Required Reading: Funneling the Future

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Flip the Funnel may be the title of Joseph Jaffe’s latest book, but he’s been upending the status quo for years with past efforts such as Life After the 30-Second Spot and Join the Conversation. Managing Editor Joshua Weinberger and Associate Editor Lauren McKay spoke with Jaffe—the president and chief interrupter of Crayon, a strategic consultancy recently acquired by social media agency Powered—about the new rules of customer service and embracing a new approach to customer acquisition, retention, and loyalty.

CRM magazine: Is there a new mentality now among consumers?

Joseph Jaffe: There’s no question there’s a new consumerism—a new customer activism. Take Domino’s, [where] one or two rogue employees can potentially bring down an entire company [with a viral video]. One or two frustrated customers can do the same. There’s also this awakening [that] it’s not just about endless ranting and raving and self-expression—there’s a certain degree of savviness as well. 

I’ll give you a personal example: I recently created one of my Jaffe Juice TV videos [about] “AmEx Fail”—a little rant against American Express. I didn’t think terribly hard about the words I used—they might have been “American Express Fail” or “Does American Express Care About Your Success? Hell, No.” I could’ve used AmEx’s coveted keywords, its brand name, its brand attributes—and used those against it. But, long story short: Three days after this video airs, if you type “AmEx fail” into Google, there are 26 million results and I’m second, third, fourth, seventh, and ninth—just three days afterward. 

The thing is, as consumers become savvy in a technology with social networking, with word of mouth, with their own information, they’re going to be a lot more premeditated—and sometimes malicious—in terms of what they do and when and how they do it.

CRM: Let’s talk about the new customer service rules. 

Jaffe: There are a bunch, one of which is customer service lives in the now, about real-time problem resolution. One of the greatest examples is Twitter. I’m quick to say that Twitter’s not a panacea. But it’s the finger to show where the future is pointing, and the future is pointing at real-time problem resolution. No more 24-hour autoresponders. No more “your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.” No more FAQs. 

It goes back to the love/hate relationship with technology—numerator vs. denominator. Look at Madison Avenue right now: Where’s all the money going? Automation—it’s all about saving costs, efficiency. It’s all about the company being better off instead of the customer being better off. The other way we talk about customer service living in the now is the fact that the longer it takes to solve a problem, the more likely it is to be escalated, [and] the more likely it’s going to escape from the private to the public domain. I do believe that customers will generally—because they’re human beings and gentle souls—take the problem directly to the source. If they know who to contact. How many companies are easy to contact? How many companies make it really, really plain and clear and simple to get hold of somebody who can solve problems?

CRM: For a long time the Gethuman Web site was all the rage—the gateway to bypassing automated systems and reaching an actual operator. 

Jaffe: I wrote about Gethuman in my earlier books. The guy who started it…is now running [online-travel search engine] Kayak. Every single member of the company has to spend 30 minutes a day on customer service. They have big screens in the company—if you don’t spend your time, you get flagged and your name is put on the “offender” board. They’ve made it a religion. 

I’m an acronym guy. For example, [one of the acronyms in the book is] SAFE: Satisfy curiosity, Address concerns, prevent Festering, and prevent Escalation. At the point of escalation, it’s too little too late. It’s “United Breaks Guitars.” It’s too late and it’s too bad. 

The paradox with customer service is that the lower you go on the totem pole the more vital the interactions are—the more frequent the interactions are—and yet they’re happening with people who are disgruntled, badly paid, poorly trained, underutilized, and underappreciated. That’s why you don’t see the CEO of Target engaging. Sam Walton probably did once upon a time, walking up and down the aisles. [Instead you] see The Target Lady, as parodied on SNL, interacting and being the difference between a great experience and a poor experience. 

Another new rule of customer service is all customers are equal, but some are more equal than others. I missed the period when I was dating—the Match.coms and the eHarmonies and the ability to Google a blind date. You know what? It’s easy to Google our customers to be honest and it’s easy to do our homework. Why are we not asking our customers what their Twitter IDs are and why are we not asking them if they have blogs? And why aren’t we flagging the ones that are—and I say this with affection—loudmouths? Why are we not flagging them as being a little more vocal than others? 

CRM: Identifying the influencers. 

Jaffe: It’s the small sliver. If we arm our customers with tools…if we encourage them, incentivize them, empower them to become influencers in a sense, we bring these two worlds together. In addition to that, there actually is the ability to move that one step further—to move the enthusiasts [toward being] ambassadors, to actually turn ambassadors into evangelists.

The question is, Who owns social [media] and who owns the customer? Someone must.

CRM: This month’s issue is focused on the customer being the center of the relationship, deciding for herself what those relationships are like. That takes the control away from the company. 

Jaffe: Going back to Doc Searls? Fascinating stuff. I loved The Cluetrain Manifesto. I’ve seen him present and I love the concept. I’m a big fan. [Editors’ Note: See this month’s features, beginning on page 17, for more on The Cluetrain Manifesto, its authors, and the “vendor relationship management” movement it helped foster.] 

The customer obviously owns [her] relationship and owns [herself] and has the ability to jump around and the ability to form [her] own portfolio. But, from a corporate standpoint, whether you’re a mom-and-pop store or a global chain, within that company someone has got to be smart enough to connect the dots. So when I say own, I’m not talking about “Bugger off and don’t touch this, it’s mine….” I’m talking about championing and celebrating and fighting for. I’m talking about breaking down borders and silos and walls. I’m talking about the fact—just an example—if you’re Hilton or Marriott, you’ve got 20 brands beneath you. You need to make sure that when one of those customers jumps from lily pad to lily pad, you’re connecting the dots. 

CRM: Shouldn’t it extend beyond the check in? The hotel could email to let you know your departing flight is delayed, and thereby extend the experience and the service it’s providing to you.  

Jaffe: Absolutely. As future-forward as I’m trying to be, you can tell that I’m also optimistic about where this can go. I’m less optimistic in companies’ abilities to actually do this and implement this stuff. It’s a bit of skepticism that’s come from writing three books on this subject and realizing that companies are slower to move than any of us would like. Anything you’re saying, trust me, I agree with. I don’t agree this should be shoved in a corner. If anything, this needs to be elevated to become a seat—if not the seat—at the table. 

I’ve got two examples, staying within hotel and leisure. Hilton has an iPhone app that allows you to check in from your iPhone. It also allows you to order room service. I love that idea. [At other hotels,] maybe you’ve been delayed, it’s 9:20 at night, and you order and what do they tell you? “Forty-five minutes to an hour.” Forty-five minutes! What the hell is going on in that kitchen? Do you really want to [wait that long] when you’ve been traveling all day and you’re exhausted? So the ability to do it from a cab, knowing full well you’ll be getting to your room in minutes and a hot meal will be waiting for you? I love it. That’s customer service. That’s customer experience.

I recently stayed at the Ritz in Paris. Went all out for one night. That’s me—I can stay 10 nights at another hotel or one night at the Ritz. I’m glad I did—it was research. The service is exceptional there. Everything I said, they remembered. They remembered that I said I was vegetarian. They remembered that I said it was my anniversary. They didn’t miss a beat. Why should it have to be that they’re still the best? Why do we perceive that we have to spend more money to get better service? 

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