NEW YORK, August 2, 2010 — At the kickoff of this year's CRM Evolution conference here, opening keynote presenter Emily Yellin shared a series of observations about the potential pitfalls in customer service. Rather than rattle off a series of CRM's Greatest Hits to an audience of CRM (and CRM trade show) veterans, Yellin (@eyellin on Twitter) painted the picture with anecdotes from her personal experience.
[Editors' Note: For more coverage from the CRM Evolution conference, please click here.]
Yellin, the author of Your Call is (Not That) Important to Us: Customer Service and What it Reveals about Our Lives, began with a poor customer service experience of her own — a fruitless hourlong customer-service interaction with a home-warranty company, during which she was shifted from agent to agent. The experience became the seed for her book.
"I come to you as an outsider and as a journalist," she told the crowd. "I am not a guru of customer service but I'm an observer. When I started this book, what motivated [me] was that I was on hold. I had been told that I was going to get my service right away but I was [put] on hold."
In another experience, with an office-supply company, Yellin called customer service and ended up speaking with a supervisor in Argentina named Pablo, who was able to help resolve the issue.
Yellin recalled how, six months later, she actually met Pablo in person when she went to Buenos Aires in her research for the book, and visited his contact center. She included a photo of him in her slide presentation, mimicking for the audience's benefit the expression Pablo had made as he exclaimed upon seeing her, "I've never met a customer before!"
At the podium, Yellin smiled — and then underscored how Pablo's comment epitomized everything that's wrong with contemporary customer service: "Pablo had been working in customer service for nearly two and a half years," she said, "and yet he had never met a customer."
"You're creating machines that…disconnect us as human beings," Yellin lamented from the stage as she addressed the technologists in the audience. "Your challenge in a lot of ways is to infuse what you do with humanity."
She explained that, of the many companies she researched for the book, the most successful all embraced the following three traits:
- purposeful design of the entire customer experience,
- a dedication to followthrough, and
- the establishment of a corporate values system.
In describing the notion of "an entire customer experience," Yellin referenced the many public relations crises that have befallen cable and telecommunications giant Comcast, citing the infamous (and now dormant) ComcastMustDie.com.
"The words that you use are really important when it comes to customer service, in the way that your customer perceives you," Yellin warned. She then displaying a fairly ambiguous slide: a United Airlines placard emblazoned with the phrase "Quick Hits." The photo, she said, had been taken by a traveling friend who had no idea what was going to happen to her upon waiting in line beneath the oblique and useless sign. "Somebody," Yellin scoffed, "had a meeting about this sign…. That's the disconnect."
Yellin strongly urged audience members to consider the larger impact of their customer service attitudes."Those feelings of inaccurate customer service dehumanize us," she said. "What you're doing is bigger than technology — you're really contributing to the way we treat each other in public and the way that we connect."
Yellin described a concept she called "the karma footprint" — an accumulation of sentiments that businesses generate and then contribute to society.
"Really be aware of the karma footprint that you're creating," she advised, noting that the companies that have survived in today's economic climate have done so because of a regard for humanity that's not beholden to dollars and cents.
Fittingly, Yellin concluded her presentation with a quote by the poet Maya Angelou: "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel."
[Editors' Note: Due to a reporting error, earlier versions of this article mistakenly represented several of Yellin's anecdotes. The editors regret the errors.]
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