I realize that the title of this post already has some customer service gurus cringing. No, my point is not to turn service interactions into one-way communication streams in which the customer’s needs are minimized while CSRs focus on pushy “retention,” cross-sell, or upsell efforts… And, if you are familiar with any of my prior writings then you know that I hold marketing responsible for customer experience. With that quick frame of reference, inbound service interactions are ideal for marketing because the customer:
- Is engaged, by choice.
- Actively provides information that points to problems or needs.
- May have a need now that, if missed, becomes a lost opportunity.
But, strategies to leverage customer service as a marketing channel will fail if we approach customer interactions with the traditional marketing mindset – let’s tell customers what we want them to hear. Many of us have been talking about this for years, but the time has come. Firms must shift communications strategies away from one-size fits all push marketing – to one that is responsive to individual customer behaviors. To make the shift successfully, marketing organizations must get beyond the old style campaign construct. The very term “campaign” conjures up the image of a bullhorn – marketers shouting out what they want their audience to hear. With the control and choice that consumers have today, marketing must be more flexible — more agile. Marketing and service organizations must align their strategies and:
- Recognize that every service interaction has potential brand impact. Many customer service centers are measured purely by cost metrics and that result in processes that are internally focused, not customer-focused. Most consumers can recount nightmarish customer service experiences and, today, many are well publicized by jaded customers through vehicles like YouTube. I’m not purporting that cost metrics aren’t important. But, the cost of losing a customer due to a terrible service interaction or the word of mouth associated with broad exposure by disgruntled customers through today’s social channels must also be taken into consideration. And, yes, it is hard to account for all of these costs in an financial spreadsheet. At a minimum, firms can start by mapping and understanding processes from the outside in – that is the customer point of view – as well as the inside out.
- Consider each interaction as an opportunity to establish an emotional connection. Years ago we talked about “delighting” the customer… The term always struck me as corny and I’ve noticed that I, as a consumer, am so jaded by my past customer service experiences that I am pleasantly surprised when I get a friendly voice on the other end of the phone that sounds genuinely eager to help me out or empathizes with me if I am upset. Again, it starts with the little things — like being human.
- Only possibly, seek to extend the financial relationship. As I’ve already indicated, customer service interactions present an opportunity in which customers will willingly provide information in exchange for value. This exchange may yield an opportunity but, it requires active listening and capturing information in real time relative to customer’s issues and needs. Using the interaction to push the product du jour — while it may work occasionally — is more likely to be rejected, potentially annoy your customer, and increase your call time.
As I write this, I admit that I have concerns that what I write will be misconstrued or misused. I’ve been talking in public forums about the intersection between marketing and service since 2002. Unfortunately, while companies in many industries have taken steps to turn their customer service centers into revenue generators, I believe that most have done so to the detriment of the customer experience. That is, they view inbound service interactions only from the perspective of the potential financial benefit that could result from selling something new, extending a contract, etc. These companies are still operating in one-way mode and failing to recognize that they have an opportunity to establish a dialog with their customer.