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March 29, 2017

Archives for June 2011

Exercising Responsible Freedom

By michaelpace on May 15, 2011

Exercising Responsible Freedom

In 2008, I fell in love.  No silly rabbit, not with the man playing the piano or even another woman, but with the phrase “Exercising Responsible Freedom”.  I began to pattern my entire managerial style after this powerful phrase, and believe it is more relevant than ever in today’s Customer Service and Social Business world.

So what is it?

I discovered the phrase in a book by Chip R. Bell & Ron Zemke called Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service.  It’s a great book for the Customer Service Leader who looking for direction that spans both strategic and tactical, combined with real life stories.  (I am not a “Raving Fan” of uber theoretical books like Raving Fans)  Exercising Responsible Freedom is simply knowing the right thing to do, understanding the risk, recognizing your proverbial guardrails, having solid rationale, and most importantly doing something.   Sounds a lot like empowerment, but I rarely choose to use that word anymore.  Here’s why:

Somehow the word empowerment turned into something that you can give to another person, like a magical gift.  Empowerment is like energy, I cannot physically give you mine; it is already resides in you.  If you believe you can actually pass it along, you may be essentially passing over nothing.  However, if we believe empowerment is something that I (your manager) can help unlock within you (associate), we can take the appropriate steps unleash it.  So instead of talking about empowerment, I talk with my reports about how I can help them exercise their responsible freedom, and how they can help their reports exercise theirs.

How do you do it?

  1. R-E-S-P-E-C-T (sock it to me): Have the respect for your associates to treat them like adults.  Far too often, I encounter people leaders who act more like parents than business leaders.  Your associates typically have mortgages, rents, insurance, bills, children, and a whole host of other responsibilities, they can handle more than you think.  If they can’t, you probably need to reassess their future and the time you invest in them.
  2. Paint the Vision: You cannot expect people to know and do the right thing if they do not know what direction you are going.  Describe to your associates what the realistic future looks like, and have conversations (two way) about what it means to them.
  3. Provide the Flexible Guardrails: Talk about what would be going too far, and talk about what is too safe.  Use examples of what is in scope and what should remain out of scope.  In regulated industries, providing this detailed information is critical for wary associates.
  4. Discuss Possible Outcomes: Have a discussion about if something did go wrong.  Develop operating agreements that provide a safe zone for both you and the associate to review lessons learned.  I find myself often saying to people, if you had a good rationale for actions, you will never been in trouble.  But if I asked “why”, and their answer is “I don’t know” or “I just did it”, we will need to talk more.  And don’t forget to talk about the incredible things that can happen if they take the appropriate leap.
  5. Let them know you TRUST them: Just overtly saying to associates, “I trust you to ….”  is amazingly powerful confidence builder.  It reaches them on both a professional and personal level.  See prior post on Trust for more info.

Why it is so important in today’s Customer Service and Social Business world?

It is evident that service and relationship building are key differentiators between similar businesses.  Customer’s expectations are pacing with the speed of technology and process innovation.  If you provide scripted and/or automated responses to customers, they will repay you with the equal amount of passion.  If your social support team is tweeting right out of the traditional public relations handbook, you will most likely anger or disenfranchise your customers.  Same goes for customer service representatives who must use the caller’s full name 3 times in a call.

We need to hire, develop and foster our associates (and our associates’ associates) to think critically, do what they believe is the right thing for the customer, and not feel they have done something wrong by erring on the side of the customer.  When they exercise their responsible freedom, they engage customers on a human level, they build strong relationships, and they have the true opportunity to “WOW” a customer.

Do you help your associates Exercise Responsible Freedom?  Are you with me in jumping off the empowerment bandwagon?  Are you given Responsible Freedom?


