Is proactive customer service actually marketing's remit?

17th Jul 2017

Marketing and customer service have long been prescribed as natural bedfellows. Yet enticing the two departments to dip beneath the sheets together can be a hard sell.    

The issue has historically boiled down to a combination of hierarchical concerns and a myopic misunderstanding on behalf of senior marketers.         

Alleywire’s Neil St. Clair attributes this to something he calls “Marketer Arrogance” Syndrome – suggesting that too much of marketing’s output gets dedicated to brand posturing.

St. Clair cites content marketing as an example. In the CMI’s annual survey last year, around 70% of B2B marketers said they were planning to increase their content production, yet only around 8% rated their use of content as “effective”.  

Conversely, Forrester research says many brands are failing in their attempts to create customer-centric content, requiring the service team to help determine what is most likely to resonate with customers.

In recent times, marketers have become more receptive to working hand in glove with their contact centre and customer service department. For instance, a recent Booz & Company study found 75% of marketers identifying customer service as a primary use of their traditionally marketing-driven social media platforms.

However, it is the increasing need to be proactive with customer service that may be the catalyst for a more congruous coupling in the future.   

Retention marketing

As we’ve highlighted throughout this series, being proactive with customer service is often deemed a contact centre’s remit.

However, given that being proactive regularly requires the sculpting of content and communications in advance of their targeted distribution, elements of delivery naturally lean towards the expertise of marketing departments.

And as Dr. Nicola Millard, BT’s head of customer insights states, changing customer expectations means marketers should start seeing the tangible rewards that can be gleaned by working more closely with service teams on proactive campaigns. 

“It’s all about retention. However, as we’ve seen, retention carries as much weight with marketers now as acquisition. A big part of that is the focus on ease; whether it be customer effort scores and ‘net easy scores’, what both service and marketing departments are looking for is centred around creating more of a frictionless experience for customers.

“How do we make things easier? If you’re using more personalised, predictive and proactive approaches, then ease and effort are the measures that your achievements live and die by.

“There’s a direct correlation between ease, effort and loyalty. BT research in 2015 found that 88% of customers said they would stay with a company if it was easy to do. As consumers, we’re fundamentally lazy by nature. So if you are easy to deal with and proactive with problem-solving you’ll drive up loyalty which in turn has a tangible bottom-line effect that is obviously attractive to marketers and all executive leaders alike.”

There is a natural division between contact centres and marketing departments when it comes to planning and strategy.

However, as Merlin Stone, professor of marketing and strategy at St. Mary’s University adds, many businesses have not advanced their thinking beyond the hierarchical headaches that bridging the gap between the two departments brings.  

“There should be complete integration of thinking on this point, particularly in the area of customer retention.

“The reality is that many companies have not yet worked out how to quantify the benefits of retention work in the contact centre, and this is a precondition of success in this area. This is not hard to do, but does require investment in testing and learning.”

Stone believes that there is a natural division between contact centres and marketing departments when it comes to planning and strategy. Yet, it is a gap that needs to be bridged if proactive customer service is to become part of a business’s wider philosophy.

“Contact centre planning tends, correctly, to be focused on the relatively short-term task of managing expected volumes of contacts while meeting quality, cost and revenue targets.

“However, marketing’s roles is to be more strategic, to plan everything from what kind of contacts are needed, to the channels that should be offered to customers to make those contacts.

“In the case of delivering service that leans more towards pre-empting and resolving support issues before the customer knows they’ve arisen, this longer-term thinking is necessary.”

Personalised video

One clear example of marketing and service working in tandem is at UK mobile network, Three, where the customer insights team, hierarchically aligned with marketing, started on a long-term project in 2015 attempting to shift the brand’s support function from being solely reactive to one that is predominantly proactive. 

Its aim was to drive up NPS scores in relation to the perception of its core network and its support function. As well as devising a proactive SMS campaign to keep customers informed about networking issues, the team also devised a personalised ‘value statement’ for customers that reached a midway point in their contract with the brand and were most likely, based on data, to see a decline in their NPS scores as a result.

The value statement was something that leant heavily on the written promotional skills of the team’s marketers, but featured content that was fundamentally service-orientated.

Nicola Millard also highlights an example of the two departments coalescing at BT’s innovation centre:

“We’ve recently trialled personalised video because it’s becoming a more important interaction tool and provides service advice specific to each customer. It’s essentially akin to a mail merge for video, because it’s a template that takes in personal data and delivers personalised videos on the other side.

“What we found in using this was that people were more receptive to this type of communication because it wasn’t seen as spam – it was a video that was personal to them and had more gravitas than a standard email.”


Blurred lines

According to Ericsson Consumer Lab, 83% of consumers would prefer a more proactive approach from their service provider.

When combining this statistic with Gartner’s statement last year that customer experience would be their primary basis for competitive differentiation before 2017 was out, the importance of collaboration between service and marketing professionals cannot be underestimated.

“It’s been very apparent that the lines are blurring between marketing and service and it’s challenging the silos in organisations and is testing many a brand’s data strategy,” says Nicola Millard.

“You can’t be truly proactive without being personal. With the marketing spin, it’s not about marketing stuff that I don’t want that isn’t relevant, it’s the opposite. So in the video example, you’re talking about something that naturally crosses the boundaries between the marketing and service function.” 

And Merlin Stone offers this suggestion for marketers looking to involve themselves in more proactive service campaigns:

“Marketers need to spend a lot of time in contact centres - not just in their own contact centres but in those of outsourcing specialists or friendly companies in similar industries, exploring what is going on and what the possibilities are opened up by new technologies.”

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