Marketing & Customer Service: Marriage Partners Or Holiday Romance?

Social Marketeers are confused.  

Their vision of the world is an integrated one in which Customer Engagement speaks louder than siloed boundaries.

Sometimes they wonder if this means running Customer Services in the way they think it ought to be!

Rightly so, they sniff at the way industrialised Customer Service operations view customers. In particular, they tut-tut at the lack of refinement being shown in how customers are engaged.

Instead those well branded launches of Social Media Command Centres have sounded much sexier environments to work in. Offered cooler looking software to play with and even housed brighter looking people like them.  To the magpie eye of a Marketeer this looks pretty irresistible!

I just read some recent examples in which Social Marketeers, providing such ‘outreach’ services to beleaguered customers, talk about their greater sense of fulfilment from this newly discovered line of work. Rather like the first email back home from a VSO newbie!

Dissolving Boundaries Or Just Fuzzy Logic?

So what’s to make of this crossover? It’s a popular topic right now. Lots of people are blogging and commenting on it. Can there be a convergence in the psychologies of these functions?

Outside the new aesthetic that Marketing is bringing to Customer Servicing, have they a valid point? My answer is a qualified yes. For starters, we should be thankful they’ve become activists around the following opportunity that has been staring back at the executive team for the last thirty years.

How come our front line functions are so out of touch with each another?

Surely everyone would benefit from a more aligned approach?

And most likely operational costs and customer experience would improve too if that were to happen!

The faux pas between the trio of Sales, Marketing and Customer Service over the years need no repetition. It is strange though that they have been tolerated for so long in markets that have become highly competitive and by customers who have matured into master shoppers.

Having participated in various forms of this conversation over the years, it always boiled down to simple pragmatism.

Interia Rules

In other words Inertia Ruled!

That is of course until ‘Social’ started screwing up internal boundaries.

Marketing therefore has to be given its due for being the first to step outside its silo and have a go at doing another function their way. It’s been fun watching one mindset argue another.

Those with ‘Efficiency, Efficiency & Efficiency’ tattooed across their psyche naturally question how individual treatment of customers via Twitter can scale to a customer base of millions.  

These naysayers especially object to encouraging customer to queue jump. They feel this is seriously ‘off message’ and undermines the basic ‘good manners’ that Customer Service has been educating customers in for the last quarter of a century.

Those with an equivalent tattoo, this time saying ‘Creative, Creative, Creative’, ignore the logistics of customer engagement and zone in on sensory impact. As lovers of customer analytics they immediately recognise the wealth of insight that is generated as a by product of customer interaction.

Of course new words have been required to describe this such as ‘Crowdsourcing’ to give everything a bit of buzz, but forward thinkers in Social Marketing have long recognised that that their old binary campaign schedules are a thing of the past.

Hence ‘engagement’ is the new way to build funnel and if that means muscling in on Customer Service who invariably undermine the mission, so be it.

Rewiring The Organogram

Right now, both functions seem rather surprised to be in tentative dialogue.

Looking at each other with fresh eyes, both sides are wondering what the future might hold. Of course, there have been Sales and Marketing Directors before. Could there be such a role as Marketing and Customer Service Director? Or once the lobbying begins, Customer Service and Marketing Director?  Might this shrink to just Customer Director over time? Or, OMG, is the whole notion just a hideous hybrid?

We have not even thought about what happens when Sales joins the Union!

The problem is this. Right now we have functions that are expert in one part of the customer lifecycle. ‘Finding’ or ‘Winning’ or ‘Servicing’. Consequently the differences in emphasis are greater than any commonality of intent.

Notions such as ‘Customer Lifecycle’ point the way, but in practice this is rarely owned in a collaborative way. Equally the notion of ‘Customer Engagement’ tells us what we want to be doing with customers but the key outstanding question remains. How is this best co-ordinated and operationalised?

The United States Of Experience

Apparently there are 43 Chief Customer Officers (CCOs) in $2bn+ organisation. Is this one of the ways forward? What do you think? Do we need C-suite intervention and authority to redraw boundaries?

Or will we see operational executives, each owning a function, brokering peace and jointly inking an overarching Customer Engagement Strategy? Maybe one that initially acts as context and guidance for functional plans and then eventually replaces them as the organisation learns how to fuse a unified customer vision with cross functional operational performance?

Maybe some green field operation like a GiffGaff would start from a position of full integration and thus organise all lifecycle activity in a fundamentally new way without legacy or baggage. Imagine if you had that kind of freedom, what would you create?

Or will the revolution come from the front line, whose networking across functions is already common place in the pursuit of solving customer problems? Maybe this evolves into something more influential once they are empowered with collaboration platforms such as Yammer, Chatter and the like.

Or maybe it happens once IT decides it’s time to go Social and transforms their monolithic stack of enterprise software into sexy apps stores.

Of course as this future progressively arrives, things are often not quite so black and white as these options might suggest. Changes can be more subtle having occurred in a more organic way.

For instance it could seem at first glance that everyone has simply stayed doing what they do best in the customer lifecycle. Nonetheless, the experience of belonging to a function like Marketing, Sales or Customer Service now feels less siloed for everyone.

Maybe this is because over a three year horizon, the combined effect of social apps replacing traditional enterprise software plus a generational shift towards more networked ways of working will have done the trick: allowing new forms of collaborative enterprise workflow to take form.

For instance I read recently that Delta Air Lines has created a social media lab where the Marketing and Customer Service teams can work together in the same space. Already they report that the relationship between them is evolving.  It’s no longer just about getting the brand’s name out there. It’s about creating a strong relationship between the brand and the customer. So given time, what might be the fruits of that experiment when 2014 arrives?

Final Thoughts

I attended a Customer Experience conference recently. It attracted executives from across the customer facing functions and had a similar spread of speakers. But it was the difference of language, assumption and even mindset between these functions which struck me the most.

It seems to me we are still in the early stages of getting to know each other now that the obvious has been accepted that we all share a common agenda. Probably that means we will need to listen and learn as much from each other as from our customers.