Another article entitled “Customer service is the new marketing”

| October 21, 2015

Another article entitled “Customer service is the new marketing”

I have the inclination to dislike buzz words or phrases that are repeated left, right and centre – things like “Content is king” or “Customer service is the new marketing”. But that’s just me. I’ve always had an aversion to tautologies. I do admit, though, that sometimes there is a truth behind these statements that is worth repeating – but to a certain extent. Content is indeed the king of inbound marketing and the key to build brand and business awareness these days (at least for now). And customer service has had to reinvent itself since the social media explosion we have seen in the last three years.  That much I believe it’s true.

Today’s “smart customer”

I could be using the wrong heading here. The title ‘smart customer’ does not imply that people purchasing goods and services prior to the advent of social media where not a smart lot. They were simply not as informed. They couldn’t possibly be. The Internet, and in particular social media platforms have given rise to an unprecedented democratisation of knowledge – people with access to the Internet can now research, purchase, review, complaint – and are consequently empowered before, during and after the purchase decision making process in a way that the pre-web generations could not even dream of.

Customer  power has caused a disruption in the way most industries deal with customers and promote themselves. Attention is shifting from the pre-sales hype towards post-sales experience because if your product works (or if sadly for you, it doesn’t) or if you’ve treated the customer right (or perhaps it wasn’t your best day and you didn’t), that is precisely what they will be broadcasting in their social media accounts or in their blogs.

This forces businesses to place a lot more emphasis on ensuring that every single aspect of their customer service is five star rated – because customers can either become your most fervent evangelists or your worst critics.

We all know we need to do our job right, win customers with outstanding customer service and get them to become our brand advocates.  Superior customer service in digital social venues can be reused by thousands of customers and prospects. So, suddenly CS takes on a new face and becomes a part of your budget worth investing in because it can drive more sales. So yes, we could say CS is like marketing, except it is much more effective than traditional outbound marketing techniques because it has high credibility. You don’t control the conversation, your customers do. And if you perform the way your customers expect you too, soon enough you will see all your CS efforts become an integral part of your marketing mix, almost gaining a life of their own, snowballing on its own.

Don’t fall behind customers expectations – Give them what they want and more

Major companies are so far behind their customers’ expectations that almost a third of them will never catch up. Your business survival needs you to make sure you don’t, that you are always one step ahead.  So, for that purpose, remember the following:

1. Think long-term reputation vs. short-term profit 

Matt Mickiewicz, co-founder of 99designs explains that trying to optimize profit on a sale-by-sale basis is a fool’s game, leads to frustrated customers and lost repeat business.  Think “integration”. You want your efforts in customer service resonate positively in other areas of your business now and in the long term.
2. Identify your top customers and make them feel special 
Your loyal customers probably deliver an important part of your revenue. Make sure you reward their devotion (it is really easy to go astray these days) and give them the special attention they deserve.
3. Hold your customers hands if need be – for as long as it takes
Hotfrog is very good at this (if I may say so myself and at the risk of sounding extremely boastful). And it really isn’t just me convincing myself we are doing the right thing by our customers. They say so themselves. For instance, Geoff Grover, owner of Mount Coolum Real Estate, in Queensland, Australia, submitted this inquiry:

“I just checked my business page that I spend a lot of time updating, and on going to the google search, I find that I am not available. This happens so frequently I do not believe I have value in spending time here. If I am doing something wrong please tell me, but I constantly upgrade relevant content and then find my site does not display. If you had a more user friendly help line where.”

Our extremely helpful and knowledgeable customer service manager, Erin, took her time to take him through the ins and outs of keyword usage and Google rankings. Devoting a fair amount of time to explaining in plain English the rationality behind a Hotfrog profile and its rankings in search engines, Erin also highlighted some relevant online literature to help him understand how to best take advantage of his Hotfrog profile. These were his words after the various communications with Erin:

“Thanks – when all else fails, read the instructions is the mantra. Appreciate your patience.  I have noted the difference with my business listings and acted accordingly. With your page ranking and influence, whom can argue? […] Us uneducated users out there think we just keep pushing specific key words related to suburb and industry , but google moves to more educated positions very frequently so your advice, when heeded, is invaluable. […] apologies for lack of attention.”

4. Make yourself available

Do it both in more traditional ways (by  giving them the option to be in touch over the phone or online and get an immediate solution to their problem) and by giving them the option to access content and services whenever (and from wherever) they wish.
5. Build and reinforce your relationships based on trust
Your business relies on relationships. You offer a product or a service that makes those who buy feel not only good, but sufficiently excited to come back for more. You’ve solved a problem or a need they had and had created a strong bond based on trust that will always be talked about. The more extreme the experience the more it will get talked about – positively or otherwise.
6. Segment customers
Not all customers need the same. Do you understand customer buying behaviors, value potential, product affinities and lifestyle preferences?  Do you understand the common needs that all your customers have? And the unique needs each segment has? Do you leverage customer feedback to design experiences?

If it isn’t already customer service is well on its way to becoming the new marketing. AsDavid Meerman Scott explains:

 ” the old model of marketing built on a company timeline doesn’t work so well but after decades of “campaigns” planned way in advance, it’s difficult for marketers to change a mindset based on speed. Clearly the opportunities to grow your business in 2013 and beyond mean real-time is key. Success comes from engaging your buyers when they are ready not when it’s convenient for you”.