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Why Call Centers Will Be Run by Marketing in 2020

The average organization has a customer service team whose primary function is to react to customer problems. And, in a different department, there's the marketing team, which is charged with devising clever, eye-catching plans to reel in new customers. But what's the point of reeling them in if the actual experience doesn't live up to the marketing?

There's clearly something fundamentally wrong with this organizational structure, which is only exacerbated by today's digitally connected consumer. 2020 may seem to be in the distant future, but let me explain my predictions for a new "customer engagement" department that has marketing taking the lead.

The Rise of the Connected Customer
The line between customer service and marketing has been blurring for some time.

In 2000, businesses spent twice as much on IT hardware per employee as consumers spent, according to an Accenture report. But by 2008, spend was equal between business and consumers, showcasing how customers were now as digitally minded as the companies chasing them, and marking a shift that fundamentally changed the relationship between businesses and consumers.

With consumers using a huge range of devices and channels, they are more connected than ever before.

Current organizational structures in business don't reflect these technological developments, with every channel often viewed as separate and not part of the whole customer experience.

Social Media Raises the Stakes
What's perhaps most interesting is that the most digitally connected customers offer businesses the greatest opportunities -- that is, if they get the customer experience right.

Consumers who use social media customer service have more extreme reactions (both positive and negative) to the customer experience they are provided.

For instance, 83% of consumers who use social media customer service haven't completed an intended purchase due to poor service, according to the 2012 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer report. Compare this to 49% of non-social media customers who would abandon a purchase after poor service, and it's clear that social media raises the stakes.

But it works both ways – if a social customer service user receives good service, they tell an average of 42 people, the report tells us. Consumers who don't use a social service would tell only nine people.

New Customers vs. Existing Customers
At the heart of the problem is a battle between new and existing customers. Which is most important to the organization?

The primary function of marketing is to bring in new customers, and the main role of customer service is to look after existing customers. But, there should be no distinction between the two – businesses should aim to provide a great experience throughout the customer lifecycle.

At a global level, we invest $500 billion in marketing, compared with just $9 billion invested in customer service, according to data from marketing solutions provider G-Force.

The huge gap between these budgets is nothing short of alarming. Especially considering that 70% of businesses think that it's cheaper to retain an existing customer than acquire a new one, according to a Econsultancy/Responsys Cross-Channel Marketing Report.

The figures just don't make sense. While acknowledging the importance of retaining customers, most businesses put more money into marketing than customer service.

Instead, businesses need to focus on a seamless customer experience – from the initial ad campaign to when a customer gets in touch. And the only way to achieve this is if marketing and customer service join forces, and operate under a shared budget.

So what can marketing learn from customer service? To connect all the dots in customer experience, marketing needs to listen to customer service. After all, who knows what customers really want more than the people who spend all day listening to them?

Here are three ways customer service can inform marketing strategy:

1. Get Inspiration from Your Customers
The customer service team's agenda is controlled by the customer – and customer needs should dictate what the marketing department gets up to as well.

The marketing team needs to know why customers get in touch and plan a campaign around both existing customers and new customers.

2. Manage Expectations
We've grown accustomed to marketing messages in the same way we have become used to traffic noise; it's there, we don't like it, but we often don't think about it.

And it's not just the sheer volume of marketing campaigns that causes consumers to switch off; it's that many consumers don't trust what the marketing team is saying.

It's not uncommon for a customer to be reeled in by a promise from marketing and then feel disappointed by the actual service they receive. That's why peer reviews are worth so much more.

If your marketing team has a full picture of what your customers really think about your brand, they can craft a more credible campaign message.

3. Look for Real Success Stories
One of the best ways to see the difference between marketing and customer service is to take a look at a brand's Facebook page. Often, a happy schedule of marketing content runs alongside disappointed customer complaints, making the company appear seemingly unaffected by what customers really think.

The smart marketer doesn't ignore the real stories, but gets inspiration from them. For instance, there are plenty of customer suggestions and happy customer stories that could be turned into content.

Plus, if your customer service team can find a way to impress an unhappy customer, the marketing department can even use bad customer experiences for content to show how its great service turned the sad story around.

The overall aim of both marketing and customer service is "customer engagement," and to be successful, this requires an integrated response.

I predict that in just five years' time, most marketing and customer service teams will work more closely together. Marketing will be the overall king, but the department still has a lot to learn from customer service.

Read NewVoiceMedia's full whitepaper on the topic, Within Five Years, Call Centers will be Run by Marketing.

Tim Pickard is SVP of Marketing at NewVoiceMedia, joining the company in July 2011. He has over 20 years' experience as a leader in the IT industry. He served as VP and board member of RSA Security's international business for seven years where he ran marketing in EMEA, Asia Pacific and Japan. He spent two years as Chief Marketing Officer for SaaS/Cloud-based email management provider Mimecast.