Thursday, September 15, 2011

Future Shock – Social Media, Call Centers, Digital Service Customers, and the End of Those Good Old Days - David Carlisle

This week we hosted our third Digital Aftersales Summit for 14 OEMs, where the focus was on social media, digital everything, and our emerging digital service customers (EDSCs). Eight hours, heavy participation, no salesmen, and pretty much no breaks. OK, this marathon session wiped out most of the participants. The leaders want it that way. I, personally, just hate breaks. Waste of time.

Social media really is very simple; it’s all about a profound role reversal. In the old days you bought a big chunk of air-time, crafted tight 30- and 60-second messages for millions of dollars, then let ‘er rip. Millions of impressions later, people bought your stuff. Never could do much with a ROI on this. So, they bought your stuff and if they didn’t like it they called you on an 800-number. Technology evolved to a point where your 800-number was manned by a computer with a sweet digital voice that would get everything it needed to know after customers spent 10 minutes shouting nouns and verbs and inputting complex alphanumeric strings on the phone dial. This eventually got them to a person they couldn’t understand and who knew nothing. Only the brave and strong ran this gauntlet to finally explode with anger at the customer service representatives. Yeah, those were the good old days.

Now we put up Facebook pages and plot to get “liked”; we do fewer of those
atomic ad blasts, because it’s all highly personalized and targeted now. OEM page content has to look like your Aunt Millie’s so it doesn’t give off an impersonal, corporate vibe. Want to be friendly-like. Agencies don’t do well with this sort of strategic dumbing down. Still have those 800-numbers. But, now when customers buy stuff and don’t like it, they tweet their discontent to what could be millions of connected potential customers … or slam you on Yelp/Google/Dealer Rater … the list goes on and on. So, we’ve got to figure out what to do with all those tweets & slams. In the old days we slapped that unhappy customer around with our call center constipation; now, he/she owns us. Role reversal.

Timeout: Ultimately it is this simple, but the implications are incredibly profound. Earth shaking. All those corporate customer service policies and procedures (and their associated infrastructure) are lined up to service the traditional un-empowered customer. Yesterday, all you needed were a few people to interface with the agency and a large call center that architecturally resembled a Temple Grandin-designed slaughterhouse. You could outsource it. This stuff does not work for digitally savvy customers. They don’t watch TV, don’t read print, skip commercials, avoid paid ads, don’t bother with 800-numbers, and express their feelings both bad and, well bad, using Twitter. None of our policies, procedures, infrastructure, or other junk works for these folks. It’s a corporate Betamax dilemma: (1) most executives think their “Betamax” marketing and customer service infrastructures are working just fine, (2) the “Betamax” owners know that ain’t so. (3) So, do you go out and buy a VHS player or… (4) cobble something together and wait for the equivalent of DVD, Blu-ray, or Netflix to come along. Not clear yet.
Who’s wreaking all this damage to our yesterday solutions? To quote one of our Digital Summit participants, it’s basically anyone with a pulse and access to the internet. Emerging Digital Service Customers (EDSCs) go to the web for information, education, and decision-making. In as few clicks as possible, they know everything they need to know and become empowered:
  1. costs & savings,
  2. locations, and
  3. what others think about the service.
So, when they choose a service provider they can figure out if they are paying more than they would at other close-by alternatives and they can determine if past customers were satisfied.

Dealers are not in the sweet spot of any EDSC target – there’s just a lot fewer of them inside a default 10-mile search radius than there are independent service providers. Yesterday’s rope-a-dope customer
management strategies are just as obsolete as those Betamax strategies I just talked about. Rude behavior, price padding, aggressive up-selling, phony free inspections, and other stuff from the service providers’ rope-a-dope arsenal has shifted from opaque to transparent. All a customer has to do is walk back to their car, grab their iPhone, check costs and prices, read through Yelp, and determine if they’ve been bamboozled. Worse yet, they become ticked off and use Twitter to broadcast their research findings to a couple of million folks searching for this sort of stuff … to write stories and blogs, to make decisions on where to get service, to make decisions on what car to buy. They put the car into drive and move on to another shop. The flim-flam man at the shop won’t even know what hit him and has no idea how to respond.
Timeout: Worse yet, what if he’s really not a flim-flam man? Here’s the real American Tragedy. He could be a dealer service advisor quoting double-netted parts prices for Genuine parts on a 150,000 mile junker, using warranty-driven labor rates that are posted on the wall, following inspection procedures that he heard about at NADA that were endorsed by his/her field rep, and relying on training he got in high school because none’s available from the OEM. DOA.
Bottom Line – It’s 1981, again. That was the year of the first JD Power Survey and represents the backbone of Toyota’s reputation for quality and customer satisfaction. The critical IQS survey came later, representing a nexus for mass customer opinions. This profoundly changed our industry and who was what on the game board. OK, Consumer Reports helped, too. JD Power is another Betamax artifact. They just don’t know it yet. If reputation is still important to this new generation customer – and it is – it is being very differently defined. The rules are different. Winners will understand this sooner. Losers will defend their tight budgets and hold on to their Betamax customer retention strategies until it is too late. The game board is about to change again. It might just be those importers from Detroit that now have the advantage. Again.

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