Thursday, March 29, 2007

The ugly of customer service: A closer look

Now that I've thoroughly laid out my grievances with Delta (aka, complained), let's pick this experience apart a little more using marketing theories and principles so that, at the very least, we can take turn this nightmare into a positive learning experience.

As we saw with the RATER model in my other post, Delta fell flat in every dimension of service quality. There are other factors too that came into play during this service failure. One factor was customer expectations. Customers expect a certain level and quality of service based on a number of factors including their past experiences, needs, promotion messages and promises, their moods, specific circumstances, social context, and so on. Clearly, customers' expectations can be all over the map and it's difficult to make everyone happy all of the time, but service providers have certain responsibilities nevertheless. These responsibilities occur during the 3 phases of purchasing a service: pre-purchase, the service encounter, and post purchase.

First of all, companies need to figure out what their target customers want and expect. It doesn't take a genius to understand that airline passengers want to get to their destinations in a safe and timely manner. Of course, the most successful companies have a deeper understanding of how to please their customers than providing the bare minimum, but that's for another post. During the pre-purchase phase, organizations need to tell customers what to expect. And forget about that under-promising and over-delivering stuff. Companies should give customers a reasonably clear, accurate idea of what to expect before they do business with them. This is exactly what Jet Blue is doing with its Customer Bill of Rights. During the service encounter phase, organizations need to communicate with their customers and make adjustments to the service as the encounter unfolds to make sure expectations are being met. (In fact, one of the nice things about services, as opposed to products, is that they are created in partnership with the customer. Take advantage of this opportunity by asking questions and listening carefully to make sure the end result is the best it can be for both parties). In my experience, this is the stage where Delta began to take a nosedive in customer service. Yes, the captain did make us aware of mechanical trouble and the status of the problem, but he set unrealistic expectations by suggesting that we would get another plane and even keep our same seat assignments. In doing so, he set us passengers up for major disappointment, which will become clearer in a moment when I discuss zones of tolerance. Instead, the captain should have been completely honest with us and explained what the next steps would be, rather than turning us loose to fend for ourselves. Finally, during the post-purchase phase, companies should follow-up with customers and address any dissatisfied people promptly. I never received a letter or call or anything to indicate that Delta has the least bit of concern that I made it home alright. They knew I was on that cancelled flight, that I never took another flight to Richmond, and they have my contact information, but they chose not to use it. Delta utterly failed to manage expectations throughout this experience which only amplified our frustration.

Speaking of dissatisfaction, its worth keeping in mind that people have what's known as a zone of tolerance (ZOT). Basically, the ZOT is the range between a person's idea of adequate levels of service (the bare minimum a person will tolerate) and the desired level (what service a person wants or hopes for). If you're below adequate, you're in trouble. By hinting to us that we'd probably get on another plane and keep our seats, the pilot raised my adequate level of service, thereby shrinking my ZOT and making me all the more upset when my expectations weren't met. There is some wiggle room within ZOT's, which Delta should have recognized. For example, I understand that parts fail and that problems arise from time to time under even the best of circumstances. I would have been much more sympathetic to Delta if the company would have made efforts to tend to my needs and provide alternate means to my destination. Since Delta took no remedial action, I attributed the entire service failure, and directed my anger, to them. (If you’re intrigued by this idea, do some reading on Attribution Theory).

What can we librarians take away from this discussion? First: communicate, communicate, then communicate some more. We need to give patrons our full attention before, during, and after their visit to the library. Second: Set realistic expectations. If you set expectations too high, you're bound to disappoint. If you set them too low in hopes of surpassing them, patrons probably won't find your service appealing to begin with. Just be honest and do the best you can. Patrons will remember your efforts and will cut you some slack if they know you at least gave your best effort. Third: A service isn't over even after it's over. Delta still could have recovered some of my good will by following-up with me after the flight cancellation, but their silence has pretty much cemented my opinion of them as an uncaring, inept organization. I know we can't follow up with every patron but when I have lengthy research consultations, for example, I set a reminder to contact the person a week afterward to check on his/her progress and make sure there are no further questions. Finally, be flexible. So Delta's plane had mechanical problems. What else could they have done? Rented a bus? Helped us find rental cars? Made hotel accommodations on our behalf? Good service providers can think on their feet and adjust the service as need be.

