Is Customer Service The New Marketing

is customer service the new marketingIs 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:

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

  • ShellyKramer

    Love this post Ashley, and am a huge believer that customer service is an important area of focus for all marketers. Great job.

  • http://www.nxtsm.com Victor Canada

    Great post Ashley and I loved being able to watch/listen to the Google+ hangout. Customer experience and what I like to call the “Age of the Empowered Consumer” will become more and more significant as social media or social business matures. It would be interesting to see you have this debate again in a year and see how the topic evolves.

  • TheTysonReport

    No, customer service isn’t the new marketing. It’s customer service. It’s just that most companies do it so spectacularly poorly (many tech/web companies don’t even pay lip service to the idea any more) that when someone gets it right it seems new and remarkable.

  • Ashley Verrill

    Hi Tyson,

    I definitely agree with you that most fail spectacularly at customer service. I also agree that customer service will never fully replace marketing, but it does have an increasingly important role in my opinion. Customers are disenchanted by many traditional forms of marketing. Therefore, companies need to focus more energy on strategies that do impact brand perception. Customers go to their friends, family and social networks often when they want to make a purchase. How do you think those people form their opinions about a particular brand? The personal, emotional connections they remember (or don’t remember) having with that brand.

    Thanks for reading!

    Ashley Verrill

  • Ashley Verrill

    Hi Victor,

    Thanks for reading and what a fabulous idea! I will definitely be back next year with part two. I like the hangout format. We received some really great questions from the audience. It was a fun event to organize! And you hit the nail on the head: the age of the empowered consumer.

    Best wishes,

    Ashley

  • Ashley Verrill

    Thanks so much for your comments Shelly. It’s all about breaking customer service and marketing out of their individual silos. They have so much to learn from each other, particularly as businesses expand their view to looking at the entire customer experience life cycle.

    I appreciate you reading and tuning in!

    Ashley

  • http://twitter.com/ph_nicola Nicola Armstrong

    I think the challenge is, and will continue to be, getting companies and agencies to change how they approach marketing, customer service and PR. The proliferation of communications channels, and in particular the rise of social media, means that the three cannot work in isolation as they used to.

    Consumers, whether B2B or B2C, expect a consistent communication across all channels and will contact you however they prefer to. Companies need to be ready to respond.

    Marketing is no longer a one-way conversation, where companies push out messages. Consumers now expect a two-way dialogue in the channels that they choose.

  • http://twitter.com/Camille21162 Camille IsaacsMorell

    In my view, marketing begins and ends with the customer – what the customer wants and the customer’s experience when interacting with the company.

    In carrying out the role of establishing and implementing the marketing strategy, Marketing Departments must help Customer Service staff understand and perform their tasks in ways that support the marketing strategy. Customer Service support for the marketing strategy goes way beyond business development activities such as cross-selling.

    It’s important that customer service also delivers on the brand promise in the way they communicate, service and add value to the customer.

  • Chloe

    As soon as I read this title of this article I immediately thought of Zappos. I don’t know that I’ve ever been exposed to any of their marketing efforts, but I’ve been impressed with their customer service time and time again, and never miss an opportunity to share that with others. Zappos’ customer service in a way is their product, and sometimes when your product is that great you don’t need to put much effort into marketing. However this obviously isn’t the case for all products or services, so I agree that customer service it isn’t entirely the new marketing.

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