Tuesday 21 December 2010

Amazing customer service from Flightcentre!

I thought that I had written my last post of 2010. I thought that by this time I would be in New Zealand on my honeymoon. Sadly the weather, airports and airlines have conspired against me and, like 1m other travellers hoping to get away for Christmas, I’ve been stuck in London for the last few days waiting for a rescheduled flight.

Having spent nearly 15 years working with Marketing, Sales and Customer Service organisations I’ve seen my fair share of good and bad customer experiences. A crisis is often the best way to stress test a customer-facing organisation; it can shake Customer Service to its core. It would be easy to write a post describing how over the last few days I’ve seen many examples of customer service organisations being totally unprepared for a crisis and delivering appalling service to their customers, but I wanted to take a moment to describe one of the best customer experiences I think I’ve seen.

I’ve always said that its people that make the difference within Customer Service. Sure you can buy expensive technology (and that can help) but if your people are not motivated to help customers then your investment is probably wasted (see my previous post “Software doesn’t build relationships; people do”). People certainly made the difference in the recent chaos at Heathrow. Let me take a step back and explain how Flightcentre dealt with the crisis.

I had booked my flight with Flightcentre nearly 12 months ago and had been looking forward to going on honeymoon and catching up with old friends in New Zealand. The fact that I had booked at a high street travel agent at all (rather than direct online) had originally surprised me. But Flightcentre had been able to get me a much better deal than I could find myself online and Dave Lister, the manager at Flightcentre in Richmond had personally visited some of the destinations I was planning to go to and had made some great recommendations on hotels and restaurants.

Fast forward 12 months and on Saturday evening I arrived at Heathrow to find what could only be described as total chaos. A sudden, heavy snowfall had brought the airport to a complete standstill and unsurprisingly I received a text message from my airline telling me that my flight was cancelled. Within 60 SECONDS of receiving that news my phone rang - It was Dave from Flight Centre. He remembered that I was off on honeymoon and phoned me out of office hours to check if I needed any help re-booking my flights. I was shocked. It would have been so easy for the travel agent to simply pass the buck on to the airline and ask me to deal with the airline direct.

In the end we couldn’t find anything to re-book on Saturday night so Dave and his colleague Jois Christie came into their Richmond office on Sunday morning (their day off!) to help us (and of course their other customers) find alternative flights. In the end they spent around 2 hours with us working through different options until we found a flight that (I hope!) leaves tomorrow. Their knowledge, customer focus and passion for helping their customers was truly outstanding. I certainly won’t be booking my travel anywhere else in the future and I hope Flightcentre recognise what great people they have!

My learning from this - you only get moments of customer delight within Customer Service when people make the effort to go the extra mile.

Disclaimer and disclosure: Flightcentre have no idea that I write a blog on customer-centricty. They have not paid or incentivised me in any way to write this post and have not contributed anything to the content.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

The fast & easy path to social media success

You could take any number of easy decisions with Social Media, all of which you could get up and running fast. You could, for example try any of the following:

1. Ignore it and hope that your customers will too
2. Outsource it to a Social Media agency and marvel at the pretty weekly sentiment dashboards that they send to you
3. Set up a Twitter account and Tweet out special offers and press releases
4. Hire a social media guru and pay them to find you more Twitter followers
5. Ask your CEO to write a blog
6. Set up a Facebook fan page so that your customers can “like” you
7. Siphon off a small team of contact centre agents and have them monitor Twitter and reply to angry complaints
8. Create a video of a donkey water-skiing up the River Thames and post that onto YouTube

Sure... you could make any of those easy decisions and implement them pretty quickly. But what happens if:

1. Your customers start to use your Facebook fan page to post customer support issues
2. An environmental movement launches an orchestrated attack on your social sites
3. People start to question the accuracy and usefulness of the weekly sentiment dashboards from your agency and begin to “file them away”
4. Your competitors use insight gained from social listening and analytics to actually improve their core propositions and better tailor those to target your customers
5. Your competitors start to provide their customers with tools that actually help them to do the jobs that they are trying to do
6. The small team of agents you set up to monitor Twitter starts to grow into a much bigger team
7. Your customers start to learn that the only way to get great service from you is to shout loudly at their friends on social networking sites
8. No one forwards the video of your water-skiing donkey

An easy decision is not always a sound decision. Just because you can do something fast, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing to do. The speed, ease and transparency of social media bring both opportunity and threat.

