Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been @BudgetRAC


 I figured the title would be catchy enough to pique your interest.  Before anyone asks, no I'm not a Deadhead -- not even close.  It's just that there have been so many funny twists and turns to my Budget story (including an interesting tidbit from just yesterday) that this title seemed to be fitting.

In my last post, I told you about my mini Twitter experiment as well as the email exchange with A.R., Budget's social media specialist.  I also told you about the delicious quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson which was part of A.R.'s email signature:

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

As I said yesterday, Emerson applauds being distinctive and independent -- anything that separates yourself from the rest of the pack to make your own way is laudable.  So, JetBlue's Jetitude or Zappo's four week training program would apply here.  I don't think Emerson meant to distinguish yourself in bad ways.  

And, to be fair to A.R., very few people mean to distinguish themselves negatively.  I think a larger and more serious issue is that she doesn't work within a team or for a company that encourages ownership of the customer relationship, regardless of your role within an enterprise unlike Jetitude.  Another larger and more serious issue is that of strategy: customer servicing, branding, marketing...  all of it.  Budget doesn't have it unlike Zappo's approach of strategy, training and discipline.  These two grave issues are things over which she has zero control.

Why do I say there is no ownership or strategy?  Well, it took a whole week of tweeting to get a response.  And, as I mentioned in the last post, she never said how it was that she found me.  I knew it had to be either the posts, maybe LinkedIn or Twitter but I was curious nonetheless.  All she had to do was answer the question.  It might be Twitter because she started following me after yesterday's post (hi!) but then my @parissab is part of my email signature.  Still a mystery!  The point is that she's not allowed to have a conversation: either due to cultural or structural reasons.

The other reason why I sense ownership isn't encouraged and there is no set social media strategy is that A.R. said that someone would reach out to me quickly and as soon as possible.  The sad thing is that the rest of June 11 and all of Monday June 14 passed without a word.  I reached out again to A.R. on Tuesday June 15 asking when I could expect to hear from someone.  She didn't respond but I did receive a call from R.O., a customer service supervisor who agreed that "The machine did it" is not an ideal response, accepted my feedback and offered a 50% credit for the inconvenience.  R.O. did tell me that he did not receive anything from A.R. until mid day June 14 and that they are still trying to figure out social media.  So, in his mind, he was addressing something within 24 hours.  

The ideal situation: for her, as the social media specialist, to have received some training and guidance so that she embodied the answer and the Budget brand to me, for her to have been the only person I ever would have interactions and for me to say, "Wow.  She's allowed and encouraged to be on top of her game."  That would have been impressive.  Instead, she didn't answer emails and could only give me non committal information about someone reaching out to me.

If you recall, I showed you data from a JD Power and Associates survey that showed Avis and Budget had below industry average scores and contrasted that with the scores from JetBlue.  I also contrasted 2009 AvisBudget performance with that of JetBlue (losses versus profits).  Those are some powerful differences, right?  

Let's step away from the anecdote and talk about the two larger points that I think causes Budget to suffer: ownership and strategy especially as they pertain to social platforms.  It's clear that regardless of how one may personally feel about Twitter, Facebook or other social media that most of us are forced onto the playing field.  If you have to accept your role on the playing field (happily or not), you've also got to accept the ownership of the social relationship as well as of the strategy.  These days, being on the playing field is like turning the lights on or answer the phone.  

The presence is not sufficient.  There has got to be something in place like a Jetitude where employees are encouraged to "be the answer" (really, owning the customer relationship) and there has to be strategy in place that shows how the social media presence aligns with customer service, aligns with marketing, aligns with product management, aligns with sales.  We all contribute to profitability and we all have to understand how everything we do, even if it means pushing paper, gets the company to accomplish those goals.

As I said last time, there's something to be said for strategy, there's something to be said for discipline and there's something to be said for the process -- all the while operating under the auspices of the brand identity which all customer facing functions should incorporate in the "how" and "what" of their interactions with customers.  Like Tony Hsieh said and I mentioned in my Zappo's posts (here and here), we are our brand's cultural ambassadors.  

 I must share with you that Bruce Temkin has just released a customer experience survey report.  I've not seen the whole document but he kindly shared the following in one of his posts:
  • Only 31% of those surveyed analyzed conversations in social media sites like Facebook and Twitter;
  • 95% want to improve profitability but only 43% want to improve the work environment for employees;
  • 71% said that other competing priorities as obstacles to improving customer experience;
  • 16% believe they delight customers getting customer service online;
  • Companies do very little brand marketing inside the company versus outside the company.
Sharing this puts the Budget anecdote in context and it shows us how far we need to go to catch up with JetBlue and Zappo's.  To bring back Emerson, they clearly don't go where the path leads and where they do go leaves an impressive trail.

Until Next Time,

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

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