The Verghis Group

Inside a treatment center for Internet Addiction – in China

By Phil Verghis on August 26, 2009

According to this center’s definition, anyone who spends more than 6 hours a day on the internet, and shows little interest in school is an internet addict…

Read more from the BBC:

How do you mine sentiment on the web?

By Phil Verghis on August 24, 2009

Ah the simpler days of the Internet. Way back in 2002, during my Akamai days, we had team members manually mining public forums for customer comments during live events to ensure that we could pin point and resolve issues close to real time. Of course it would be impossible to scale staff enough to do that smartly today.

That’s why today’s New York Times article  (free registration required) on some of the tools available to mine blogs, Twitter and more caught my interest. Selected quotes from the article:

Scout Labs recently introduced a subscription service that allows customers to monitor blogs, news articles, online forums and social networking sites for trends in opinions about products, services or topics in the news.

Jodange offers a service geared toward online publishers that lets them incorporate opinion data drawn from over 450,000 sources, including mainstream news sources, blogs and Twitter.

Bo Pang, a researcher at Yahoo co-wrote “Opinion Mining and Sentiment Analysis,” one of the first academic books on sentiment analysis.

To get at the true intent of a statement, Ms. Pang developed software that looks at several different filters, including polarity (is the statement positive or negative?), intensity (what is the degree of emotion being expressed?) and subjectivity (how partial or impartial is the source?).

For example, a preponderance of adjectives often signals a high degree of subjectivity, while noun- and verb-heavy statements tend toward a more neutral point of view.

How are you tracking sentiments about your organization? Have you been able to strike a good balance between a rapid response and appropriate response (i.e. not over-reacting) ?

The 80/20 rule does not seem to apply with online knowledge bases

By Phil Verghis on August 24, 2009

After years of being able to use the proverbial 80/20 rule, anecdotal evidence seems to point to it being even more skewed with online knowledge bases. Growing evidence from my own clients and listening to other knowledgeable observers points to a new 2/98 rule.  For a sample size of thousands of documents, one or two percent of the documents account for close to 50% of all the ‘hits’.

Note: If there is great seasonal variance (for example back to school time for an University or tax time for a financial software company) then look at your usage statistics split out by season so you don’t lose the trees for the forest…

Three common issues seen recently in customer support assessments

By Phil Verghis on August 12, 2009

From the August 2009 edition of the Verghis View newsletter. Feel free to sign up for your own free subscription at

Today’s Most Common Service/Support Traps

One of the reasons I have been so busy is because of a number of service assessments I have been performing for various organizations around the world. Over the past few months, savvy executives have been getting a jump on their competition by seeking a blueprint on the best ways to prepare their leadership teams and organizations for the inevitable growth period that lies ahead.

Some companies have found their support infrastructure under increased stress. Others have found the support landscape has grown far more competitive, as customers rightfully demand more value for what they pay.

I’d like to share some of the most common themes I’ve seen emerge during my recent assessments. If you are interested in your own service assessment, please check out 

Trying to be all things to all customers is a disaster waiting to happen. It’s an unsustainable business model. The fact is, customers are not all the same. For a startup, revenue is paramount, so you do whatever it takes to get and keep a customer. But when an organization matures, you need to adopt a more pragmatic approach: getting and keeping your profitable customers.

But if you can’t be everything to everyone, what is the alternative? Is it giving some customers excellent service, while others receive something less? Absolutely not! You can give everyone excellent service. Here’s how to do it.

Give customers in each segment better service than they expect — and better than they can get from the competition.

How do you manage to deliver great service to all your customers? Begin by dividing your customers into segments, and understand exactly what each segment really wants. But how do you segment your customers? If you’re part of a larger company, it has no doubt already been done for you. Talk to your marketing or product management team about your company’s “target market.”

If you’re with a small company or have never done this kind of customer segmenting before, here’s one simple approach.

Just divide them into high, medium and low-revenue customers. This is a decent first pass if you have nothing else to work with.
Next, find out what each segment of your customer base likes, and what your competition does in this space. Note: These days, “competition” refers to more than just your head-to-head competitors. It also includes service experiences across all companies, like Amazon.
Finally, tweak your processes and align your resources to address the needs of each customer segment.
There you have it – a simple way to segment your customer base and deliver exceptional service to everyone.

When I hear people citing their Customer Satisfaction, Customer Engagement or Net Promoter Scores, my first question is usually, “What customer segment does that score refer to?”

My advice: Stop aggregating key performance indicators like customer satisfaction scores across your entire customer base. This is particularly true if you have a large customer base (like one of my clients, who has 60+ million customers). Aggregating customer satisfaction scores across multiple customer segments tends to obscure important details.

In the example above, I’d want to know the sat scores for each segment of the customer base. Ditto the survey return rates. If you have a Technical Account Manager relationship and some customers are paying you a lot of money for a percentage of a senior person’s time, the response rate for those customers should be far higher than for those who only pay you a few hundred dollars a year.

Look at the companies who are reporting profits these days. Aside from one-time events that may have bumped up revenue, most increased profits by cutting costs. While you cannot cut your way to greatness, this should be part of your ongoing strategic business review.

The aviation industry is a good example of profiting from attention to detail. When fuel costs soared, airline profits evaporated like a vapor trail in the sky. A careful review of costs uncovered this fascinating tidbit: 20% of a large passenger jet’s fuel is consumed carrying the fuel itself! This discovery led to critical changes in procedures. Instead of topping off the fuel tanks and lavatory water after each flight, they added only the necessary amount.

Result: Savings of thousands of dollars per flight — often the difference between a profitable flight and an unprofitable one.

There you have it – three simple lessons that can help you get ready for the recovery ahead.

New customer experience – a wonderful example

By Phil Verghis on August 3, 2009

One of the most under-rated yet powerful tools we have at our disposal as customer support/service folks is a well thought out customer lifecycle plan (complete with a timeline). This involves formally mapping out customer touchpoints along the customer lifecycle starting with the transition from sales to support all the way to ‘exiting’ the customer when they leave the  business.

As part of this lifecyle and timeline, the first few days of a customer relationship is recognized and treated as importantly as in a personal relationship. A little effort at the right time will go a long way in making the relationship smoother. 

I was given a powerful reminder of this yesterday while visiting ValueLabs as part of a client engagement in Hyderabad, India yesterday.

I was welcomed at the airport by a driver with a sign, and an admin assistant. I was given a local Indian cell phone with all the numbers I would need pre-programmed. If you travel a lot, you know that the cost of using your cell phone internationally can take a year off your retirement savings, and figuring out all the local codes vs. national codes is not a trivial matter. This was a most welcome touch.

When I arrived at the facility the next day, the cab driver (arranged by the company) had clearly been given instructions to call ahead to let them know I was on the way.  I was welcomed with flowers and a ‘VIP’ badge. Very nice touches, and it showed an attention to detail for the customer  experience that is unusal.

What are you doing to make your new customer experience a special one?

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