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Is Customer Service Just a Buzzword?

People use Buzzwords all the time. It makes them seem informed and is an easy, almost lazy way to communicate.  We hear others using them and we adopt them to be trendy and fashionable. They get used in conversation and writing in multiple venues until they become tiresome or are replaced with other, newer terms.  However their very use influences the way we think and react.

As the online space matures every conversation is about brand, transparency, customer service, evangelism, and other words that used to have far more meaning than they do when we overuse them. We are not only overusing them, we are valuing the statement over the action.

Nicholas Carr , of the Neiman Journalism Lab, amplified that thought  in his post, “The End of Disruption” where he wrote.

For a long time now, “disruption” has been the go-to buzzword in commentary about journalism. Pundits and consultants love to say “disruption” because the word tends to attract money and attention. But the word is starting to ring hollow. Throwing it around today seems more like a way to avoid hard thinking than to engage in it. Maybe 2013 will be the year when we finally stop talking about “disruption.” I hope so, because then we can start giving as much consideration to what endures as to what changes.

In a world so thoroughly inundated with the written word, we cannot forget to value substance over form. It is too easy to echo popular sentiment and think that by making statements or using catch phrases and buzzwords, we are taking action instead of just talking about action. To paraphrase Carr, we seem to use the words to avoid hard work, rather than engaging in it.

I recently read heartfelt statements about customer service from a company I’m doing business with. I believe they were sincere in their use of the term, but as a customer, my experience has been that they spend more time talking about customer service than delivering customer service. I don’t mean to take them to task, and that’s why I won’t mention their name, but I find that their action, or lack of action is not uncommon.

Having acquired a customer, many businesses prioritize the service they provide by the size of the customer’s bill. But nowhere is the customer told that “the more you spend , the better your experience will be”. Nor does their company vision share a sliding scale of customer service.

In other cases, customers are  treated poorly because they are already  committed to some course of action by their relationship with the vendor. I had a friend, who , while going through a stressful divorce, hired an attorney to represent her. During the initial interviews the attorney seemed bright and aggressive and promised a swift resolution for the client. After just a little while, their relationship hanged. Calls weren’t returned, emails ignored, the case seemed to be stuck in a never ending swamp of detail and minutiae. The client felt betrayed and exposed and without a choice because she felt that her journey towards her goal was advanced to a point where changing service providers would force her to start her stressful journey once again.  When she was finally pushed to change attorneys, the new attorneys promised far less, but delivered far more, far more rapidly. Were she asked to make a referral  today, which attorney do you think would get the business?

For your businesses to actually improve, you have to

  1. Focus on your core product or service. If it isn’t high quality, you diminish your value proposition.
  2. Talk less and do more. Saying your customers are important is not as valuable as actually acting as if your customers are important. It is far easier to “talk the talk” than it is to “walk the walk”. But your clients will gauge you by what you do , not what you say
  3. Value all of your customers, not just the more profitable ones.  Or, if that’s your business model, than be open and above board about it and embrace it. If your business actions are not consistent with your business model, you not only harm your customers you harm yourself.

If your customer service is just a buzzword,  no amount of Facebook postings or social monitoring will help you build trust and expand your business.  The job you do may end, but your customers and clients carry their experience with them into a far larger world, speaking about that experience again and again. In a connected world, you never know where your connections will take you, or when their endorsement or approbation will earn or cost you that next possibly larger client. Talking less and doing more? Might be a little harder, but it will be infinitely more rewarding.

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7 Steps to Creating Your Own WordPress Blog

Content marketing is the focus of small and large businesses alike, and through the power of Blogging, everyone can play very inexpensively. But the technology challenge faced by the new entrant sometimes leads them to start generating content on hosted blog sites where they become a digital sharecropper, building more value for the host site than they might be building for themselves.

In my speaking and teaching, I have always recommended that the new blogger create a self-hosted blog, but people are often intimidated by the process. Here is an awesome infographic on how to set up your very own self-hosted blog from the good folks at CopyBlogger . Following these simple steps take you through the process with little effort and no intimidation.

When three things I enjoy (Infographics, self-hosted blogs, and Copyblogger)come together, all I can do is share the joy.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your Self-Hosted WordPress Website
Like this infographic? Get more WordPress and hosting tips from Synthesis.

