MARIA OGNEVA'S BLOG
Hello, and welcome to my blog and the digital home for my thoughts. Most know me as @themaria, my handle across most social media sites and communities. My actual, given name is Maria Ogneva, and I love writing, traveling, eating, and spending time with my new husband.
I am passionate about how social media is changing the way we communicate, help and relate to each other, share news and make the world a smaller, more hospitable place. I work at Salesforce as Director of Product Marketing on the Communities product, where my job is to help customers (and the world at large) to be successful in building communities. I learn every day, and I share my thoughts and personal growth here.
Please note that the views expressed here are my own, and do not reflect those of my employer or any of our clients.
As social media gains mainstream acceptance, companies are starting to embrace (well, not always embrace, but at least tinker with) the social and realtime communication channels in order to listen and engage with customers and consumers. But not everyone is ready to engage with the culture of openness and sharing that comes with the space. How do you know if your company is ready? Three words: service obsessed culture. What characterizes a service obsessed culture? Companies with this type of culture differentiate themselves on service and amazing customer experiences.
Amazing customer service can be proactive and reactive. You are providing reactive customer service is when you are monitoring the web for what people are saying about you, and engaging with those people. It’s also when you are providing traditional customer support and moderation on your community site. We, community managers, do all this very well. But how can you be proactive? First and foremost, you have to create a product that rocks your customers’ socks off. Secondly, you have to make it ridiculously easy to procure this product and have an even easier return / feedback policy. You need to be open and honest with your consumers, so that they can see how easy it is to actually become your customers. You need to provide ample communication channels: do you have a feedback / suggestion page (I recommend UserVoice or GetSatisfaction)? Can your users find you on Twitter and Facebook AND phone and email? With so many choices today, the consumer will opt for something that’s easy and the least risky. You can create all the social media buzz in the world, but if your product and support around it stink, you probably won’t be around for very long. The consumer will use these same channels that you used to glorify your product, and share her bad experiences with everyone.
This is why Zappo’s does extremely well in the social media culture; they are in the business of customer service. This is also why I’m struggling to find a moving company with a meaningful social media presence. Moving companies, in my (recent) experience are the opposite of consumer-friendly or transparent, and they certainly don’t know how to provide a killer product experience. Fraught with scams, questionable pricing practices and extremely poor customer service, they aim to hide information about potential charges, only to release it when it’s too late for the customer to react. Additionally, there is zero customer service, unless you are being courted by the sales guy, who always disappears the minute you have a problem. There is no accountability or feedback method outside of the 800 number, which gives you a daily runaround.
Some of my worst experiences as a consumer have been with moving companies. I recently moved my goods from NYC to SF and became a victim of unethical pricing practices: I was offered a lowball offer followed by price gauging. Money was an issue for me, so I went with the cheapest quote I received. I felt good about the estimate because they actually came over, counted all my stuff and gave me an estimate. If I had spent the time educating myself on the industry, I would know that the industry recently got deregulated, and prior to that prices were pretty similar across carriers, with companies competing on service. I would also know that deregulation has given rise to predatory pricing, with lowball offers designed to loop you in, start the move and then give you a new price when your goods are on the truck (even a worse iteration is a common scam of “Unless you pay me now, I will take all your stuff and auction it off” – this is illegal, by the way). If there was more education available, I would also know to only accept a binding estimate, and never work with a firm that can’t give one. Ah, if only… Unfortunately, I (as many other consumers) did not think it was necessary to spend hours educating myself on common scams, because 75% of my misfortunes I couldn’t even foresee. This information does not exactly make it onto moving companies’ homepages, and due to deregulation, there is not one central agency in charge of providing oversight and consumer education.
I had to fight tooth and nail to get the price down, but still ended up paying twice the estimated amount. To make matters worse, my goods were delivered on a date when I couldn’t take delivery, forcing me to take the goods within 24 hours or face paying an extra $1,000. There was zero communication (let alone online tracking) to tell me when to expect my goods, and various other hidden charges only got presented during pickup and delivery. Thankfully, my very service-oriented landlord bent over backwards to accommodate. There were several extremely serious mishaps and violations, which are too long to discuss here, but will be published to my personal Tumblr.
Moving companies have a vested interest in keeping the consumer in the dark, because if we knew about all the extra charges, we would switch to another lowball competitor (and repeat the whole cycle of being lowballed, then gauged). Customer service is non-existent (even via phone or email), and communication is plentiful only during the sales cycle (during which I was provided factually false information). Finally, there’s very little recourse for the customer to complain / get money back, because most transactions are forced in cash. The consumer has started to fight back with review sites, but it’s still a long way from a perfect system, as a lot of entries have been fake-posted by company employees themselves (you can tell easily if you know what to look for). Other than the BBB and AG offices, there’s not a lot to be done. In its current iteration, the moving industry is not fit for social media engagement. They need to develop the customer service orientation first.
So at the end of the day, the question that I have is: can we take back an industry like that? If there’s no overarching agency to keep the carriers honest, how can we compensate for that? Social web is all about self-organizing, sharing and power in numbers. How can we force companies to be more transparent and service oriented? This is a transactional industry, where I would assume repeat business is infrequent. Do they treat us like commodities because they know we won’t come back, because most people wait several years before a major move? Do they not realize that even though we may not come back, we will send our friends, but only if we had a delightful experience? Do they not realize that they can charge a premium price for superior service? The truth is, I would pay more for piece of mind, if I could be assured of a different experience than then one I had. However, after this experience, I would have a very difficult time believing someone’s promises of service.