Is customer service the new marketing? This question isn’t just about the increasing importance of social media and customer reviews or rising consumer disenchantment with traditional marketing. For some, it’s about making the decision between long-term reputation and short-term profit.
This topic was at the center of a recent Google+ Debate that I moderated called “Is Customer Service the New Marketing,” hosted by research firm Software Advice. A panel of experts discussed what kinds of companies should embrace a customer-centric strategy as a form of marketing, and how they go about implementing this approach.
The event featured a lineup of customer service and marketing experts including:
- Shep Hyken, speaker, best-selling author, consultant
- Jon Miller, Marketo co-founder, VP of marketing
- Micah Solomon, speaker, author, consultant
- Denis Pombriant, Beagle Research Group CEO, author
The panel answered the following questions before the debate was opened up to the audience for additional questions:
- Zappos leadership sees support not as a cost center, but as an opportunity to market through personal connections with customers. Their success is largely attributable to customer loyalty and word of mouth. So, based on this, is customer service the new marketing?
- And where doesn’t this strategy work?
- For companies to whom it does make sense, how do they implement such a monumental shift in strategy and culture?
- Clearly, this is a strategy that pays out over the long term. How can a business measure this shift to ensure they are getting the right return on their shifting investment and priorities?
Here’s a quick snapshot of the discussion.
The group first emphasized the importance of mirroring your customers’ expectations, rather than trying to dictate your brand to them. Customers won’t believe what you say about yourself unless it matches what their social networks also say about you. This can be amazing customer service, or it can be price, selection, or something else.
Next, they talked about breaking the boundaries of marketing and customer service departments. Instead of feeling like you have to choose one or the other, leverage them together. Retweet an interesting customer service interaction on Twitter. Or get service agents to collaborate on buyer persona development. Be creative.
For companies that do want to implement a Zappos-like level of customer service, it’s critical to start at the top. Make the decision to put the customer at the center of your business, then reinforce the idea with processes, resources and measurement.
Finally, the group said the most important thing marketers need to consider is that the buyer is in control of their buying process. You can’t decide what information they will go after (or when), so you still need to make your company as attractive as possible. Customer service is just a piece of that puzzle.
Interested in learning more? Here’s a recap of the discussion:
The debate proved to be a great resource not only of information and case studies, but also actionable tips, too. Plus, the chance to further explore Google+ and the Hangout feature made for an interesting experiment. Traditionally, Software Advice has always used Skype for video discussions – it’s dependable, popular and offers decent quality. When I launched my first debate in September, I decided to go with Google+ for two reasons:
1. There was a lot of news coming out at that time about about how Google+ was trying to attract more business users with new features. Not only did I want to give the new functionality a try–I also wanted to ride the wave of that publicity and I thought it would attract a wider audience.
2. I wanted to grow my circles. I went from about 100 to more than 300 connections between two debates.
For those reasons, using Google+ as the event platform was successful. Beyond that, however, I prefer Skype as a result of technical issues that popped up during the Hangout, including problematic access for speakers and glitches like multiple posts to my Google+ page once the Hangout began. I’d still recommend it as a tool worth trying, especially as the Google+ platform continues to evolve. If you plan to host a similar event, you might want to make time for a quick test run so that you have time to troubleshoot any problems that do arise. Of course, this is a smart strategy no matter what sort of tool you’re using.
Have you given a Google+ Hangout a try for an event? How was your experience? And I’d love to hear your thoughts on how customer service is not just transforming marketing strategies, but how companies do business, too.
Ashley Verrill is a market analyst with Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
Image by rachael voorhees via Creative Commons