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Does Size Really Matter?

Puffery and inflated claims have been a weakness of advertising since the very first ads appeared. Manufacturers and providers of service want to differentiate their product or service and to establish a place in the consumer’s mind for their product. These claims are more often a race to the top than a race to the middle or the bottom, but in a world where conversation is ever present, and authenticity is the currency of trust, does making such claims hurt you more than help you?

Today’s sophisticated consumer is besieged by advertising “noise”, and they have become expert at avoiding and interpreting it. The basis of “in-bound” or permission based marketing is to attract the consumer, and to build a pre-disposition in their mind towards our product or service. Claims made by advertisers are generally met with some skepticism, and the grander the claim, the greater the skepticism – and as a result, the rest of your message becomes  tainted by that initial reaction. In fact, it seems to me that there is almost a specific relationship between the sweep of the claim, and the trust it engenders. When the claim is disproportionate to the business or service, the reaction of the consumer is almost diametrically opposed to the desired result. If your small local restaurant claims to have “World Famous” anything – most consumers will smile and dismiss the claim. But if that same eatery won a “Best in the Neighborhood” award from a local media outlet or chamber of commerce, people will actually value the award.

The smallest accolade – the recommendation of our friend , has, in today’s world, the largest impact on our buying activity, and that should tell us something.In fact, we will often value their endorsement far more than the endorsement of an actor or public figure who are endorsing the product because they are paid to do so.  We may not need to be self-deprecating, but we do need to think about our claims and how they will be viewed by the consumer, not by what we think they say about our service or product, or how we feel about it. All advertising lands on or near the audience at some point, and our audience is not passive, nor without voice. They will talk about the product and service, and that will determine the impact or the campaign online and offline.

Mom told you to “be yourself and be proud of who you are! You have a lot to offer” And as always, Mom was the best social media expert you will ever meet. Be proud of what you are, and celebrate that. You don’t need to be the  biggest and the best - maybe you want to be the boutique service that offers personal attention to each of your customers.  Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, perhaps you need to define your customer and determine what your value to them can be - and  then promote that for their consideration. It just might make you the leader in your niche.

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Content Rules, Context Governs

Spilt water by NathanelB

Unless you have been avoiding the interwebs for the past several years, or even bookstores where best sellers like “Content Rules” are sold, you probably know that content is important to a conversation. Frankly your parents were the first ones to tell you when they said “Don’t talk unless you have something to say.”But our obsession with content sometimes makes us ignore the importance of context.

Though I agree with my friend’s futurist buddy that tablets are  becoming an integral part of the  landscape, and that the line between large smartphones and small tablets will become even blurrier,  the real challenge businesses and  marketers will face now and in the future is the proliferation of screens in everyone’s life. At dinner the other night, my iPad2 was streaming Netflix while my iPad three was displaying  research material as I typed a blog post on my MacBook Pro. Sitting silent oon the wall was another screen, my TV, dark and silent only because I had chosen to stream to the smaller screen because the content I wanted was limited to that context.

And that brings us,  tires screeching,  to a halt – the content I wanted was limited to a specific context. So  doesn’t context deserve at least as much attention as the content? If I had not had access to that context, I could not consume the content – leaving the message, however well crafted , undelivered.

Determining  the audience for the messages we send will determine to some degree the physical context where we want them to receive it. Different messages work better for different size screens. And different media conveys content differently. If you have ever had an involved Facebook group conversation, you will quickly understand the benefits of making more involved arguments in  the broader context provided by a blog post. Or, perhaps a simple photo on a Tumblr page will make your point more eloquently than framing it in words. Context, obviously, plays a large part in determining how the content is delivered, and the impact the content has on its audience.

Think of content as water. Without context it’s just a spill. In a glass, it’s a refreshment. In a bucket it’s a cleaning agent. In a pool its recreational. In an ocean or a river or canal, its a highway. In a fire hose its a crowd control device or  a life saving tool to extinguish a fire. The object is the same, but its use and impact is determined to a large degree by its context – the container or vehicle of transport.

