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What "The Walking Dead" can teach you about customer service

The season 7 premiere of cable channel AMC's six-year hit "The Walking Dead" on Sunday meant I was glued to the TV---and, apparently, if the ratings rumble is right, so was just about everyone else in America. While the official numbers aren't in yet, it has been noted that the premiere was the top program for Sunday night. And there's real talk that the numbers broke records.

It was an emotional hour. The Twitterverse was aflutter. Those tweeters were crying (in emoji). They were angry (in emoji). They were telling the producers, writers and actors that they felt used and abused and were never, ever watching again ... but they continued to watch. And they continued to post memes. And they continued to react. And they continued to tweet. 

As I watched the show unfold and the tweets mountain mount, I realized there are lessons to be learned from this moment. If I were a survivalist, I might see lessons on how to perservere from Rick and co. Were I a sociologist, I might takeaway thoughts on family and the ties that bind that aren't blood. Were I a psychologist, I might want to talk about what it means to be human in an inhumane world and who the real "bad guys" are in "The Walking Dead." (Hint: it usually ain't the dead ones.) But, as a power industry writer and blogger, what really interested me was the work going on behind the fiction, those people behind the curtain we're not supposed to pay attention to: the crafting of "The Walking Dead" universe, the environment and the reaction. All that work: It's great customer service. Really.

So, here are four customer service lessons that the executive producers and writers of "The Walking Dead" folded into their season premiere (and that you can apply to your own efforts).

Warning: spoilers alert. If you haven't seen the season seven premiere, go watch it and then come back to read this. I don't want to get angry notes that I spoiled your viewing. Seriously. If you haven't seen the episode, go away right now, or I'm not responsible for your exposure.

Now, for those lessons ...

1.) Go for the gut.

Granted, given the gore of an average "Walking Dead" episode, this pun may be a little much. But, pulling back from the splatterfest that the show can be, what keeps fans engaged really isn't the violence. Instead, it's a love for characters---including a deep, deep affection for one of the characters who died during the premiere. 

Having customers emotionally invested in your brand is what every company wants, including every utility these days. We've all learned the "customers are no longer just ratepayers" lesson, and we've learned it but good. Still, have we really moved beyond that name change to really emotionally investing? People love Coke and Nike and other brands for their emotional attachment to them---I'm a Dr. Pepper girl, myself---to memories they bring back or, as in the case of "The Walking Dead," emotions those brands brought to us.

So, how do we establish those emotional connections between customer and electric service provider? First step: Bring down the wall. I'm not talking financial or regulatory transparency here. I'm talking emotional transparency. Your utility is made up of people, of personalities. Let your customer know that. Let your customer connect with the people who make your company great. You already know how awesome they are. Now it's time your customers know.

And once those customers have a love for your characters, you might be surprised how connected they feel.

2.) Tune out the white noise.

On Sunday night, you couldn't go three tweets down the Twitterverse without tripping over the hashtag WalkingDead. And that's fabulous. That's the noise you want to hear. But, not all of it was positive. In fact, a good half of it was pushy, angry, nasty venting. People love to vent online. Digital is the spot to let that release valve loose and let off all the steam you got. But, I guarantee you no producer or writer of the show read through those tweets and thought, "OMG, we have to totally change the direction of our show. We have to bring back Glenn, somehow---maybe in a Bobby Ewing-esque 'it was all a dream' moment."

I guarantee you that absolutely no one connected to the show is going to change the focus, the feel or the direction of "The Walking Dead" because thousands of people screamed at them on Twitter. So, why do you, utilities, react so deeply to one or two people angry at you during an outage?

Should you respond to those people? Certainly. Politely, with good information on when their power might return. With great service. But certainly don't have a meltdown that your entire customer service department is utterly rubbish just because people get (naturally) upset when something goes wrong.

Remember, most of that noise is just that---noise. Don't let it distract you from the task at hand: getting the power back on, providing reliable service. Listen, but don't internalize every bad tweet that comes along. 

3.) Give 'em more than they expected. 

Another warning: Here's where I really reveal the twist of Sunday's premiere. If you haven't watched it, stop right now. OK. The single most brilliant thing the writers and producers did on Sunday was go above and beyond expectations. We knew a character would die. We've been waiting to see who it is for months and months and months. They finally revealed that death. So, we all relaxed and then---wham, bam---a second death comes right out of the blue. It's a major character. It's a major surprise. 

It was a brilliant move.

Here's what you can learn from it: Don't stop with just satisfaction. Don't call it good that you've completed a customer request or restored a customer's power. Did you follow up? Did you check in? Are you going above and beyond expecations and giving that customer more?

Giving a customer more is how you go from satisfied customers to happy customers---and brand loyal ones. ("The Walking Dead" remains the only show that I remember when it's on and carve out time every Sunday to sit down and watch it. Think about that: the only show. They are doing something right there.)

4.) Don't just play to your strengths, advertise them. 

"The Walking Dead" isn't a family show, and it doesn't try to be. It's not going to tone down the zombie apocalypse so you can comfortably watch with your five-year-old. It knows that creative gore is one of its major strengths. It plays to that, and it brands it nicely, too---with adverts and campaigns and promo posters that are dark and beautiful, as well. (The lead art here is one of the promo photos AMC released for season two of "The Walking Dead" a few years ago. It remains my favorite. It's the artsy/moody quality.)

When's the last time you really tooted your own horn about the reliability investments you've made, about the response times during an outage, about the lineman who climb those poles in the rain? Granted, I see a press release now and again. I see a quote on outage times in a local news story about a storm. I see tweets from the lineman themselves once in awhile, but why aren't you out there plastering the amazing things you do for the community all over the place every single day? Yes, every single day. 

You could do it right here in any of the Energy Central streams. You could tackle it on Twitter. You could even buy some happy billboards in your town. You shouldn't be waiting until a problem happens and then talking about how awesome you are. Your customers will start with the problem and then, maybe, see you. But, with this thinking, you are always, always connected to the original problem. Get in front of that problem. Be the first in thought with your customer---no problems attached.

Get on the awesome train. Start today. In fact, here's an idea for you. This would be my ad campaign for next fall. Plaster it on billboards all over your territory when season 8 premieres:

This season of "The Walking Dead" brought to you by fabulous, earth-shattering, society-building electricity. Without it, there's nothing good to watch on TV.

Got your own customer service lessons from "The Walking Dead" (or other fave TV shows)? Let me know in the comments below. 

Kathleen Wolf Davis's picture

Thank Kathleen for the Post!

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