2009 1to1 Customer Champion: Maryellen Abreu, Director of Global Customer Support, iRobot

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Customer Experience
Customer Experience

At iRobot's customer service centers, a large sign hangs above the areas where the service reps sit. Its four simple words remind them how to interact with clients. It says: "Think like a customer."

"Think like a customer" has become the foundation for iRobot's service strategy. And Maryellen Abreu, director of global technical support, ensures that employees execute on it. The theory behind the saying is that when reps put themselves in customers' shoes, natural conversations will occur, producing valuable information to help enhance the company's products and services.

Consequently, Abreu instructs the reps to hold conversations with customers at least twice per day. "I require everyone on the team to touch a customer," she says.

By conversing with customers, Abreu says, reps unearth valuable pieces of data that would otherwise go undiscovered. The reps collect the customer information from these free-flow talks and share it with Abreu to help her prioritize and make improvements to service delivery. Abreu says that as issues arise she works to correct them on the spot.

But the data doesn't end with her. Abreu hosts a monthly voice of the customer meeting, with employees from every department in attendance. Each person there reviews the data from surveys given after every customer interaction. They also look at the user forum conversations, and the top five issues and concerns affecting customers, uncovered by combining the surveys and the reps' customer conversations. If customers' comments are negative, a special group within customer service reaches out to them to solve their issues. "Customer service data helps us prioritize business decisions and make changes to the products," she says. "We make hundreds of changes to the products over the course of a year [as a result of customer feedback]."

Take iRobot's new 500 Series of products, for example. Abreu decided to create a beta community consisting of people who had reported problems with their robots as a direct avenue for feedback to get to the root of the problems. These members received new 500 Series products and were asked to report any issues. The members discuss the issues in the forum; iRobot monitors their conversations and surveys them. For participating, community members get discounts on warranties and receive free robot upgrades. In return, iRobot learns if its products are meeting customers' needs.

In addition to the user forums, iRobot leverages social media sites like Twitter and YouTube to respond to customer inquiries and complaints. Abreu, who is a proponent of social media, recently noticed conversations around service questions on one of the sites. In response, a team at iRobot created about 30 service videos ranging from how to clean a vacuum brush to changing a spinning module, and posted them on YouTube. "It's much more effective to look at a picture or watch a video," she says. "Noticing how the customers are leveraging the Internet has been the biggest learning experience for me."

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