Inform people about the campaign through your websites, newsletters, emails and other touch points. Plan can provide you logos and information on the campaign.
  • Host lunches with friends, partners and clients. Depending on the event Plan can provide content and speakers.
  • Plan can work with you to see how your business can build awareness among your customers and suppliers.
  • You can donate to Plan in Australia’s GirlsFund, that works to address the unique obstacles faced by girls.
  • You can sponsor a child with Plan. Over 48,000 individuals and businesses in Australia sponsor children with Plan.  Plan uses funds through child sponsorship to support projects that bring lasting change to a child’s entire community, such as gender equality.
  • For more ways on how you can support the campaign visit Plan Australia’s ‘Because I am a Girl’ website
  • Because I am a Girl Facebook Group
  • Twitter: @invest_in_girls

Help a girl and you help a family, a village and the world #becauseiamagirl

becauseiamagirlI’ve been a big supporter of the Plan Because I am a Girl campaign – if you haven’t shared your story do it now!

The other day @uskovic shared this video about the Girl Effect with me:

You Can Help Change the World

Plan International says “There’s no greater enemy of inequality than keeping quiet!”Act now! Spread the ‘Because I am a Girl’ message throughout your network of family, friends and colleagues.

Simple Things You Can Do Right Now …

  • Share your story here
  • Inform people about the campaign through your websites, newsletters, emails and other touch points. Plan can provide you logos and information on the campaign.
  • Host lunches with friends, partners and clients. Depending on the event Plan can provide content and speakers.
  • Plan can work with you to see how your business can build awareness among your customers and suppliers.
  • You can donate to Plan in Australia’s GirlsFund, that works to address the unique obstacles faced by girls.
  • You can sponsor a child with Plan. Over 48,000 individuals and businesses in Australia sponsor children with Plan.  Plan uses funds through child sponsorship to support projects that bring lasting change to a child’s entire community, such as gender equality.
  • For more ways on how you can support the campaign visit Plan Australia’s ‘Because I am a Girl’ website
  • Because I am a Girl Facebook Group
  • Twitter: @invest_in_girls

 

Because I am a Girl

becauseiamagirlThere are a lot of women who don’t like to be called a girl. It’s their choice. I don’t mind it and have even been known to refer to myself as a girl – usually as a geek girl.

The interesting thing here in Australia is that I’m pretty much free to call myself whatever I like. And I’m free to do pretty much whatever I want. But it is not like that for women and girls in every part of the world.

You Can Help Change the World

Plan International says “There’s no greater enemy of inequality than keeping quiet!”

Act now! Spread the ‘Because I am a Girl’ message throughout your network of family, friends and colleagues.

Simple Things You Can Do Right Now …

  • Share your story here
  • Inform people about the campaign through your websites, newsletters, emails and other touch points. Plan can provide you logos and information on the campaign.
  • Host lunches with friends, partners and clients. Depending on the event Plan can provide content and speakers.
  • Plan can work with you to see how your business can build awareness among your customers and suppliers.
  • You can donate to Plan in Australia’s GirlsFund, that works to address the unique obstacles faced by girls.
  • You can sponsor a child with Plan. Over 48,000 individuals and businesses in Australia sponsor children with Plan.  Plan uses funds through child sponsorship to support projects that bring lasting change to a child’s entire community, such as gender equality.
  • For more ways on how you can support the campaign visit Plan Australia’s ‘Because I am a Girl’ website
  • Because I am a Girl Facebook Group
  • Twitter: @invest_in_girls

Some thoughts on women, management & work #wmwc

I’m lucky enough to be attending the Women, Management and Work Conference in  Sydney today. There is a great turnout, with many familiar names and faces from around Australia.

So far there has been an impressive line-up of speakers.  Yet these impressive speakers each talked about the issues around gender pay equity (which does not exist here in Australia yet). They also touched on the changing nature of work and patterns of work – since many of us no longer work in the same field from beginning to end of our careers.

Paid parental leave was also touched upon – Heather Ridout noted how important she sees this issue for business.  I agree, this is one area that is critical to driving productivity growth for Australia.

Mark Lennon also made a plea for people to realise that trade unions are still relevant.  Not sure he made his case strongly enough to maintain relevance?

I look at the landscape for women in the workplace (especially in management) and remain disheartened that we have made so little progress during my working career.  We seem to be having many of the same conversations about equal pay, equal opportunity in the workplace, discrimination, sexual harassment and parental leave as happened twenty years ago.

The strident complaints (or the hidden seething resentment) of men when women are appointed to positions ahead of them remain.  Access to board roles remains distressingly low, although the Australian Institute of Company Directors is working hard on this at the moment.  You can check out Tony Abbott having a bit of a gripe about gender here.

Yet I look at the landscape in Australia and am encouraged to see women in power at various levels.  It is especially encouraging to see women as: Governor General, Prime Minister, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, State Governors, State Premiers, Mayors, local Councillors and other business leaders.  But this is a very rare alignment of the  constellations, rare enough that it is commented upon.

We have not yet reached a stage where having a woman in a position of power and authority is so completely normal that it is not even worth commenting upon.

Annalie Killian … a woman Catalysing Magic

Here is another post in my series on inspiring women.

This time it is my friend Annalie Killian, who is also known as Catalyst for Magic (yes that is really the job title on her business card) or as @MaverickWoman on Twitter.


