Sorry, I’ve been quite busy lately fighting fires at work for our customers. (You didn’t notice the big gap in posts?) I suspect it’s my desire to provide customers the best they expect from a rockin’ software company. It’s tough though … I’ve encountered moments where I question my purpose. Serving as a consumer advocate and social media evangelist is challenging because I need to frequently weigh my interests. This personal entry shares a bit of what makes my career challenging and rewarding.
In any company, consumer conflict boils down to managing expectations. The expectations surrounding the product and service are usually quite obvious to business owners and customers. That is, don’t say it has three hours of battery life if it really delivers two. Unfortunately, there are other implicit expectations which aren’t usually spelled out at the time of acquiring the product or service — customer interactions.
This is where I step in. Sometimes it’s deep, and I can’t get out; other time I victoriously step in and out without hesitance. One rock is uncovered and many insects are found, nested deep under the rock. I am a habitual rock lifter. My interest to protect and serve the customers’ interests is the company interest. No, that doesn’t mean siding with the customer all the time, nor does it mean I’m fighting for the company all the time. It’s the constant decision making that goes into objectively reviewing a new problem and providing a reasonable, fair, and prudent solution.
In any company, the reality is that some people execute on permission and others act as free agents. This causes a marginal divide in communication both internally and externally. I’ve been relatively competent in what I do, when I do it and I pull the trigger when others are gun-shy. When pulling triggers (executing) on one’s free agent impulses, consequences follow. The adverse effects of free agent impulses are usually in the form of innocent raised eyebrows, powerful as invoking questions from others, or it could result in silence. Not all consequences are adverse — I take pride when processes are changed, consumers pleased and business owners approving the outcome. It’s the free agent who catches customers who fall through gaps in the business.
Fire doesn’t burn me. I get burned when my crew isn’t there fighting the fire with me. On rare occasions, I get the impression they are with the civilians, observing and pointing at the fire as they wear the coats, helmets and have fire-axes in hand. An ounce of loyalty and respect nets a ton of trust and communication. I have no problem being the sacrificial lamb for a company — I’ve done it before — but I like to feel respected and trusted with my passion, not alienated. That’s the real climax of this entry.
I’ve loaded enough cliches and metaphors in this entry to make an English major weep, but I have some suggestions for those who love advocating for consumers:
- Pick Your Battles — No matter how fundamentally important a disagreement is to you, pick them wisely. Examine the scope, the severity and the ‘worst-case’ of the problem at hand. It’s very frustrating when one always has to go head-to-head on any disagreement in a company.
- Set Expectations and Scenarios — When handling an escalation which needs additional approval, be sure to rationally explain the ‘if-then-else’ logic to those who make decisions. In doing so, you may find that you’re investing too much emotions into a logical decision.
- Manage your Emotions — I often find myself getting caught up in a customer’s emotional cause when making business decisions. It’s not bad to have emotional thought into one’s ethics and morals; but segment those reservations for the intro and the conclusion of the matter.
- Find and Connect with a Mentor — Without a mentor, challenges in fighting fires can feel like the whole world is imploding. I have a couple mentors that I can confide in, who understand (more or less) my daily plight in resolving customer concerns and will share objective solutions that matter.
- Control your Passion — When you believe in something and have facts and causes for it, be strong, confident and trusted about it. That is, invite others to question your motive, your strategic intent and your tactical plan. You’re not passionate on the subject if you aren’t willing to address the matter to those who want to know and those who don’t.
I suppose that’s it for consumer advocate tips. At the end of the day, I look at who scores. It’s my job to keep the game in OT. Sometimes it’s the customers who win and sometimes it’s the business.
This ties into social media because fires will happen. Not everyone will be pleased or necessarily accept your transparent responses, nor will your transparency be readily accepted in an organization. Community managers, social media evangelists, consumer advocates and customer support managers all face this at some point in their career and must remain in control of their emotions before it consumes them. Always stand behind your brand and defend your reputation. Never surrender your values, your passion, your individuality.