How My Team Built Avaya’s Own Version of Khan Academy

The following was originally posted on the Avaya site here and then at B2C here.

974 videos, 2,159 subscribers, 272,211 video views – all in just 17 months. Those are the key stats around the Avaya Mentor program, our fast-growing set of how-to YouTube videos for Avaya products that my team and I have been producing.

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the semi-annual Technology Services World (TSW) Conference, hosted by theTechnology Services Industry Association (TSIA) on the Avaya Mentor program, which I had also written about last August. This was a conference focused on services transformation and TSIA asked that I talk about how we at Avaya put together this video knowledge base, including challenges we faced. The breakout session was well attended and so I thought I would share this presentation with you here. Below is a YouTube video of me doing the presentation (not at TSW), which I’ve also summarized, along with more success metrics, for those who prefer to read.

As most of you have heard, the best example of using video to share knowledge is the Khan Academy. This non-profit’s website has a free collection of over 4,000 educational YouTube videos, surrounded by curriculum, quizzes, and incentives like points and badges. The topics range from simple addition, which has 1.7 million views, to the French Revolution with 400,000 views.

Khan makes a point of having its contributors avoid a teacher-at-a-whiteboard approach, opting instead for a style that feels like you’re sitting at a table with a tutor, working through the topic on a piece of paper. This better aligns with the many of us for whom learning is a visual experience. Being able to see how to do something taps into something different in the brain than just reading about it. The intuitive simplicity of this approach has allowed the Khan Academy to eclipse MIT’s own online education system with a total of 260 million views.

Another good example is Jove, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which helps speed up academic research through online video. When an academic team publishes a research paper, they include instructions so that peers can reproduce their experimental results and thus verify the research. Even to experienced lab researchers, understanding exactly what the authors of the research were trying to convey can be difficult, sometimes delaying the peer review process by months. Jove allows them to more easily include videos to demonstrate the procedure.


By this point, I hope you are asking yourself why you aren’t already using video for your knowledge base. Wouldn’t your employees and customers benefit from your company’s own Khan Academy? At Avaya, we found ourselves facing this question in the fall of 2011.

The President of Services challenged those of us in his extended leadership team to make our organization not just be successful in the market, but to be an organization that the analysts would write about. Put another way, it was no longer good enough to be lean and efficient; we needed to take the lead.

Going All In

My proposal was to put together an Avaya version of Khan Academy. We would use video to expand on the company’s existing knowledge-base-focused-support-model. We limited our scope to basic how-to videos designed to help those that install, maintain, and support Avaya products, be they customers, partners, or Avaya employees. These were to be short how-to videos, not anything that would replace the training that Avaya Learning develops.

Like Khan, we would focus on videos that were more live screen capture than talking heads. Additionally, I proposed that unlike Avaya’s existing knowledge base which is only available to our customers with a maintenance agreement, we would make the vast majority of our videos available for free on YouTube. By doing so, search engines like Google would be aware of this content, making it much easier for an engineer to find the answer to an Avaya-related question.

As we got started, getting buy-in from leadership was obviously important. A big part of that was that my team of engineers would need to reprioritize some of our work in order to make time for generating 800 videos in only 9 months. We had great support from Mike Runda, the leader of Avaya Client Services, who gave us the green light to move forward.

The Gear We Got

We evaluated a number of video production software suites and settled on Camtasia Studio. Camtasia gave us great features like the ability to use templates, splice video and audio in, as well as special editing features to highlight or zoom to certain parts of the screen. These licenses ran ~$150. Adding Camtasia required that we upgrade a number of our engineers’ laptops to meet the minimum specs, an upgrade that everyone was excited to have a good reason for.

We also went with a high-quality $80 USB microphone called the Blue Yeti. All in all, that’s about $230 per engineer. We felt it was important to maintain a common look and feel to these videos, so we built a template for Camtasia with legal and branding-approved intros and outros as well as standardizing on things like transitions. Due to our high quality standards, after reviewing the first handful of videos, Avaya’s branding team gave us carte blanche to publish to YouTube without further oversight.

Getting Started

For topic selection, I was lucky to be starting with an amazing team of subject matter experts. Most had no trouble coming up with topics for videos. For those that did get stuck, the engineer would talk with the support engineers to determine the most common repeat scenarios that they encounter and find a way to use these videos to speed up resolution and/or prevent the tickets from being opened in the first place.

As word got out about our videos, we also started receiving requests from internal and external users. We set a limit of 15 minutes for all the videos and encouraged them to be under the 5 minute mark. The length would really depend on the topic, and I would challenge the author of anything over 10 minutes to see if they could break it into more than one smaller video. To give you a feel for our topics, here are six that show off the variety covering hardware, software, different product portfolios, even our own customer-facing tools.

Quality Control

As the lead for this effort, the most time-consuming part for me was the review and approval process. It was very important to me that we has a very high quality product and thus I personally reviewed each and every one, sending back to the author a list of changes that I wanted to see. The bar was set high and a single review could easily take me half an hour.

To help reduce the number of errors, I would frequently share an updated list of common problems I was encountering. This was important as some had a harder time with the learning curve than others, encountering more than 20 issues per submittal, and multiple submittals of the same video. It is worth noting though that while everyone got much better at it with time; some were submitting perfect videos on day 1 while others never quite got there. Some of my engineers were frustrated with me as they felt the bar was set too high for quality. If I heard any extra noise in the background, or if a transition wasn’t crisp, I’d send it back.

But our users noticed that quality and complimented us on it. I feel it was important to our success. After three months, I delegated the approval process to one of my top engineers, Bhavya Reddy. She was one of the best at producing error-free videos and thus I knew she could maintain our quality. Here’s her video on setting up Avaya Aura Session Manager, which has garnered more than 6,200 views.

After six more months, Bhavya transitioned this role to the company’s formal knowledge management team where it could be better integrated into the other KM processes. This is important as we made sure we always dual-published all YouTube videos to the standard knowledge base by embedding the YouTube video in an article. This helped us ensure that our users could trust that a search of would return everything. The videos that were deemed proprietary were uploaded to an internal server instead of YouTube and published as internal-only articles in the existing knowledgebase.

Getting the Word Out

Building a knowledge base, or any tools, is pointless if you can’t get user adoption. I felt it important to delay the initial announcement until we had the first 100 videos published. I was concerned if someone came to the site and only saw 5 videos, they might never return.

