Help Set Your Customers’ Perceptions By Creating a Customer Guarantee

Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from @Your Service (Wiley, April 2012), written by Frank Eliason, SVP of social media at Citibank and formerly with Comcast. Eliason will give the keynote at PR News’ Digital PR Awards luncheon on Oct. 1 in New York City. For more information go to: What is the guarantee that your business offers to your customers? Whether expressly written or not, your customers have an expectation of your company and in their mind, that is a guarantee. Sometimes that guarantee is dictated by the industry that you are in. The cable industry at one time may have looked to customers something like this: • Rates will go up as much as possible. • Your call will be ignored. • A tech visit will be between 12 and 12. • There is nothing you can do about it because you are stuck with us. I say that all facetiously, but in reality the perceptions about your brand drive what people assume are your stances. When you read all the negative commentary you could come to the same conclusion. You can pick out numerous examples, like the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). I would guess that their guarantee might look something like this: • Spend all day in line. • Fill out lots of paperwork. • Get sent out of line to later return. I am sure that we could do a whole comedy routine on what brands or industries supposedly stand for. In some ways it would be funny, but at the same time it would be sad because there is always some basis in reality to it. Perceptions are realities to the person who has them. What are your customers’ perceptions? Many brands have difficulty because their own marketing and PR messages do not always match the business realities of the customer experience. These differing messages are part of what is leading to the existing customer revolution that is taking place. For years customers have felt they do not have a say in the way a company treats them. In addition they have felt that they had no way to provide that feedback to the business, or that the business will ever take action on their feedback. Today, customers do have this ability. They just turn to social media to express their views or vent their frustrations about the company. In reality they now have the ability to take control of the message about your brand. They can quickly and easily spread their message to anyone who will listen. During my time at Comcast, we were working as a cohesive team to address these issues. We first recognized the opportunity to make it easier for customers to communicate with us, and we made those changes. That was the easy part; we now had to embark on something much harder: creating real change with the customer experience. The first key efforts were listening to what our customers were telling us. Next, we had to find improved ways to respond to customers and solve their problems. In an effort to do this we focused efforts on improving our online help forums. This was something that we already offered, but we recognized that we had to further improve this experience in order to encourage more customers to be a part of that community. We studied existing forums and we worked with our community members to find the best means to increase the number of customers participating in the space. We also wanted to be more transparent in our dialogue with our customers and other key constituents, so we started working on building a Comcast blog. Early in this process, we recognized that the strength of Comcast is the people within the organization, so we sought a way to present that to the world that demonstrated the diversity of the people, thoughts, and activities that make Comcast. The name “Comcast Voices” stems from that exact thought and to this day the blog continues a tradition started at a very different time for the company. Over the years, the company, like the cable industry as a whole, has had a number of incidents that added to the perceptions of poor service. Each one of these incidents led to real change. Working smarter, not harder, was leading to improved customer experiences in everything that we did. Even with all of this changing, the perceptions were still not changing as rapidly as we had hoped, and we had to drive consistency throughout the organization. How can we make sure that every service experience was consistent in terms of how we helped a customer? As part of our efforts, leaders from across the company worked to create the Comcast Customer Guarantee. It went through many iterations—it is extremely difficult to get everyone on the same page and in agreement, especially if certain actions impact their cost center. But, it was the right thing to do. Here is the Comcast Customer Guarantee (abridged version): We will give you a 30-day, money-back guarantee on our video, voice or high-speed services. If you’re not satisfied with these services and wish to cancel for any reason, you can do so in the first 30 days and get your money back. We will always be on time within your appointment window or we’ll credit you $20 or give you a free premium channel for three months. As a courtesy, we will call you before we arrive at your home. And if we fail to arrive for a scheduled visit during the appointment window, we will credit you $20 or give you a free premium channel for three months. We will resolve routine issues in one visit or we’ll credit you $20 or give you a free premium channel for three months. After the first visit to your home, if we do not satisfactorily complete installation or can’t resolve a routine issue, we will credit you $20 or give you a free premium channel for three months. We will treat you and your home with courtesy and respect. Our technicians will display their Comcast identification clearly when they arrive at your home. They will be trained and equipped to complete the job on the first visit. Comcast is continually working to bring this change to the customers and have already made positive impacts. At the same time, as they did with Comcast Voices, the company is also marketing these changes in a way that shows the dedication of their employees to the communities and the customers whom they serve. PRN Frank Eliason The Four Tenets of Customer Service There are numerous books that will teach you all kinds of fancy catchphrases to build the right service experience, says Frank Eliason, SVP of social media at Citibank, and author of @Your Service: How to Attract New Customers, Increase Sales and Grow Your Business Using Simple Customer Service Techniques. “I will not try to come up with some really cool acronym,” he says. “The themes that really win are some of the basics.” Which are: • Treat people the way you would want to be treated. Courtesy is easy, and it is something that we all learned from our parents and teachers from the beginning; yet, it seems in this ever busy world, we forget the importance of it as we get older. • Listen to your customer. Listening is an overused term nowadays, yet we are still not good at listening, whether it is social media, customer service or within our own company. We are constantly bombarding our customers with surveys, yet often not using what they say. • Empower your employees. Empowerment means that your frontline employees have the ability to get the right people involved to review experiences and ensure that the right decisions are made. • Value your customers’ time. Customers do not usually want to talk to their service provider. They are doing so because they have a need that is not being filled and thus must contact the service provider. They want their problem fixed. CONTACT: Frank Eliason can be reached at

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