Integration Key to New Customer Service

Customer_service Like many of you with a Skype account, I received a communication from the company after it experienced a widespread outage recently.

The outage was so widespread, than many compared it to that of 2007. To refresh your memory, this is what happened as reported by customers back then.

We discussed how integrating all customer touch points lets you deliver good service and provide an experience worth talking about and sharing.

More and more regular people get to recommend one provider over another to their networks, which is why understanding what triggers influence has become such a popular topic lately.

While in the past it took sometimes a decade for viable competitors to a business to emerge, thanks in part to technology and the digital medium driving costs down, you're constantly watching your back today.

If you have a product or service people want — and talk about — others just like yours, only with a different tagline and apparent "secret sauce" sprout like mushrooms. Yes, sometimes in the shade of your business model, exploiting a flaw or a disconnect.

And you don't necessarily get your fair share of the market, either. Make a big mistake on reliability or features, and your base is gone — especially when you're not well established and entrenched yet, and another company makes it easy for people to switch.

Which is why integration between marketing and customer service is key.

Customer service is the new marketing

In many ways this holds even truer than when we first observed that a few years ago. Being able to deliver satisfying support in public, something that was a bit hard to pull off for Skype only two years ago, is important to a brand's marketing.

About a week ago, many of you agreed that all the good will in customer conversations gets wiped out by aggressive marketing tactics. The two are connected, and if your company is siloed in those functions, you are at a disadvantage over businesses that are integrated.

There is something new on the service end as well. Many established companies are looking at the direct to buyer model as their growth opportunity. Buyers are not in funnels anymore, and they don't buy alone, either.

I'd like to introduce the concept of Service Level Agreements (SLAs) as a tool for this new era of buyer consideration. In this era, the likelihood of a second purchase determines whether you have a customer base, commerce as repeat business, or a vulnerable collection of uncommitted first time purchasers.

What are Service Level Agreements?

Service Level Agreements (SLAs) have been in the language of business to business providers for years. As the term indicates, they define the levels of service a buyer agrees to receive. Note the language, because it defines expectations you accept. From the entry (emphasis mine):

The SLA records a common understanding about services, priorities, responsibilities, guarantees, and warranties. Each area of service scope should have the "level of service" defined. The SLA may specify the levels of availability, serviceability, performance, operation, or other attributes of the service, such as billing. The "level of service" can also be specified as "target" and "minimum," which allows customers to be informed what to expect (the minimum), whilst providing a measurable (average) target value that shows the level of organization performance. In some contracts, penalties may be agreed upon in the case of non-compliance of the SLA (but see "internal" customers below). It is important to note that the "agreement" relates to the services the customer receives, and not how the service provider delivers that service.

SLAs address also performance measurement and customer duties, along with warranties, disaster recovery, and agreement termination.

There are different kinds of agreements that could suit for example small business owners, associations and organized buyers groups and consortiums. Think for example about the emerging trend of social buying or collaborative consumption. Could there be a group SLA for those?

I've long maintained that everything a business does is marketing, including its contracts. It looks like it's going to be especially its contracts and agreements moving forward. What buyers actually get. As customers we should get busy reading what we agree to. As service providers, we can start looking at how SLAs are part of our marketing.

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0 responses to “Integration Key to New Customer Service”

  1. Is customer service not part of marketing?
    I don’t think it’s new to marketing.
    Thanks for the post.
    Happy new year to you!

  2. I think you’re right, Valeria.
    A happy customer tells a couple people.
    An unhappy customer tells a everyone.
    Google listens to them both.
    Marketing is tasked with communicating the brand, but the successful brands of the future will be based on HOW an organization ACTUALLY serves its customers – NOT what they want the market to believe.

  3. @Alexis – you will be shocked to learn that in many organizations it isn’t. And furthermore, there is little or no communication between the two groups. Happy New Year to you.
    @Brian – it’s not only Google, is it? People listen more and more to other people. Even better, they watch what they do… and don’t do. If your friend avoids buying a certain brand, you know something is up and avoid it, too. How an organization behaves starts with how it treats employees, which then transfers outside.

  4. @Valeria – True. Not only Google (and, given that post I believe you shared about Google eating its own tail, serving up SEO-crap, and monoculture, even more so), but I was speaking more to the point about brands being based more on actions than words.
    Guess I got a little ahead of myself on that one. It’s Monday!

  5. The ability to interact in a meaningful way with your customers has become vital to marketing nowadays. As Brian mentioned in comments already, a unhappy customer tells everyone, it’s in the human nature. I don’t think it’s a new behavior either, just, for the first time we can actually do something about it.
    In the past, if you bought something you weren’t satisfied about, you would tell your friends and that’d be it. Now you can tell millions of people, but the drawback is that at least the brand itself has means to find out and act accordingly, when possible.

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