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?

Using transparency to improve the customer experience

Wikileaks has been in the news and the whole thing about Wikileaks is that it makes transparent stuff that has been kept hidden from us.  In the UK we had the equivalent of the latest Wikileaks disclosure when MPs expenses were published.  And this has got me thinking on the following question: how can organisations use transparency to help their customers and themselves?

If I look at frustrating contact centre experience yesterday (how not to communicate) I find myself thinking that there is real power in the contact centre and the website working together to provide information that is valuable for customers.

For example, the website could display a real-time feed of customer demand and backlog that is hitting the contact centre.  Furthermore the website could make available all the historic demand falling on the contact centre – day by day, hour by hour.  And the website could provide charting / analysis tools to similar to the ones that financial websites provide if you want to take a look at the share price movements that day, that week, that month, that year etc.

If I had had that information I would have been in a better position to work out when to make contact with the call centre – typically when there is the lowest demand on the call centre and the most available capacity to take calls.

It is a fact that most of us tend to keep the promises that we make in public because we wish to maintain, even enhance, our reputation.  Companies can use transparency in the same way.  What if companies published the following on a daily basis:

  • the volume of contacts coming into the contact centre;
  • an analysis of these contacts by category – customers ringing in seeking information, seeking to transact, ringing up because they have a problem and need help to get it resolved, making a complaint, offering ideas on how the company can improve, complimenting the company;
  • how the company is doing in terms of SLA – from a customer and internal perspectives;
  • an analysis of the complaints by cause e.g. product issues, delivery issues, pricing issues, billing issues, service issues etc;
  • what actions the company has taken or is taking to deal with these issues and the impact these actions have made on customers and their experience –  hard statistics not fluffy talk with no commitments; and
  • customer satisfaction scores – versus last month, last year, against SLAs etc.

By being transparent the company would better engage with customers as it takes courage and commitment to make this kind of information available.  And the entire company from the Chairman down would have their reputations and integrity at stake:  that tends to be one of the most powerful motivators to fix the things that are broken.

Clearly, if customers can see that the company is taking things on that matter to customers and making progress – climbing up the hill – they are likely to support the company, even pitch in and help it to improve.

Any company, any executive,  that is truly committed to competing on the basis of creating superior value for their customers the kind of transparency that I have outlined above should occur as a wonderful opportunity to take the lead, to differentiate itself, to build customer engagement and to attract new customers by word of mouth thus cutting down on acquisition costs.  I wonder which company will go first and embrace this kind of transparency?