Image credit: Mike Caine

Stop operationalizing Social Customer Service (for now)

By michaelpace on May 8, 2011

go directly to jail


Audience for this post: Customer Service Leaders, Call Center Leaders, Partners/Vendors, SCRM peeps, Social Media Consultants

Not for: People who understand social business, social tools, and practice more than just daily


I love what I do.  I [attempt to] thrill customers who choose “alternative” channels to receive their customer service or voice their opinions.  By alternative, I mean non-typical call center service; I lead Knowledge Management, Social and Community Support, and Process Management/Service Recovery teams.  I also have the good fortune to serve on the Board of Directors for the North East Contact Center Forum, and occasionally speak at conferences.   For the 15 months, I have straddled the space between the Customer Service/Experience and the Social Business/Media worlds, and have had the opportunity to meet incredible people from both sides, but rarely do they meet in the middle.  Social “Media” is hot in the Call Center/Customer Service arena right now, but for the audience of this post (see above) I have some strong words for you:

Stop trying to operationalize Social Customer Service (for now)

Stop asking these questions:

–          What kind of SLA’s (Service Level Agreements) do we need?

–          How many people should we staff this with?

–          How can we calculate workforce management requirements?

–          How do I monitor quality?

–          How can tools (SCRM) answer the previous questions?

–          ETC…

If you are in the industry that provides these answers, stop answering the questions.

You cannot operationalize something you do not understand.  You may know how to swing a hammer, but that doesn’t make you a carpenter; it only makes you dangerous.   You need to understand the why and how of social business/media/tools before you get to the what.  Social business is very different than traditional linear business practices, there are multiple layers (called relationships).

Start asking these types of questions:

–          How can my team and I get involved in social business/media?

–          What communities or other conversation areas should we listen to and participate in?

–          Where are my customers talking now?  Where will they be?

–          What are some great resources for my team to find more information about this subject?

–          How do I conduct low-risk experiments?

–          How do I involve others departments in these initiatives?

–          ETC…

Once you understand the art of social business, you can start understanding the science (or start operationalizing your social presence).  Spend a couple months understanding the answers to the second set of questions.  You will know when you are ready, trust me, my “aha” moment hit me over the head like the hammer I was discussing earlier.  There are plenty of resources out there for help, build relationships with them, and you are always more than welcome to ping me.


So, what kind of questions do you find yourself asking (and answering) – Operational or Involvement related?

P.S.  For those folks who this post was not intended for, we need to clear and develop the paths for operationalizing social business (NOW).

P.S.S. I do know operationalizing is not really a word, but you know what I mean.

P.S.S.S.  Great video for all leaders and readers on starting with Why from TED.

How Great Leaders Inspire Action


Stop talking about TRUST, measure it

By michaelpace on May 1, 2011

Sumo trapeze

This post is a piggy-back from Christine Perkett’s (@missusP) written thoughts after her discussion panel at the Social Media and Communities 2.0 Strategies conference, go to for more of the original conversation.

The topic of TRUST has been a personal soapbox item recently. I read 30-40 blog posts daily and attend a number of social business/media events each year, and just about every day I hear how important trust/building trust/earning trust/maintaining trust is to relationships with our customers and communities. However, nobody ever defines trust; it’s a subjective term like love or truth. If you don’t have a firm grasp of what it is, how are you ever going to be able to measure it?  And everyone knows, if you are not measuring it, you are not actively managing it. Finally, I come full circle; if you are not managing it, it’s either not important or you are missing something BIG.

I am assuming it’s the latter.

Just like I tell my reports, identification of an issue is good; bringing solutions to the party is great. So here is my take:

My Definition: Trust is the confidence that a party/company/person/group is sincere, competent and reliable to meet the customer/person or affected group’s expectations.

How can you measure trust? The simplest answer is probably to just survey and ask your customers directly. This sounds a bit uncomfortable (for both surveyor and recipient), and may lead to biased results. Net Promoter Score (NPS) is also a viable option. Asking the question “How likely are you to refer Company X to your friends, family and colleagues?” implicitly asks for the level of trust in a party. However, the core NPS question can be interpreted to mean your product, your service, your price, or your value, and still will not let you know if you are a trusted partner.

