Will Customer Service Ever Be The New Marketing?

This work by Marcelo Bernardes (@marcelobern) was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Industry experts have been touting this convergence for years, but will these practices ever fully integrate? What should you be doing today?

Customer Service and Marketing lines blur

More and more, social media is becoming the primary mean by which users reach out to ask for companies to solve their problems and express their opinions about a brand. According to the 2012 American Express® Global Customer Service Barometer, 1 in 5 Americans have used social media to get a customer services response at least once in the last year (infographic).

The obvious challenge is that such interactions happen on a very public forum. So, every reply needs to be carefully crafted in a positive way, and in line with the company branding. Failure to do so, has lead to disastrous consequences, as in the cases of McDonald's, Tesco, and many others.
Social media represents a new dynamic in customer experiences in which the company, its products, services, reputation and the way it treats its customers become highly visible to millions of people. - Dr Natalie Petouhoff and Kathy Hermann, Calculating the ROI of Social Customer Service

Convergence challenges

Industry experts have been arguing the convergence of customer service and marketing for years now, so why has it not happened yet? Here are some reasons:
  • Current investments: organizations have already made huge investments to purchase, train, and deploy customer service and marketing solutions. A compelling business need is required to justify additional investment to introduce a new product. This is history repeating itself.
  • Evolving customer requirements: social media is still fairy recent, and user behavior is still evolving (SOURCE). Forward-thinking organizations are learning what is required to address the needs of today and reacting to new trends as they are uncovered.
  • Organizational aspects: in many corporations, marketing and customer service activities might have been historically split among different areas (Wikipedia), which means the CEO is still the first level at which these functions converge today. And CEOs might not be aware or incentivized to promote such convergence.
  • Milking the cash cow: as it is often the case ("The Innovator's Dilemma"), established software vendors for the customer service and marketing segments have little incentive to promote consolidation, and disruptive innovation.

What are trail blazers doing?

Rather than "boil the ocean" trying to figure out how customer service and marketing might converge, trail blazers are identifying and addressing their current social customer service need, to reap the benefit.
... consumers who have used social media for service in the last year are willing to pay a 21% premium at companies that provide great service. They also tell three times as many people about positive service experiences compared to the general population. Ultimately, getting service right with these social media savvy consumers can help a business grow. - Jim Bush, Executive Vice President, World Service, American Express

Best practices you should consider

The article "The Ignored Side of Social Media: Customer Service", by Knowledge@Wharton, shares the following practices about effective social customer service:
Responses must be personal, and it’s essential to strike the right tone. But how personal? And what’s the “right tone?”
... (the) team might look at a customer’s Facebook page, timeline or Pinterest pinboard before crafting a response. "We strive to make it look real-time, but we’re really doing a ton of research in the back."

The turning point: convergence might happen when...

Once organizations figure out that their marketing (e.g. brand awareness) budgets can be reduced by excelling at social customer service, vendors will be compelled to cater to the changing needs, and enrich the customer service tools with marketing features to measure "campaign" effectiveness, for example.

What is your take? Feel free to use the comment box below to share your point of view. And please follow me, if you would like to be automatically notified when I publish new articles.


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