Blurred Lines: The Convergence of Marketing and Customer Services

Rachel Drinkwater @REDrinkwater
Tuesday 15 March 2016 22:04GMT

The rise of social networking, online communities and internet sharing culture has posed new challenges and opportunities for branding, marketing and communications teams across all industries. In particular social networking platforms have facilitated two-way dialogue between customers and organisations and also enabled conversations between customers.

These platforms provide opportunities to engage consumers in products and brands and can provide a wealth of insight into customer profiles, tastes and needs. Brand champions and advocates amongst customers can be encouraged to use these platforms to share brand values, increase the reach of promotional campaigns and act as brand ambassadors. Good news can spread fast in the socially networked world.

Unfortunately this is also true for bad news. There’s an old adage that ‘a happy customer tells a friend, an unhappy customer tells the world’. Whilst this may be something of an exaggeration, the internet gives a dissatisfied customer’s voice a world stage and a global audience. No longer can complaints solely be managed in-house as a response to a letter, phone call or email. Complaints may be posted on a company’s Facebook or Twitter wall in hope of getting a faster or more satisfactory response or to make more impact. Further challenges arise when customers post in less visible places online, such as their own social networking profiles, blogs, review sites and in some extreme cases dedicated ‘brand hate’ websites.

In successful service industries, customer service personnel are recognised as an important first point of contact for customers. For experiential products such as the arts, the customers’ interaction with for example, venue staff, is regarded as a part of the product and staff members are seen as brand representatives. Quite simply, good customer service reflects well on the brand and organisation, whereas bad customer service can lead to a negative brand experience and this is why we’re seeing a convergence of marketing, PR and customer service teams when dealing with customers in the online social space.

In organisations that do not have and have not previously needed a dedicated customer service team, or where this team has been tucked away in a call centre and not been active online, marketing, communications and PR experts are finding that their roles are also encompassing customer service activities. As part of their online brand management, they are also responding to customer complaints and praise or dealing with product queries as they encounter such conversations on social platforms.

In companies with dedicated customer service operations, marketing principles are becoming more important. As a proportion of customer service agents’ dialogue with customers now takes place in a public sphere, their role as organisation and brand representatives becomes even more pronounced.

I’ve recently been working on a project to adopt social listening technology into the Customer Services department of a large organisation. Whereas this technology was previously exclusively used for the Marketing and Communications teams’ campaign analysis, Customer Services management are eager to adopt the tools for dedicated customer service activities. They have specific requirements for the tools; to identify and monitor customer conversations and sentiment, intercept and respond to customer feedback and manage customer relationships across social platforms in an attempt to identify customer service issues and proactively manage them.

These trends are also likely to pose challenges for suppliers of social listening technologies, as they increasingly find that organisations require one solution to meet the different needs of both the Marketing and Customer Services teams.

The lines between the roles of Marketing, Communications, PR and Customer Services are blurring and traditional silos between these departments are no longer feasible, indeed Jay Baur advises that merging these teams is “smart business practice”. Where merging is unfeasible (for my large client for example), regular communications, clear lines of responsibility and visibility between the teams are essential and are likely to be supported by well-chosen social listening, monitoring and analytic technologies.


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