Another way to measure trust (and possibly moved the needle) might be through the measurement of its core drivers, as I defined earlier – sincerity, competency and reliability. I like to think this methodology is analogous to a 3 legged stool. If one of the “legs” is broken, the stool is going to rock or come crashing down (just like your trust).

Sincerity: Asking your customers if they believe you care about them, are not deceitful, honest or have their interest at heart. You may ask them to review your site, materials, products, etc.. to learn if they believe you have their interests top of mind or even if you understand them. Audit yourself as well. Drug and Oil companies seem to consistently fall short on this driver.

Competency: Do you or your company have the ability (or competency) to deliver as expected? I am sure we all run across someone or a company that has the best intentions and is always available but their end product or service is just lacking. Sometimes lacking in this driver is due to poor operational processes, training, general knowledge or expertise. I see consultants and inexperienced people/companies falling down on this attribute most often.

Reliability: Do you deliver on time, per spec, within budget of your customer’s expectations consistently? This key driver is probably the easiest for you or your customer to measure, because it is very tangible. Did the delivery company show up on time? Has a company given you the right product? Did it cost more than the sticker on the box? Internally, companies can ask if they met their SLA’s (service level agreements) and how often. They can look at their uptime/downtime of their website. They can monitor and track billing issues.  We trust FedEx here; rarely do we trust the USPS.

Yes, I understand there may not be a silver bullet metric for trust. The customer service world as a whole is the same, no one metric can provide the clearest indication if you are doing it well. However with Customer Service, we do have proxies, and we do understand what drives exceptional service. At a conference I recently attended, it was clear the wave of social media talk (within our social media bubble-very important distinction) is ending, and the discussion is moving to the question of “How do you operationalize and manage this space well?”  We will need to stop saying things like “You need to build trust with your customers”, and move to “How are you defining and measuring the trust your customers have of you?”

This is clearly only my perspective. I would love to understand if anyone else is questioning the TRUST verbiage, how do they define trust, how are they measuring or planning on measuring? Maybe this is just a personal rabbit hole that does not have an answer, but I like the question.

Hopefully, as more posts are provided, you will begin to trust me in my sincerity, competency and reliability to deliver insightful and thoughtful information to your inbox.

Image courtesy of

Getting Your Community Party Started

By michaelpace on May 25, 2011

Cartoon Community by rogferraz

Last week, a member of The Community Roundtable posed a great question to the group’s other community managers.

His question was “Getting the Party Started – You’re starting a new community of practice/interest.  You have your initial set of invitees you’d like to engage for an old-fashioned “barn raising” to get things started. What do YOU do?”

My response:

I am so happy you used the “Getting the Party Started” analogy.  The party analogy is one of the best story telling methods I have found to help other folks at Constant Contact understand how we should be interacting with community members.  I always say our community is like a party for our customers, and we are the hosts.  Everyone understands what it is like to be a host of a big bash.  At first you need to set things up, but then as the party rages, a party member takes over the coat check and someone else runs out for more beer, etc…


Essentials for a kickass party or a community:

  1. Music – Music sets the tone for the party.  I think this is your brand voice.  You need to be clear on your brand voice, and if the community’s brand is the same, similar or a whole new, original theme.
  2. Food – Food is a requirement for any shindig.  Like edu-taining content is for a community.  You need to stock up on and lay out some quality appetizers for people to munch on.  Get them started.
  3. Social lubricants – Just like beer, wine and tequila, interesting questions posed to your community help loosen up the fingers on the keyboard.  Since you supplied the question, people feel much better about providing their thoughts as opposed your members putting themselves out there first.
  4. That guy/girl – Every party needs a life of the party.  You need to find yours in your community, and make sure he has plenty of social lubrication and food.  He/she will start their own conversations, and hopefully make some beer runs for you.
  5. Lampshades for that guy/girl – That guy/girl (as mentioned) before needs a lampshade so folks and community members know he/she is the life of the party, and more importantly, he/she knows he is the life of the party.  Lampshades come in all forms of badges and honors.
  6. The uber social connector person – This is that person who knows everyone.  It’s like the @jimstorer of Community for your party.  This person is typically different from the Lampshade dude mentioned previously, as their superpower is knowing everyone or the right ones.  You may need to look outside of your community for this influential person, or they may be right under your nose.  Make sure to invite them in to provide their thoughts and recommendations.  Invite them in for an online chat or to talk about their expertise as it relates to the community.
  7. A place people know how to get to – Every party needs a venue that people know how to get to and what’s going on there.  Unluckily for most party-throwers, most companies that have a community also have a Marketing Department.  Depending on your customers or prospects, you may need to provide awareness in a variety of different forms (web promotion, email, direct mail – yuck, twitter, etc…).  Word of mouth is fantastic, but occasionally you need to hang some flyers on the telephone poles and bus stops.
  8. Games – Every party needs something for the people to do.  A strong program schedule filled with great content, thought leaders, contests and sub-groups will liven up any get together.
  9. Prizes – If you have Games, you usually need prizes.  These can be anything from something of monetary value to big ol’ pats on the back.
  10. Fireworks (if you are from down South) – Everyone stops what they are doing to watch fireworks, because they are eye catching, interesting and bold.  You should be bold, try new things, be provocative, or at least really interesting.

Hope the analogies made some sense, and good luck!


Does anyone else have great analogies or stories to help those on the “outside” understand your business strategy or community?  Is there anything else you need to get a party started or at least a rockin’ community?

Image credit: `rogferraz


Social Customer Service – A completely different animal (associate)?

By michaelpace on June 12, 2011

Social Customer Service Team

For the last 30 years, traditional customer service recruiting, training, core skills and performance management have not changed dramatically.   Service professionals and their management teams have been able to hone the delivery of customer needs through various channels.  But are the same attributes that make a great traditional customer service representative applicable for Social Customer Service?

Traditional customer channels & attributes:

Attributes of Social Customer Service

But are these the same attributes needed for superior social customer service?  Let’s look at responsibilities & qualifications of a social customer service representative.


  • Monitor social media outlets/networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs.) for customer service related inquiries, complaints, concerns
  • Organize customer service inquiries, concerns, and responses for record and reference track the types of questions that appear on social media outlets
  • Distribute and/or partner with various  internal resources to ensure social media generated issues are resolved and communicated
  • Partner with various internal (possibly external) resources to update customers on promotions, technical advancements, general content, issues or changes
  • Create, curate, and repurpose content to share with social communities
  • Facilitate the Voice of the Customer (Social Media) to various internal departments and individuals to enhance the customer experience and product strategy


  • Excellent writing and phone skills
  • Strong grasp of the structure, purpose, and tone of social networks
  • Ability to think quickly, and formulate responses within a short turnaround time
  • Ability to communicate on social networks in a professional, yet personable, way
  • Basic understanding of Marketing practices
  • Ability to work cross functionally
  • Flexibility
  • Comfortable presenting organization’s values, positioning and persona potentially to the  entire social universe
  • Able to “Exercise Responsible Freedom

social customer service team attributes

I think we are dealing with a completely different animal.  So if we are dealing with something different, what should we consider changing?

  • New job titles/roles/descriptions
  • Recruiting – should it need to be socially sourced?
  • On-board training – inclusion of marketing, product, service, HR
  • Core skill development
  • Career progression paths
  • Performance Management
  • Continuous education models

Social Customer Service Team

Since this is such a new arena, all comments and thoughts are very much appreciated.

Is your Social Customer Service missing the “Social Point”?

By michaelpace on June 4, 2011

Social Customer ConversationWith a number of Customer Service / Contact Center conferences (ACCE12th Annual Call Center WeekContactCenterWorldNorth East Contact Center Forum) coming up, it’s fantastic to see so many tracks and sessions wholly dedicated to Social Media Customer Service.  The Customer Service / Call Center world is lagging far behind the Marketing and Public Relations spaces as far as social media adoption.  In many cases, the Marketing and PR departments still handle all or a large bulk of social media customer service inquiries.  In 2011, the Customer Service world is acknowledging the need to include social media tools into their channel mix.

