Compete Blog: Is Customer Service the New Marketing?

Discussion
Feb 04, 2013

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the Compete Blog. Compete Inc. is a web analytics company that focuses on understanding how consumers use the internet.

Many marketers are evaluating what role customer experience and customer service should have in their 2013 marketing goals. The answer is not cut and dry, but depends on what is best for the company.

Today’s consumers tend to base purchasing decisions on social media, reviews and referrals from friends. They are interested in marketing, but only if it matches their expectations about the brand. Customer service is one of the best avenues to directly influence this perception.

I moderated an online debate, "Is Customer Service the New Marketing?" with four experts in the field: Shep Hyken, Jon Miller, Micah Solomon and Denis Pombriant. These best-selling authors, professional speakers and thought-leaders discussed the changing roles of customer service, marketing and how companies can accommodate these changes.

Some key takeaways from the discussion include:

Marketing and customer service should be leveraged together: The boundaries of marketing and customer service departments are breaking and marketers should not feel forced to choose one or the other. The two can be combined creatively, for example, by retweeting an interesting customer service interaction on Twitter or asking service agents to collaborate on buyer persona development.

Mirroring customer expectations with customer service is important: The experts emphasized that mirroring customer expectations doesn’t always mean creating a consumer-centric company like Zappos. For example, Walmart took action after negative customer feedback on in-store service experiences. After spending time, money and resources to improve those customer service reports, Walmart did see their customer satisfaction rates increase — but their revenue didn’t. Why? Because customers don’t go to Walmart for the service, they go for the low prices and selection.

Implement customer-centric culture from the top down: In order to create Zappos-level customer service, the change needs to be directed at the C-level. The changes must be backed by resources and a commitment to improve outcomes and processes based on the interest of the customer.

With purchase decisions more closely tied to social media, reviews and referrals from friends, should marketing be more closely leveraged with customer service? What are the challenges in linking in-store and online engagement experiences to a retailer’s overall marketing message?

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16 Comments on "Compete Blog: Is Customer Service the New Marketing?"

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Anne Howe
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Linking in-store and online experiences is a no-brainer IF it helps to simplify the shopper’s decision making process. Regardless of the mission on the way in (price, convenience, experience, service), there is no way a shopper is going to be dissatisfied if you help him or her achieve the mission in a simpler manner.

Tom Redd
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

To me, the largest challenge when it comes to the customer service area is getting the retailer’s team members — who communicate face to face, or face to ear (phone), or eye to eye (online) with the shopper — aware and engaged in the company-wide marketing programs, especially promo efforts. This might be BOGOs, price matching or special return programs (try it and free returns).

Many times I hear about how the retailer is promoting something that draws the shopper, but at the point of purchase no one is aware of it.

Synch up and satisfy the shopper.

Ian Percy
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

This piece is at the opposite end of the continuum from the other RW item about the importance of putting vendors first and damn the customers. So kudos for that.

But what I continually struggle with is the oft-repeated ‘insight’ that our efforts should actually have some alignment and integration. We are SO stuck in the old Newtonian mindset that we’re dealing with a box of retail parts. We lose customers, revenues and profits because there is little alignment in our efforts to connect with the mind, heart and pocketbook of our customers.

So here we have the insights of “leveraging,” “mirroring,” and having a ‘central customer focus’. I’d like to know what other options were discussed.

Your success depends on your ability to see the highest POSSIBILITIES of your enterprise, and then ALIGN all the ENERGY toward those possibilities. IMHO those are the three words that will take you to a level of success you can barely imagine: Energy, Alignment, Possibilities.

Max Goldberg
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Marketing and customer service should be leveraged together. Marketing can create desire and demand for a product, while customer service is the embodiment of those claims. Consumers expect a seamless transition from online to offline. Not meeting those expectations could cause a negative backlash towards a retailer.

Frank Riso
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

I do not think that customer service is the new marketing. Customer service has always been connected to marketing since without good customer service, there is no need for marketing.

Social media now has a great opportunity to support a retailer’s marketing objective and goals. It is the customer that now drives the way we do business and the channel to be used, online, in-store, and or on mobile.

Shep Hyken
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Customer service is not a department, it is a philosophy. It used to be the department you called when there was a problem. Now it runs through the entire customer experience, including “events” leading up to an interaction and follow-up after the sale.

Customer service helps deliver the brand promise, and in some cases is the brand promise. Customer service helps mold the perceptions of the customer. If that is not marketing, I don’t know what is.

