Abdication is Not the Answer

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It's a fact, Jack. Effective customer care can mean the difference between business growth and decline. 88% of consumers are less likely to buy from a firm that ignores online complaints, yet the average brand responds to just 11% of social messages requiring a response.

Our business is 100% digital, so you might think that we're in favour of automating customer care and using digital channels (social etc.) to the greatest degree possible. Digital tools can surface issues faster, make responses more accurate and speedy, save the customer and the rep time - all good things. But we also believe there should be a "human in the loop," somewhere.

Why? Let us tell you a couple stories.  First, we had to summon a superhero to get Facebook to switch off a spam flag that had shut down a client's ability to respond to positive Facebook comments in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime event. The event's launch was on...Facebook Live. This was after using Facebook's support chat on the platform, reaching out on social media via our networks, phoning the support line on the website ("for support, press 2...please note that Facebook does not provide phone support..please visit our Facebook page for support"), and visiting Facebook's Toronto headquarters seeking assistance. The superhero was a person at another high tech company, who reached out to another person at Facebook, who had the head of Facebook customer support email us, who had a person look at the client's Facebook page, who immediately recognized the event for what it was and flipped the spam flag off, about 4 hours after the flag had been tripped in the first place.

Human in the loop. Once we reached a real person at Facebook, the response was immediate and effective. It was just like running the steeplechase while carrying a shotput to get to that point.

Then there was LinkedIn. We've written an application that measures our clients' demand generation performance, by channel (LinkedIn ads vs. PPC vs. organic vs. videos vs. print etc.), from impression to click to conversion to appointment to sale. The last API (i.e., a connection from our software to one of these channel platforms) we had to integrate was sponsored updates (LinkedIn ads). We had to apply for a Linkedin developer account to get access to the API. We did, and waited about 6 weeks for approval (the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica saga is making platforms justifiably cautious about to whom they give access to data).

We hadn't received an approval notification, but we did get an "ID" and a "client secret," so we seemed to be set up. However, our developer's code was not working. Before we went any further I wanted to find out whether, in fact, we had been approved. So on May 30 I went to the live chat on LinkedIn's website and asked if our account had been approved (effectively asking, "is this thing on?"). The chat person said that Linkedin now collaborates to answer posts tagged #LinkedIn on Stack Overflow, and that was the only support available. Stack Overflow is an online community for developers - people who write code. This seemed like an odd place to get the answer to "is this thing on?," so I confirmed with the chat rep again that Stack Overflow was the right place for my question. Confirmed.

And here's the rub: community support is a great way to reduce costs and increase engagement among your most loyal and knowledgeable customers. You just can't abdicate all care responsibilities to technical community support channels. I dutifully posted my question on Stack Overflow and got the following response:

Classic. “We don’t want to support our own API, so go ask on SO.” This is not an appropriate question for this site, as per How to Ask. I can’t help but think that the state and rules around app validation that uses a controlled API should be managed by the owners of that API. I’m sorry, but the only answers are 1. Go ask LinkedIn or 2. Do a bit of research on that error message and figure it out yourself. – jdv May 30 at 19:10
— jdv, Stack Overflow, May 30, 2018

"Go ask LinkedIn." On May 31, I sent a message to @LinkedinHelps on Twitter. Dan apologized for my frustrating experience, and asked for a link to my post on Stack Overflow, which I sent that day. On June 4, I asked if they could tell me whether our account was in fact "on." No response. On June 8, I sent a LinkedIn message to Ryan Roslansky, SVP of Product for LinkedIn and asked if he could find someone who could confirm whether our account had been approved (or not). I don't know Ryan, but he got back to me in less than an hour, apologized, and said someone would phone me soon with the answer. Credit and my thanks go to Ryan for being an accountable and responsive "human in the loop." LinkedIn rep Rich Smith phoned me that night while I was at a baseball game, and I gave him the name of our app over the roar of the crowd (the Blue Jays were uncharacteristically winning). Less than 20 minutes later, he emailed to say the account was in fact, approved and active. Human in the loop.

That's all I needed to know. 9 days and 5+ circuitous interactions later, we could move on to digging into our code to look for errors. "Is this thing on?" is a two-minute question/answer. And that's exactly why you need a human in the loop somewhere. When the algorithms and chatbots and listening tools reach their limits, there still needs to be an accountable person to ensure the customer gets their answer at Internet speed.

We believe that customer care is the new marketing so strongly, we built an entire product offering around it, a process we call Care to the Power of N. We'll shut up and let the vid tell the story:


If you'd like to know how to combine listening tools, intelligent chatbots, brand voice and tone, digital channels, and good old-fashioned humans to provide an effective, profitable customer experience that is consistent no matter which channel your customer chooses, please contact us. We promise to get back to you, today.

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