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Customer Service Becomes a Marketing Tool

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“You need to have a shared understanding of the customer that you are trying to serve,” says Robin Bordoli, president of RollWorks, a provider of account-based marketing technology. “Service is absolutely a point of differentiation in the market.”

But to provide the service customers expect, companies need to understand the different touchpoints along the customer journey, Bordoli adds. “It’s not so much a sales funnel as it is a flywheel.”

It’s not just the systems that are siloed, according to Smuda. Beyond the separation of systems among presales, sales, and customer service departments, there’s the division of department personnel and managers along similar vertical lines. Each of the departments tends to have its own priorities, preventing the formation of a cohesive focus on or strategy for customer service.

Another major customer service challenge is rising customer service expectations. Word of exceptional customer service—or, on the flip side, poor customer service—can spread quickly. Customers see Amazon’s delivery service promise and expect the same from other retailers, and even from other non-retail types of businesses.

Financial services companies saw this when retailers like Amazon started launching successful e-commerce apps. Financial service companies were relatively late to the party and lost some customers to other companies that were earlier adopters of the technologies that retailers were already providing to their customers.

SOME EARLY SUCCESSES

Though providing better customer service and actually leading with that in marketing messages is a long way off for many, some companies are starting to do just that, according to Jaime Punishill, chief marketing officer at Lionbridge Technologies, a provider of translation and globalization services for marketing. More and more companies are getting religion around designing their systems around the customer, and so you need to be able to connect pre-sales and post-sales, which typically have been handled by different systems, he says.

Despite all of the challenges, some companies have successfully pulled together all of the disparate parts to enable them to lead with service.

Ride-sharing service provider Uber and video subscription service provider Netflix are examples of companies that have reset the bar on customer service, proving that companies that can exceed customer service expectations not only retain customers but, thanks in no small part to social media reviews and recommendations, can also win new customers without the heavy lifting from marketing.

Myers pointed to credit unions, which have historically relied on customer service as a prime differentiator that sets them apart from larger, more diversified banks and other financial service providers. Among their winning strategies, credit unions treat all customers like members, and their customer service strategies reflect that.

Myers also singled out retail giant Nordstrom as a company that effectively markets its well-known customer service superiority. The retailer continues to compete effectively against Amazon when so many other retailers struggle or fail completely.

Another company that has found enormous success with exceptional customer service is pet supplies e-retailer Chewy.com, according to Harris.

The company’s subscription service allows for the automatic delivery of pet food and pet supply orders on a schedule of the customer’s choosing. And while most companies with subscription services are strict with their cancellation policies, Chewy.com lets customers cancel their services hassle-free when their pets die or are unexpectedly lost. In those cases, its marketing really shines, acknowledging the pet owner’s grief through flowers or other gifts. This kind of exceptional service and empathy were initially featured in publications and on social media a few years ago, and a few of these stories went viral. Shares and likes each easily exceeded 100,000, and positive comments numbered in the tens of thousands.

These companies have excelled by recognizing that when you unify presales, marketing, and post-sales systems, customer retention is much higher, Punishill adds, noting that it costs much less to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one. Positive word of mouth is very important. You see some companies being very successful in leveraging that  to acquire new customers, he says.

Harris adds that the data needs to be used to provide a perk or service that customers don’t expect, like discounts on items they don’t normally purchase. Providing a discount on something the customer will buy anyway doesn’t drive additional business.