Why companies need to blur the line between marketing and service

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By Dr. Volker Hildebrand
Global Vice President CRM Solutions at SAP

As more and more companies are leveraging social media such as Twitter or Facebook for their marketing campaigns, many are surprised about some of the side effects. What was meant to be a marketing channel to reach out to customers all of a sudden becomes a service channel—because customers don’t care why you created your company Twitter handle in the first place and they start using it to share their experiences, report problems, ask for help or complain about product issues.

In many cases, companies are not prepared when customers take control and reverse the intended flow of communication. Social media campaigns are typically driven by the marketing organization and they don’t know how to deal with the incoming service requests. So, they call the customer service department, which may not be ready to listen and respond to the customers requests and—more importantly—resolve any customer issues that transpire through social media channels.

Obviously, a complex customer problem cannot be resolved with a 140-character limit, so customer-service agents need to be able to triage from Twitter to other adequate channels whether it is phone, chat or email.

Customer engagement is not a one-way street; it is interactive and Gartner highlights the importance of blending marketing and service with their prediction that, “through 2016, all revenue generated through mobile marketing will be erased because of poor customer experience and inconsistent support.”

There are a number of other reasons why marketing and service need to be in lock step, as customers are constantly changing the rules of engagement and their expectations with regards to convenience, relevance and responsiveness are increasing.

As peer recommendations are becoming the most trusted source of product recommendation, and online communities play an important role in helping customer to find answers to questions they may have and to quickly solve problems themselves, organizations need to think about how to embed ratings and reviews, and community support into their loyalty programs, rewarding not only dollar transactions but also customer engagement and promotional activities. And why not take peer recommendations and blend them with product recommendations for targeted marketing campaigns?

Which leads immediately to another thought: Largely, marketing has become a weapon of mass distraction. The low cost of blasting out emails to millions of customers and potential prospects only contributes to the information overload we are all suffering. Although everyone agrees that mostly meaningless marketing messages and irrelevant product offers are annoying to customers, very few companies have managed to truly engage with their customers one-on-one— in the moment when it really matters to the customer, in the context of their individual profiles, preferences and behavior with relevant content.

Contextual 1:1 marketing is possible today (if you have all the data in one place) and, if you think about it, in some ways can be considered customer service. A timely reminder via text message or email that it is time to replace my water filter in my fridge, with a buy button embedded to seamlessly order a new filter if needed, is both relevant and great customer service. The same is true for all kind of truly personalized offers that are actually relevant to me, at this particular time and potentially at my current location (NOT a special offer for a new TV when I just bought one a few days ago).

As CRM is evolving and the focus is shifting from “managing” customer relationships to customer engagement throughout the customer journey, organizations need to bridge the gap between marketing and service, as well as service and commerce. Organizations who are able to seamlessly blend un-assisted service (including online communities) and assisted service before, during and after a purchase will have a competitive edge.

Making it easy for customers who are about to inform themselves online about a product to get the information they need to make an informed buying decision is going to be a key differentiator for many companies—whether its from their peers, your marketing team, self-service tools, and convenient access to get human help via chat, call back or email—especially for those engaged in online commerce. And the same is true for after sales support, whether it is about the transaction itself (like: where’s my stuff?), returns, or any questions or issues related to using a product.

You can say service is the new marketing or marketing is the new service. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is the evolution of both marketing and service in the context of digital transformation and customer engagement.

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