Within Five Years Call Centres Will Be Run By Marketing


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Marketing Runs Customer Service
The following  post came out of a webinar I ran recently with NewVoiceMedia. This was our hypothesis to generate the discussion.

Another five years of breakthrough technologies fuelling digitally empowered consumers and brands will have taken us to a new ‘normal’. One likely result of everyone getting much smarter is deep organisational alignment replacing the silos of today. At that point, all customer facing functions will operate under a single plan and budget. As by far the richest and most influential budget holder, Marketing has taken command under the united remit of ‘Customer Engagement’.

Of course, the future remains unknown until it arrives. A simple check of previous forecasts shows how poor even experts are at getting it right. So in truth, all we can say is that the future is best described as a series of possible outcomes based on trends already in play. In that sense, Marketing ending up in charge of a combined customer engagement team is one of those possibilities.

And here is why it might become so one day.

Consumer Evolution

Of all the behavioural changes that are indicative of today’s digitally fuelled consumer, I recently came across a benchmark that summarised things perfectly.

“At the turn of the millennium, companies spent twice as much on IT hardware per employee as consumers spent. By 2008, the two sides had reached parity.”     Source: Accenture Outlook Journal 2012

This explains the new realities. As of year-end 2013, smartphones enjoyed 60%+ UK penetration. Meanwhile an Indian designed tablet broke the £28 price point, suggesting a huge upswing during 2014 for that technology format as well.

So as consumers, what are we getting up to once we acquire the tech?

Lots! With an ongoing stream of information from aggregators, peer reviews, social sharing and of course that trusted cohort – friends and family, we now live in a state of ongoing re-evaluation throughout the purchasing-consumption-support lifecycle. These days finding a better product, a reduced price point or improved quality of service is just a matter of time. Sometimes a matter of seconds.

It seems we are deeply wedded to this new digital lifestyle. GlobalWebIndex reports that in every single market they survey, users would rather give up their daily coffee and watching TV before they gave up Facebook. And in all markets, except the US, they would rather give up driving their car.

That’s how much real time connectivity has transformed our priorities.

Organisational Remodelling

As a result, brands have to be doing something quite extraordinary to have any confidence in their customers’ loyalty.  This questions some comforting assumptions we like to trust in. For instance, is it time to rethink NPS and what we hope it tells us? It could be consumers just answer that type of question so they can quickly move on without really considering what is being asked.  Doesn’t the research we hear about constant customer churn make that very point? No-one really knows. All that is certain is that brands now dance to their customers’ tune.

And they are taking brands on a merry chase. Transactions and interactions can be spread across TV, laptop, tablet and smartphone: even via wearable tech for some early adopters. And that’s before the added complexity of channel and media choices are added to the mix. Some prefer live interaction, some self service. Some are wedded to text or voice, a few even to video. Others will use a mix depending on need and circumstance.

No surprises then we’ve invented the language of ‘cross-channel’ and ‘omni-channel’ to point beyond the utter failure of traditional point solutions to keep up. This has allowed us to describe where we want to get to. Even if the current generation of research clearly points out that legacy infrastructure and organisational behaviour is keeping everyone stuck in the past.

This becomes all the more apparent when we look through the re-architecting eyes of CX (customer experience) professionals who map those wiggly customer journeys across the badlands of functional silos. They know that the mapping part of their mission is the easy bit. Bending the organisation like origami into an outside-in shape is quite another matter!

At the centre of the issue is a set of conflicting beliefs that keep organisations locked into a certain shape and pattern of behaviour. One belief holds there is more money in existing customers. The other bets on finding a constant stream of new ones. The former is what everyone goes to conferences to feel uplifted by; like a good Southern Baptist Sunday morning does for the soul. The latter is what is dictated by the governance of annual planning and the assumptions that sit behind ‘how to make the numbers this year’.

Here is the evidence as to which belief holds most currency. At a global level we invest $500bn in Marketing compared with just $9bn in Service. (source: G-force 2013). And of that marketing budget, organisations spend just 2% on actively maintaining relationships with existing customers (source: Adobe Digital Index) Put another way, does anyone actually own the whole customer lifecycle in your organisation? That’s the real proof as to which viewpoint holds supremacy.

A recent Forrester report (September 2013) described the CX professionals challenge with the following headline.‘Build Seamless Experiences Now’. Their viewpoint is that all those connected devices allow consumers to adopt new patterns of engagement that spread experiences across multiple touch points. However organisations are so behind the curve that consumers are slowed down and limited in their channel options. All of which degrades the brand’s value.  The answer is to plan and deliver seamless experiences starting with real time reporting of these new, multi device, cross channel customer journeys.

I agree wholeheartedly.

The ROI of Customer Experience

Good CX pays dividends of course and can be directly traced to commercial outcomes. A recent report on the top 40 UK retail web sites (source: Foresee Experience Index Q4 2013) reflects how consumer behaviour rewards CX investment. It shows that highly satisfied customers are:

  • 63% more likely to buy from the retailer online
  • 51% more likely to purchase from them offline
  • 70% more likely to recommend the retailer
  • 52% more likely to return to the site

An Amex’s 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer makes the same point looking at our behaviour as social customers.


