I have been reading quite a few blogs and comments lately about how social media and customer service need to come together. There has also been a lot of talk about the Social Customer and its importance. I wholeheartedly agree, and as you might imagine, I have a few quick thoughts on the subject which I will share below (inspired by some comments on left on Esteban Kolsky‘s post at the blog TheSocialCustomer).
Service is the New Marketing
Been hearing that for ages; I even spoke at a conference of that name 2 years ago! But what I believe is really trying to be said by this statement is that each interaction with the customer (each customer touch) has an impact on the customer’s impression of your company. That impression often imparts more about the brand than any marketing campaign. The contact center/customer service team/retail clerk is usually the place in the company with the most direct customer interaction (this is especially true for B2C companies). Hence, each customer service “touch” is an opportunity to “market” to the customer – or to leave them with a positive impression of your brand. In that sense, customer service is marketing – but I wouldn’t consider this to be new!
My current role is in this area, and it is indeed a complex one. There are many types of communities: branded, customer-run, service-focused, etc. Interestingly, customers who are part of an online community are even MORE sensitive to “corporate marketing” than other customers, and they have a strong voice that will ring out over it. The main thing to remember here is that many of these communities have been around long before social media (for example, the customers participating in the San Diego Chargers forums are much more loyal than other customers participating in their other social media outlets), and the communities belong to them. Brands need to be aware of this type of “social customer” and realize that they cannot take-over these groups. They need to collaborate with their communities to be successful.
The customer experience is very important to understand across the organization. There has been talk about whether various departments will merge together in the future as social media begins to blur the lines of corporate siloes. However, I don’t believe the customer experience can or should be managed just through one department; our customers don’t see us that way! There is indeed a place for separate functions within the organization. There is also a place for metrics that will help companies understand how well they are doing with the customer experience and how well they are performing against customer expectations. Companies that are customer-focused tend to have customer-focused metrics that bring disparate business functions together, working towards one common goal: customer retention, loyalty, and evangelism. When these metrics are corporate, everyone wins.
The Social Customer
Yes, customers are much more socially connected in this day and age, so many of the aforementioned “marketing” activities are now taking place between customers (ratings/reviews/blog posts/tweets/etc.) rather than being broadcasted by the company. However, that does not mean that each customer doesn’t want to be treated as an individual by the company. One-to-One Marketing has less to do with sending separate direct mail pieces to each person as it does with treating different customers differently. Having worked for/with Peppers & Rogers Group for many years, the 1to1 marketing process is mostly about managing the entire customer experience – which may be different for different customers (and likely is!). In order to do this properly, one needs to understand the needs of the customer. Now that many customers are interacting online, it is easier to listen and hear what they need. Companies just need to make sure they act on what they are learning – before their competitor does.
What do you think? How does an organization’s view of their customer need to change in today’s “social” world?
(Image credit: sqursozlu)