So once we reached 100 videos, I had the President of Services announce the program internally, followed by similar announcements in external communications to our partners and customers. To reinforce this in a more detailed way, I blogged about it on our corporate site wrote as well as created a Twitter account for Avaya Mentor, allowing people to receive tweets when new videos are uploaded.

At last year’s Avaya’s User’s Conference in Boston, myself and others passed out materials to all the customers and partners we met with, be it at the conference center itself, or in a bar later in the evening. The IAUGgroup was actually so impressed with the program that they helped with advertising on all the plasma screens throughout the conference center. We’ve also partnered with the product documentation teams to include references to our program directly in the product documentation.

Our Results

With 16 months now under our belt, I thought I would share with you some of the measurable success we have had with the program. As I mentioned earlier, we have published nearly 1,000 videos on YouTube which have been watched more than 270,000 times.

While the U.S. provides our largest set of viewers, I’m happy to say that we are in 196 distinct geographies. What our support folks are most excited about is that we’re at 1,100 hours of video viewing per month which equates to about 10 full-time equivalents of people, which we figure equates to at least 3 FTE of labor avoidance.

But perhaps the most interesting metric is that we are seeing significantly more views per article than Avaya’s text-based articles. Now, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison given that we used some of the company’s most knowledgeable resources and posted our content publicly. However, I still think it is clear that video-enabled content is that much more compelling than text alone.

Three Unexpected Benefits

There are many surprising results from the Avaya Mentor project. The most exciting one for me as a manager was the impact to my employees. At first, I had some resistance from some of my engineers. They were not yet convinced of the value of these videos and combined with the steep learning curve and high quality expectations, some folks just weren’t interested. However, after the good press started, with people directly contacting these authors thanking them for their videos, they came around to its value.

I also saw increase in their self-confidence, which is typical after demonstrating how-to do something to others.  Having those people publicly thank you helps a ton, too. Our most popular video is actually about setting up an interface on an HP server – it has gotten more than 19,000 views! This video was created because many of our applications are sold with this server and this configuration is important. What we didn’t expect is that non-Avaya people would find it valuable to their usage of the same HP servers. I’ve found our video embedded in a variety of websites out there, having nothing to do with Avaya.

The last surprise was discovering that a business partner pirated a few of our videos and re-uploaded them to YouTube and other sites, touting them as their own. This is something Avaya typically doesn’t care about as our videos tend to be marketing-based. The upside of this is that the message is getting out to more and more people. What makes me nervous is that if we find a problem with a video and need to take it down and re-release it, this partner likely won’t see that and bad information will continue to float around.

We’ve received great feedback from our users of the program. We get these comments on YouTube, Twitter, and via email. Sometimes we get suggestions for new videos to create, product support questions, or just encouraging statements like the ones shown here. As mentioned previously, feedback like this is very encouraging to our engineers.

I want to thank my team who helped make this program a success. We dedicated at least a third of our time for nine months building this program up and it was no small feat. I’m proud to say that Avaya has recognized all of them with well-deserved awards.


Why Social Media is the New Customer Service Channel (Part 3)

The following was originally posted on the Avaya site here.

In my first post of this three-part series, I covered the basics of customer service and social media. The second post made the case that social media is the newest customer service channel and that it needs your attention. Below is the third and final post in this series on protecting the brand by providing customer service in social media.

There is encouraging news that companies see the need to move into social media as a customer support channel. In fact, 80% of companies were planning on utilizing social media as part of their customer service strategy by the end of 2012; something they know is important as 62% of their customers are already there (source). While companies are moving to this space, that does not mean they know how to approach the problem.  Here are my recommendations on how to proceed.

1. Go with Speed

In most sports, the faster an athlete executes plays, the better the results. The same applies to monitoring for issues online. If an employee can quickly address a problem, they can prevent the complaint from becoming a public relations disaster. Rather than waiting to build the brand’s overall comprehensive social media strategy, the contact center team should create a Twitter handle and target a few of their contact center agents to handle contacts, preferably those that are already engaged in social media themselves. If no such agents are available, consider targeting tech-savvy agents, most likely from a younger demographic, who will be able to quickly grasp social media concepts. An escalation plan is also important, as customers can be unpredictable, in particular after a poor experience. Agents should not be afraid to pull in more experienced personnel to assist.

However, one caveat to “going with speed” is being prepared.  Bradley Leimer of Mechanics Bank stresses banks should not set up a presence on a social media site unless they are equipped to deal with customer expectations in that medium. “Once you’re on a platform, you’ve got to be ready to go (source: Crosman, P. (2010, July). Social Butterflies. Bank Systems & Technology , pp. 33-34.).” A study by A.T. Kearney found that in 2011, 56% of the top fifty brands didn’t respond to a single comment on their Facebook pages. On Twitter, brands ignored 71% of customer complaints (source).

2. Engage a Social Media Manager

Simply being a user of social media does not qualify someone to manage a company’s social media program any more than a driver of a car is qualified to lead the release of a new car platform. A proven Social Media Manager will have a track record of not only creating professional Facebook pages, but also coordinating engaging programs that increase the number of online followers, turning many of those followers into champions of the brand. This role not only coordinates social media activities between the marketing and support departments, but also provides guidance and process to teams on how best to perform their function in the new channels. While Facebook and Twitter are the clear heavy-hitters of the industry, an experienced professional will know which other channels to pursue depending on market requirements (LinkedIn, Google+, Pintrest, YouTube, blogging, etc.). With this broad knowledge base, a Social Media Manager can develop a strategy for how to manage the overall brand(s) of the company in this new marketing channel.

3. Collaborate on a Social Media Strategy

While past customer service interactions were mostly one-to-one, actions on social media are all public, thus handling a complaint is not just customer service, but also branding/marketing. As such, the marketing, social media, and customer service teams all need to collaborate on the company strategy

A comprehensive strategy should start with the company’s purpose for using social media:  a mission statement that serves as the commander’s intent for all involved in social media on behalf of the company. Whenever an employee or hired agent acts on behalf of the brand, they should understand not only the tactical purpose of their efforts, but also the company strategy. While understanding that a blog post can convey needed information, understanding the larger intent is vital. For instance, a goal that their blog should drive traffic to the website from users who would not typically interact with the brand, would guide the author to include keywords and links to mentioned topics, thus increasing the odds that the blog post will be picked up by as many people as possible.