Thursday 9 December 2010

GiffGaff – a case study of customers in control

It’s relatively easy these days to find point examples of social CRM in action across marketing, sales or customer service; but few organisations have a holistic Social CRM strategy in place. Paul Greenberg recently wrote a case study on Proctor & Gamble, who seem to come the closest (despite not calling what they do “Social CRM”).

One of the best case studies I’ve come across is a UK-based Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) called GiffGaff. I was lucky enough to recently meet some of their staff who talked me through the business model.

The GiffGaff story is one of David vs. Goliath. GiffGaff are part of the Telefonica Group. They rent their mobile network from O2 and sell pre-pay SIM cards and actively compete against the traditional Telco companies. Unlike most mobile operators with large fire-fighting call centres, GiffGaff have just 14 employees and no call centre. They challenged the traditional MVNO model by handing control over to their customers. Here’s how:

Product co-creation - right from set-up GiffGaff engaged their target market in 2 way dialogue, asking potential customers and early adopters to decide on how best to structure their tariffs. Similar to Dell IdeaStorm, GiffGaff have continued their Ideas page and at the point of writing they have implemented 112 ideas direct from their community.

Community support – the GiffGaff community is perhaps best shown within customer service. All of GiffGaff’s customer service is online. They pro-actively push information out to their notice boards page e.g. service issues. They publish customer-generated tips and tricks and FAQs. They also make extensive use of their community forum for peer to peer support (supported by intervention and moderation by GiffGaff employees when required).The community has radically cut customer support costs compared to the traditional contact centre-centric model. GiffGaff estimated that if O2 could replicate the model with just 25% of their customers participating, they could save c£20m per year.

Payback Scheme - Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the community forum is that users are incentivised to participate through the use of a payback scheme. The payback scheme rewards GiffGaff members for helping GiffGaff out with Kudos points which can either be redeemed for pre-pay credit, or donated to charity (of course a charity of the community’s choice!).

Social Marketing – GiffGaff’s above the line marketing is minimal for a Telco company. Instead they prefer their customers to spread the word on their behalf. Again they use Kudos points as an incentive - customer’s get 50 points each time they e-mail a friend or 500 points for each SIM card they send to a friend that is activated (where 1 point = 1p). That’s not a bad cost of acquisition and advocacy generates 25% of new customer connections.

GiffGaff’s results so far have been impressive and pretty interesting:

  • 50% of customer questions are answered via the community (as opposed to online self service or GiffGaff employee moderation).
  • The average response time for any question posted in the forum (24x7) is under 3 minutes and 95% of all questions are answered within an hour. I suspect most Telco call centre customers would still be navigating an IVR after 3 minutes, let along speaking to an agent or having their problem resolved!
  • GiffGaff‘s NPS score is 75 - way above the industry average and approaching that of Google or Apple. They publish their customer satisfaction scores here.
  • GiffGaff have found that the traditional 90-9-1 model of participation (See Michael Wu’s blog for an explanation) has changed with their rewards system. They estimate that they have a  1-25-74 model i.e. a much higher percentage of occasional forum users.
  • GiffGaff found that their top ten super-users spend an average of 9.5 hours per day on the community site. Some super users have gone to extreme lengths to support GiffGaff; stepping in to quash negative complaints and building their own status badges for the forum. GiffGaff’s customers even built them an iPhone app.
  • Because of the exceptional levels of support within the community, GiffGaff have also found that some users have started to donate their points back to the super-users who have helped out most within the forum.
Now clearly as a start-up, GiffGaff have some unique advantages. They do not have an existing large and diverse customer base or existing investments in call centres. They can afford to target a very specific niche of customers who are happy for their relationship to be conducted entirely online. However, that’s certainly not to say that traditional contact centre-centric companies cannot learn anything from the GiffGaff model.

Disclaimed and disclosure: I have no affiliation with GiffGaff, either as a customer or as a client. They have not paid me for writing this article (or given me kudos points!).

Share This

Share |
Creative Commons License
The Customer Revolution Blog by Laurence Buchanan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at