2011: time to merge marketing and customer services?

Many years ago I worked for International Distillers & Vintners (IDV), a company that sold premium branded alcoholic drinks to the supermarkets, restaurants, clubs, cafes etc.  One of the challenges that the salesmen encountered was that almost always they were on the back foot.  As soon as they started the sales discussions (for new orders) the customer invariably brought up the issues he was experiencing with the company: not getting the products on time, receiving the wrong products, receiving the wrong quantities, pricing, discounts, billings….  This made it really difficult for the salesmen to sell.  The salesmen had to apologise and sort out the problems first and then talk about sales.  Or they had to promise to sort out the issues and offer even bigger discounts to get the customer to place the order.

It seems to me that we have arrived at the same situation in the B2C.  Anyone with access to the internet can share their views and their experiences with, and on, any organisation.  And everyone with access to the internet can read those views and experiences.  This puts the B2C marketer in the same position as the IDV salesmen.  If the marketer is going to succeed then he/she either has to sort out the customer issues or give a big discount to tempt people to buy.

Surely the sensible option is to sort out, even prevent, the issue that are resulting in poor customer experiences and a negative word of mouth.  Who has the access to this information?  Who knows what customers are ringing up about?  Who knows why they are ringing?  Who knows what business policies, practices and operations are failing the customer?  The Customer Services function.

If that is not reason enough to merge these functions and put them under one department, I can think of several more:

  • Marketing actions impact the customer and where they impact the customer negatively it is the people in customer services who get to know about it first;
  • Marketing spends considerable sums of money with market research agencies to better a better picture of customers yet the customer services function is interacting with many thousands of customers on a daily basis and can provide customer insight as well as conduct research;
  • The performance of the Customer Services function has a direct impact on the word of mouth that is taking place online and offline and WOM is marketing;
  • The new role of the Marketing function is the design and orchestration of a superior customer experience and in that role the Customer Services function plays a key role;
  • By fusing with the functions together it may encourage marketers to actually speak with real customers rather than reading about customers as abstractions in market research reports;
  • The fusion will allow the Customer Services function to escape the relentless focus on cost-cutting and making its treasure (customer insight) available to a function that has more clout; and
  • From a customer perspective it makes a difference if the left arm (Customer Services) knows what the right arm (Marketing) is up to.

In the new world, where we trust TripAdvisor more than any hotel, Marketing and Customer Services are two sides of the same coin.  When one side of the coin is ugly it really does not matter how beautiful the other side is – the coin, as a whole, is not attractive as one in which both sides are beautiful.  I am convinced that the potential for synergy – where 1+1 > 2 – is there.

What do you think?  What have I missed – apart from the fact that it is unlikely to happen any time soon?

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.