Ed Dunn
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Any interaction with the customer should be defined as marketing. Providing customer service to one individual requires time and resources and may not result in a positive outcome.

I recommend moving away from 1-on-1 interactions with customers and focus on 1-to-many interactions using social networks to demonstrate commitment to customer service to a wider mass.

Tony Orlando
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

The two are interwoven these days, as they should be. Communicating with your customers through twitter or Facebook is the norm, and it is how things are done. The high-tech age grows rapidly every year, and people like to be in touch with their favorite places to shop (hello Amazon). Once they’re in your store, make sure all the hard work getting them in there pays off with outstanding service.

Lee Kent
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

In my book, marketing is about telling people what YOU think they should know about your products/services. Customer service is helping the consumer get the answers and experiences that THEY think they should have. Although I get that these two functions need to be in sync, I think it is necessary for all functions to be in sync. The last thing a customer who is looking for customer service assistance needs is someone talking at them and not with them. IMHO

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Marketing rides the wave of social sentiment… or at least it should. Some of the more innovative retailers make a great connection with online and offline marketing. The challenge is to not allow the organization to create too large a divide between the online and offline functional silos.

Doug Pruden
Guest
Doug Pruden
4 years 10 months ago
Should marketers focus on customer service? It depends. As much as anything that sounds like a mathematical formula makes many of us run in the other direction, customer retention, share of category spending, and the generation of word of mouth are controlled by a “Value Equation.” That equation includes the many factors of product quality, service, and after-sales servicing that go into any brand, and price. In the real world, where companies need to generate a profit, they make tradeoffs. Sometimes that means special treatment and sometimes it means more ounces for the dollar. Per the examples above, consumers expect great service and free return shipping from Zappos, and they are willing to pay a given price for that. Customers get lower prices at Walmart, and for that benefit they (perhaps without admitting it) accept a lesser level of customer service. It’s tradeoffs. Success in marketing then comes down to understanding the consumer perceptions that add up to the Value Equation for your brand (no simple task since it often includes both conscious and sub-conscious… Read more »
Tom Smith
Guest
4 years 10 months ago
Treat your customers like they matter to you. I had been a DirecTV customer for 15 years and pleaded with their CSRs and sent emails to their customer service department asking if there was anything they could do to help me get high-definition TV. Nothing. Now I get a 34 question survey about why I left DirecTV and my wife received a call telling us about high-definition solutions, after we moved to AT&T Uverse. Either DirecTV didn’t care about me as a customer or their internal communications are so siloed, they need to be blown up. Have a dialogue with your customers. DO NOT rely on “big data” to tell you what your customers need, want, are thinking or how emotionally involved they are with your brand. After reaching out and complaining about reciprocity, Chipotle’s director of social media has done a good job of listening to, and responding to me, as a real person. They know why I’m loyal to them and eat their food five days a week. Tell your customers what they… Read more »
Vahe Katros
Guest
4 years 10 months ago
So does this mean the marketing department is shifting funds (what little they have) to the service department to make sure that the service experience meets or exceeds expectations? (I’d rather take from the advertising folks, they get, what, 5% of sales?) This is an interesting problem since service is so related to hiring and culture—otherwise what is marketing to do, call out Frank from the Texas call center as a case study for BigCo as a result of the Yelp entry that described how he heroically stayed on the line on Christmas Eve? What about the single star reviews that related to the 45 minute hold time? How will marketing handle that? EDLP – executing on Every Day Low Price required creativity, initiative and investments. EDGS – Every Day Great Service will require the same focus on systems, people and processes. I suppose right now we have the same environment we had that EDLP addressed, namely a lack of consistency relating to service (vs. pricing). I think this article is addressing strategic concern in… Read more »
Brian Numainville
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Marketing and customer service should absolutely be connected. With the growth of technology leading to tools like social media and automated feedback programs, it is much easier for customers to provide feedback. What is key is to listen both at the micro (individual customer) level and the macro (big data) level. Then, the learnings from each can be applied to marketing.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
4 years 10 months ago

The idea of either “Customer Service” or “Marketing” being discreet functions is in itself a fallacy. An entire organization, whose customer proposition is service oriented, needs to be customer centric and marketing oriented to succeed effectively in today’s hyper-linked environment. Service is not the new marketing. Customer service and marketing are interlinked and the indispensable competencies of an authentic retail proposition.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
4 years 10 months ago

Marketing a company should reflect the totality of the brand. The obvious answer is a retailer should be in-sync.

My experience is that marketing is often created by a department (and their ad agency) without regard for the realities of the sales floor.

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