Why it's hard to align sales, marketing & service - and who is doing it well
It's more important than ever to have your customer-facing teams working in tandem. So why are so few organisations achieving alignment? And what can we learn from those that are successful?
Customers don’t deal with departments; they deal with companies. And so when there is no alignment and consistency between the sales, marketing and service staff that a customer has contact with from the same organisation, the resulting fractured experience can be extremely frustrating.
At a time when three out of four people believe that the customer experience is a competitive differentiator, and consumers will pay more for a better experience, this fragmented approach is damaging.
“Customers do not differentiate between front office departments – such as sales, service and marketing – and they will not tolerate fragmented engagement,” warns Rachel Barton, managing director for advanced customer strategy at Accenture Strategy. “They expect a consistent, seamless, highly personalised and hassle-free experience at every touchpoint in the customer journey. Companies that fail to deliver risk losing their customers to the competition.”
According to Accenture Strategy’s eleventh annual Global Consumer Pulse Research, over half of UK consumers will switch provider due to poor customer service, with retailers, utility companies and internet service providers being the worst hit. The estimated cost of customers switching due to poor service is £221 billion.
“Mass adoption and usage of technology has given rise to heightened consumer expectations,” continues Barton. “Consumers want experiences that deliver the results they seek using unpredictable combinations of digital and traditional channels. Brands get into trouble when they can’t deliver against these expectations. Once a provider loses a customer, 65% of UK consumers will not go back.”
Indeed, the proliferation of touchpoints and technologies that customers are using is only serving to further emphasise the importance of an organisation that has its sales, service and marketing teams working in tandem.
Rachel Aldighieri, MD at the DMA, notes: “From initial interest and browsing right the way through purchase and customer service, the customer can come to a brand in person or via a plethora of other devices. As this customer interaction landscape has undergone a tectonic shift, the different departments within brands have done their best to keep up. However, with so many customer touchpoints, it’s now even more important that marketing, sales and customer service are all working together to ensure the customer has the same great experience however they get in contact.”
And there are also solid financial reasons why sales, marketing and service teams should be aligned.
“Greater collaboration ultimately leads to profitability,” emphasises Barton. “Profitable customers want experiences that deliver the results they seek using unpredictable combinations of digital and traditional channels. A seamless experience across all channels is essential to building valuable - as opposed to transactional – customer relationships, and increasing customer satisfaction.”
Why is it so difficult to align sales, marketing and service?
Certainly there are encouraging signs that organisations are starting to put real emphasis on improving collaboration between the customer-facing teams.
“In recent years, with the increasing focus on omnichannel, there has certainly been greater collaboration and alignment in the front office,” says Barton. “We’ve seen new roles created specifically to handle this – the emergence of the chief experience officer, for instance. But there is always room for improvement. Integration can be complex and challenging.
“However, companies that want to raise their performance levels and increase profitability by building long-lasting customer relationships need to nail it. To create a customer service organisation that delivers, customer-service executives must embrace the entire customer value chain and customer lifecycle, and then consistently deliver a satisfying service experience even as customer expectations change.”
Indeed, organisations are discovering just how difficult alignment can prove. As well as the inherently different departmental cultures that exist, there are other obstacles that are becoming apparent.
“Collaboration isn’t quite as simple as ‘just working together’,” warns Aldighieri. “A culture of collaboration must go hand in hand with transparency and understanding of the long-term benefit of working together.”
As part of this, the alignment of goals is one particularly common obstacle that needs tackling.
Richard Neale, EMEA marketing director, at Birst, notes: “The big challenge most customer-facing departments have is around the different goals set and the different ways success is measured. The sales team could be measured by one criteria, whilst marketing is measured by another - and customer service another still. These criteria can vary a lot, often resulting in teams having different working behaviours and styles.
“For example, within retail a customer might be contacting a customer service team to cancel a subscription but then needs to speak to another department such as sales. However, the two teams might have a different set of incentives and motivations, thus respond to a customer’s query in very different ways.”
Plus, there also needs to be alignment around a common language and tone. “Ensuring that the brand’s values are being consistently represented applied across all channels is also integral to a seamless customer experience,” says Aldighieri. “For example, a customer interaction on social media needs to apply the same principles as one that takes place face-to-face.”
But there are also technical issues that need addressing in order for the departments to truly align to provide a seamless experience.
“Another key to seamless customer experience is data,” adds Aldighieri. “This can all-to-often be left in separate silos and not be fully joined-up to give invaluable insight on customers, allowing for more informed decisions across customer service, marketing and sales departments.”
Which brands have achieved alignment - and how?
While this appears to be a mountain to climb, some organisations are making a good fist of it.
As Aldighieri notes: “Becoming a more collaborative organisation is something that also requires a fundamental shift in the way the business is run. This could be shaking up team structures, new collaboration tools or even reshaping the buildings you work in. Pixar is a fantastic example of how just the layout of your office can change its culture. Its HQ is designed to increase collaboration by making journeys around the building always go through a large central lobby, so employees frequently meet colleagues from different departments – allowing for a more natural collaboration by coincidence that can breed the culture they ultimately wanted.
John Lewis is an example of companywide collaboration, as its business model means that every member of staff is invested in its success.
“John Lewis is another example of companywide collaboration, as its business model means that every member of staff is invested in its success. The breads collaboration through collective understanding that what benefits one department, will also benefit the team as a whole. John Lewis has relentlessly driven its business to serve the needs of its customers and is now at the forefront of this revolution.”
This example demonstrates just how much of a competitive advantage it can be to have sales, marketing and service operating in sync. And if customer experience truly will be the key competitive battleground for brands, then aligning the customer-facing departments should be one of the main objectives for companies that are serious about gearing up for the conflict.
Aldighieri concludes: “If the customer service, marketing and sales departments are working solely on their own list of objectives, they may well be missing out on insight from other teams that could help them get there even faster. The worst case would be that these teams are actually working directly against one another, and damaging the business.
“The benefits of a more collaborative culture goes far beyond the bottom line of a business though, it also encourages teams to discover new ways of working, allowing them to adapt to market changes and ultimately be better positioned for the future.”
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Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.