Next time, I'm going to talk about service recovery and what service providers can do to make sure that when things go bad, organizations respond well and fix the problem so it doesn't happen again. I'll conclude on a positive note with my Best Service Experience Ever.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Mom power

We hear a lot about Gen Xers and Yers, but what about Gen X and Gen Y moms? This influential, Web-savvy consumer segment is the topic of an Intelligence Group report, Mom Intelligence, which is discussed in a recent iMedia piece. These busy moms rely on the Internet to conduct banking and other transactions, learn about child care, socialize with other mothers, keep up with family, and get the scoop on products and services. Even though their schedules are full, they make time for using the Internet in search of people and things that will make their offline lives better, according to the research findings. They're also more likely than non-moms to spread the word on the useful services and products they encounter.

If these women are among your target patrons, this report offers lots of service ideas for you. For example, why not provide online tutorials, blogs, or webcasts to teach parents how to identify and evaluate quality information on child care? Librarians could also sponsor reading groups (online or in-person) that focus on childhood development issues and that perhaps draw in local service providers. The key, it appears, is to make services for this group quick, convenient, and online if possible by creating more specialized online content and taking advantage of the social networks they rely on for quality information. Is anyone currently reaching out to Gen X/Y moms with stories to share? Post them in a comment!

Note: The Intelligence Group offers a free daily newsletter on its Trend Central site (registration required). The focus is on youth culture, and recent topics include smartpox, gaming theaters, and popular music artists. This newsletter looks like it would be particularly great for you youth services librarians in the crowd, or those interested in pop culture.

Update: I just found a Trend Central report on Teen Websites to Know - neat!

Friday, March 23, 2007

The good, the bad, and the ugly of customer service

Today: The bad UGLY!

In the past couple of weeks I have experienced the absolute best customer service I've ever received and the absolute most horrible. Each example teaches us something value about how to treat and not treat our patrons. I'm starting this discussion today with the bad so that I can end on a positive note. Plus, it'll be cathartic because I'm still in shock about how poorly I was treated by the company in question! Without further ado, here's the story from my viewpoint:

Last week, I traveled to San Diego for a conference without incident, that is, until the return trip. The first leg of the trip, a red-eye Delta flight to Atlanta went off without a hitch. We were not so lucky on the second leg. We boarded the flight from Atlanta to Richmond promptly and on time Sunday morning. After being seated, the pilot informed us that the maintenance crew was investigating a mechanical problem and he would update us shortly. After about 15 minutes, the pilot declared that there was a fuel leak that was outside of established tolerances and that we'd have to de-board. He assured us that Delta would try to find us another plane and that we could even retain our same seat assignments. However, no sooner did we all step off the plane then we heard that our flight had been canceled and that we were to proceed to the nearest service desk for assistance. This is where all the fun began. We formed a seemingly-endless line at the Delta service counter. Behind that counter was not a friendly service staff member, but a telephone. My understanding is that we were to use the phone to call for help, though some passengers in line used their cell phones to do so only to be greeted with a recording that stated their call would be answered in about 8 hours. My perception is that the line never actually moved forward, but that people simply left the line to find an alternative means of transportation, which gave the illusion of progress. In addition, there were no available one-way rental cars and we heard through the grapevine that the next available flight would be Tuesday. We were fortunate in that we were able to get a ride to Richmond with two generous strangers ahead of us in line who happened to be able to obtain a one-way car rental through their special membership. Were this not the case, I would have been stranded in Atlanta with no help from Delta whatsoever. The icing on this cake of mishaps was that my fiancé spent 3 hours on the phone with Delta and Continental (a Delta partner, apparently) trying to obtain a refund, only to be bounced back and forth between the two companies, each denying responsibility. (My ticket, by the way, stated, "Delta flight.")

To be fair, we were not the only passengers with travel trouble last weekend, and we were lucky, relatively speaking. There were some passengers in line who had been trying to get home since the previous Friday! I'm sure Delta had trouble locating a plane with all of its tie-ups in the Northeast. However, these circumstances do not excuse the terrible lapses in customer service that resulted after the flight was canceled.

