If you read the Radical at all last week, you know that my Skype account was hacked by a Chinese speed-dialer who racked up 13,000 minutes of calls in just over a month’s time.

The entire experience was a real let-down simply because Skype has played such an important role in my personal and professional life over the past several years.  With each interaction that they facilitated in my life, I grew to see them as much more than “just another service.”

I believed in them.  I trusted them.  I cared about their success and couldn’t wait for their next product.  Heck, if they had a store, I’d be the wacko camping out for weeks just to be first in line to buy WHATEVER they decided to sell.


That emotional connection is hallowed ground for organizations, y’all.  When companies become causes and/or lifestyles to their customers — like Toms has become for the socially-oriented shoe hounds or Method has done for the eco-friendly cleaners of the world — they can ALMOST do no wrong.


Skype NEARLY blew that emotional connection with me, though.  Not only was I floored that 200 hours of unauthorized calls had been charged to my account without any notification from the company, I was floored when the company’s initial response to my questions were cold and impersonal.


That’s when Mark Nichols — the Customer Service Director at Skype — stepped into the picture.  After stumbling across my original post in his Twitterstream, he reached out through email to let me know that he was willing to listen if I was willing to talk — and that he wanted to connect through Skype so I could see that he was sincere.

We connected today for about 30 minutes — and the entire time we were talking, I kept thinking that schools could learn a few lessons about customer service in a networked world from Mark.

Here’s three:

Listening Matters.

A point that Jason Ramsden, Eric Sheninger and I make time and again in Communicating and Connecting with Social Media is that people ARE talking about YOUR school in social media spaces.

Don’t you WANT to know what they are saying?

Whether you like the feedback or not — and my guess is that Skype wasn’t REAL thrilled to know that I was airing a bit of their dirty laundry online — feedback from customers matters because it can help you target your work.

Because Mark and his team had their ear to the Twitterstream, they were able to quickly spot a customer with a concern — and more importantly, to spot an area where they needed to improve if they wanted to protect their reputation as a leader in their field.

You can do the same thing if you start to scan social media spaces for references to your school.  Heck, try it right now.  Visit Twitter’s Search Tool and type in the name of YOUR school.



Reaching Out Matters More.

I’ve got to tell you: I’ve reached out to DOZENS of companies in Twitter over the past few years.  It’s actually the first place that I turn when I’ve got a question about — or a concern with — a product.

And most NEVER bother to reach back.  While they’re more than happy to listen — and to tweet out crappy coupons or content from their corporate website — few are willing to take the kind of risk that Mark took by reaching out to me in such a direct way tonight.

But that’s EXACTLY the kind of risk that helps organizations to build emotional connections with their customers.  The people that you serve want to believe that you care as much about them as they care about you.

That’s only possible when you’re willing to join conversations — even with disgruntled members of the community that you’re trying to build.

Being Vulnerable and Honest Matters the Most.

Mark won me over tonight when he said:

“Your situation, Bill, was a reminder to us that no matter how good our suspicious account activity monitoring is, it isn’t perfect until we’re protecting 100% of our accounts 100% of the time.

That might be an impossible goal for a company with millions of users, but it’s the only goal that’s worth shooting for because the 1% of the customers who slip through our nets matter to us, too.”

Stew in that for a minute, would you?

In two short statements, Mark apologized, showed a bit of vulnerability, reminded me that I really WAS important — to both him and to his company — and admitted that he knew that Skype could do better.  He was honest — and that honesty made him real to me.

THAT’S how you build emotional connections with the communities that you serve, y’all.  People will support you even when you fail as long as they are convinced that you are credibly working towards something better than you currently are.

Reaching Out Can Let You Correct Misconceptions BEFORE they Spread.

The thing that bugged me the most about Skype over the past few days was that I couldn’t get anyone to give me a straight answer about whether or not they have any systems in place to monitor accounts for suspicious activity — a simple practice that I believed would have caught the hack of my account long before 13,000 minutes of calls were racked up.

I asked more than once without ever getting a definitive answer.

The result: I told my audiences — the dozens of people I work with and the thousands of people who follow my content online — that they needed to be cautious about their own accounts because Skype wasn’t doing much to protect them from a similar hacking disaster.

Turns out that Skype does a TON of monitoring for suspicious activity — and their response when unusual calling patterns pop up is pretty darn good.

When something fishy is spotted, accounts are disabled briefly and users are emailed with a direct link to a chat with a customer service representative to confirm that the charges are legit or to work through a process of restoring an account and closing out a hacker.

Now, that doesn’t change the fact that Skype’s monitoring protocols failed in my case.

But by reaching out and starting a conversation with me, Mark was able to stop a misconception — that Skype doesn’t monitor accounts for suspicious activity — and to get the correct information into the right minds quickly.

That’s USEFUL, isn’t it?

So often, inaccurate messages spread about our schools simply because a few people have inaccurate axes to grind.  Pair social spaces with a willingness to engage with your customers and you can correct misconceptions before they consume your community.

Can you tell that I’m back in the Skype choir-loft, ready to sing their praises again?

That’s what happens when the leaders of organizations reach out to engage customers in honest conversations — a practice that is made more effective and efficient by a willingness to jump into the social media spaces that almost EVERYONE has embraced.

So what are YOU doing to find and join the conversations that YOUR customers are having?


Related Radical Reads:

13,750 Reasons to Doubt Skype

Communicating and Connecting with Social Media [Excerpt]

Twitter as a Social Media Starting Point

Social Media in Education Resources Posted

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