“Marketing is an investment. Service is an expense.” While those words may never be spoken aloud in corporate board rooms, it is a common misconception reinforced by resource allocation. All of the talk about the importance of customer service fades into the background when budgets are created. Shortfalls in revenue trigger reductions in service.
The gap between the mission of an excellent customer experience and execution is unimaginable because improving service strengthens relationships, creates loyalty, and increases profitability. Perhaps we should hire a public relations agent to change customer service’s image. Decades of being a line item in operational expenses have to be overcome. Service is not a cost of doing business. Service is an investment in a company’s future.
Part of the problem is with the operational team. Somewhere along the line they bought into the service is an expense idea. I cringe every time I hear a departmental manager say, “We need more money because expenses are up and customers keep contacting us” as if customers connecting with the company is a bad thing. A conversation with a prospect or customer is an opportunity to create or solidify a good relationship.
The marketing team isn’t much better. The purpose of marketing is to create customers. When done well, marketing is service but it can never create the solid relationships built in the service department. Marketing is the promise and service is the delivery. One without the other is ineffective. Success becomes reality when marketing and service departments work together for a common goal – making and keeping promises to people who become customers.
Making the shift to integrated marketing and service departments starts with updating customer service’s image. The best way to update an image is to change the reputation by delivering something different from expectations. Instead of looking at how much service costs, look at how much it improves satisfaction and saves money. It’s much easier and less expensive to market to happy customers. Here are some specific customer service tactics that reduce costs and improve satisfaction:
- Provide self-serve options for everything from completing transactions to processing returns. People want to control their interaction with companies. Use some of the money saved by making it self-service easy to provide better and faster personal service. When people need help, they don’t want to wait.
- Improve communication with customers. Email provides an economical way to keep people apprised of changes in orders, policies, and events. Using trigger emails to keep customers informed about order statuses reduces “where is my order” calls and opens the door for additional marketing messages.
- Analyze behavior and seek feedback to match service to individual preferences. Over the top service isn’t expected and may not be wanted. It is expensive and rarely delivers a good return on investment. Targeted service is much more effective and personal.
- Educate people about how to best use your products and services. A marketing message with a limited time offer delivers a bump in sales. Educational messages deliver a lifetime of sales. Find the right mix of marketing and educational messages to keep people happily coming back for more.
- Make it easy for people to contact you. Finding a telephone number or email address is impossible for some companies. They try to make their operations more efficient by controlling customer contact. Doing this reduces trust and increases frustration. Making it easy for people to get in touch with the right department increases sales, improves satisfaction, and has little or no effect on costs. (The exception to this is companies that have major service issues. They should still be accessible but it will have an effect on costs.)