Marketing’s Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love Service

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Marketing as a Service

Marketing as a Service 

Creepy marketing, slick-willy sales, junk mailers, spammers, madmen advertisers – all labels emanating from consumers’ unpleasant sales and marketing experiences.  Like any stereotype, they’re deep-rooted, steeped in many unscrupulous behaviors, and nearly impossible to shed.

But in the age of consumerism, brands must prove they aren’t deserving of these characterizations because their marketing is different; because it feels like marketing as a service.

And the only way to prove this is by adding value to consumer’s lives – not once, as if that episode henceforth grants license to spew irrelevant marketing, but to do so in every interaction.   Get this repeatedly right, and consumers view these interactions as value-added services instead of stigmatized marketing – transforming marketing from an unnecessary evil into essentially what are viewed as terrific service encounters worth sharing. 

What does good look like? 



When forward-thinking leaders overhaul marketing to operate as a service to customers, they do it using customer-centric principles such as:

  • Being prescriptive – adding value with meaningful insights (e.g., finding a more suitable product based on past usage)
  • Being proactive – practicing prevention; spotting the signs of developing problems, and immediately acting to solve them
  • Being empathetic to customers’ situations
  • Showing appreciation
  • Listening attentively to customers’ needs and intent, and then being helpful
  • Taking responsibility and showing a sense of urgency in solving problems and adding value
  • When offering self-service options, ensuring they’re fast, convenient, fully functional, frictionless, and conversational (e.g., the end-to-end streamlined experience offsets any personal time invested)
  • Ensuring feedback is easily given (on any channel) and taken seriously
  • Offering the appropriate educational services so customers understand how to use products

All sounds amazing, right?  Sure, but also very rare.  Regrettably,based on what we generally stumble upon, marketing as a service is for the most part an oxymoron. 

Today, most brands aren’t providing anything close to a marketing as a service experience.  In fact, most still practice old-style marketing.  They feature certain products because inventories for those items are high, or because that product line is generally popular.  They pay lip service to individual customer preferences and dish out promotions on a predetermined corporate schedule. They use hard-scripted messaging and ignore contextual customer signals of preference and intent.  If marketers want better results, they need to take a page from the playbooks of great service providers, putting customers’ requirements first, and working to build loyalty with a service-first mentality.

We learn from example.  And although great examples are uncommon, there are some out there such as:

  • An airline that considers the entire customer journey, from pre-trip planning, to the actual trip, to the post-trip activities. At every stage, their mission is to deliver value-added insights and services tailored to the individual.
  • A retailer that senses a replenishment need based on the consumer’s historical consumption patterns, relays its insights, and offers options for purchasing and fulfillment.
  • A credit card company that studies an individual’s transactional categories and suggests switching to a cash-back rewards option that will mean higher future rebates for that person.
  • A retailer’s website that uses proactive chat to sense a need for help (e.g., customer lingering on pricing page) and responds with a specific suggested next step (a chat on pricing options).

However, those practicing service-first marketing like this must still be cautious not to waiver from customer-centric principles.  There’s a tendency for brands to go overboard, placing too much emphasis on cost reduction in their marketing automation and self-service initiatives.  Unconsciously, they neglect the customer’s experience, and negatively impact long-term customer value.

It’s “Innovate (not automate) or Die”

Marketing as a Service - Innovate or Perish

As marketing has evolved, its practitioners have employed a torrent of mechanizations, from automatic bounce backs after purchases, to programmatic digital ad bids, to event-triggered emails.  And make no mistake, these automations have paid dividends by improving targeting and timing, sending improvements to the bottom-line.   As a result, both sides have benefited. Companies have been rewarded with lower costs per interaction, improved conversion rates, and higher revenues because customers occasionally get useful offers.

However, a great marketer’s goal shouldn’t be occasionally giving customers useful offers.  Nonetheless, that’s exactly what happens when they assign customers to segments.  Sometimes the offer is relevant and sometimes it’s not.  And though marketers want to fix this, they’re hitting a wall pursing better personalization because they’re treating segments instead of individuals.

To deliver more relevance, the answer is to treat the individual and not the micro-segment because:

  • There is no such thing as hyper-personalization for a segment; hyper-personalization must be directed at an individual.
  • You can’t service a segment.  Service is for people not segments.
  • Tools and data architected to treat individuals can use context and operate in real-time, whereas segment-based systems run pre-calculated batch treatments.

In his book “Marketer as a Philosopher,” Flint McGlaughlin states some common sense that supports why marketers must move from segment offers to specific offers to individuals:

“Specificity converts. Indeed, for any reasonable sample size, the specific offer to the specific person will outperform the general offer to the general person.”[i]

In addition, blindly focusing on automation alone will prove a flawed strategy.  As AI technologies evolve, it’s likely complex marketing tasks (and even whole jobs) could be replaced.  For example, some firms are already substituting machines for telemarketers, and that trend will continue as suggested in Benedikt’s & Osborne’s 2013 Future of Employment study[ii].  But it’s a poor strategy to over invest in pursuits that simply replace labor and automate existing marketing practices.  Instead, marketers must re-engineer not only how they market, but why they market, when they market, and what they market.