 These findings show that social engagement has the effect of encouraging more extreme consumer behaviour. The implications go to the heart of this discussion. Service becomes a driver of brand equity in this new world. A real time tally of goodwill gained or lost. And that is why Marketing needs to be deeply involved in its management.

In the Dance – Service Leads and Marketing Follows

But the most interesting point about this opportunity is that Marketing must also learn to take a back seat. Or put another way, Marketers needs to cultivate the habit of listening before talking. A habit that will take some practice before becoming natural since their current instinct is to conduct an ongoing monologue with customers.

But again, the voice of the customer says this type of messaging is not what motivates them to relate to a brand.  An extensive JD Powers Survey in Q1 2013 showed that for US consumers at least, their agenda for brand interaction over social channels were for service reasons before marketing ones.


The author of the report made a telling comment when she reflected “So many companies jump to the marketing piece, but consumers are looking more and more to social channels for support”.

If this is the case, then Marketers need to find ways in which to deliver key parts of their agenda through the Service context. One of which is to generate as much positive word of mouth as possible since this holds much greater credibility with customers than their own efforts. Equally they need to minimise the impact that negative word of mouth brings. Both of these ambitions are big clues as to how close Marketing needs to operationally get with their Service colleagues.

In today’s world of socially minded and mobile connected consumers, a brand’s goodwill index can rise and fall across the day with the same volatility as their share price. We are slowly waking up to the realisation that this demands coordinated real time management to even keep up, let alone get ahead.

Bringing One Agenda To Life

The opportunities for Marketing to take the lead from Service can be put into three buckets.

  1. Customer Inspired Topics
  2. Expectation Management
  3. Service Triggered Stories

No doubt more will emerge as this becomes common practice. But this is more than enough to get things moving.  Let’s imagine this agenda gets discussed as a result of regular ‘One Agenda’ meetings.  In terms of role play, Marketing seeks to learn while Service aims to point out and exemplify.

1. Customer Inspired Topics

The Customer Service agenda has always been controlled by the customer. Their need for service communicates what matters to them. Therefore the Marketing opportunity here is to review what has been most recently discussed and incorporate the recurrent themes into Marketing’s editorial agenda. In this way Marketers can move closer to the customer’s own priorities. This approach can transform the perceived relevance of brand communication if undertaken consistently.

2. Expectation Management

This opportunity follows the same line of logic. One of the reasons we blank out brand advertising to such an extent is that we have learnt to never take it at face value. Hence the credibility of genuine peer reviews. We trust opinion that comes from our side of the fence.

If that is the psychology, it should tell Marketers how to better pitch the message. That could be in crafting classic ‘feature ‘n benefit’ descriptions or in developing experiential story-telling. Either way, customers can spot curved balls a mile off. Thus sampling customer service commentary as a form of expectation management helps Marketers calibrate their creative instincts and sound more credible as a result.

3. Service Triggered Stories

This last category is possibly the most powerful. It is the one that has the greatest impact on social networks. Particularly on Facebook which is increasingly a jointly owned space between Marketing and Service. This is where silo behaviour looks worst and can become tinder for viral escalations.

For instance, every brand’s Facebook timeline runs the risk of having ‘happy’ Marketing campaigns underscored by ‘sour’ customer commentary based on a service grievance.  In the same physical proximity this is awful and makes the brand look out of touch. It can also provoke customers to react even more.

So instead of being at odds, the smart Marketer goes looking for service triggered stories. Maybe the ones suggested by customers as innovations. Or examples of previous service failures recently fixed by Service that are now real opportunities to shout about.

This last point is also of keen interest to Customer Service who ought to relish the opportunity for some positive PR.  Marketing sources the back stories of any customers and colleagues who played their part in spotting and transforming the service failure. They then turn it into a campaign and everyone should end of happy. Customers are more inclined to believe it since the story comes from their space rather than the organisations.

So How Does Marketing End Up In Charge?

When the Cluetrain manifesto first showed up to inspire a generation of fresh thinking, it became one of many focal points for re-imagining how brands and customers should be relating. In that same spirit let’s re-examine our own.

Another five years of breakthrough technologies fuelling digitally empowered consumers and brands will have taken us to a new ‘normal’. One likely result of everyone getting much smarter is deep organisational alignment replacing the silos of today. At that point, all customer facing functions will operate under a single plan and budget. As by far the richest and most influential budget holder, Marketing has taken command under the united remit of ‘Customer Engagement’.

In this future, all customer facing teams now operate as one team, under one boss, one mission and one budget. In other words simplification has won the day and everyone is brought onto the same page. Implicitly, it has been recognised that customer journeys and customer value need deeply integrated responsiveness. Customer Engagement becomes the overarching notion covering all phases of lifecycle management.

So who is most likely to rule the roost? I have suggested Marketing. Given its top table influence and larger budget, it has the advantage. Moreover it is on trend to become more proficient at customer analytics given the much faster adoption of social analytics than speech analytics.

But other possibilities will emerge too. Even better of course would be a new breed of leader. Someone who is equally skilled in Service, Sales and Marketing. That race remains wide open.

This post was originally developed as a whitepaper and webinar for NewVoiceMedia. If you would like to listen to a recording of the webinar and see the associated slides, grab a session here.

Photo Credit: Caro Wallis via Compfight cc


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