While customer support traditionally has been thought of as a vehicle for solving real-time issues, that viewpoint has been challenged in recent years. Organizations looking for new market differentiators have identified customer service and experience as an opportunity to stand out amongst the crowd, and have transformed this former cost center into a revenue driver and a key function within their marketing organizations.
This transition to service as a significant marketing component matches the business environment: Many organizations have been forced to ramp down their marketing spend on acquisition channels, but CMOs and other marketing leaders also have more flexibility in where they direct their budget than most other business area leaders. This has allowed marketers to identify the opportunities that come with great service beyond just retention and reprioritize budgets to maximize its value.
This approach has never been more valuable than now as businesses not only figure out how to operate during this pandemic but also prepare themselves for the post-COVID era and the long-lasting changes that will come with it. Redirecting both budget and focus to support teams—those that have a direct line of communication with customers regardless of circumstances or channel—gives businesses the opportunity to provide stellar customer experience and, ultimately, turn that into awareness and revenue.
The keys are instilling the confidence in service staff that the organization values their role as something more than cleaning up messes for customers, and empowering service staff to engage in more ways by providing them with the strategies and tools they need to act as what they really are—marketing’s frontline representatives. Here are five ways customer support has become a marketing asset.
While it’s typically true that the reason a customer contacts a business post-sale is due to a problem or a question, it’s also true that empowered service staff can make that interaction more valuable. Solving an issue is key but, beyond the utility of fixing something, effective education and proactive communication with customers promotes further curiosity and spurs conversation about how they can even better use a product or leverage a service. You’d be surprised how often a customer doesn’t realize you offer a particular product or service. Taking this educational and informative approach to these conversations allows service agents to avoid that “predatory salesman” feeling while naturally leading to other offerings that may be of use.
Setting this standard and expectation with frontline agents may take some re-education in itself on their end. They need to understand their role as one that’s part of the larger marketing and sales function and what that means on a day-to-day and interaction-to-interaction basis. Training, therefore, is key in this shift and having a well-thought-out plan and structured framework are the two earliest steps to success in creating a service organization that can support add-on sales. From there, businesses have had success either allowing agents to make sales directly or passing customers to sales team members for a closing conversation—either way, the key is to have that system in place and served by a team that understands their responsibilities within it.
The direct access to customers that service teams have is valuable from more than just a sales perspective: It can be used to create a network of customer evangelists and a library of user-generated content (UGC).
There’s no collateral more valuable today. That stamp of approval directly from a customer carries tremendous weight for consumers and helps cut through the noise of a world that bombards them with advertising at every turn. In fact, it’s been borne out over the years that leveraging UGC improves ad and email click-through rates, increases time spent on page, and improves social media performance. But the value does not end with just driving increased traffic: Customers look to user-generated content to help them discover new products and drive purchase decisions, meaning UGC can help increase both awareness and conversions. The trick is giving customers that extra push.
By the very nature of their success, support staff can increase the likelihood that customers will create positive UGC in the form of a “thumbs-up” review, but beyond that, they can guide customers to actually generate specific content. Whether via phone, email, social media or any other service channel, agents can get a direct, in-the-moment sense of a potential user-content opportunity and funnel that person toward the opportunity. A social media contest, for example, is a great way to influence people toward organic engagement by providing UGC. Meanwhile, the happy customers who enter have the chance to win a prize that strengthens the relationship even further.
Support for the Masses
To this point, we’ve primarily discussed one-on-one customer support interactions. For a long time, that’s almost exclusively what customer support was. Today, however, businesses need to consider the myriad channels that allow them to make individual service interactions useful for the masses.
While plenty of people still prefer phone or email for customer service, many have moved those interactions to other platforms, like social media and message boards—ones that are visible to the world. Monitoring these channels and adapting messaging and strategy specifically for them is key to meet customers where they live, but it also acts as a natural amplifier by its very nature as a public interaction. On the flip side of this coin, these interactions can be high-variance and potentially volatile: Companies can come off as uncaring, rude or incompetent if things go wrong; but if they go right, you have the opportunity to turn open dissatisfaction into a positive experience.
While plenty of people still prefer phone or email for customer service, many have moved those interactions to other platforms, like social media and message boards—ones that are visible to the world.
Critically, there’s less and less opportunity to opt out of these public customer service interactions; a lack of engagement on these channels is increasingly viewed as actively ignoring your customers and can be just as harmful as providing poor service on them. Businesses must instead embrace the opportunity to solve problems while sharing information that can be of use to other customers down the line. If done right, these interactions build upon one another to become a company character reference that sets the tone for your public perception.
Filling the Funnel with Referrals
Both driving add-on sales and creating a broad public persona that highlights your brand and offerings are key activities as businesses realign support teams under their marketing umbrella. Perhaps the most effective way to both drive additional revenue and expand the customer base, however, is through referral programs.
Of course, most referrals provide value to the referrer in themselves—they get a free month of a service or a discount off their next order, etc.—but whatever that value is, it is typically not enough on its own to motivate a dissatisfied, or even moderately happy, customer to share amongst their network. Referrals come when a customer feels a high level of satisfaction and the peace of mind that they’re providing help, not headaches, to other potential users.
Support staff are a natural avenue for businesses to activate referral programs, therefore, as they’ve just established a personal relationship with the customer, have solved a problem and created a feeling of positivity, and can offer that little extra push by selling in the benefits of the referral to the customer. Meanwhile, those referrals act as a trusted stamp of approval even above positive UGC because it has the added element of the direct contact and personal relationship. These referrals grow brand awareness and become the qualified leads, if not outright sales, that amplify business success and drive tangible growth.
The empowerment of the support team and its reclassification as a marketing entity brings tremendous opportunity to build better customer relationships and sell more effectively. Additionally, it’s a chance to create a new function of a brand’s identity. Creating a community of dedicated employees ready to help customers across the entire life cycle is in itself a valuable contribution. Therefore, while support staff are actively marketing the organization and driving revenue, the traditional marketing and sales functions can use the support team as a selling point.
With this approach, the marketing, sales and customer support functions all feed into and build off of one another building awareness, driving revenue and creating more positive experiences for users.
Turning Service Basics into Marketing Gold
While the opportunity and value in excellent support as a marketing tool is massive, there are no cutting corners to success. There is no quick trick to building a strong service practice, which is vital to converting service into a sales driver, content generator and overall brand strength. Businesses must first focus on mastering the basics of establishing and exemplifying their voice, delivering consistently and on-time, and having conversations to amplify awareness across channels. Meanwhile, service teams must have the communication training to master the skills, patience, and attentiveness to build rapport and guide customers from a state of frustration to one of elation.
At the same time, businesses can no longer view customer service teams in a silo or as an independent function. Organizations must build these teams with the intention of adding value to brand—and as an important revenue driver. Use solving customer issues as an originating touchpoint to show other stakeholders dedication, use it to strengthen the bond with customers and to showcase the variety of solutions and enhancements that are available to them all via the support team. Direct interactions with customers are precious and need to be maximized, making customer support teams and their continued function one of the most important marketing tools that any business has.