How should marketing and customer service teams collaborate?
We're all marketers now. So why are so many businesses still keeping their customer service teams separate from their marketing department?
Anyone in a customer-facing role can arguably call themselves a marketer. Any brand advocate could do the same. As McKinsey said back in 2011, “We’re all marketers now”. The modern enterprise is no longer one that can operate with marketing in a silo.
One school of thought is that marketing practice should be extended to service and support teams. Given their close proximity to the customer, this makes sense. Also, recent stats show a blurring of the lines between what traditionally separated the two departments.
Firstly, the probability of attracting new prospects is decreasing in most businesses – to roughly 5-20% – according to Marketing Metrics. Yet the probability of selling to an existing customer is increasing, to 60-70%.
A 2016 Booz & Company study found 75% of marketers identifying customer service as a primary use of their traditionally marketing-driven social media platforms. For many brands, support teams are already a living, breathing embodiment of their marketing team, even if it hasn’t always been formally acknowledged.
“Pretty much all support teams are providing a continuation of the message that marketing uses to bring customers through the door,” says Sujan Patel, marketing entrepreneur and co-founder of WebProfits. “They’re essentially maintaining the validity of the original claims and offers the marketing team have made.
“Support teams know an awful lot about customers. Arguably more than any other role in an organisation, because of the number of interactions they have. They can help address marketing messaging and improve on it, based on what they know. The top of the funnel is getting more traffic, but it’s increasingly hard to take potential customers beyond this stage. Customer service is a useful department to assist with this messaging.
“Of course, customers can be your greatest advocates. I like to take this a step further and say that ‘your customers helping you get customers’ is the cheapest marketing you can do. Support teams are essential to ensuring customers spread a positive message about your brand beyond the initial buying phase.”
Historically, marketers have been on hand to feed service teams content and promotion, but in recent years the requirements of the relationship have flipped. Karma’s president and Forbes contributor, Neil St. Clair attributes this to something he calls “Marketer Arrogance” Syndrome – suggesting that too much of marketing’s output is dedicated to brand posturing.
This is particularly pertinent with content marketing. St. Clair cites the Content Marketing Institute’s annual survey, around 70% of B2B marketers say they are planning to increase their content output, yet only around 8% rate their current use of content as “effective”. Forrester research says many brands are failing in creating customer-centric content, and need the service team to help determine what is mostly likely to resonate with customers.
“It’s often about creative versus practical – marketing can give the impression that it is all about style rather than content,” says Caroline Naisbitt, director of Inspiring People. “Marketing departments have an important role to play within organisations in helping to generate new business but they also need to understand what it feels like from an “internal customer service point of view”.
Tan points to 2016 example of a TV advert for Adult Social Services Home Care in the UK, which featured an actor “carer” standing on a chair to change a light bulb for the person they were caring for. Whilst the advert had been designed to show the extra mile in which home carers go to, the Government's recent budget cuts had left many carers unable to offer the kind of level of service the advert was suggesting. Tan says the advert left many home carers frustrated and demotivated, and highlighted something she calls the ‘promotional gap’.
“Promotional gaps can be caused through advertising, brochures, the website and cause all sorts of issues for the customer service department.
“The other “sin” of marketing departments is product launches that are not properly communicated, meaning that the customer service department feel that they are the last to know. When customers are phoning in asking about products that they have not been briefed on, it can be very embarrassing and certainly doesn’t help the credibility of the organisation.”
Support teams are essential to ensuring customers spread a positive message about your brand beyond the initial buying phase
Meeting of minds
So if the ball is in marketing's court, how can marketing leaders make an effort to break down the silos between the marketing and customer service departments, and foster an environment that encourages collaboration between the two? Patel says it starts with communication at the top of the business.
“Two-way communication between the marketing leader and whoever is running the customer support side, so there’s a clear dialogue. The support team needs to understand what marketing is doing, and be able to request information so they’re aware of what’s currently being broadcast to customers and potential customers.
“In turn, marketing should be giving ammunition to customer service teams. For example, they may have written a blog post outlining some product updates, tricks or instruction. That’s beneficial to customers but the support team need to know about it.
“In many situations, people complaining about a product or service are actually just having a bad experience that could potentially be turned around through simple solutions such as being directed to a video explanation online or being given a reward code or something similar. But without that relationship being fostered between marketing and service, some of these solutions can get missed.”
Naisbitt also suggests marketing and service leaders should encourage team members to have regular formal meetings, where the two teams can collaborate to help marketing to:
- Generate content ideas. Marketers can find it challenging to constantly identify fresh topics around which to create new and engaging content. This is something that the customer service department can help with. Service agents are in constant contact with customers and therefore know better than anyone else what customer interests and concerns are, and what they want from the brand. Marketers should use the regular meetings to learn about the problems and challenges that customers are facing, and use this as a catalyst to create types of content to address these issues.
- Understand buyer personas. As service agents are talking with customers all the time, they have the best grasp of who the customers actually are. Marketers should use meetings with service agents to learn about how accurate their buyer personas are, and to make sure that they have a good understanding of who they are marketing to. Without accurate buyer personas, you won’t know what is important to your customers and how to engage with them. Marketers could also join in on customer calls to get further insight into the personas.
- Promote successes and wins. Customer service agents are often the best equipped and first to identify customer happiness and success. Better customer service and marketing alignment enables marketing to more easily pinpoint the customers that make great case study candidates, especially if they're looking for specific examples of customer success and the customer team knows about these preferences in advance.
- Shape product marketing decisions. As the service team is in constant contact with the customer base, they will have the best understanding of how customers are actually using the products and services – and this doesn’t always tally with how the marketing team have been marketing it! Feedback from service teams can ensure that the marketing team isn’t heavily promoting features that are unsatisfying or underused by customers. Alternatively, service could flag up if customers are using products in a way that the marketing team hadn’t even considered promoting. This kind of feedback is vital to inform product marketing initiatives and ensure that they are optimised.
- Ensure that customer expectations are appropriate. Service teams are inevitably the first to hear customer complaints when expectations of products/services are unrealistic, and in particular if these expectations were the result of over-enthusiastic marketing. Misleading expectations are a common reason for customer churn, so it is important that realistic expectations are being set in advertising. Marketers need this informaiton to ensure that advertising campaigns are modified to set more realistic expectations for customers.
Claire Boscq-Scott, a customer service guru and founder of The Busy Queen Bee, says that, above all, there needs to be a shared philosophy across the service and marketing departments. And collaboration between the two departments is an opportunity for the marketing team to embrace a service philosophy - something that the service team knows all about.
“I believe that a lot of businesses confuse “marketing department” with “promotion department”, meaning the department who create a pretty logo and create pretty picture to promote the business. This is not marketing; marketing is anything to do with the internal and external customers, marketers are responsible for ensuring that the customers has to come first in the business," she says.
I believe that a lot of businesses confuse “marketing department” with “promotion department”
“The obstacles will happen if the marketing department is only there to “promote” the business and the employees don’t see that looking after the customers is their job. Customer service isn’t a department, it’s a philosophy; it’s everyone’s job to look after the customers.
“I think it comes down to the business vision and how the leaders are leading the company by creating a service culture in their organisation. No departments should be working in silo, they should all work towards making the customer experience as exceptional as they can, building customer loyalty in the long-term which will results in an increase in sales and a successful business.”
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Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.