Pitney Bowes was founded in 1920 and, since that time, has built a solid business focused on mail, workflow management, customer experience, and business insight solutions. They are clearly best known as a company that delivers solutions complimentary to the United States Postal Service. This is an old school business. However, this old school business understands the importance of bringing new school, collaborative, strategies and solutions to their business. They have done so for a couple of years and, while still in the early stages, are making very good strides.
Social Support Communities, Forums, led the way
While Pitney Bowes is now leveraging the major collaborative networks (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr) they began by launching a very simple forum solution back in April of 2008. At the time the United States Postal Service was nearing yet another rate hike and rate hikes always result in a larger than normal number of support calls. While the software download/upgrade is straight forward, customers call with a variety of valid questions and concerns. The forums were released ahead of the rate hike and resulted in Pitney Bowes saving more than $300,000 in the first year, deflecting many, many calls along the way while delivering customers with the right answers in a way that worked for them.
How did Pitney Bowes decide its first year savings? Forrester estimates that one call will be diverted for every five page views to a forum page that answers common customer support questions. Page views that offer more general information result in one call being diverted for every twenty page views. Are the assumptions perfect for every business situation?
Of course not. However, these estimates offer reasonable estimates for you to answer the important questions that arise around ROI.
Pitney Bowes forums are not large in number of users or amount of traffic. However, they do represent an active small to medium-sized community with more than 4000 registered users delivering roughly 3000 visits per week.
Remember, Pitney Bowes is still early in its process development and they now have one person who oversees the forums, managing content, training new users.
Ben Richard, who manages the @PBCares Twitter account, is essentially a one person show. He does have backup for particularly busy times, or when he is on vacation or sick. Matt Broder, Vice President of External Communications, described the perfect first social support employee when he described Ben as someone passionate about solving customer problems, empathetic to customer issues, having a good sense of humor, understanding how to be personal while businesslike. The key, of course, is having someone who can humanize the company.
Twitter use initially began in corporate headquarters, outside of customer support. Through the passion of lower to mid-level employees, using new tools like Twitter to listen to customers, Pitney Bowes began to listen…. A simple act, one that many struggle with. After a couple of months, as word started to spread and volume began to increase it was decided to hand social customer support to the professionals. In June of 2009, the @PBCares account was launched with the simple mission of listening, engaging, and helping their customers.
Pitney Bowes is an international business but social support is still primarily a US-based activity. Ben does answer questions that arise from Europe, when he can, but this is not a focus of his role.
As I noted, Pitney Bowes is still fairly immature in this respect. Data is tracked manually and no data is pushed into other systems (like ERP, CRM, HRIS, etc..). It is, unfortunately, a silo unto itself. Now, the good news is that data is summarized and reported throughout the company, so not all is lost. What data is reported? The number of conversations, RTs, mentions, positive WOM, as well as other information important to the company.
- Increasing communications between marketing and customer service.
- Remain focused on making happy, engaged, customers that will help with positive WOM.
- Marketing will look to refine marketing’s approach based upon education coming from their efforts. For example, there is a real focus on creating more helpful how-to videos. This is a direct request from the community and and a great example of a company listening to its customers.
- Pitney Bowes will also focus on creating a strategy for their efforts as well as putting policies in place so they can bring more people on board.