Today, consumers tend to base their purchase decisions on reviews, social media 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 for directly influencing this perception, so is customer service the new marketing?
This was the subject of a recent online debate I moderated, hosted by research firm Software Advice. The event called “Is Customer Service the New Marketing?” featured four top experts in the field, including 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 and marketing. They also provided advice for companies wanting to accommodate these changes.
The panel answered the following questions before the debate was opened up to the audience for questions:
- Zappos leadership sees support not as a cost center, but as an opportunity to market through personal connections with customers. Their success is largely attributable to customer loyalty and word of mouth. So, based on this, is customer service the new marketing?
- And where doesn’t this strategy work?
- For companies where it does make sense, how do they implement such a monumental shift in strategy and culture?
- Clearly, this is a strategy that pays out over the long term. How can a business measure this shift to ensure they are getting the right return on their shifting investment and priorities?
During the discussion, the group emphasized that mirroring customer expectations doesn’t always mean creating a consumer-centric company like Zappos. Once, Walmart responded to feedback that customers did not respond positively to their in-store service experiences. After spending resources to improve those reports, they did see their customer satisfaction rates increased.
“But guess what happened? Their experience rating went up but revenue didn’t,” Hyken said during the debate. That’s because customers don’t go to Walmart for their service. They go for the low prices and selection.
At the same time, the group said companies should take efforts to leverage marketing and customer service departments together. Consider this example from Morton’s Restaurant Group.
The marketing team identified a blogger and brand advocate that had 100,000 followers on Twitter. One day, that customer facetiously tweeted about how he wished Morton’s would deliver him a steak while he was waiting at the airport. Marketers caught this and delivered steaks to him. He later shared this customer experience with his massive, trusting audience.
For those companies whose customers do expect exceptional service, the panel said the change needs to be directed at the C-level. This must also be backed by resources and a commitment to improve outcomes and processes based on the interest of the customer.
“Someone has to make the decision that you are going to put the customer at the center of everything you do. This has to be reinforced from the top. Then the customer-centered culture and mindset will follow naturally,” Solomon said.
Overall, the speakers asserted that customer service will always be just a piece in the marketing puzzle.
“It always makes sense to do anything you can to keep your customers happy. But for selling to new business, you can’t just wait for them to hear about you. That’s the thing about creating a valuable customer experience. You can’t give one until they show up,” Pombriant said.
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About the Author
Ashley Verrill is a market analyst with Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.