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Customer Service Needs Brand Training Too

  |  May 25, 2011   |  Comments

Symantec's customer care team provides solid support, but misses an opportunity to fulfill a brand promise.

Customer service is fast becoming "social." As it does, customer care agents increasingly find themselves in a combination of support and brand. As you create your social media program, take care to account for this: once a conversation between the brand and your customers gets started, the customer expects it will carry over into all interactions, including customer support.

This struck me over the past weekend when I attempted to add storage space to Norton 360 Online Backup for all of the computers in our home. Simple enough, or so I thought. Once I purchased additional storage space, my account was not automatically updated. So began chat session number one. Symantec does a great job starting its live chat, although its automated agent, "Nathan," is useless. Once past Nathan, I was chatting with a real agent who informed me that getting storage space updated is tricky, but if I'd allow her to connect to my computer she would do it for me. It would take about 20 minutes.

Brand disconnect number one: I'm evaluating the product as a time-saving automation tool, not as an excuse to engage in a 20-minute chat for each Norton 360 Backup installation. I mentioned this. But the agent was by now on autopilot, setting up and running a small backup that would force my software to update its storage space in the process. All told, it took 20 minutes.

Here's what could have happened instead: rather than assuming I lacked any technical expertise (in this case, the inability to click three buttons), the agent should have been able to access my customer profile to tailor the solution. She could have given me options, from providing verbal instructions to performing the installation. As a brand, Symantec offers hundreds of different combinations and variations of its products because its customer base is diverse. Yet, in customer care, we're treated all the same, and, that's at lowest assumed capability. I left the call with my problem fixed, but with my impression of Symantec unchanged. Opportunity missed.

Moving on, I configured Backup and started a test: backing up the 10 GBytes or so in my "projects" folder (where drafts of articles like this one are stored.)

The next morning I discovered the backup had failed with error 8702,32: Symantec Backup Server Error. There was no indication of what had happened (other than, as noted, its servers had an issue), nor was there any indication of which files, if any, had been backed up. I restarted the operation and was surprised to see it start from the beginning. Backing up anything like "all current projects, documents, pictures" is going to be a lengthy process.

This kicked off support chat number two. Again navigating past Nathan, I jumped on a live chat. I was told to "just begin the operation again - it will resume." I replied: "It does that, but it starts from zero percent, as if it is starting over." The agent replied, "Yes, all jobs start from zero, but they are only backing the files not backed the first time." This was when it hit me: the agent I am speaking with - who is extremely polite and very helpful - has no idea of Norton 360 Backup's brand promise. The brand stands for security and freedom from worry. Yet the agent - and the software itself - was giving me no real indication that my backup job is in fact proceeding as it should. I'm feeling really unsure about the whole thing at this point, which is an emotion that should never be felt by a Symantec customer about one's data or its security!

I pressed the agent a bit further when I saw files that I knew had been backed up get backed up again. My agent checked with his supervisor, and confirmed what I'd suspected: the process was not only starting over, it was creating duplicate files. At this point I requested a refund, and within a minute I got confirmation that the charges for the storage had been reversed. Again, a nice support experience even including a prompt refund, and a slight inclination to post screen shots of what I thought the program should actually do (something suggested by the support agent, so kudos to him for recognizing an engagement opportunity). What would have rocked would have been an automatic link to "My Symantec Ideas" at the conclusion of the call.

Here's why this matters: in both cases I got really solid customer service: very short connect times, polite, helpful agents, and a genuine desire to help me, efficiently, on the first contact. At the same time, customer support was operating in a silo from the brand. While Symantec marketers recognize customer diversity and the importance of security and protection, Symantec customer care is focused on contact cost and single-call resolution rather than building brand advocates.

The Symantec agents are an untapped customer touchpoint. They could be building brand advocates by aligning the support process with the brand ethos. Again, as a marketer, when you set about the championing process for your social media program, do what Philips Marketing Director Marco Roncaglio did at Philips: invite everyone. Brand managers, product managers, human resources, and yes, customer care. They are all part of your social media team. (Disclosure: Philips is a client.)

As you think through your strategic plan supporting your social initiatives, apply this simple triage:

  1. Marketing: How does your social web presence - e.g., Facebook - integrate with and support your marketing program? This is something you can manage largely within marketing.
  2. Engagement and outreach: Customer care is a great touchpoint. Loop your care team and its social agents into the brand and what it stands for. You'll extend your potential advocacy base significantly. Check out GetSatisfaction.com, too: your customers may be further down this path than you think. By the way, there is a measurable ROI associated with this.
  3. Enterprise collaboration: What do you call Twitter when it's deployed behind your firewall? Yammer. For every social networking site on the web, there is an internal, business-oriented counterpart. Jive, Lotus, Socialtext, Salesforce…there is an enterprise-grade collaborative platform for any business or non-profit in operation today. Find it, and build it into your plan.

Take a hard look at the three points above; these might just be the big picture you're looking for. Start by activating customer care, and in so doing, start building your next army of brand advocates.


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Dave Evans

Dave is the VP of social strategy at Lithium. Based in Austin, Dave is also the author of best-selling "Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day," as well as "Social Media Marketing: The Next Generation of Business Engagement." Dave is a regular columnist for ClickZ, a frequent keynoter, and leads social technology and measurement workshops with the American Marketing Association as well as Social Media Executive Seminars, a C-level business training provider.

Dave has worked in social technology consulting and development around the world: with India's Publicis|2020media and its clients including the Bengaluru International Airport, Intel, Dell, United Brands, and Pepsico and with Austin's FG SQUARED and GSD&M| IdeaCity and clients including PGi, Southwest Airlines, AARP, Wal-Mart, and the PGA TOUR. Dave serves on the advisory boards for social technology startups including Palo Alto-based Friend2Friend and Mountain View-based Netbase and iGoals.

Prior, Dave was a co-founder of social customer care technology provider Social Dynamx, a product manager with Progressive Insurance, and a systems analyst with NASA| Jet Propulsion Labs. Dave co-founded Digital Voodoo, a web technology consultancy, in 1994. Dave holds a BS in physics and mathematics from the State University of New York/ Brockport and has served on the Advisory Board for ad:tech and the Measurement and Metrics Council with WOMMA.

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