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Customer engagement and service delivery ring true at call centre expo

23rd Sep 2009
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Experts including Dragon's Den star Deborah Meaden discuss why customer engagement is important for the future of CRM, as Louise Druce reports from this year’s Call Centre & Customer Management Expo.

Customer engagement and service delivery dominated this year’s Call Centre & Customer Management Expo in Birmingham, as talk of the recession and the importance of customer retention and loyalty in precarious economic times still loomed large.

This was reflected in the key note speeches, which included customer service guru Mary Gober’s take on how to fully engage your people to deliver consistently superior service, and thoughts from leading business economist Dr Dominic Swords on the importance of excellent customer service against the global economic outlook.

Not surprisingly, the biggest draw of the event was Dragon’s Den star and successful entrepreneur Deborah Meaden. Openly professing her loathing of PowerPoint presentations, she ditched the podium and moved to the front of the audience  for her keynote – “I like to look people in the eye and know what they do,” she explained - highlighting how to use customer service as your competitive advantage, based on her own experiences.

“Don’t expect a big long list of things to take away with you,” she pointed out. Look out for her advice and an interview with on the site shortly.

The death knell for Twitter?

The last keynote of the first day, however, looked to the future, as’s Stuart Lauchlan chaired a panel debate on the impact of the Twitter generation on your brand and how it will revolutionise customer service. Online community project manager Maz Nadjm and head of customer experience Paul Hopkins, representing two companies who have come under fire for their customer service in the past - BSkyB and easyJet respectively – agreed alongside Fresh Network CEO Charlie Osmond that we are still on the cusp of the true social media revolution.

But will Twitter still be the site du jour? “It won’t be around for long,” predicted Hopkins, giving it a sentence of as little as six months to a year before it starts dropping off – presumably affecting the Twitter accounts it has activated on the site. “It’ll fade away. It’s used for the wrong purposes; a free for all. Customers are about community. If corporations use it too much for marketing customers will walk away.”

Osmond and Nadjm were more optimistic but were uncertain how it might evolve. “The spam on Twitter has barely begun,” said Osmond after Lauchlan cited the case of Habitat being forced to apologise earlier this year after using hash tags to publicise itself on the back of events such as the Iranian election protests. However, he believed that currently there is a lot of forgiveness for making mistakes.

But what about Twitter overkill? Lauchlan questioned the merits of experiments such as Debenhams staff becoming Twitter assistants. Was it right for their customers and surely it’s not too much trouble to simply go up to an assistant and ask them for help? Hopkins sees it as a wider problem: “People are jumping the bandwagon without a strategy and it’s not doing brands any good.”

Online communities Vs social networks

Of course, having an online presence on social networks can “give people a stick to hit you with”, as Lauchlan said when referencing the ‘United breaks guitars’ video on YouTube humorously criticising United Airlines:

EasyJet and Sky have seen this first hand in their own customer communities. “easyJet and BSkyB are not renowned for customer service but some comments have to be managed,” said Hopkins. “Sometimes you have to walk away from people. No matter what they do they will use it as a stick to beat you with.”

But while Osmond also agreed too much retaliation can fan the flames, he also pointed out the importance of not getting too hung up on the scare stories about people only using social media to make negative comments. “It’s not true,” he said.

“We’re still learning,” he added. There is a difference between social networking and online communities. Facebook and MySpace are about connecting with people. Online communities use online tools but like [reviews on] Amazon and Wikipedia, people don’t care who wrote it but use it for reference. It’s often inappropriate to turn up to someone else’s party but it makes sense to create a community around your brand.

“Planning is key and building advocacy and engagement is the panacea.”

“There are some basic rules,” said Nadjm. “But it’s good that [these betworks] are free to try out and see what does and doesn’t work for you.” has a dedicated customer engagement discussion group. If you would like to debate or learn about the latest developments in one of the most innovative areas of customer management, join here to connect with industry experts, commentators and other community members interested in customer engagement

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