In the creative world we have another great example of content given meaning by context.  In 1951  comedian Stan Freberg created a recording called “John and Marsha” in which he parodied soap operas by creating an entire story using background music similar to that used on contemporary soap operas and the dialogue consisted of only two words, “John” and Marsha”. The context was created by the tone and timbre of the actor and was used to create  the framework for the story.

It was a comedic success. Two years later, the same concept was applied to a commercial, this visual medium provided new context through animation and visual clues providing the commercial message. This was given additional context by the audience’s familiarity with the original gag.  The content  survives today, at least in part because of its  ability to adapt to other contexts,  but each time, it becomes a different message. Over the years, the content, through different contexts was performed on stage, on video, and every time the context changed, the message of the content changed with it.  In 2010, the sketch was introduced to a new audience in a new context  when it was part of the 4th season premiere of Mad Men. In the last iteration the context included a specific period framework, its use as a background piece, and a smart, almost obscure reference was used to create still another message with the same content. If you search YouTube for “John and Marsha” you will find numerous uses of the content that use their context to create even more versions of the original message.

What have you done with your content? Has it had its message altered by context? Do you modify it in anticipation of varying contexts? No matter what your answers, while Content does rule, context will govern the delivery of the final message. Forget that at your peril.

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Three Great Tools to Increase Productivity

The Bermuda Triangle of Productivity - where does all the time go?>Massive/wallpaper sized version here!<I drew this one day after two unrelated friends complained about how they get sucked into certain websites instead of doing work, which is exactly what I do. I think….this maybe, possibly, maybe happens to some other people as well.

(Image by Fuchsia Macaree)

In a world where (according to the New York Times) we may be assaulted by as many as 20,000 media impressions daily, and 28% of the average office worker’s day is consumed by handling emails, focus is hard to find, and we all search for ways to make ourselves more productive. Here are three tools to help you do just that;

Unsubscribe.com is a website that will help you do exactly what its name implies, plus more. Not only will you be able to safely un-subscribe from spammy emails , but you can monitor the connections you may have authorized on your other social accounts like Facebook , LinkedIn and Twitter. Un-subscribing for me is always a little nerve-racking. Since some email un-subscribe buttons actually collect your information, and you don;t actually know what the purging process is , this provides a new level of comfort. In addition, when I analyzed my social connections I was stunned when I saw how many sites I had authorized to connect with my Facebook account, that I had not used or visited in over 90 days. A no cost, high benefit, product, Unsubscribe.com is a small download as a browser extension (which handled Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo) but also has downloads for Apple Mail, Outlook and more. You can add unlimited email addresses, and there is no subscription cost at all. If you don’t even finish reading this post, your time here has been well spent.

Rescuetime.com helps you reclaim the time you spend casually browsing the web and surfing social sites when you know you have work to do. The app provides you with three ways to increase productivity. First you can track all of the active time you’re on your computer, with only the active site or program triggering time tracking. As you switch from window to window on your mac or windows based PC, it calculates the time you spend working with each product. When you are away from the computer, the time is also tracked, and you are given the option of adding the non-computer task (meeting, phone call, webinar etc) or to tell the program not to track that block of time. Secondly the app will provide you with graphs and charts detailing the time you’ve spent and what you’ve done with it. If you choose to pay the small fee of $6 per month, you can also you can block casual sites for a specific period of time, say 30 or 45 minutes to force yourself to focus on a specific task. Even if you are interrupted by an IM or other notification, the app will remind you of your commitment and block the offending site. Free or paid, for any level of unsupervised, or even minimally supervised worker, this is a great program

The third productivity enhancing program is the one I used to write this blog post. Ommwriter Dana. This simplistic word processor has few of the bells and whistles that we have come to expect at hand when we write. But its minimalist background, horizontal cursor, and new age music allow the writer to concentrate on writing. Not manipulating the text, but just creating it. Though the colors and sounds are calculated to help the writer focus, it reminds me of the experience of using a manual typewriter with that scariest of all things, the completely white piece of paper. Here we have reached a full circle, complete with audio response when you type each letter. A free product is available for the Mac, iPadand PC, and if you write at all, I recommend at least trying the experience. You might just find it as useful as I have.

So please try these productivity enhancers, and if you have a little extra time as the result of your increased focus, stop back and let me know how you liked them.

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