Time after time I have found that CRM and Customer Experience efforts are housed under the Marketing function and led/driven by folks from Marketing. This practice is unquestioned: it is simply taken for granted that Marketing is the function that is most intimately connected with and has the best understanding of customers. Is that actually so? Let’s take a deeper look.
The Customer Services function is taking one call after another from customers. In a large multi-national that ends up with millions of calls every year. And each of these calls has involved a verbal interaction between the customer and the company representative taking the call. It can even be argued that the Customer Services function can be viewed as an R&D laboratory that can provide useful information on which customers are calling, what customers are calling about, what matters to customers, how well the organisation is doing in terms of acting on and meeting the needs/wants of customers. And in the process this function can surface both what is broken in the organisation (from a customer perspective) and opportunities.
The Field Services and Technical Support Services function are in similar boat to the Customer Services function. These function interact – face to face visit, telephone conversations – with and are thus directly exposed to the customer. The Field Services folks actually enter into the customer’s home. So it clear that the engineers / technicians will get a good grasp of customers: who they are, their needs, what is not working, opportunities to create new products/services for customers etc.
Lets take a look at the Sales function. Who can argue that his function and the people are in intimate contact with customers. These people know who is buying, who is not buying, which products are moving and why, what matters to customers, what changes need to be made to attract/convert more customers, what competitors are up to etc. Any sales person who is not adept in interacting with customers will not last long in his/her role.
Onwards to the Finance function. This function is responsible for the oversight of money flows between the customer and the organisation. As such the Finance folks tend to know which customers are good credit risks, who pays on time, who has to be chased, when to chase customers etc…..
Now lets take a deeper look at the Marketing function. Who in this function has a face to face conversations with customers? How about telephone conversation? Or even email conversations? The closest that folks from marketing get to customers is when they sit in on a focus group. What does this tell them? It simply tells them what a group of disparate people will say in a laboratory environment. There is ample research to show that what people say and what people do can be dramatically different. And also the answers you get depend highly on the context – change the context and you get different answers to the same questions. The other means of the Marketing folks getting customer insight is through market and consumer research carried out by the marketing agencies.
So if it is not the wealth of interactions – conversations – the Marketing folks have with customers then what else do they have that qualifies them to lead/own/drive CRM and Customer Experience efforts? Perhaps it is their mindset – lets take a look at that.
What is the typically Marketing mindset – the one that is actually in practice not the one that is talked about by academics in marketing texts? Is it not one of ‘manipulating’ consumption – getting people to buy what the organisation has to sell at the terms that are acceptable / beneficial to the organisation? And most Marketing functions have done a great job of that. Put differently, Marketing functions can be great at creating, disclosing and promoting stories (true, false or in between) that germinate in people minds thus encouraging the first trial. This is called getting new customers – customer acquisition.
What is Marketing’s impact or expertise in retaining customers? How will even the state of the art (personalised, relevant, timely) piece of marketing communication drive me to continue to do business with the company if I am dissatisfied with the existing product, the difficult to get in touch with Customer Services, or the Field Service folks that don’t turn up on time to fix the issue?
Are the folks in Marketing even aware of the issues that I have with the company? Do they care? If so can they actually do anything about it? Is the Marketing function respected and does it wield influence over the Sales, Customer Services, Field Services, Logistics and Finance folks? In many organisations the answer to the last question is no.
What does the Marketing function actually focus upon when a new customer comes on board? The better armed Marketing functions have Customer Insight teams that build statistical models to predict what to sell next, and when, to which customers. These up-sell and x-sell efforts may or may not work. That all depends on what the rest of the organisation is doing (Sales, Customer Services, Logistics, Field Services, Finance) in terms of delivering on the first promise that Marketing made to the customer.
I cannot see a logical basis for the Marketing function to own/lead/drive CRM and Customer Experience efforts. Contrary to the popular understanding Marketing is not a customer centred function. And the folks that work in Marketing do not have a better understanding of customers. Arguably they have less than the folks in Sales, Customer Services and Field Services.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Your reasoning?