In order to understand what went wrong here from a marketing perspective, it's useful to analyze this experience using a customer service model referred to as RATER. RATER stands for:

  • Reliability – Doing it right each and every time
  • Assurance – Making the customer believe you can do it right each and every time
  • Tangibles – What the physical evidence suggests about the quality of your service
  • Empathy – Caring about customers
  • Responsiveness – Taking the initiative to help customers and anticipate needs
(Note: If these sound familiar, the LibQual survey attempts to measure service quality in each of these areas).

In reviewing each piece of the model, it's clear to me that Delta failed in each and every aspect. Individual customer will weight the importance of these components differently, but for me, I was most shocked by Delta's lack of empathy. Most of us were exhausted, under time pressures, and without any means or assistance to get to our destinations and no one cared! In my next post, I will go into more detail about customer service principles as they apply to this case and how Delta got it wrong. I'll also offer suggestions for how the company could have done a better job, which I hope will provide a useful example for evaluating our own services. I'll conclude with my experiences with a company that got it 100% right and the inspirations I took away from the experience.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Serving patrons with disabilities

I returned to work yesterday after a harrowing journey back from a marketing educators conference in San Diego. The trip provided material that will be the subject of 2 upcoming blog posts: 1. What makes good customer service? (Hint: My return trip is an example of how NOT to please customers!) and 2. How marketing can make students better researchers (I co-wrote an award-winning paper with a VCU Marketing professor on a topic related library marketing, which I presented at the conference. I'll discuss what the paper's about and what our next steps will be).

As usual after a long trip without Internet access, I returned to volumes of interesting marketing news and information, which I'll be working to get up shortly. In the meantime, I'm grateful to Matt Navitsky who contacted me today on behalf of the National Library Service, or NLS. I'm grateful because Matt highlighted an important segment of patrons that I've neglected so far on this blog -- patrons with disabilities -- and informed me of tools to help reach out to this diverse group with its own specialized needs.

The NLS offers library services for those who are blind or otherwise physically handicapped through its network of regional and sub-regional libraries. Specifically, it delivers braille and audio books along with playback equipment to patrons free of charge via its Talking Book Program. Most impressive to me is that the NLS offers talking book clubs where patrons can get together with other patrons physically, by phone, or online, and they're geared to all age groups from kids to centenarians! These clubs give patrons an important lifeline to others in their communities and help them to form new friendships. You can check out the NLS' press release for more details.

I admit that though I work with patrons with disabilities, I was unaware of what the NLS has to offer. This example reminded me to think about ways in which we can engage this audience with our materials and services. In my role, I've brought in speakers who work primarily with people with disabilities to educate our staff on the perspectives of patrons who have varying physical limitations and how we can make the library more inviting. There are a few of key things I've learned about disabilities services that have influenced my work. First, by making the library more accessible to people with disabilities, the library space tends to become more accessible for everyone. For example, adjustable-height tables can accommodate wheelchairs, but they can also accommodate patrons of varying heights. Second, we all have limitations of some kind or another and it's important to remember those experiences as we approach service and space design. If you've ever sprained an ankle and had to be on crutches, you have some idea of what it's like to have to navigate flights of stairs and carry armloads of books, or wait for someone assist you. It can be frustrating! Imagine having to deal with that frustration on a regular basis and consider how we can reduce some of those aggravations in our libraries. Finally, just as with any other segment of patrons, it's necessary to seek out and understand the points of view of those with disabilities in order to best serve them. Last year, a member of my undergraduate advisory group used a wheelchair and it was very enlightening to hear from her what it's like to get around the library. Her perspective was completely different from mine and it helped me see the library in a new light, which I could not have imagined on my own. If you need help getting an outside, professional view, consider contacting local agencies such as departments for the blind and vision impaired. When I did so, a representative offered to come to the library to identify problem areas we may have free of charge.

My role and experience in this area is somewhat limited, so I would appreciate knowing what you've done to reach out to patrons with disabilities with library facilities, equipment, and services, as well as any other insights you may have.

