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Cutting-Edge Technologies For The Contact Center
August 2004

Turning Customer Service Into A Conduit For Sales And Marketing

By Geoff Sherman, Quaero Corp.

Every industry is experiencing the increasing commoditization of its products due to limited product differentiation. In our technological age, speed to market is an understatement. As a result, it is difficult for companies to stand out among competitors that are offering similar products or services. We know that organizations with brand recognition and superb customer service are able to differentiate themselves; however, most focus on customer service as a business unit, rather than as a new marketing channel for promotion. Looking at the problem from a channel perspective rather than a business unit perspective allows a company to leverage more effective customer service and provide a consistent brand image throughout the sales cycle.

This article will focus on tactics to bring customer service into the forefront as a viable marketing channel. While it is acknowledged that fundamental differences between industries on the definition and implementation of customer service exist, the intent of this writing is to provide universal guidelines needed to begin ' regardless of customer service execution.

Channel Development Guidelines
Map the customer experience. The first step in the customer service channel development process is to develop a cross-functional customer experience map, enabling you to understand touch points between the customer and your organization, as well as the opportunities available to enhance your brand image and reinforce marketing messages to your customers. Customer experience mapping can be a time- and labor-intensive activity, depending on the amount of depth identified. However, it results in incremental and value-added marketing opportunities based on the specific touch point interaction.

Define the customer service marketing strategy. After customer service touch points are identified, the next step is to strategize marketing. The development of this strategy should include representatives from sales, marketing, customer service and strategic planning. Each of these groups will provide a unique customer perspective that should be taken into account throughout the planning process.

Measurement of success. The next step in the creation of customer service as a marketing channel is to identify the appropriate measurements of success. One of the key elements in marketing is the ability to measure performance. As the other marketing channels are being measured on the basis of profit, loss, revenue and other quantifiable numbers, so should the customer service channel be. The exact measures your organization employs is dependent on industry and implementation factors; however, there needs to be an appropriate balance of customer service channel leveraging for incremental marketing opportunities and execution of the primary function/responsibilities.

Regardless of the measure, certain best practices should be followed:

  • Benchmarks for each measure should be identified;
  • Measures should be quantifiable and tied to strategic objectives and goals;
  • Metrics should have common definitions across departments;
  • Metrics should be constantly evaluated for relevancy; and
  • Metrics used upon implementation will evolve once the process has matured.

Process Alignment
After the target touch points have been identified and the defined measures are in place, it is time to review the processes needed in support of each of the customer service touch points. The Six Sigma concept of SIPOC (Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs and Customer) provides an excellent framework to support process re-engineering, by which the focus is on the customer and on the quality delivery.

The process alignment (and in some cases re-engineering) effort should include members of customer service and marketing functions, as each group will be affected by the changes and may have ideas on how to best implement needed changes. If possible, an organization should try to present some of the scenarios of how the future process might work in a customer service interaction. This hypothetical allows capturing necessary feedback. Customer input of process design allows for testing prior to rollout, accounting for potential problems and ways to proactively address those potential problems.

Training Customer Service Representatives
Perhaps the most important step in this entire process lies in the training of the customer service personnel who will be interacting with customers. Without the personnel's understanding and buy-in, the customer service channel will not be successful. The focus of this training should be on the process and identification of business rules that would trigger the marketing message presentment. Technology training among customer service personnel will help to support the business rules that are being executed.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of the training, consider the following guidelines:

  • Avoid outsource training, and adhere to existing organizational culture and procedures;
  • Use role-playing to help employees understand how to handle specific situations; and
  • View training as an ongoing activity rather than the 'one and done' approach.

Information Needs
One of the often overlooked factors of a change in business strategy is having the right information available to guide decisions. This is especially true with marketing and its impact on customer service. Determine which marketing messages resonate most successfully within a given customer segment, and ensure that the right customer data are being captured and understood.

To support this effort, an organization must define its customer knowledge strategies and segmentation capabilities. Creating a common customer profile is the basis for a universal understanding of a given customer and is a consistent approach to customer treatment across service channels. Within larger organizations, different groups often have different customer profiles that are important to them. Defining the key customer data elements for a universal customer profile ensures that everyone who interacts with the customer has the best information available in order to offer the right marketing messages and provide for an overall consistent customer experience. Furthermore, this can help guide a data quality review, critical to providing the marketing department with the analytics for ongoing decision-making.

Analytics support the measurement capability to track the success of a specific marketing effort through customer service. Additionally, analytics can offer an opportunity to measure organizational effectiveness and degrees of alignment between compensation and resources.

Technologies In Place
Once your organization has defined the new business model for customer service, it is important to provide the best technology for the customer service efforts. The key technologies for consideration ' again, these widely vary based on the strategy chosen ' are typically an integrated campaign management application and analytics.

Integrated campaign management refers to the integration between the marketing department's campaign planning application and the customer service application to allow for campaign execution. An important focus within this application is the right messaging trigger to be disseminated at the right point during the customer conversation. Whether an offer is being presented or a particular marketing message is given at the end of a call, proper timing is a must.

Pulling It All Together
A mature customer service organization encompasses the aforementioned channel guidelines and is characterized by a solid foundation of alignment with the company's strategic direction. Exhibiting industry best practices on customer service and strong, centralized leadership are both equally important for a thorough understanding of the business unit's strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the company as a whole.

Adopting a customer service channel requires commitment of the senior leadership within the company to support and sponsor the initiatives needed to make it successful. This sponsorship needs to encompass leaders from across the company because of its inherent cross-functional nature.

This article has laid out the foundational constructs needed to transform reactive customer service into a proactive marketing channel. Organizations can ensure all facets of the channel transformation are considered by viewing the process with these guidelines. The monetary costs for this transformation are relatively low, considering that within most companies the necessary resources (people and technology) are already in place. Coupled with an opportunity to increase revenue during each service contact, the potential for significant ROI is high and should be explored.

Quaero's Geoff Sherman is an experienced consultant in the areas of customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing effectiveness. His business, as well as his functional experience in sales, marketing and customer service, has allowed him to deliver over a dozen CRM implementations across the consumer products, financial services, pharmaceutical and telecommunications industries. Quaero helps companies enhance marketing effectiveness through a unique combination of innovative ideas, best practices and proven technologies. Geoff can be reached at [email protected].

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