The social media strategy would outline what sites to be used, which tools will manage content and how analytics will be collected, reported, and then actioned. A good strategy is based on researching which networks customers use and find the best match to reach the customers effectively.

4. Selectively Respond

It is important to evaluate the context of a brand mention and decide if it warrants a response. A one off complaint about the temperature in a company’s retail store does not deserve a response. However, a negative review of the company by an analyst or a legitimate complaint from a customer should be addressed as quickly as possible and within the same channel (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). “Generally the best practice is to acknowledge the issue on social media, but to move attempts to resolve the issue offline,” said Gartner’s Carol Rozwell (source). Determining the right hours of operation is important as well. A small Mom-and-Pop-Shop may only need to staff their presence during normal business hours, but larger companies like an airline, need to staff their social media desk 24×7 because social media users expect real-time response rates.

If the group handling “mentions” on social media cannot handle all relevant comments in a timely first-come-first-serve fashion, then they should consider prioritizing them.

5. Prioritize Responses

Given the cost to the business of customer churn, one approach to prioritizing is to determine if the user is an existing customer and focus on her. Another approach is to use the person’s social influence to determine whom to respond to first. One such rating service is Klout which measures a user’s network reach and their ability to leverage it on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, WordPress, and many more. Many social media tools, such as HootSuite, enable the employee to see a user’s Klout score as part of the tweet and filter and sort tweets using this as criteria.

Such an approach would have helped when Jayne Gorman, a travel writer who was struggling with a British Airways online reservation. She was unable to reach the company via telephone, so she reached out to them on Twitter.


BA could have done a better job at identifying Jayne early on as an online influencer. With over 5,000 followers on Twitter and a Klout score of 63, they should have prioritized the handling of her tweet. Instead, BA took thirteen hours to respond, leading Jayne to write an article on the experience for The Huffington Post. You don’t need to necessarily resolve an issue the way the customer wants it resolved, but what you cannot do is ignore them.

6. Integration with CRM and the Contact Center

The days of treating social media independently from a company’s operations are gone. It needs to be integrated into most, if not all business functions. Some organizations just getting started in social media have implemented the first stages of a social media engagement process, only to make the mistake of treating engagements as ad hoc. These interactions can be much more effective if you are able to match the online user to a customer in your customer relationship management (CRM) tool.

In the previously mentioned DMG study, while 63% of respondents were using social media to provide customer support, only 37% were using a contact center approach. The consequence of not integrating social media with a contact center means that the company experiences missed gains in productivity and customer satisfaction. Without contact-center functionality, the team responsible for monitoring and responding to social media will need to have the skills necessary for supporting customers. Contact center applications provide a work assignment engine, making sure each item is assigned to one and only one employee, helping to determine average response times. “It’s important not only to keep records of individual conversations, but constantly to analyze the interactions to see what insights can be gleaned from them,” said Gartner’s Ms. Rozwell (source).

What tools to use will vary depending on what CRM and contact center tools may already be deployed in the enterprise and the size of the brand. As companies get started, especially smaller organizations, the default Twitter interface may be a starting point, but users will quickly need at least a product like Hootsuite to provide more control. While more than half of monitored brands still use these off-the-shelf tools (source), they provide limited ownership and reporting.

Avaya’s Social Media Manager is an example of suite that provides more advanced tools. It acts as an analytical funnel for all the potential mentions of a brand online and then feeds the actionable items to contact center agents through its integration with Avaya’s Interaction Center or Aura Contact Center applications. A key component of this product is its ability to consume social media mentions, determine which are actually relevant to the brand  since approximately 30% are usually spam, and then determine which of those are actionable. Rich LeGrand of Avaya estimates that of 100,000 hits in a social media search, less than 2% are actionable by the brand.


Having a tool that narrows down the actions from 100,000 to only 1,400 can clearly reduce the cost to monitor these channels. The tool can be expanded to integrate with an existing CRM database, linking actionable items to real customer information. This tool also provides real-time and historical reporting capabilities, allowing both the contact center and the Social Media Manager to know exactly what is going on and how to handle it.

7. Don’t be mistaken for a Robot

Users of social media are not just there to complain. They have joined these networks in order to socialize with other people. To help build relationships and loyalty for a company’s brand on social media, the online presence must be humanized as well. A call center agent who is used to running through a structured script will need to be trained to properly represent the brand. These individuals need to balance making the experience both an enjoyable experience for them and the customer, while also keeping within the branding guidelines.  One company that does this well is HootSuite, a maker of social media tools. They tweet “shift changes” of who is responsible for their Twitter account. The individuals are encouraged to introduce themselves and have a little fun.


“If your customers have an emotional attachment to your products, make sure your social media agents have that same passion. Even in 140 characters, it shows” – Jeffrey Cohen (source).

8. Segregate your Presence

After a company’s social media presence is established and processes are in place and have been shown to work, some companies choose to create multiple Twitter handles and Facebook pages for different parts of the business if the social media load increases. Research shows that in 2012, 35% of brands use more than one Twitter account, up from 7% in 2011 (source). The most common split is to give customer support their own presence, allowing users the ability to self-segment the types of interactions they want to have with the company. Such segmentation may also occur if the company lacks proper social media coordination and a business function wants to operate independently.

9. Market your Customer Support

You should be communicating to your followers your new support offerings, not just responses to complaints. Expose your personality and your value. It is important for users to know where to turn if they have a problem, and it helps establish the brand as one that takes care of its customers. For example, if a customer tweets about how wonderful support is, retweeting that to the company’s followers not only markets your support, but also further strengthens the emotional bond between that customer and the brand.

10. Don’t Overcommit

The proactive use of social media by marketing departments has increased dramatically over the last decade. The danger is that its use may leave people too dependent on using technology to speak, not allowing enough time to listen to customers. Social media is a key part of most companies’ strategy going forward, but it should not be the lynch pin.

