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Customer service: the new marketing

The Economist Intelligence Unit has just released what may turn out to be the customer service report of the decade (PDF). Almost 500 CMOs and senior marketing executives from around the world shared their thoughts on the future of marketing. The key takeaway? Within just a few years, not the customer service guys and gals but *the marketing team will be responsible for customer experience.

Don’t sit around and wait for this inevitable trend to happen: make some changes now to serve your customers even better in the future (and keep your job secure to boot). We’ve picked out some of the report’s crucial points to get you started.

1. The nature of engagement is changing

Thanks to the internet and, in particular, social media, old-fashioned ideas of brand engagement are a thing of the past. While customers who simply love what your brand stands for are still important, capturing their attention is no longer just a question of constructing an image and sitting back to see who it appeals to.

As engagement becomes increasingly two-way thanks to social media, customer service staff need to work closely with marketing staff to ensure that each and every communication encapsulates the brand’s message. Don’t leave brand image completely to the marketing team – the way you handle your customers is the most essential aspect. Treat your customers badly and they won’t come back = end of engagement. Treating them well and upholding your brand label is the essence of the new customer engagement.

2. Digital, digital, digital

When asked the areas in which they need to develop skills in their marketing operation, 39% of respondents said that technology & digital engagement were their top focus. Surprising? Not really. Given that even customer service departments – which are currently at the forefront of digital engagement – appear to be having trouble keeping up with consumers’ technology use, it’s not exactly eyebrow-raising that marketers aren’t on top of things either.

Businesses (like yours) which conduct online customer service have a head start in this area, but that doesn’t mean you can afford to be complacent. Brush up on how to write great customer service emails that actually answer your customers’ questions; assist customers on their preferred channels; keep a watchful eye on new developments (for example the increasing popularity of WhatsApp). If your company’s marketing department is angling to take over your duties, snooze and you will lose control of this side of things.

3. Take the lead in the customer experience

Traditionally the customer service department was responsible for customer experience. Essentially, the business created and provided a product or service, the marketing department promoted it, and customer service staff took it from there. According to the report, around a third of marketing staff are currently in charge of managing the customer experience – but 75% say that they will be responsible within three to five years.

Unless you’re planning to be retired by then, you’d better take a proactive look at how you can start integrating some of those marketing duties into your customer service tasks. Customer service departments need to create their own roadmaps of the customer journey to ensure that they’re not missing out on opportunities to improve the customer experience. In customer service, as in life, the squeaky wheel gets the oil – those who complain are the ones who get assistance (in an ideal customer service model, anyway).

The question is what happens to the customers who don’t reach out to your service department. Close co-operation with the marketing department can help you to create ways of keeping in touch with these customers before you lose them – or before you are simply asked to hand your responsibilities over to the marketing department.

It would be ridiculous for us to suggest that we can tell you how to revamp your company’s customer service approach in one short blog post. However, it’s important to realise that the writing is on the wall for the traditional separation of marketing and customer service. The time to start looking at alternatives is now, because the changes are coming whether you’re ready or not.