By Gerry Carr
One of the key trends that we are seeing in 2015 is the breakdown in the distinction between marketing and customer support. This is definitely a strong positive both for the consumer and for the business, and a shift away from the previous trends where new customer acquisition was given a huge preference in terms of budget and priority over retention and customer success.
Perhaps one of the biggest shifts is the realisation that there is a virtuous circle in play - in the sense that actually providing excellence in service to an existing customer base encourages others to want to join that base. Therefore good marketing combined with great support is the real key to generating new business. We thought it might be interesting to look at what technologies new and a little older, we’re seeing that are helping to facilitate and increasingly drive this trend.
Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and social media
One of the key reasons that awareness has grown about the quality of support is the democratisation of the process of customer feedback. While there are a myriad of ways to engage with a product, service or brand it is a simple matter for any customer to take to Twitter to publicise a complaint. Too many complaints and you quickly have a www.untied.com - an entire movement dedicated to killing the United Airlines brand.
Comcast in the US is another example of consumer revolt making their marketing efforts almost redundant.
Equally of course people are willing to praise and acknowledge good service. In fact in some industries, for instance hotels and restaurants, an entire business can stand or fail on the aggregated feedback provided by individuals. This is completely revolutionary. It is almost completely pointless in this instance for marketing to buy advertising, work on SEO, and create wonderful websites and brochures if it only takes the sensible visitor a couple of clicks to read that the the hotel is consistently poorly rated by guests. In the reverse case a hotel with a strong rating can afford to reduce the marketing spend or focus it on attracting new types of business and rely on their rating to fill a large proportion of rooms.
Across all industries we’ve seen the investment in social media multiply. Early attempts to separate a ‘support’ Twitter account from a brand account have become increasingly difficult to manage as users have logically refused to accept the ‘ghettoisation’ of their complaints. This breakdown in almost symbolic of the merging of support and brand.
Different teams would manage each account with some shared guidelines. But that is no more. The reputation is the brand and now the teams in charge of each are symbiotically connected as they are working to the same goal; to provide better customer support that will in turn provide new business. We’ve mentioned Twitter but of course it applies equally to Facebook, to much smaller extent on Linkedin and then needs to be tracked across Quora, Reddit, Stack and myriad of other ‘bulletin board’ like locations.
Analytics, heat-mapping, and other weblog interrogation tools
The majority of analytics, heat-mapping and other web visitor interrogation tools are still focused primarily towards people in the marketing function, usually to track the conversion path from visitor to customer. Heatmaps like Crazyegg have provided information on where and when users drop off, where they visit, which offers and landing pages work for best. Others like VWO and Optimizely provide easy templates for A/B testing. Swrve provides similar functions to Google Analytics for for mobile experiences, whether native web or an in-app.
Customer Support teams have of course been using these tools in earnest for years to try and track and improve the customer experience. Tools like Nickelled interactive web guides, or online chat products like Olark or social media interaction platfroms like Conversocial have emerged to provide excellent online experiences focused not solely at winning new users but also in making sure that the visitors who do come whether the first time or can successfully negotiate
But it is only recently that we have seen these separate functions merge into a coherent customer experience and it is when they do combine that the real power of a web, marketing and customer support investment is realised. Paddypower.com for instance is the market-leading online bookmaker in the UK and Ireland and a pioneer in creating web and mobile betting experiences for punters. Much as they are known for their brash and controversial marketing, their growth is ascribed to their reputation amongst users for excellent customer support meaning they retain customers way beyond the industry average. It is their equal emphasis and equal investment in tools and technology to support marketing alongside customer service that is driving their growth.
Emerging CRM technology and its role in the changing perception of the customer
CRM has traditionally spanned the join between sales and marketing but this is changing. Salesforce and SageCRM and other traditional CRM solutions were typically used by marketing filling the pipe on one end and sales team moving them through the pre-defined sales process and marked as won or lost at the end of it. Customer Support typically had little involvement to the point where a won customer was often managed in a completely different system.
However, in the emerging world of the freemium model that distinction begins to blur and make little sense. Marketing brings in the visitors perhaps, but they quickly become ‘users’ and the sales team is disintermediated. New technologies like Intercom.io (http://www.intercom.io) and customer.io (customer.io) are emerging for these scenarios where the ability to communicate with a ‘user’ and not a visitor is of most importance and the responsibility for this interaction is a combination of marketing and support.
Again the reputation of the product or service and the support provided for customers here is where the real value lies. Reputation will spread quickly through social media (good and bad) and the quant and qual feedback needs to be interpreted by the support team in lock step with the marketing team and the changes and responses made in combination. And that response is much more about building better processes and systems, about the use of technology and combining mass messaging with individual comms than it is about the individual prowess of a sales person.
Where to next?
We have not had time to look at the convergence of marketing automation tools like Marketo and Hubspot with online support tools like Zendesk and customer.io. The increased sharing of features and use cases between technologies that have come from different ends of the spectrum is a clear indication of merging of the support and marketing functions. Will we start to see a merging of the teams within companies? It’s a fascinating development and one which should be to the benefit of the customer as the best marketing and sales companies will be those with the best reputation for serving the customer well.