Doing this, they’ll find some old roles disappear, but new ones emerge.  To illustrate, a cold-calling telemarketer may become obsolete, but a proactive care agent (who knows how to deliver marketing as a service) becomes crucial.  Overall, what’s required is a complete revamping around service-first marketing, where relationship value management is the primary goal and any efficiency gains are fortunate byproducts.   

Still, marketers and CX professionals are rightfully motivated to automate to remain competitive. They must reduce the cost to acquire and deepen customer relationships, doing so while simultaneously providing outstanding experiences. And that’s a tricky and delicate balance. 

Show me the money



In her recent blog “How to Turn Proactive Live Chat from Annoying to Helpful[iii]” Leah Liebl makes an excellent point about the value of proactive service:

“A study of 68 Toyota, Lexus and Scion dealers showed that proactive chat led to consistently high chat-to-lead conversion rates of 77%. Dealers wanted a way to engage potential customers after their marketing efforts had driven them to their site. According to the study, proactive chat made it possible to approach customers with relevant, targeted information instead of interrupting with no knowledge of the customer’s interests.”

There are three things to love from this example:  

  1. Customers viewed the experience as helpful (versus distracting or an annoyance).
  2. Customers got relevant and timely information tuned to their previously stated interests.
  3. The results were measurable and impacted the bottom-line.

Likewise, at Pega’s conference in Las Vegas in 2018, Andrew McMullan, Chief Analytics Officer for Commonwealth Bank of Australia, gave some very impressive evidence about the real-world value of having more “proactive, needs-based conversations[iv]” with customers instead of pushing them marketing messages.  He goes on to state the benefits they’ve seen from using this approach:

“They were 300% better than any conversations we were having about home lending before…when we’re having Next-Best-Conversations, our customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Score is significantly greater.”

Ok, how did they do that?

Marketing as a service programs nudge the right customers at the right time to engage in ways that are both less expensive and customers prefer.  Buying cycles get compressed, cost to serve comes down, and customer satisfaction rises. 

To achieve these outcomes these marketers carefully monitored each individual interaction to determine if they achieved their intended results.  Are these automated or semi-automated interactions delivering hyper-personalized and frictionless treatments?   To answer these questions, they used computerization to assist them in monitoring and learning from millions of people-based interactions.

So how do they find the right mix of automation objectives and service-oriented innovations, blending them in a timeframe that didn’t take forever and incur monumental costs?

The solution is they used a real-time interaction management (RTIM) platform and picked key customer journeys as a starting point.  Concentrating first on the most obvious service needs in those journeys, these brands used an agile approach to stand up a solution in short order (with the first programs live often in under 4 months). Subsequently after going live, they used test and learn to continuously improve the first journey, and then moved to the next.

In addition, they strategically blended together key data, channels, humans, and automation into one overall solution.  In my recent article on AI and technology trends that are affecting marketing (5 predictions for CRM’s AI applications in 2019), I called out the trend toward effective combinations of crowds of humans’ and machines’ intelligence.  Successful firms understand how to weave together a customer’s buying and servicing experiences with the right data, the right technology, and the right humans at the right time.

Another important consideration is effectively factoring in voice of the customer in marketing efforts.  These can’t be token efforts.  Instead, companies must make it simple for customers to provide feedback, proactively, contextually, and incrementally elicit it (read about “The Distracted Consumer”), and factor it in once received.  This helps marketing in many ways:

  • It provides preferences from individuals, which adds to a full understanding of the person
  • Answers can be used to improve future products and marketing efforts
  • It demonstrates the company is willing to engage in conversations. Customers who are asked what they think will feel more valued; that translates into loyalty

When brands treat these feedback gathering occasions as health checkups, they exhibit the trait of proactivity in listening to customer’s concerns and working toward better solutions.  And when the time and place of each checkup is based on the individual, and not on a blanket approach, it further shows that the company cares about the person.   Moreover, those survey moments are an opportunity for a business to prove it can make conversations effortless and seamlessly integrated into the entire brand experience.  Firms like Survey Anyplace[v] get that and provide tooling and expertise that helps toward that objective.

Conclusion

Customers reward brands that provide well-timed insights and recommendations, and value their business before, during, and after the sale.  Customers don’t care whether this experience comes from marketers or from service professionals.  Above all, what they care about is the resulting experience.  When marketing and service become indistinguishable in consumers’ eyes, the results are usually stellar – a satisfied customer willing to advocate and likely to do business again.  Take this service-oriented approach, and the future will be so bright you’ll need shades.

And on that note, I know we’ll meet again some sunny day when marketing and service are one.  But until then, stop worrying and learn to love service. Marketing’s Strangelove – The End




[i] Marketer as a Philosopher, https://meclabs.com/research/publication/marketer-as-philosopher-flint-mcglaughlin

[ii] Oxford Martin School, https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/publications/view/1314, 2013

[iii] UserLike, https://www.userlike.com/en/blog/proactive-live-chat, 2019

[iv] Pega.com, https://www.pega.com/customers/cba, 2018

[v] Survey Anyplace, https://surveyanyplace.com/, 2019

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