But I am not sure the Customer Service / Call Center world understands what it will mean to get into the social business arena.  Customer Service is traditionally reactive; a problem arises and a customer contacts the organization to correct the problem.  Great companies will not only solve their problem, but will also provide value beyond the initial transaction (coaching, relationship building, loyalty incentives, etc…).  And if the Customer Service department is good, they will be able to solve a high majority of customer inquires within the First Contact (see FCR – First Contact Resolution).  But even for the majority of the best, this is a REACTIVE process.

If your Social Customer Service is only Reactive, you are missing the “Social Point.”

Social business is about forming and fostering business relationships around conversations and interactions.  If your social conversations look like this, it’s a transaction, not a conversation:

Twitter Customer ConversationWhile it’s a perfectly executed social media interaction, the scenario above is about a single transaction.  If all your organization does is respond to social media channel inquiries, you are still ahead of the majority of the competition, but you are not fostering a relationship or adding value beyond the transaction.  This is the point where there needs to be paradigm shift for Customer Service organizations.  Reactive transactions need to move to Proactive conversations and interactions.

In order for Customer Service organizations to get the “Social Point”, they will need to be able start and maintain conversations that help customers move forward.  If someone followed a twitter handle like the scenario above, they would get a steady stream of content that had no relevance or context to them.  I would stop following that stream.  Now if the stream contained content that helped me understand the human side of the company, provided humorous and/or educational material, gave subject matter expertise, connected me to others like me, linked to special promotions, and gave product warning/issues, I would continue paying attention to the stream.  Conversations lead to Relationships, Relationships lead to Retention, and Retention is the main goal of every Customer Service organization.  If you do it well, that Retention becomes Word of Mouth, Word of Mouth refills your funnel at a phenomenal conversion rate with near nominal costs.  All this becomes a virtuous cycle, more followers, more transparent conversations, more viral spread of your brand, more activity of products, services and communities, more reputational value…

Content creation, curation, recycling, and repurposing is usually well out the scope of work for almost all Customer Service personnel (through Management as well).  Next week, I will discuss the competencies and skills needed for a role of this type.  But in the meantime, here’s my recommendation for types of content to be distributed (will vary by industry, but a basic start).


Edu-taining: Educational and/or entertaining (the combination of both is the best) content that is of interest to your customer.  Some examples:

  • Industry news (internal and external to company)
  • Product vertical information
  • How-to’s
  • Thought leadership
  • Links to Frequently Asked Questions
  • Access to new or recorded webinars, tutorials or videos
  • Celebrity news (must be relevant)
  • Fun & silly promotions
  • Great to link back to further discussion areas such as your community or blog

Questions: Ask your customers that would be of interest to them and you

  • What products would you like to see in the future?
  • How can we make this better?
  • Do you like to use this feature or that feature?
  • What are doing for the upcoming holiday?
  • Miracle Whip or Mayo? (if appropriate)

Promotions & Value Added Services: Specials, Sales, Add-ons, and Service Perks

  • Sales
  • Special Promotions for existing customers
  • Referral programs
  • Add on products that provide a specific solution for customers
  • Service related perks
  • Flash sales
  • Major production issues or outages (with consistent updates)

To be able to create, curate, recycle and repurpose content through you social customer service channels, you need to work closely with your Marketing, PR, Legal and Product departments.  You should set up operating agreements with these areas that should allow you and your associates to exercise responsible freedom to provide content without micromanagement.  More words of advice, start slow with basic educational content, and graduate to questions and promotions.  This is a paradigm shift for most Customer Service areas, and it cannot be operationalized immediately. Like Axel Rose once sang, “And we’ll come together fine, All we need is just a little patience, (inhale) Patience … ooh, oh, yeah.”

Does your organization get the “Social Point?” Can Customer Service organizations make the paradigm shift? Should they? If they can, what are some of the downstream effects? If you are in Marketing/PR/Social Owner, how does this make you feel?