So, what will the future bring? As available tools improve, further online channels can be monitored to provide brands with more information about what users are saying about them. For example, when a software developer runs into an apparent bug with Microsoft software, they do not typically call up Microsoft for support. Instead, they search for others who have reported the same symptom and hopefully there is a documented solution. These are often found in blogs and online forums. While one of those discussion boards may be Microsoft’s, there are countless other sites that contain that data. If Microsoft could crawl those sites, identify that a user found a potential bug, and then route that action to an employee to investigate and fix, they could improve their software quality. Consumer-focused products could take a similar approach with online retailers like Amazon, pulling product feedback either into the support team or to the marketing team for future action.

As social media technologies continue to grow in use and reach, companies must consider their integration and how they impact their brand(s). This is no longer the exclusive realm of the marketing department. Customer service teams must play an active role in monitoring the brand’s online presence. In order to get the most value and scale out of these activities, the effort should be integrated with CRM and contact center technologies, delivering the right contact, to the right employee with the right context. Solid execution of this approach will allow for quick and effective responses to negative brand impressions, not only allowing for image control, but also converting brand detractors into promoters.

Why Social Media is the New Customer Service Channel (Part 2)

The following was originally posted on the Avaya site here.

This is the second of a three-part series. The first covered the basics of customer service and social media. The third post includes my top ten recommendations on being successful.

On November 28th David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, had a poor experience with Adobe support. After not receiving satisfactory service, he tweeted to his 1.2 million followers about his poor experience 7 times, eventually questioning the overall brand of Adobe. Within a day, he heard back from Adobe and his issue was resolved, but for 24 hours, 1.2 million people heard a trusted person badmouth Adobe. Not a good day for the brand.


As David’s example above shows, social media networks are enabling customers to act bigger, engage faster, and be better organized.  For decades, consumers have run into problems with purchased products or services from companies. In the past, complaining to a company took some time and thought. First there was complaining in person, then by letter, and with the option of the telephone, these complaints turned to call centers. As the Internet grew in popularity, call centers became contact centers with the addition of e-mail and chat channels of communication. As new forms of communication are developed and adopted, consumers use them to complain to companies. Customers want to engage with brands on their terms; their channels. They do not think in terms of discreet channels when interacting with companies. They make no delineation between contacting the company via phone, email, chat, or social. They likely do not even differentiate between sales, support, or marketing; they simply see the larger brand.

People prefer sharing their frustration with the online network rather than going directly to a company. They may believe that the company is more likely to respond to a complaint once it is in the public domain, and if so, those companies need to consider this as a failure of their non-social-media support channels. The network effect increases the downside of getting service wrong and the upside of getting it right. When service is delivered well, social media users will herald it; and when the service is poor, they will do the same. Additionally, companies need to understand that social media is much more than just a marketing vehicle. Of the actionable tweets and posts a company receives, 80% are related to service, with only 20% being about marketing (source). While sales and marketing have been the promise of social media, service is the actual delivery.

According to Gartner Inc., by 2014, organizations that ignore their customers on social media will have the same negative perceptions companies experience today when they ignore customer’s minimal expectations of support via email and phone. In fact, not only are 25% of customers likely to share a postivie experience, but 65% will share a negative one (source). Furthermore, responding to questions about products through social media will become table stakes for marketing departments. According to Carole Rozwell of Gartner, the failure of a company to respond to a social media user can lead to a 15% increase in the brand’s churn rate (source). This gives further evidence that companies must put a social media monitoring program in place or risk financial losses.

While social networks may not be as real-time as a voice call, users do expect a relatively quick response. Laura Bassett, Marketing Director at Avaya says that “Twitter users expect a response within 5 minutes when complaining about a brand”. While most companies won’t be able to manage a response time like that, they are aware of the need to be timely. In a recent study where researchers tested response times, Zappos proved the speediest, posting an average response time of 54 minutes. The next closest companies were Best Buy (1:47), Overstock (1:53), (2:28), and L.L. Bean (3:55) (source). Zappos’ quality of service provides them so much positive word-of-mouth buzz that they spend significantly less on marketing than their rival retailers. This is a good example of how an investment made in the customer service department can deliver significant value for the marketing department.

Many individuals, mostly celebrities, have put this network effect into action, with the number one Twitter account, belonging to performing artist Lady Gaga (3.5 million followers.) In fact, 84 of the top 100 Twitter accounts belong to individual people (source). What these individuals say about a company in social media can have a greater impact on the brand than what the company says about itself. A single negative comment on a product or service by one of these influencers can result in significant impact to the brand. The earlier example of David Allen shows this as does an incident that my favorite movie director, Kevin Smith, had with Southwest Airlines.

Mr. Smith had a problem with Southwest Airlines in February of 2010, he took to his Twitter account and its 1.6 million followers at the time (see image of all 20 tweets here). Within sixteen minutes, Southwest had replied, and while that speed helped, the public relation crisis had already begun. Most of the back and forth was over within two days, but it was picked up by national press as well as a strong following in social media (including over 15,000 tweets). Kevin himself tweeted eleven times, each going to his 1.6 million followers and then being retweeted many more times.


After 5 days, the crisis was completely over. Southwest’s brand took a hit as two-thirds of the comments on Twitter were negative towards Southwest.


An interesting comparison is a more recent tweet from Kevin about his flight experience on Virgin Atlantic Airways, which was much more positive as he was seated next to the company’s owner, Sir Richard Branson.


Given this, it is surprising that over half of consumer-facing Fortune 500 companies are not keeping up with their customers desire to use social media. They do not provide links to their Twitter or Facebook accounts on their website “Contact Us” pages. Half of these stragglers do not mention their social media presence on their website at all (source). Not only does this prevent many of the brand’s consumers from interacting the way many want to, but it also portrays the brand as being behind the times, something that can be quite harmful for brands targeting younger demographics. In fact, 15% of 16-24 year old customers prefer social media over any other channel for customer service (source).

USAA, a bank primarily servicing members of the US Armed Forces and their families, is known for delivering the highest levels of customer support, earning them many awards (source). In 2009, USAA started monitoring customer messages on social media sites: “As you’re listening, you don’t want to be a stalker and observer on the web — you want to be jumping into those conversations, particularly as it pertains to reputation management or improving the customer experience,” USAA’s VP of Member Communications, Rhonda Crawford said. Even with USAA’s reputation for customer service, members still take to social media channels as a last resort. “It’s a complaint that comes through a megaphone,” Crawford observed. “When people are tweeting every half hour about a problem they had at the call center, you want to jump on that quickly and resolve the situation.” Crawford also explained USAA’s policy to take social media conversations to a different medium when private details like a customer’s member number are required.

