Don’t Leave Customer Service out of Your SEO / SMM Strategy

MIHMORANDUM NO. 83 | May 7th, 2008Reader Comments (3)

Proselytize Your Customers with Exceptional Service

While even casual acquaintances know I’m a big sports fan, and a huge college basketball fan in particular, only the most avid David Mihm fans (read: stalkers :D ) might be aware of my distaste for coffee and coca products, as well as my passion for a certain energy drink known as Zenergize.

I’d like to relay two recent examples of customer service I received from companies I had previously been passionate about: ESPN and Bevology, the maker of Zenergize. Hopefully they’ll provide some ideas for small businesses to use to their competitive advantage!

Company I: ESPN

ESPN runs a subscription service called “Insider.” It costs about $6.00 a month, and I’d been happy to pay that to satisfy my addiction to the latest gossip and analysis from ESPN’s trio of college hoops experts (whom I can watch on TV anyway)–Jay Bilas, Doug Gottlieb, and a source close to “sources close to the situation.” It also comes with a “free” subscription to ESPN the Magazine, whose only purpose, it seems to me, is to hasten the deforestation of the Amazon.

I recently moved from Oakland up to Portland, and as part of that move, I changed bank accounts from Bank of America to Wells Fargo, since there’s a Wells right across the street from my new place and the closest BofA is over a mile away. So I made sure to change all of the billing info with people I order stuff from online, like ESPN.

Only, ESPN doesn’t offer the ability to change credit card info online (!). Imagine that, a multi-BILLION dollar company (its parent company is Disney) without basic account functionality. Nonetheless, I sent a brief but courteous email to customer service:

I need to update my billing info for my Insider subscription. I didn’t see anywhere to do it online. Please call me at 503 560 2755 ASAP as my credit card info has changed.
Thank you.
ESPN’s response:
Thank you for contacting us.

We apologize but a change of this nature would require a call to our
Customer Care center.

For live assistance with this or any other issue, please call Customer
Care at 1-888-549-3776 (ESPN) between 7:00 am and 2:00 am EST.

Regards,

Patrick
ESPN.com Customer Care

I can really hear the sympathy in “Patrick’s” voice, can’t you?
My next email to them instructed them to cancel my account, since I didn’t want to wait on hold for 20 minutes in ADDITION to paying them to renew my subscription. “Scott’s” response follows:
Thank you for contacting us.

Unfortunately, the only way for us to cancel an account is by speaking
directly with the account holder. This is included in the terms and
conditions you agreed to. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Thanks for visiting ESPN.com.

For live assistance with this or any other issue, please call Customer
Care at 1-888-549-3776 (ESPN) between 7:00 am and 2:00 am EST.

I finally called them and wasted 20 minutes of my time because they kept on charging my old card (at an account I had supposedly canceled at Bank of America, but that is a story for another day).

Now, ESPN has a lot of great columnists, particularly Pat Forde and Andy Glockner, and I’ll continue to read their stuff. But I’ve definitely noticed myself defaulting to CNNSI recently for my general, AP-style sports content since my experience with Insider. That’s roughly 15 minutes and 10 pageviews a day that ESPN has lost to its chief competitor. At a conservative $20 CPM they’re charging advertisers, over the course of a year, that’s $73 in lost revenue, in addition to the cancellation of my Insider account which cost them about the same amount.

Company II: Bevology (Zenergize)

The contrast between ESPN and Bevology could not be more striking. I sent an email to Bevology’s blanket customer service email address, info {at} zenergizehealth.com, letting them know that I had just tried a new flavor and had been disappointed with the taste, just in case they were thinking about reformulating that flavor. I had just assumed it would go into a big bank of inquiries somewhere, but like ESPN, I cared about the brand and wanted it to succeed.

Within 45 minutes of arriving in the office that next day, Bevology’s Director of Marketing, Michelle Arnau, sent me a direct, personal response:

Thank your for your message and feedback on the empower product. I am sorry to hear of your experience with the product. We are actually discontinuing that one as your feedback is pretty spot on with what we have heard from others. The good news is that we are replacing it with new flavors on the Burn, Energy, Hydrate and Immunity along with a new item: super-v which is an acai + pomegranate super fruit blend. All of them will be hitting shelves in May.

She then offered to send me a replacement tube of my choice, which I found amazing in-and-of itself. Even more shocking was the arrival of a FedEx package less than 48 hours later, which Michelle had obviously put together herself, and had included her business card. The package contained not one but THREE replacement tubes, along with about 25 individual samples of their new flavors.

Needless to say, I am an even bigger evangelist for Zenergize than I used to be. Their new flavors are amazing, particularly the citrus varieties, and I’ll continue to drink their products as long as I need an adrenaline boost in the morning. I would encourage all readers to try them if you are looking for a natural energy supplement; you can probably find them at Whole Foods and other similar stores.

What You Can Learn from This Experience:

1. Automated responses to your customers without a follow-up phone call = a lost customer. All either “Scott” or “Patrick” needed to do was call me for my new credit card information. I gave them my phone number in my initial email! Instead, they sent a lazy, stock response.

2. Truly exceptional customer service experiences, particularly if you’re in any kind of tech-savvy community, can generate great online buzz, and even incoming links. I doubt this post will get picked up by Digg, Reddit, or even Sphinn, but who knows how many additional tech folks I’ll talk to about the Zenergize brand in the next 12-18 months, and what linking opportunities that might open up. And imagine if Zenergize were a locally-focused company, the positive impact a review of their website might have had both within the Local algorithm and in terms of click-through on their listing.

There are a number of examples of companies whose customer service is legendary: Aston-Martin, Southwest, and Cabela’s. As online reviews become even more important, these companies will doubtless continue to build their brands even higher, while companies with notoriously lousy service like AT&T and American Airlines will continue to lose market share.

3 Responses to “Don’t Leave Customer Service out of Your SEO / SMM Strategy”

  1. Jane says at

    Nintendo is also famous for great customer service. Apparently they’re quite the pleasure to deal with!
    http://fiendishgleeclub.vox.com/library/post/customer-service-gone-shockingly-right.html

  2. David Mihm says at

    Jane, that is indeed an “awesome,” amazing experience–thanks for sharing it :)

  3. Jim Smith says at

    I agree with your comments regarding poor customer service. Our policy is to personally call customers within 30 minutes of their message (assuming they had to leave a voice mail)

    Our customers expect and deserve a personal response, and we try to accomplish this with every customer. It is really not that hard to differentiate with regard to competitors.

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