Frank Eliason of Citibank: The Right Customer Experience

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Frank Eliason, Global Director of Social Media for Citibank, and author of, “At Your Service: How to Attract New Customers, Increase Sales, and Grow Your Business Using Simple Customer Service Techniques” believes customers want a pleasant experience the first time around and not necessarily social service after you’ve failed to provide that.  Tune in as he joins Brent Leary for an in-depth discussion on the concept.

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social media customer serviceSmall Business Trends: You’re the Director of Global Social Media for CitiBank and you also wrote a book, “At Your Service.” Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Frank Eliason: Most people probably remember me more for my work at Comcast, where I founded Comcast Cares. I view myself as a simple customer service guy. I look at social media with that hat on.  That’s the hat that really makes a lot of sense to work in social media with.

Small Business Trends: You started with social media from the perspective of customer service.  Do you see a lot of companies starting like that today, or are they really looking at customer service over social channels -primarily through a prism of promotion?

Frank Eliason: I think they’re looking at it from a promotion. I think that what people find is that it really just doesn’t work. As customers start talking back to them and as they talk back, people said: ‘Oh, social services is what they want.’

“It is really fascinating to me because I haven’t found customers that really want social service. I found that customers want the right experience, at the right time.”

Not that long ago, I did a presentation about this. I called social media customer service a complete failure and I have reasons for that. I made the point that customers don’t want social service, they want it handled right the first time.

There was someone from a major pizza chain on a panel during that seminar. She said:

“Our customers, they want social service.”

I was fascinated by this. So the first thing I did was pull up their Facebook page. The first post I saw was:

“I called three times, and you still can’t get it right.”

They did not want social service.

Small Business Trends: They wanted a pizza…

Small Business Trends: Do you think companies were providing the right kind of customer experiences and customer service before social media?

Frank Eliason: No. We have been in the dark ages for customer service for 20 years or more.

Look at technology and everything else. In the past 30 years, the amount of technology that has gone into customer service is amazing. New tools come out all the time, they display their gadgets – think about it as a customer.  Do you think customer experience is better now – or better back then?

We try to make it all process. We try to make it a process for everything. Unfortunately, we forgot to give a copy of that process to the customer.

Small Business Trends: So customers want to have the best possible experience they can have. Whereas for companies it’s more about call reduction times and lower costs – i.e. get off the phone?

Frank Eliason: The thing is, companies do this all the time. Social media is one of these areas where companies have to learn, if you can tap into one’s passion, people will praise you. They will do all kinds of different things. Instead, we tend to destroy it.

I was flying on United Airlines. When I flew back, I got to the airport early. I looked and saw a earlier flight. Instead of having to wait five hours for a flight, I can take a flight in two hours. I said:

“Ok, I would like to do this. Can I fly standby?”

The response was:

“No. Well you can – but you have to pay $75.”

The plane had tons of seats. So what are they doing? My goal is to get home. I am highly passionate about getting home. Instead of living up to my passion, you try to make money off of it.

So what did I do? I paid the $75.  Then blasted the brand for doing this. It’s funny because I actually do like the brand.

Small Business Trends: Do you think that companies try to use technology to drive down cost as opposed to improving experience?

Frank Eliason: I will be blunt about it. Look at how we look at the customer. So many companies look at customers with one thing, what is the customers’ life time value?  That financial metric, this is one thing that drives me insane.  When I hear a company talk about a customers’ life time value. Because if you are doing it right, that value should be consistently increasing.

It becomes interesting to me because there is a finite number of people that can be your customers. What fascinates me about social, because social is really about relationships, it is core to what business at one time was about.

What really becomes interesting with that, when we made it about numbers, we took away people’s art form. We made everything so finite. But people have a craving when they do work to be artistic. It is a natural craving we have.

Small Business Trends: Having a human element is actually good for business because you are doing business with other humans.

Frank Eliason: That is exactly it. What’s really fascinating is, we’re hitting a time where people look at social media and find it to be all negative stuff. A lot of people blast and say all kinds of things.  I don’t necessarily disagree with some of that stuff and part of the reason is – we have driven people to that point.

I think it is easier not to do that when you have a human connection. When you feel very differently. These are the things that we can certainly do in social media.

Small Business Trends: Where can people find your book?

Frank Eliason: My book is available anywhere books are sold.

This interview is part of our One on One series of conversations with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click the right arrow on the gray player below. You can also see more interviews in our interview series.

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This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.