USAA is not the only bank that takes supporting their customers and brand through social media seriously. Citibank ran into a brand problem that started on their blog and migrated to Twitter. While the bank responded to the event in 36 hours, timely for a bank, it wasn’t timely enough for this channel. “The crisis was done in three hours,” Citibank’s Director, Digital Channel Strategy & Social Media, Jaime Punishill said. “In three hours, we had lost the war… Make sure that you prepare for the worst, because it will happen, and it will happen fast..” (source: Crosman, P. (2010, July). Social Butterflies. Bank Systems & Technology, pp. 33-34)

Hopefully I’ve convinced you of the need to treat social media as a new customer service channel for your brand. In my third and final post on this subject, I’ll provide ten recommendations on how to go about successfully supporting you customers via social media.

Why Social Media is the New Customer Service Channel (Part 1)

The following was originally posted on the Avaya site here.

This is the first of a three-part series, covering the basics of customer service and social media. The second post made the case that social media is the newest customer service channel and that it needs your attention. The third post includes my top ten recommendations on being successful.

When the NFL planned its operations for Super Bowl 2012, social media was front and center. They built a huge social media control center, including 150 ft2 of networked screens, where fifty experts logged 15-hour days for two full weeks. They monitored social media networks, racking up 64 million mentions, and impressively responding to most of them in just minutes. The NFL estimates that the effort earned $3.2 million in positive press and a 12.5% boost in consumer sentiment (source).


NFL’s Super Bowl Social Media Command Center (source)

Widespread adoption of social media has forced companies to manage their brand in an entirely new way. As consumers have an ever-growing sounding board for their dissatisfaction with a brand, proactively promoting and managing a brand is no longer enough on social media; the brand must now treat social media as another customer service channel and manage it as such. Doing so allows for quick and effective response to negative brand impressions. Not only does this minimize damage, but it can also turn brand detractors into promoters.

While most would agree that satisfying your customers is crucial to a company’s success, the magnitude of unresolved customer service needs to be understood: 17% of customers will leave a brand after a single incident, 40% more will leave after a second incident, and 28% more after a third mistake. Combine those and 85% of a brand’s customers will switch to a competitor after only 3 mistakes.


Bad service leads to poor loyalty, which negatively impacts sales. More than 80% of surveyed consumers say they have abandoned a purchase because of a poor service experience (source).

Despite a company’s best efforts, poor service experience is inevitable, but how the company responds can make all the difference. Service recovery is a key skill for the company and begins with first being aware of the customer’s dissatisfaction. Once aware, the company must have empowered employee(s) who can work with the customer to ask questions, get to the heart of the matter, and be in a position to resolve the matter. One new way to deliver this customer service is through the monitoring of social media.

Odds are that if you’ve made your way to this blog, you are already familiar with social media, but let’s do a level set. Social media refers to technologies that allow for people and companies to share text, images, audio, and video content with other users. It primarily consists of social networks (such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn) as well as others. Social media also includes online communities such as discussion boards and forums where people come together to publically discuss topics of interest, which can be indexed by online search engines such as Google or Bing, enabling other users to find relevant conversations.

When it comes to which social media networks companies choose to leverage, of the Fortune 500 companies, 73% have active Twitter accounts and 66% have active Facebook pages. The use of blogs remains relatively low at only 28% (source). To put the scale in scope, the table below shows the number of followers and fans for some of the biggest brands. It is important to note that many of these brands have multiple Twitter and Facebook pages, but the table only shows their primary accounts (thus their total influence is even greater).


The consumer’s power to shape a company’s brand continues to increase as social networks grow. This is due to the network effect, which describes how the value of a service increases as the number of people using that service increases. This concept is best captured by Metcalfe’s law, developed by Bob Metcalf in the 1980s, which explains that despite the linear cost to deploy a local area network (LAN), the value realized by the users is exponential (source: Hendler, J., & Golbeck, J. (2007). Metcalfe’s law, Web 2.0, and the Semantic Web. Journal of Web Semantics , 6.). This law has been found applicable to the growth of telephones, mobile phones, faxes, email, video conferencing, and most recently, social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook. In short, the more people who have access to the same technology as you, the more value you will receive from that technology.

While the value of utilizing social media channels can be hard to calculate, a report from McKinsey Global shows that 4,200 companies stand to see a sum of $900 billion to $13 trillion of value unlocked (source). The report continues that two-thirds of the estimated value comes from “improved communications and collaboration within and across enterprises.” This estimate is large enough to justify companies engaging in social media even without direct business cases. There is extensive literature on how best to manage social media return on investment, but I won’t be covering that here.

In a 2011 study by DMG Consulting of 132 operations, two-thirds were already utilizing social media channels for at least one form of interaction (source). Of the respondents, 76% used it for marketing as it allows for both deeper and broader engagement with the brand than any other medium. Marketers utilize social media for advertising as well as listening to their customers. When properly leveraged, these channels can help get the brand message to the customer as well as encourage buzz which further helps to spread the message.



In fact, research shows that 90% of consumers trust their friends’ recommendations for product over brand loyalty (source: Shahim, B. (2011, April/May). How Social Media has Shared the way Brands Speak to Consumers. Journal of Marketing). Thus, branding pushed by the marketing department has less and less impact as consumers are more and more able to easily share their opinions with one another. Consumers see value in social media, and thus the brand needs to participate and influence those networked conversations.

Now that we’ve covered why customer satisfaction is so important to a successful brand and how social media works, in my next post I’ll cover why combining those two are so important.

Social Media Blackout

At a recent social gathering of neighbors, as the children found their rhythm of play and the adults could finally open a beer and talk amongst ourselves, it dawned on me that we didn’t have much new to say to each other. It isn’t that we aren’t interested in one another’s’ lives, in fact, quite the opposite. We are so well connected over Facebook that we already know how the other person’s work and personal life is going, what they did last weekend, and who’s coming for Thanksgiving. Which leads me to question: Does the world of social media need its own blackout rules?