Update: Alice Hagemeyer, Founder and President of FOLDA (Friends of Libraries for Deaf Action) posted a note to some listservs about a PBS documentary airing tonight (3/21) called Through Deaf Eyes (9pm EST). The filmmakers intended to portray the variety of stories and issues in the deaf community, including the role of technology in social change. Please post your comments about the film if you watch it!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A marketing metrics primer

Since I'll continue to address marketing metrics here on LM, it's important to have an understanding of when and how to use metrics, generally speaking. To that end, there is a concise summary of the characteristics of helpful metrics in the MarketingProfs article, Five Fundamentals for Useful Marketing Metrics (free registration required). The author argues that metrics should focus on these 5 areas:

  1. Essential metrics criteria
  2. Customer-acquisition metrics
  3. Product "wow" metrics
  4. Customer-retention metrics
  5. Strategic accountability
It's important (and a bit of a relief!) to acknowledge that you can't and shouldn't measure everything. We need to be selective about what we measure in the context of our goals and go from there. This article helps focus metrics on only the most significant aspects of our work. We should keep this in mind as we continue discussing marketing metrics. Happy measuring!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Give this a squeeze

I finally finished reading the popular book on creativity, Juicing the Orange: How to Turn Creativity into a Powerful Business Advantage. I reviewed the piece and highlighted some interesting points about creativity on Designing Better Libraries. I mention it here because creativity is directly related to marketing. In fact, the authors of the book contend that creativity is one of the few remaining ways to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. In my opinion, this is especially true of services like ours which compete with a number of alternatives and lack large marketing budgets. Necessity is the mother of creativity after all, right? ;-) I do recommend reading it (it doesn't take very long), with special attention to the Lessons Learned section at the end. If you've already read it, please share your opinions!

Mobile marketing grab bag

For many reasons I won't bore you with, I'm still working on my series on mobile marketing. In part, this is due to the ever-changing nature of the medium. Everyday, there seems to be some new development to consider, which means I change my views on this topic often. In preparation for the series, I'm presenting some of the recent news on mobile marketing, and I encourage you to take a look at the articles that interest you. These lay a pretty good foundation, which I'll build on in the series:

  • Mobile Marketing: Back to the Basics, ClickZ
    A good, brief description of what mobile marketing is.

  • Mobile Marketing: A Balancing Act, DestinationCRM
    "A new report finds that as advertisers' interest in mobile marketing increases, carriers must find a way to increase mobile advertising while keeping customer trust."
  • On Advertising: Mobile phones are new frontier in advertising, International Herald Tribune
    "Now, with the next iteration of the Internet, the mobile Web, spreading around the world, publishers and other content providers are trying to keep up, lest they get in late on another advertising bonanza."
    For more on mobile advertising, see Mobile ads: The next Internet gold rush?, InfoWorld

  • Social Networking the Mobile Way, E-Commerce Times
    "The real momentum and industry hype didn't start building until mid-2006. It was around that time that MySpace, a unit of News Corp., launched a mobile portal to its gigantic online community through Helio, a wireless service geared toward a younger crowd that's willing to spend more than the typical cell user."
    You may also want to look at any of the articles in E-Commerce's M-Commerce section.
I have some evolving ideas about what libraries can do with this medium, but the bottom line is that we need to pay attention to the mobile world and find our place in it. Hopefully, the upcoming series help spark some discussion on possible approaches.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Marketing metric: Attitudes

One fun way to measure attitudes is by using a Semantic Differential Scale (at least, I think it's fun). This scale is used by marketers to measure things like attitudes toward a brand. If you're interested in finding out what patrons' image of your library is, this could be the scale for you.

It works like this: Subjects make judgements about your library based on a series of 7-point scales (Note: Some scales have more or fewer points). On either end of the scales, there are polar-opposite adjectives, such as "Fast"/"Slow", "Modern"/"Old-Fashioned," and so on (example). Patrons indicate how strongly they relate to these concepts by marking the point on the scale that most closely matches their attitudes. You could also ask patrons to evaluate your library and a competitor of interest to see how attitudes vary.

You would score the scale by assigning scores (7,6,5,4... or +3...0...-3) then take the mean or median to compare results with a competitor, if you'd like. (There are other statistical tests you can perform also, but I would recommend getting a book on the topic for details).

I terrific and concise article, Considerations When Constructing a Semantic Differential Scale by Jayne Al-Hindawe delves into more detail, including how to pick appropriate adjectives, how many pairs of adjectives to present, etc.