How customers turned nasty and marketers grew to love customer service | DMA

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How customers turned nasty and marketers grew to love customer service

You haven’t got long, so let’s fall back on some reassuring clichés. Sales people will – if they make their numbers – get to go on flashy, company-funded overseas trips, but marketers are meant to be smarter and get invited to better parties. Customer service people are too busy fighting fires to socialise – and IT people don’t get invited to parties. Does that sound about right?

Marketing used to be about broadcasting. Smart, targeted broadcasting - but broadcasting just the same. Hone a message, aim it in the right direction with a clear call to action and blast away across the channels – direct mail, TV, email, telemarketing and so on.

Then it started to get more difficult. Greater insight and direct or inferred data about prospects and customers meant that profiles became more complex and nuanced. Response mechanisms expanded, so cross-channel consistency became more important – and marketing’s dependence on technology grew.

Tricky enough, but in parallel prospects’ and customers’ channel permissions and preferences proliferated and became non-negotiable, not optional. This was partly driven by legislative and regulatory responses to ‘bad marketing’ in a changed world in which the recipients of badly timed, poorly executed communications had stopped being passive and accepting. At the same time, customers started to demand that their channel preferences were respected by any organisation that sought to engage with them.

So, the age of mass, broadcast marketing may be over. No bad thing, say smart marketers at their smart parties, the best marketing was never about the big guns of channel artillery blasting away – it was driven by insight, creativity and developing relationships. Not an easy task. Far from it, but maybe contemporary marketers, masters of narrowcast comms, negotiating myriad permissions and embracing technology-driven opportunities are the better for it. As are their customers, we hope.

But here’s the kicker. While this was happening, prospects and customers plunged into the Wild West world of social media, seized the broadcast weapons and pointed them back at the brands. Customers’ dissatisfactions and senses of grievance or entitlement can now be broadcast to the whole world – a world that can be very responsive and willing to share and multiply those grievances. And your customers never asked anybody’s permission to do so! Sales, marketing and customer service rightly need to observe and respect contact permissions and preferences at all times. But customers don’t.

Even in the traditional-technology world, the simple ability to record a phone call and share it can be devastating to a brand - as Ryan Block demonstrated with his wife’s frustrating, failed attempt to cancel their Comcast service in the US, last year In the social world parallel examples are daily occurrences (here are a few ). When social media allows the almost-instantaneous dissemination of frustrations and opinions about brands’ marketing and service delivery - often with little or no prior opportunity for organisations to engage or explain - then the world of old clichés will fail us.

Sales, marketing and customer service need step out of their traditional, reassuring silos and collaborate in an omni-channel, customer-empowered world. This entails responding as well as planning – not just appearing to be joined up and doing the right thing, but genuinely cooperating and empowering real-time responsibility for reacting to and engaging with customers, across functions.

Not a nice–to-have, but a need-to-do. You may need to get closer to your colleagues and internal stakeholders.

There’s no opt-out.

To help us tailor our future content, the DMA Contact Centres & Telemarketing Council is keen to hear more about your thoughts and challenges in this area. If you would like to join the conversation please use the discussion box below or email

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