I’m a social media junkie, and if you are reading this, chances are you are too. I’m on Twitter and Google+ for work topics and general newsgathering and then on Facebook for keeping up with friends and family, where I am as guilty as anyone for sharing pictures of my kids and pets. This is truly a wonderful way of staying connected to our distant friends and family and allows everyone to be “in the loop.” But this a communication medium is also being used by those of us who are separated from each other by only a backyard, a driveway or a short bike ride. Our electronic messages in “public” are taking the place of conversations in the neighborhood. .

We have all read about the perils of over-sharing on social media fromThe Huffington PostCNNThe WSJ and countless other news outlets, and I’m not trying to cure that malady. I’m proposing that like a professional sports league, experiencing all the drama and joy of your life is something better experienced by your friends in the company of others, live. Perhaps we should think of social media as a non-real-time communications method; one used for sharing compelling articles and more batched or periodic updates. None of your friends probably needs to see an instantaneous picture of the snow falling outside your window, especially if they can see the same snowflakes falling outside their windows!

To be clear, I’m not suggesting an actual break from your online interactions any more than I would suggest the NFL stop playing. But perhaps if we did a little less sharing online in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, our conversations over pie could be more engaging and humorous instead of simply recounting what we saw on someone’s Facebook page.

Nurturing The Knack

In my previous blog post, I talked about how increasingly valuable having The Knack is in technology support organizations. This troubleshooting ability is becoming increasingly necessary as IT environments evolve into more complex and integrated systems. Mike Runda, Avaya Senior Vice President and President of Avaya Client Services, touched on this in a recent white paper on challenging the status quo:

“As technologies become more complex, problems are more likely to be system-wide rather than in a single component. They can emerge from the network, an application, an end user or a configuration file–and from any vendor’s product.”

As Mike says above, technology ecosystems are complex and require a troubleshooting skill-set to match. Those already operating with The Knack are in a good place to seek out the root causes in such environments.

So how do we foster an environment that encourages feeds, and rewards this mentality?

Interview for The Knack

When I interview candidates for a technical support related position, I am more interested in how well they troubleshoot a general problem versus how much they know about any one specific technology. One of my go-to interview questions is a role-playing scenario where they are a wireless router support engineer and I call them, as a customer, because I can’t get my laptop to connect to ESPN for the latest scores. As the candidate role-plays with me, I’m paying attention to how they approach the problem. I expect them to get clarity on my problem, not assuming anything. Next is the (perhaps stereotypical) question: “Do you have a wireless router and is it turned on?” What I’m really looking for is if they have a systematic approach to narrowing down the root cause? Or do they simply guess at the solution based on common problems?

Some hiring managers use less technical and more analytic questions like: Estimate the number of dry cleaners needed in Pittsburgh. Questions like this don’t have a right or wrong answer, but look to evaluate how the applicant applies logic to a problem. (For example, I’ll assume there are 2 million people in Pittsburgh. Half are over the age of 18. Given the focus on manufacturing, I’ll assume only 10% regularly wear clothes that need dry cleaning. If we assume each store can handle 500 customers, then 200 stores in Pittsburgh.)

The way I look at it, it is much easier to teach someone a specific technology or product if they already know how to troubleshoot. The Knack, on the other hand, is quite difficult, if not impossible, to train someone on. Given the economic climate, most of you are probably not staffing up teams by hiring off the street, so encouraging better troubleshooting in your existing engineers is more realistic.

Nurture and Encourage The Knack

At Avaya, we have found that having a diagnostic framework in place helps focus and remind our engineers to not get ahead of themselves when looking at a customer issue. While those with The Knack, may have this embedded in their DNA, the framework does act as a reminder for them and a guide for others. The Avaya Diagnostic Methodology looks like this:

  • Problem Clarification: Move from the stated problem to a focused, specific clarification of the exact problem.
  • Problem Analysis: Move from knowing the problem to knowing the cause
  • Problem Resolution: Move from the cause to a confirmed resolution of the problem.
  • Knowledge Management: Search the knowledge-base for an existing article on this issue. Modify the knowledge database based on your findings.

At times, we’ve also sponsored internal competitive events based on real and hypothetical technical problems to see how well teams of engineers can work together to solve complex issues. The conclusion of such an event should not only celebrate the winning team, but also having them publicly share their approach with the larger group so that everyone learns.

Automate Everything You Can

To help your engineers focus on the art of troubleshooting, remove as much repetitive work from the process as you can. As Mike Runda said in the white paper mentioned above, at Avaya “our support vision is to have humans work on only new problems; let automation and advanced systems resolve existing problems when they occur.” To that end, the organization that I lead partners with others in the business to identify areas that can be automated and then use tools to remove that burden from our employees. Some examples are:

  • EXPERT Systems: Our automated system that responds to product alarms and programmatically resolves the majority of them without any human interaction
  • HealthCheck: A collection of product-specific tools that look at the product’s configuration, comparing it to best practices, and quickly highlighting potential problems
  • OIS Advanced: New technology that provides Avaya (and our clients) real-time and historical performance of the client’s network, allowing us to correlate solution problems with network problems and disturbances to isolate the network as the cause of the solution problem.

I encourage you to look around your company’s IT and support teams and see if you can identify those with The Knack. When you do, think about ways in which you can better utilize their skills and perhaps select them to be mentors. These talented engineers may be what make the difference in your organization’s ability to adapt to the growing complexity.

How does your organization filter for and encourage The Knack in your organization?

The Kneed for The Knack

The following was originally posted on the Avaya site here.

In a product support organization, your people are, without a doubt, your most critical resources. While you can use knowledge bases and tools to prevent re-discovery, new problems will always arise and you need engineers who can quickly get to a resolution. The skill I value the most in engineers is their ability to troubleshoot. By that I do not mean their ability to recall from memory what an Error 529 is on a specific product (that’s what knowledge bases are for); rather I’m referring to their ability to look at a technical problem, narrow down possible root causes, and logically find the solution. At first glance this may be confused with basic critical thinking, but it is something beyond critical thinking; it’s The Knack.

There is no better way for me to convey the concept of The Knack then to play the following embedded Dilbert cartoon. If you’re short on time, just watch the first two minutes. (The rest of this episode can be found here and here.)

