The takeover is complete: The customer is in control and customer experience now reigns supreme over the business universe.
A whirlwind of global forces has propelled us to this place. Now that we’re here, what do companies need to do to not only survive, but also thrive?
In my opinion, the winners in this new order will be those companies that tear down the walls between marketing, sales and customer service, declare a truce and work together toward a shared purpose — to help customers. Uniting these three areas will align the entire company with the common vision of creating such an outstanding experience for customers that they develop loyalty to the brand and become advocates by spreading the word. In turn, this maximizes customer lifetime value, one of the only metrics that matters for growth and long-term business success.
While there’s been a lot of industry buzz about customer experience being the “new marketing,” the shift goes well beyond that. It’s the convergence of marketing, sales and customer service that needs to happen in response to the fact that customers are now at the wheel. But it’s not going to be easy. In fact, it’s going to be a lot of work, but the best companies will be those that rise to the challenge.
Here are three ways companies can approach this convergence — eliminating barriers to customer flow and unlocking massive value and opportunity:
1. Focus on the merged customer journey.
Back in the days before we were all connected, marketing, sales and service were three separate and distinct channels. Marketing was all about TV, radio and magazine advertising; selling took place in the store or via phone outreach; and customers called customer service or brought products back to the store.
Now, that journey has converged. This shift really hit me in 2010 while visiting one of our customer service centers in Pennsylvania. Instead of just seeing banks of agents on phones, I noticed a group of about 10 people huddled together. Curious, I approached and saw they were responding to customer comments on social media. These were the same people who usually handled one call at a time, but here they were, putting their heads together to respond to a post about a question they’d also been getting from a lot of customers on the phone.
Surprised, I said, “So, when you respond to that post, the whole world can see it, right?” They nodded. Then I noticed someone else working at a desk nearby, writing a blog on the same topic. Ultimately, they planned to link the social media response to the blog. She said: “We don’t want to answer the same question twice. We need to thread it all together.”
Then it hit me. That’s not service, that’s marketing. Any time you move from one-to-one to one-to-many, that means brand impression … big time. Service specialists are working on marketing activities, and the lines between functions are blurring. They are all coming together.
From that moment, I set out to find a way to bring all these capabilities together at SYKES, which has led to some strategic acquisitions.
The point here is that the journey has converged. Where customers go for e-commerce and for support are starting at the same place. For example, our data shows that at least 60 percent of the people coming to marketing pages are actually looking for service. We also see that 75 percent of the people we’re chatting with on the phone have already been to the website to try to solve their own issue. Companies need to recognize this and respond.
2. Redefine sales to become synonymous with service.
Today, the most effective sales and marketing strategies are about helping customers find the products they want to purchase. It’s no longer about selling — it’s about helping. Think about the opportunities this creates. The number of people who are ready to buy what you’re selling may be very small, while the number of people who have questions about the products and services you sell is much larger. The idea, then, is to facilitate pathways — shifting from traditional “push” or outbound-marketing tactics like telemarketing calls and advertising, to “pull” or inbound-marketing strategies that create content that helps people looking for answers find your site.
When you’re calling someone at home, it’s hard to use the word “helping.” “Intruding” is a more accurate verb. But when someone is expressing intent and looking for answers, and you’ve created content that helps, then when they visit your site and call you, those inbound “salespeople” can answer the phone: “How may I assist you? I see you’re interested in this product.” It’s subtle, but so important, especially if your company, like SYKES, is built on a culture of caring.
That’s the beauty of this. It’s not really selling anymore. You’re helping solve issues. While the concept of service-oriented selling has been around for years, with today’s digital capabilities there’s never been a better time to turn sales into a service activity and wrap the whole process around a beautifully designed customer experience. As you do so, you’re creating a powerful marketing and sales magnet. Instead of telling customers how great you are, you’re showing them!
3. Share capabilities to deliver better service and big opportunities.
As Aristotle said, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When companies start leveraging competencies across marketing, sales and customer care, they can achieve exponentially more than each department can deliver when working alone. For example, search engine optimization (SEO) skills from marketing need to be applied to help customers quickly find the support they need. At the same time, the content should encourage the desired action of the customer and company. Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) skills, previously the exclusive domain of marketing and sales, also needs to be applied to service. If sales material is provided, the desired action is making a purchase — the content should effectively motivate the customer to buy. Similarly, if customers are viewing support materials, the desired action is finding a solution — that content should be designed in a way that enables the customer to resolve their issue.
As we merge these capabilities at SYKES, we’re starting to see some exciting results. In one case, we took four of the most common customer questions and optimized the content on the self-service site, prioritizing content that addressed those issues. This small change reduced calls by 20 percent, resulting in more customer satisfaction and less frustration, while also reducing costs for our client. From a workforce perspective, our customer service agents appreciate being tapped as subject matter experts — getting the chance to share their knowledge of solutions and the voice of the customer.
One of the other huge advantages of closely aligning marketing, sales and customer service is the ability to maximize IT capabilities instead of competing for limited resources. Since IT is obviously at the center of all things digital, it’s essential to provide clear technology priorities around shared goals. In addition, analytics can be applied more effectively when cross-functional teams work together to find root causes, improvement opportunities and smarter solutions.
Making it happen.
Change won’t come easy — it’s certainly true that many attempts to align just marketing and sales and create a closed-loop process have fallen victim to internal politics and technical barriers. Yet I would argue that conditions are different now. Customers are in charge and won’t tolerate companies that don’t employ the vast digital capabilities now available to give them what they want.
What does this mean for companies that use outsourcing providers for customer service and digital marketing? I suggest looking for partners who have the capabilities to provide a more end-to-end solution that combines marketing, sales and service activities to deliver a seamless customer experience across all channels. In fact, a full-service CX outsourcing provider can actually help companies achieve convergence where it may not be possible internally.
Whatever a company’s best course, it will be a process. Just remember: Customers are truly the center of our universe.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts.