Sonia at Linkedin: how to deliver a great customer experience

Customer experience is fundamentally about the human.  And when it comes to the human we are exquisitely sensitive to the tone of the conversation. Get the tone right and you leave your customer feeling absolutely delighted with you.  Why?  Because the right tone validates the customers.  Get it wrong and the same customer will feel invalidated and resent you for it even if she does not ditch you there and then.

My Linkedin Experience

So what do I mean exactly when I speak of the tone of the conversation.  Allow me to share my Linkedin experience with you.

Yesterday I decided to take the premium membership from Linkedin.  So I clicked on the box, entered my credit card details and was then none too pleased to find out that I had been charged for a full twelve months.  Why?  Because I thought I was signing up for monthly membership: with a monthly membership you get billed month by month and can cancel anytime.

So I reached out to Linkedin customer support through the FAQ section and sent an email to the effect that I had unintentionally subscribed to a year membership. And asked Linkedin to cancel that membership so that I could sign-up for the monthly membership.  That was on Tuesday morning.  This morning ( less than a day later) I received the following delightful email from Sonia:

“Hi Maz,

I want to apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you.

Your premium subscription has been cancelled and a refund of $ 479.40 has been issued to your credit card. Please note that refunds take up to five business days to post to the credit card. To see a record of this refund:

1. Hover your cursor over your name in the upper right area of your home page and click on “Settings”.
2. Click on the “View purchase history” link.

You can also view your purchase history from the link below:
https://www.linkedin.com/secure/purchase?displayPurchaseHistory

Your Basic free account will still allow you to:

1. Build and maintain contact with your trusted professional network.
2. Find and reconnect with colleagues and classmates.
3. Request and provide recommendations.
4. Create and maintain your professional presence on the web.
5. Request up to five Introductions at a time.
6. Search for and view profiles of other LinkedIn users.
7. View Company Pages and follow Companies of interest.
8. Join and participate in sharing in Professional Groups.

Please know that you are more than welcome to renew your premium subscription at any time by clicking on “Upgrade My Account” at the bottom of your LinkedIn home page choosing monthly instead of annual subscription.

Thank you for using LinkedIn, Maz!

Regards,

Sonia
LinkedIn Customer Service”

Why am I Delighted?

I am not delighted that I got what I wanted – a refund of my subscription.  Why?  Because I assumed that as a professional organisation Linkedin would act professionally.

I am delighted because of the tone of the email.  Specifically, Sonia makes me feel that I am talking with a caring human being.  One that I can count on. How does she do that exactly:

  • Sonia addresses me by name and informally the way that a friend might address me if we were meeting up at a cafe.
  • Sonia absolutes floors me with her opening line “I want to apologise for the inconvenience this has caused you.”  In that one sentence, at an emotional level, I totally felt a bond.   Wow, I am speaking with a real human being – one that is speaking to me in normal human language and gets my experience.
  • Sonia tells me that she has sorted out my problem and she shows me how I can check for myself that she has fixed it.  Not that I have bothered to check I trust her.
  • Sonia shows me how I can go about subscribing to the monthly membership but does not pressure me to do it.   That leaves me feeling trusted.
  • Sonia ends the email as beautifully as she started it: ” Thank you for using LinkedIn, Maz!” I feel appreciated and validated.

The Lesson

Nothing, absolutely nothing beats a human being who gets the fact that customers are first and foremost human beings with deep emotional needs: acknowledgement, respect, validation, trust, caring ……The role of technology is to support these human beings in being great.  And to make life easier where the ease is wanted.  Technology should never be used to replace the human encounter – the personal touch.

PS. As a result of this encounter, I have decided to make a list of companies that I find to be customer friendly, even customer centred.  And Linkedin is on that tab along with other favourites such as TeamSnap and Amazon.

Why listening to the customer involves more than simply listening

I am a fan of Teamsnap and I wrote about them a little while ago because they are a great example of a customer-centred organisation.

The subject of customer experience improvement and the need for a rounded Voice of the Customer program to feed into have been on my mind recently.  Many VoC programs rely simply on customer surveys, some include social media, few gather both structured (NPS type surveys) and unstructured (what people actually say e.g. transcription of voice recordings at the call centre).   In the process I came across some interesting research that casts doubts on the accuracy of survey based research when there is a long delay (six months) between an event occuring and the survey being carried out: How reliable is our memory for our own previous intentions.