Like most humor, the writers of that comic took a truth and moved it to an extreme for a laugh. I’ve yet to meet an engineer that could sense a battery going bad in a TV remote, but I have met many that can stare at a problem and solve it without any direct experience. For many people, changing the time on a car radio can be irritatingly complex without the manual for reference. An engineer with The Knack, howeverunderstands the design limitations of the user interface of the clock, has used one before, and can surmise the proper steps in almost any car.

Several years ago, I was involved with a critical outage of a web-based application experiencing a timeout issue. An engineer was brought into the escalation that had no experience with this solution at all. He asked a series of questions to get a mental image of the architecture similar to the one below:


He reasoned (correctly so), that if we submitted a unique series of letters at the website, searched the logs on each server for that phrase, and noted the timestamps of the relevant log messages, we could determine which component was adding the delay and tripping the timeout. Once identified, we could get the relevant expert on the phone and get the system back up within minutes. This engineer didn’t get caught up in the reality that he didn’t know how this solution was written nor the underlying technologies well enough to troubleshoot any of them in great detail. Instead, just like with the clock, he combined solid critical thinking with a working knowledge of web architecture to quickly narrow down the possibilities.

While this diagnostic skill has always been respected, it is getting more and more valuable as technology evolves and become more intricate. While new solutions bring improved value to users, the underlying technology that makes those products work is becoming more complex to troubleshoot.

Ten years ago, enterprise phone systems were analog and digital. The phones had their own wiring that connected them directly to the PBX, creating a contained environment where all diagnostic information was in one place. With modern SIP solutions, the phones have evolved to be multi-functional, offering complex features including presence and video. To make this possible, the infrastructure has become distributed, making the diagnostic work distributed as well. To trace a single SIP call requires diagnostic information from several servers and endpoints. The Knack – this art of troubleshooting – is needed now more than ever.

At Avaya, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with not only individuals, but entire teams of engineers blessed with The Knack. Watching one of them attack a problem is like seeing an artist paint. They use the same paintbrushes and paints as others, but the way they wield them makes them true artists. Having one of these engineers working a support issue can mean the difference between resolution times measured in hours versus weeks. While we have amazing automated tools and knowledge bases (ex. Avaya Mentor), it is these talented engineers who bring the most value to an Avaya maintenance contract.

In my next post, I’ll write about how to identify engineers with The Knack as well as how to nurture this skill within your organization. Until then, remember that with great power comes great responsibility, and in this case, often social ineptitude.

Why Virtual Office Might Be Right for You

The following was originally posted on the Avaya site here and then again at the CIO Collaboration site here.

After having breakfast with my three children on Friday, we were sitting in our front room and happened to see one of the neighborhood fathers get in his car and drive off. My three-year-old twin boys paused, contemplated the sight, and then asked me “Why did he have to drive somewhere to go to work?” Great question.

Nearly four years ago, the small Avaya office that I was a part of closed, sending the two dozen of us regular office attendees to our homes. While I do miss the morning coffee time, putting golf balls down the cubicle row while on calls, and the occasional group lunch, I have come to appreciate and enjoy my new work environment.

Work/life balance. Working from a virtual office (VO), combined with a relatively flexible work schedule often gives the employee a healthy work/life balance. Yes, I know that sounds cliché, but I get to wake up with my children, feed them breakfast, get them ready for school, and sometimes do pick-up or drop-off. Then up a flight of stairs and I’m at work. If my kids need something (and their mother isn’t available for some reason), they know they can knock at my office door and if I’m not on the phone, they can come in for a short interlude of family time. It is also much easier to skip out of work for the kids’ swim lessons on a Friday afternoon when I’m already home (and don’t be surprised if you see a tweet from me from the pool, thanks to my LifeProof case). In return, my employer gets me for 10+ hours a day. And not only am I putting in the hours, but I’m also wicked productive (more on that later).

Why are you still in a cube? So, why aren’t more people working from home? As Dave Michels wrote in a recent CIO Collaboration post, many employees and employers don’t even pause to think if virtual office might be right for their situation. I agree with Dave that many people are missing out on a great opportunity. Avaya has done quite well with VO employees and perhaps this is not just because they have an open mind about these things, but because Avaya sells many of the communications solutions that make VO successful, which brings us back to the productivity question.

Engagement. There was an excellent blog by Scott Edinger in theHarvard Business Review last month about how remote workers are as engaged if not more than those who work in the office. You should give it a read as I won’t reiterate his excellent points here, but suffice it to say that when the supervisor and employee are not in close proximity, they consciously work at their communication, resulting in more engagement. I have found regularly scheduled 1:1 meetings are crucial. I meet with all of my direct reports for at least 30 minutes every week. For the rest of my organization, I meet individually with them every other month. Sometimes we talk about work, other times about family or sports. What you talk about matters less than the fact that you are talking. Don’t make this your only opportunity to talk every week, but having time set aside makes sure you really connect.

Communication Tools. As Scott wrote in his HBR post, having the right tools are crucial to making that communication happen regularly. While you can get by with a solid audio connection, video is becoming a huge benefit for VO employees. I’m lucky in that Avaya has a variety of tools to make working remotely successful. Here is a list of what I use (in addition to my standard desktop software):

  • Avaya Desktop Video Device (ADVD) with the Flare Experience for audio and video calls
  • Plantronics CS351N headset with enough range to get to the kitchen for lunch
  • Use of a Scopia Video Conferencing server for video conferencing calls. This is relatively new, but is already becoming my favorite tool. More and more of my meetings are becoming video calls. My ADVD integrates flawlessly, allowing me to connect to those calls without using my laptop.
  • Use of an Avaya Aura Conferencing server for audio conference calls, which also allows me to see who is on a conference call and who is speaking
  • SFDC’s Chatter (internal social media tool that is becoming increasingly valuable to me)

Face Time. Another helpful tip that I’ll share is that whenever you stumble upon a colleague’s picture (LinkedInTwitter, internal sites, etc.), attach it to an Outlook Contact (see here). This way, whenever you receive an email from them, you will see their picture, making it feel more like a personal interaction. As an added bonus, when using an Avaya Flare client, those pictures transfer over, so you can see their pictures for phone calls as well.

