The customer service function is the most important part of your business today – full stop. With companies like Ford and Jaguar Land Rover now declaring themselves ‘retailers’ first and foremost, this is not just some motivational mantra aimed at boosting the ego of customer service managers, I truly believe that we are witnessing a fundamental shift in the way companies are structured with a focus on customer interaction right at the centre of these changes.
It’s worth taking a step back for a moment to consider how most companies are organised. There are the traditional departments, or silos, that all have an individual function. Think of the marketing department, sales, IT, HR, and operations. Some of these are on the frontline of the business and directly account for the profit (or loss) of the company – like the sales team. Some of them are supporting functions, such as HR, that ensure the operational teams can function well.
The customer service function used to exist in that world of supporting players. It was generally unloved and just existed because your products featured a free-phone number and let’s be honest, someone had to handle the complaints and questions that came in after sales had been made.
Now and again a magazine feature would talk about the customer service function becoming a profit centre because happy customers are more likely to be loyal customers, but did we ever really believe these articles? For most companies the contact centre was just an unavoidable cost to the business.
But now, in the multichannel world of customer service, an enormous amount of dialogue between the company and customers all takes place openly online. Customers and potential customers can see the way that you interact with people because it’s all transparent and accessible at all times.
This means that examples of great service can be retweeted or shared on Facebook. How many times have you seen a ‘great service’ post going viral recently liked the Sainsbury’s coffee moment? And the opposite is true – examples of awful service are shared widely – the ‘United breaks guitars’ video being a classic example. Engagement with existing and potential customers has become the best way to market your brand and to generate sales.
So now the sales and marketing teams are interested in customer services because it is where the relationship with customers is created and nurtured. About a month ago I wrote on this blog that marketing directors all over the world are taking a keen interest in their customer service team. Proactive engagement has replaced picking up the phone to answer a complaint. If a Twitter user mentions that he or she is flying with your airline later in the day then why not send a link to the movies that will be available on that flight?
This is exactly the kind of engagement that is now taking place and it has positioned the customer service team at the heart of modern organisations. This will change how many companies operate their entire branding, PR, marketing, and communication strategies as all of this will be led by the way the company interacts directly with customers.
In the near future you can expect plenty of jockeying for position in the boardroom. Marketing directors will be trying to convince the CEO that they should be running the customer service centre even if they have never directly interacted with a customer in their entire career. Sales managers will be asking agents to cross-sell on every support call. And the existing customer service managers will be digging out the marketing books they haven’t at since their MBA. In reality these roles and titles also need to change, the business function closest to supporting and impacting the customer experience is the real deal.
Indeed the times they are a changing, but one thing is clear. The customer service function has become the most important component of any modern company structure. This is a great industry to be in right now and will continue to evolve in ways we can’t yet imagine.
Have you seen any organisations where the customer service centre has started leading on sales and marketing too? Leave a comment here or you can reach me on LinkedIn here.
Photo by Armando G Alonso licensed under Creative Commons