I’ve known Annalie for many years and have always been inspired and energised by her. Over the years she has evolved as an organisational change agent (catalyst) and intrapreneur. Yet several constants have remained with Annalie over the years, for example, her:

  • passion for change,
  • generosity of spirit,
  • extreme curiosity, and
  • deep joie de vivre.

Here is a bit of insight into the life journey of this woman who has challenged stereotypes and travelled far. In her own words:

How/Why I’m doing what I’m doing now?

Let me start with what I am doing now, then I’ll try and cover the how and why.

Since 2000, when I moved to Australia from South Africa, I have worked as “Catalyst for Magic” at AMP, a large iconic Australian Financial Services brand. My role is Director of Innovation, Collaboration and Communication, and I see it as championing the spirit of “ubuntu” – a Zulu word referring to our inter-connected Humanness” – in all its rich and imaginative and complex essence- and directing that magic towards meaningful and purposeful work and business outcomes. Call it culture, call it engagement, call it creative collaboration, collective intelligence– it’s all of that, and it’s what sets one company apart from the next.

Why I am doing what I’m doing now?

My best friend, who unfortunately died of cancer at age 33, sent me a card after a particularly trying incident working for an extreme bully, GM of Human Resources at the time at the Bayside Aluminium Smelter in South Africa. She said: “You will outlive him…you are a survivor- it’s inevitable”. At the time, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now….and I think the essence of what she was referring to is my resilience, resourcefulness and extreme adaptability.

So why do I do what I do? Maybe it was inevitable…I thrive in it! As a corporate maverick, I dodge, weave, swim upstream and take a lot of set-backs but keep on purpose when it comes to innovation and bringing others along. And yes, it is unsettling for some who want to cling to the status quo or the past.

How do I do it?

If “life is what happens when you are making other plans”, then I guess I don’t make too many plans but rather find ways to apply my strengths to opportunities I spot and shape my work that way. I have an insatiable curiosity and am highly attuned to faint signals that others often don’t notice. Believe it or not, these skills were forged in childhood by personal circumstances and it taught me to pick up on almost imperceptible signals and anticipate scenarios- giving me the best ability to cope and navigate through challenges. And I am

Who would have thought that this was preparing me to become a change agent, working in innovation in a large corporation, nurturing the adoption of ideas and collaboration among many to anticipate disruption, embrace change and overcome threats?

My proudest breakthroughs include facilitating the first democratic elections in South Africa in the Zululand region to a peaceful outcome in 1994, establishing the first Community Foundation in Africa and building that into a powerful transformational agency, and establishing + producing the AMPLIFY Innovation & Thought Leadership Festival since 2005. The latter two were the result of spotting signals early and converging many ideas into a powerful vision.

What is the best piece of advice you have ignored to get where you are?

Sticking to the straight and narrow road! I have always meandered down ally-ways and side-streets, and these have yielded the richest discoveries and sometimes set me on a totally different trajectory.

How many times did you nearly give up when things went wrong & what kept you going at those times?

Know that cartoon about the frog trying to strangle the Pelican that’s eating him? That’s me. I can be almost compulsive-obsessive when I want something. I NEVER give up. I just find a different way. And, I have learnt patience…I can bide my time. This is the hardest of course, but I have been rewarded more times than not by letting go of something and then revisiting it at a later time when circumstances caught up. Ideas can be way ahead of their time and one must be willing to cultivate the eco-system to prepare it for an idea. (This feels counter-intuitive because we know how slow organisations can be to change- but there’s no point forcing something so hard that it forces YOU out!)

Are you actually happy?

Yes! Unequivocally yes! I don’t have a perfect life, or actually perfect anything…but it’s sort of all working and there is harmony most of the time. I still have lots of ambition that I hope to realize and it would be great to really push my talents to see where the limits are. There are a few big dreams still looking for a physical manifestation- I’d like to play in a larger international arena and I would also like to help my 2 daughters achieve their dreams. One wants to be a musician and learn Mandarin so she can sing in China, and the other one wants to be a fashion stylist/ editor. I’d like to study Alternate Health like massage therapies as a hobby. (I love spoiling people!)

What do you wish you hadn’t sacrificed to be such a success?

It’s a flattering question, though I don’t think of success as a destination, more as a work-in-progress.

I have not been balanced at all times…favouring the mind and not honouring the body equally. I don’t sleep much…there’s so much living to be done! But no, I have never regretted not sleeping more!

I think my daughters have missed not coming home to cookies and milk served by me, but I don’t do guilt. I know they have gained in many other ways through the way I parent them, like a belief that being deeply immersed in doing something you love and becoming good at it is one of the most pleasurable things in life, and that all mastery requires effort. It’s very funny when I hear them sharing these thoughts with their teenage friends!

What mistakes did you make and what did you learn from them?

I make mistakes all the time…it comes with taking risk and learning. But it’s crucial to be very observant and spot a mistake quickly, then fix it immediately. It helps to have low ego and attachment to a process so you can amend it without feeling like it’s a loss of face!

Outside of a criminal offence, there are few mistakes one cannot overcome professionally or personally. But some mistakes can shadow you throughout your life. One of those is choosing a partner that is not right for you- and being tied to a bad scenario for a lifetime until your children are adults. That’s about the only warning I can give! And…mistakes should not be wasted, they are vessels of personal growth.

What would be the point of a mistake-free life? Can’t think of anything more boring!