Not for everyone. Don’t assume that a very productive employee in an office will remain so at home. VO is a great fit for experienced information workers that spend a good deal of time on the phone with others, especially if those others are geographically dispersed. If an employee is new to the role and/or need access to physical equipment or people, this won’t work. A certain discipline is needed in order to stay focused on work when there are increased distractions (family, television, video games, etc.) The individuals’ personality and work-type must match up to ensure the employee can continue to meet or exceed his/her objectives

The Office in Home Office. Yes, I know, you have a laptop, a smartphone, and a Bluetooth headset. That does not make you a one-woman-home-office. A coffee shop or your kitchen table while the kids play in the next room over will not be successful long term. Get yourself a quiet room with a door (ex. guest bedroom). The room doesn’t have to be office-only 24×7, but during work hours, nothing else should be taking place there. Besides, you don’t want to be the person on the conference call with the dog barking, or worse, “Daddy! I’m all done pooping and peeing!!” (Did I mention my Plantronics headset has a very handy mute button on it?)

Don’t forget your agents. While I have focused on my own experience as a knowledge worker using Unified Communications products, working from home is also a great option for Contact Center agents. I work with a customer of ours in retail and I know they value their home agents. Kay Phelps, one of my fellow bloggers here, has written a number of articles about these Home Agents, so please go give her a read.

In summary, if I were writing an online review of a product, I’d sum up Virtual Office as:

4OutOf5Stars Amazing, but not for everyonePros:

  • Great work/life balance
  • No commute transportation costs (gas, tolls, car, auto insurance/repairs, etc.)
  • Significantly reduced wardrobe expenses
  • No downtime needed between meetings
  • Positive environmental impact


  • No after-work camaraderie over drinks
  • More self-reliance for IT and office supply needs
  • Discipline needed by the employee and those they live with

I know I’m not the only VO employee out there. So, let me know what you think. Living the dream? Did you try VO and it was a fail whale? Desperate to break out of your cube and into your sweatpants? Drop a note in the comments below.

What Does Serviceability Mean to You?

The following was originally posted on the Avaya site here.

Some days, I wonder if Serviceability is even a word as people I speak to often don’t know its meaning. Wikipedia, one of my favorite sources, defines

Serviceability as “refers to the ability of technical support personnel to install, configure, and monitor computer products, identify exceptions or faults, debug or isolate faults to root cause analysis, and provide hardware or software maintenance in pursuit of solving a problem and restoring the product into service. Incorporating serviceability facilitating features typically results in more efficient product maintenance and reduces operational costs and maintains business continuity.”

I care about the meaning of Serviceability and if people know its meaning because I’m a serviceability advocate. One of my responsibilities at Avaya is to lead Serviceability Engineering for the company, putting this term clearly in my wheel house. In general, I agree with Wikipedia, with the addition that Serviceability refers to not just maintenance support, but also the installation and configuration of the product. When asked what I mean by Serviceability, I use the following examples:

• Standardized and centralized logging
• Enhanced filtering and automatic pattern recognition
• Consistent use of SNMP alarming
• Secure Remote Access and Authentication
• Human Methodologies to approaching root cause
• Solution-wide call tracing
• Intuitive interface, with minimal set of data-gathering questions
• Automated tooling to evaluate the health of the solution
• Automated receipt and resolution of known issues
• Debugging tools and automation for particular product needs (ex. A tool to validate date in an embedded database, preventing the troubleshooter from needing DBA skills.)

I thought it would be an interesting conversation if we all took a moment to think about what Serviceability means to us. If you are a manufacturer, what do you focus on in your own products to deliver excellence in this area? If you are a Services employee (implementation and/or support), what sorts of things are you used to utilizing in the products you work on? What do you wish were present to help you do your job better? And perhaps most important, what about those of you that use communications products (all of us)? What do you expect around serviceability?

One of my favorite Serviceability features that Avaya offers is for our one-X Communicator softphone. From within the client’s user interface, the user can click a button that will generate a new email with all the logs (compressed) attached to the email. The user then answers some pre-populated questions and sends it to their IT support team. For those of you who have attempted to troubleshoot issues on a user’s desktop, you know how hard it can be to arrange for remote access and permissions to grab the necessary logs. This feature simplifies this for everyone involved (see YouTube video below for more on that)

Valued readers – Let’s make use of the comments functionality on this website. Please voice your opinions and let me know what Serviceability means to you. What are the Serviceability features that you absolutely love? What are the gaps that drive you crazy and you wish someone would address? Let me know, and I’ll correlate and comment on them in a future post.

Why do you get out of bed in the morning?

The following was originally posted on the Avaya site here and then again at the CIO Collaboration site here.

As with many Americans, it is back to school season in my house. My children are still young enough that “school” is really just glorified childcare a few mornings a week. But for me, it means returning to WPI in pursuit of my MBA (my approach must be the world’s longest MBA program: five years down and three more to go). This semester I am taking a class on marketing, and I was pleasantly surprised when my professor included in our first session the following TedTalk in which Simon Sinek challenges us with: “Why do you get out of bed in the morning, and why should we care?”

I’ve been a fan of this video for quite some time. While I definitely see the importance of Simon’s challenge in the realm of marketing, I’ve been using it in conversations around leadership and employee satisfaction. This is because it is not only important for your customers to understand the ‘Why’ of your company, but your employees must understand this as well. It is this why that will keep them aligned with the company’s goals. It is this why that will keep them engaged, excited, and giving it their best.

In Made to Stick, the Heath brothers make many excellent points about successfully conveying a message. The part that stuck the most with me was a clear “commander’s intent“, which is essentially the true “why” of an operation so that no matter what happens, the leaders in the field understand the larger objective. In the book, Chip and Dan Heath tell the story about a newspaper editor in Dunn, NC who had +100% subscription in his distribution area by focusing on the names of the people in the local news stories. He excelled at making his intent so clear and simple to his employees that a staff photographer would know to shoot the crowd watching an event rather than the event itself. That leads to more names, which leads to success.

Here at Avaya, we know our “why” is collaborative communication. Everything we do is focused around that, as Pierre-Paul Allard explained so well in a recent article (I think if Pierre-Paul were closer to my age or younger, this would have been entitled “This is how we do“). Having our “why” so well defined helps our employees and our customers understand our vision. When I visit with customers or just explain who I work for at a social gathering, I can easily explain what we do, and more importantly, why we do it.

I encourage you to pause … and think … why do you get out of bed in the morning? Do your employees know and believe that? If not, you are likely not convincing your customers either. And if people don’t understand the why, they almost certainly won’t care.