Why Customer Service is a MARKETING Function

We don’t believe in customer service reps. We believe in Consumer Relations Marketers.

Customer service used to be an afterthought. It was something every business had to have, like a bathroom. It didn’t need much attention other than the occasional cleaning and maintenance. Customer service agents were housed in dismal cubicles and shoved into corners. They were usually young, poorly paid, and poorly trained. They were taught to stick to a formulated script, and nearly any deviation from the script or rigid company policy would result in trouble with the boss. Nobody wanted to work in customer service, and burn rates were high. Then came the outsourcing of call centers to countries where labor was cheaper, and the employees cared even less about your company or your customers.

In the era of online reviews (Yelp, Google, etc), customers can find out in 2 clicks how they’ll be treated if they have a problem.  Because of this, thankfully, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. In the competitive world of restaurants, for example, a series of bad reviews can sink a business. Companies have been forced to take better care of their customers, and the consumers have won. They EXPECT good customer service, and will simply and easily take their money elsewhere if they don’t get it. As they should.

Now it’s time for the next evolution in customer service: seeing it for what it REALLY is… a MARKETING FUNCTION. Your customer service team should be in the marketing department. Let that sink in for a minute. YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE TEAM SHOULD BE IN THE MARKETING DEPARTMENT. Here’s why.

They’re your First Contact

You only get one chance at a first impression, so it must be perfect, every time. And your support staff is very often a customer or potential customer’s only point of contact with the brand. You want somebody that is friendly, outgoing, knows the brand inside and out, and even speaks in the verbiage of your customers. The traits described above apply to any good marketer. Why not apply them to customer service? Put people in this position that want to help customers because they want to protect the brand. Traditional reps don’t care about brands. Good marketers do.

Customer inquiries

It used to be phone calls and emails. Those are the olden days. Now support channels may include Livechat, Skype, Messenger, Twitter, direct messages through the various social media channels, and even comments or public posts on social media. Most of those channels are already the domain of your marketing team. Why not shift the remaining channels to marketing as well? (I’ll hold off here on inserting some sort of cliché about “alignment.” You get it.)

Outside the box

When I think of somebody that is interacting with customers on a regular basis, I want a creative problem solver. I want somebody that can think “off the script” of the typical support SOPs. Somebody that can come up with creative solutions to uncommon problems. Somebody that wants to impress the customer so they tell their friends. Word of mouth and friend recommendations are like the holy grail of marketing. Give somebody a creative, memorable fix to their problem (and authorize your reps with the flexibility to do it) and they’ll tell their friends. Give your customers something to talk about.

Every mistake is an opportunity

When something goes wrong for a customer (and things will happen, they always do) don’t think of it as a problem that needs to be dealt with or managed. Forget about damage control. Think of it as an opportunity to impress the customer. Blow them away! Customers understand that mistakes happen, but it’s how we react to those mistakes that creates an impact. It could be as simple as getting the customer in direct contact with our engineering department for more detailed technical assistance; Or our sales team for more complex ordering issues. Every mistake is an opportunity to create a lifetime customer.

Purchase isn’t the end

When somebody has purchased your product, that isn’t the end of the customer journey. There is no end. Supporting the customer throughout the life of the product doesn’t just keep them happy, it encourages them to buy again when you have a new product or service. You are trying to build a relationship with the customer. You know who’s good at that? Marketers. You know who’s not? Traditional customer service reps.

Direct link to feedback

The people that interact with customers every day, your support staff, have a direct line into the feedback loop that we want for our company. They hear the problems, ideas, and comments. They are a direct connection into the pulse of your customer’s hearts and minds. They can sense changes and see around corners. By having your customer service reps in your marketing department, you bring that link to your marketing. With the departments as separate entities, no matter what feedback loop you try to design, there is still a barrier between the customers and the marketers. Remove the barrier.

We haven’t yet built our support team, but when we do, we’ll be staffing up with the kind of folks noted above; creative people that care about our brand, the customers, and solving problems. We’ll do that by integrating our support team into our marketing team. It just makes sense, and in the end, will provide our customers with better service. After all, what’s more important than that?!

[Special hat tip to Tom Ravenhill for coming up with the term “Consumer Relations Marketer”]