Selling Security

Selling Cybersecurity: What We Can Learn From The Ice Bucket Challenge

In July/August 2014 the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge changed forever how charities should have organised their fundraising efforts. Replacing the usual guilt-trip approach with something fun/’socially mandatory’ resulted in hundreds of millions being donated to a cause few people had even heard of, let alone cared about.

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Social Media Is Killing Customer Service

In a truly stunning service provider fail, I was without Internet access at home for 14 straight days. FOURTEEN DAYS!! But at least my service provider responded promptly on social media.

I won’t tell you who my provider is [virgin media cough], but as someone who works from home, not having Internet is a severe liability. I also happen to work in Internet security, so the vast majority of my day is spent faffing around online. At least my data was safe I guess.

It’s not so much that I was without access for so long, bad things happen, it’s that I STILL don’t know why! To be told every day that it’s a “known fault” and that it will be ‘resolved by 2PM tomorrow” makes an utter mockery of customer service. Not once did they update their site with an outage statement, not once did they call us with updates, and not once did they tell us what the issue was.

For God’s sake, my next door neighbour had Internet access from the same provider! Literally, next door, I’m at 45, they’re at 47.

Enough background, now to my real issue; While their actual customer service left a lot to be desired, their social media department was totally on the ball. And no, that’s not a good thing. About 30 seconds after we Tweeted about the disgraceful service their rep was back to us apologetic and full of concern.

What’s wrong with that you might ask? Well…

  1. They had no access to our account, so they could not even speak to the issue;
  2. They had no access to tech support to find out what was actually wrong;
  3. Once they realised they were making things worse they referred me to their utterly pointless Code of Practice;
  4. They kept no record of their previous contact so every subsequent bad Tweet was followed by the exact same conversation, and;
  5. Zero follow-up, zero accountability.

Bottom line; customer service over social media is nothing more than an attempt to protect their online image. At no point was this ever an attempt to actually help.

Customer Service is both an art and a science, and is one of the few competitive advantages left in the digital world. It should be pro-active, an extension of an organisation’s values, and absolutely cannot be faked. Most people I know would stick with a lesser product / service if they believed their provider actually cared.

I have never understood the visceral resistance to admitting that you’ve messed up. It’s akin to one of my favourite lines in The Dark Knight when the Joker says “You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all “part of the plan.

In this case, all my service provider had to do was tell me the minute they knew there was a problem, which was 4 days before the line went down. Then, if they had just keep me pro-actively informed on progress, I would have only been disappointed, not angry. Of course, it would have been great if they had offered to provide a temporary alternative, like a MiFi for example, but this was not necessary. They would have made a loss on the month, but they would have earned years of my loyalty.

As things are today, I will not only leave my current provider as soon as there is a viable alternative, but I will actively dissuade anyone from using them.

Social media is a critical aspect of customer service, but only if these two things are seen as intrinsic components of the right corporate values. If not, you’re just pandering, and I for one will not be pandered to.

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Is Social Media and Outsourcing the End of Real Customer Service?

As I’m writing this, I’m trying to decide what my own thoughts are on the matter. Intellectually I probably don’t care that much, but emotionally, I can’t help but think it’s a bad thing.

Background: My wife made what I thought was a wise-crack the other day, that it was actually faster to get a response to a customer service issue if you post something negative on social media, than it is if you call their toll-free number.

She wasn’t joking, and proved it.

A very large retailer had screwed up, not once, but twice, and she spent a long time on the phone trying to sort it out. Naturally, the support centre was based in India, out-sourced, and had no real concept of the original business outside of their database of questions. Long and short; she got nowhere.

The next day, she vented her frustration on Twitter, and within a few hours, a representative from the company HQ contacted her and the issue was resolved that day.

What I took from this is that it’s more important to give the perception of good customer service, than it is to actually give it. As long as no-one knows that your customer service sucks, people will keep buying, and you can keep saving money by outsourcing.

My dilemma is that I can’t decide if I care that the good customer service is genuine, or if the fact that it’s forced now makes it intolerable. Would I really make the fairly significant effort to go to a competitor just because the first vendor doesn’t really care?

I think the answer is yes, I would, because it’s not just about customer service, it’s about how business is done properly. Customer Service is most often associated with reacting when things go wrong, but it’s far more than that. The term ‘business partner‘ sums it up nicely as it’s supposed to be a partnership, not just a business deal, and is only at its best when it’s also pro-active, personal, performed with genuine empathy, and mutually beneficial.

I think what I’m really saying is customer service simply cannot be outsourced. I know it’s very expensive, but perhaps the following may help to offset it;

For one week in every year, EVERY member of staff, from Finance to Sales, from Marketing to IT, works in customer service. This includes the CEO, even the Board of Directors. EVERYONE!


  1. If the CEO talks to real-world customers, as well as sees what goes on every day in the support centre, they will have a much better idea of where his/her company may have gone astray. The CEO is the one responsible for the culture and priorities, so it would be good for them to be reminded of what’s most important;
  2. Sales people often forget what it is they are supposed to be selling, which in almost every company is either a solution to problem, or something someone wants personally. The week they spend in customer service will help them reconnect with their target audience;
  3. Product and Service developers often get too caught up in their day jobs to really understand what it is they are supposed to be developing. Hearing client problems and confusion every day for a week should help to clarify things for them, and maybe even give them ideas for innovation;
  4. Marketing departments too often rely on their previous experience and/or education, so a few angry clients should do wonders for their clarity too, as well as give them ideas for future marketing concepts;
  5. Ancillary departments like finance, IT etc should all have their go too, every employee is part of the culture of a company, everyone must be on the same page, as well as see the impact they are having first hand.

Passion and motivation are hard to maintain if you don’t know where you’re going, or worse, don’t agree with what you’re doing. I think a unified focus on customer service goes a long way to ensuring everyone stays on track.

Of course, your CEO may be a utterly incompetent at dealing with people, but if he/she loses a few clients from poor customer service – their own! – they will probably get the message 🙂

Anyone know any good studies on the effect of social media or outsourcing on customer satisfaction?

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