Can you build great customer service at scale?

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How do you scale Customer Service?
Ultimately, you have to embrace the idea of Commander’s Intent (e.g.

This means something like the following:

  1. Define the objective broadly, e.g. “Provide Amazing Customer Service.”
  2. Establish a command hierarchy and roles and responsibilities, e.g. “This person can engage on any topic”, “These people may engage on some topics”, and “these people may share canned messages and may not engage on any topic, but can acknowledge the customer and pass on their concern to a higher level in the organization”
  3. Set some guardrails, e.g. “NEVER do this. And if you have questions, ask these people.”

Beyond that, the devil is obviously in the details, but I believe that if these principles are upheld:

  • Delight the customer
  • Have fun
  • Try to do the right thing
  • When any of these things don’t apply, learn from the experience

You are going to be able to handle between 80-95% of the issues. There are a few things that demand high-level support, and they emerge so infrequently that most of the time, any employee you trust to talk to customers should be able to handle customer service.

Use All of the Resources At Your Command, Including Your Customers

To scale this idea, you need only follow the metaphor of commander’s intent and include resources outside of the organization.

This could include:

  • “community members” who answer on behalf of the company or product once vetted;
  • a “customer advisory board” that helps you on an ad-hoc or planned basis to discuss wacky and mundane issues;
  • and technology that helps you channel inbound inquiries from multiple channels into a central place where you can acknowledge, triage, answer questions and then close the loop with the customer.

Your goal should be: connect online to connect offline

The #SM301 hallway convo turned into a hallway lunch.
photo by Tac Anderson

On Friday, I attended the SM301¬†conference, and couldn’t help overhearing, over and over again, “I think we’ve met – I recognize you from your Twitter picture!” and “it’s great to finally put a name to a face and not just a Twitter handle.” I made connections in person (finally) with Liza Sperling¬†and Rod Brooks, caught up with Tac Anderson before he disappears to London for two years (sniff), and realized that the brilliance of social media is that it allows you to connect with people you might never have known – and that the true value doesn’t reveal itself until you also actually connect offline with those people.

Mike Whitmore told a touching story about social media has changed his life and allowed him to bounce back from painful personal events, and I think his advice leads me to a broader observation about social media: that your goal should be to connect online to connect with people offline.

Here are a few ways that you can do this:

Take the next action and be human

The next time you’re clicking a link on Facebook to send someone a birthday hello on their wall, go ahead and do it (and then, send them a personal note or card to let them know that you’re thinking about them.) Or call someone and set a time to meet for coffee. or just do something that lets the other person know that you value their time and their connection. You never know what that will mean to the other person, but I guarantee that it will mean at least as much as it means to you.

Send a friend interesting information at an unexpected time

If you’re actively listening to your friends, you’ll also find out about things that matter to them. Wouldn’t it be cool if your friends sent you cool information (a link, an article, or a video) about a topic or interest that matters to you the next time they found it? (Yep, I think that would be cool too.)

If you send that “I’m thinking of you” link with a one or two-sentence description of why that content makes you think of that person, you’ll be on your way to becoming a valuable provider of interesting information (always a good thing.)

Go Out of Your Way To Help

We’ve all been in this situation: “can you help me to do x next Thursday/weekend/whenever?” and the first response that might go through your head is “mmmm. I’m not sure I want to do that.” When you go out of your way to help someone, you’ll feel good about it (and they will too.)

You can do all of these things online (and I’m sure you are already doing that) – and think of how much more meaningful it will be for you to take the same energy you’re investing in a RT, “like”, or “follow” and to show your friends that you’re thinking of them. You’ll be glad you did it, and they will be too.

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