Reading the TeamSnap blog today I came across a model example of what it takes to really listen to customers and then act on that listening: The Curious Case of the New Tracking Tab. I throughly recommend that you read and absorb it.   Here is what I take away from it:

It takes a team of people who are truly customer-centric to approach the situation in the way that TeamSnap approached the unexpected issue

Most organisations (including many who say they are customer centric) would simply have rushed ahead and imposed a fix to make the new Payments tab work.  They would just have accepted that it is logically and necessary to have customers enter an amount for every payment.  They would not have done more investigation (like TeamSnap did) to understand why customers were doing what they were doing.  Nor would they have thought about the impact the change would have on their customers.

Truly listening to your customers involves going beyond surveys and reports, it involves getting into the lives of your customers – looking at both what they say and what they do

When TeamSnap looked into how their customers were using the existing Payments tab they figured out that lots of their customers were using it to track stuff.  Clearly the customers had a need to track stuff and the existing Payments tab had made that possible – unintentionally!

The point is that this understanding, this insight, came from actually looking into what customers were doing.  It involved having users test the new Payments tab.  It involved getting that it might be an issue for customers.  It involved looking into and at how the customers were actually using the system.  I call this ‘active listening’ which is very different to what I call ‘passive listening’ – usually a survey.   It is highly unlikely that a standard survey would have unearthed this insight.  Why? Because most surveys tend to focus in on what you already know: what ‘you know you know’ and what ‘you know you do not know’.

Yet it is what ‘you do not know that you do not know’  that is often a source of breakthroughs. This realm of ‘unknown unknowns’ only becomes visible when you actually immerse yourself into the lives of  your customer and leave yourself open to being surprised.

TeamSnap: everything that you need to know on being customer centred

In my travels across the internet I came across TeamSnap and in particular this post:  Who Is Helping Whom? How Our Customers Are Using Support To Help Us

I have mentioned this post as it captures the true essence of customer centricity.  As I have written before, customer centricity is fundamentally about the Being mode: reason for existence and the stand you take in life.  Yet far too many people talk about customer centricity solely in terms of the Doing mode – usually in terms of capabilities, technologies, processes.

One way of thinking about this is to distinguish between character and personality.  Character is who you really are, what you really care about, what you stand for in life, how you behave when your up against the ropes.  Personality is the show, the mask, that you put on for others and sometimes for yourself too.

Now back to TeamSnap and their post.  Here are the characteristics of TeamSnap that led me to write “Congratulations. You totally get what it means to be customer centric. I shall be using you as an example of customer centricity in my blog”:

  1. TeamSnap’s reason for being is to make life easier for those who organize and participate in team and group activities.
    Note that the reason for existence is not to be the biggest, the best, to dominate the world, to provide a great return for shareholders, to deliver a growth rate of 20% and all that stuff.
  2. We do everything we can to make the application über-intuitive, so obvious that any user can pick it up and use it.
    Many companies do not focus on making their products easy to use.  The people who build the products often have knowledge, skills and ability that the user will not have.  And they are blind to this fact: I remember listening to a famous e-commerce software company demonstrating their suite and wondering why they expected the users – marketers – to be comfortable writing if then queries!
  3. With that kind of product philosophy, you might expect Customer Support to be a second-class function. A place outside the “cool” functions like new feature development, or marketing. You would be wrong. Support is a cornerstone of the company.
    Too many companies that claim to be customer centric (or headed in that direction) put most of  their money and time into the cool functions of marketing, sales and product development.  And the Customer Services (Support) function is often seen as a drain on company money and company profitability.  As a result it has about the same status and welcome as someone who has Aids or in past times, someone who was a leper.
  4. Why? Because TeamSnap isn’t perfect. It doesn’t work the way that everyone assumes it will. It doesn’t have all the capabilities that everyone expects. It even has, horrors!, bugs.
    How refreshing!  My experience is that in the many companies management is convinced that the company makes perfect products and deliver perfect service.  And the customers who are not happy are either trouble makers, stupid or lazy in that they have not taken the time to learn what they need to learn.
  5. We decided if we were going to make the investment, we were going to go whole hog. We were going to put top notch people in the support role; we were going to back them up with our best software developers; we were going to have everyone in the company, even yours truly, in the Support trenches on a regular and ongoing basis.
    Now compare this with the standard situation where the Customer Services function is seen as a necessary evil – a drain on customer profitability – and the focus is on cutting costs.   How many companies can claim that they put top notch people in Customer Services?   And how many CEOs spend time – regularly and often – in taking calls from customers, serving customers?  You are a customer, what is your experience?  Do you look forward to interacting with Customer Service?  No, why not?

A last word:  it will be interesting how well TeamSnap fares as it grows.  History suggests that as companies grow and especially when they tap the capital markets their reason for existence becomes making the quarterly figures that the analysts expect.

Please note that when I say this I am NOT making a moral judgement, I am simply stating that there is a structure to the capital markets and that structure gives rise to specific behaviour: you have to make the quarterly figures if you want to keep your job, keep your company.