As contributing editor Sean Sposito points out in this month's thoughtful cover story, as banks move their customers out of branches and toward the web and mobile apps (and as customers move themselves into online channels), they need to find another way to communicate, to replace that face-to-face interaction. Sentiment analysis, the subject of the article, is one way of getting a glimpse of how customers think.
Another, complementary way is for a company and all the people who work in it to take a genuine interest in customers' problems and needs, across all channels. In Frank Eliason's new book, @Your Service, he notes, "Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear a company just come out and say, 'Your call is not important to us?' I know that this is not realistic, but, on some level, I would applaud the honesty of it. Often I call places and this is the message I get even if it is not the words they are using."
At many companies, he observes, dealing with customers is considered menial work. "The problem is that the culture within service departments often leaves a bit to be desired and employees are striving to get out," he writes in his book. "This is because most company leaders unintentionally send messages that service is beneath them. We tend to talk down to service or not even care about their needs. Many companies completely outsource customer service, which sends a clear message to the customer and employees alike."
A positive role model he cites is Vanguard, where all employees are required to take customer calls at busy times, including the CEO. "Think about the business impact if all your employees were taking calls from customers," Eliason writes. "What decisions would be made differently? Would you have the same policies or procedures that you currently have?"
Some companies, including First Horizon and online shoe seller Zappos, take a "put the employee first and the customer will follow" approach. In research, Zappos found that most employees feel "used" by their employer, and that such unengaged employees create negative corporate environments that are unproductive. The company created a Happiness Model: productive and happy employees generate happy customers who buy more shoes. It may sound corny, but 75% of Zappos customers return. The corporate motto: "Love the customer more than your product or service."
Frank Eliason has embodied this ethos from his days at Comcast. When customers would complain to the cable company on Twitter, he would find their phone number and personally call them, to their surprise and eventual delight. And he really listened. One blogger wrote about Eliason's twitter persona, pointing out that he used the word "perception" a lot. "Who speaks that way?" the blogger wrote. Eliason's reaction: "What I took from that post was that I was being too proper and needed to loosen up, so that's what I did," he says.
Listening, learning, adapting, improving - a virtuous cycle.