Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Customer Service At The Heart of Your Business by guest blogger, Amit Shankardass

You spend a lot of money building and promoting your brand because a respected brand helps to keep existing customers loyal and attract new ones. But who is it that really defines your brand? I’m sure you might be thinking of the marketing team, but is this really how most customers form an opinion about your business? In many cases it is very likely to be the way that your customer service teams operate and interact with your customers.  Interestingly, this the same customer service team that used to be considered a ‘non-core’ part of the business?

I have been talking to a lot of people over the past year about the way that customer service is taking on a new strategic importance across companies in all industries. Of course, most executives have repeated the mantra the ‘customer comes first’, but I believe that many companies are now genuinely looking to their customer facing team for ideas, leadership and a competitive advantage.

Take a look at this recent blog featuring the CEO of Mercedes Benz USA, Steve Cannon, in which he suggests that the experience customers have when they interact with your company is now a part of the marketing process:

“Now with social media and the connected environment we live in, a good experience can lead to thousands of connections and a negative experience can lead to potentially more than that,” he explained. “When I started three years ago, Customer Experience was our No. 1 priority. We put a team together under a General Manager who reports to me and we empower them to take a more holistic look at Customer Experience and map the customer journey. This has to be the heart beat within our group.”

I believe we are now on a journey where companies and entire industries are about to be reshaped. The way customers interact with brands has fundamentally changed.  From a world where most communication was post-sale - and only if there was a problem - to the present, where customers expect an ongoing relationship with the brand, regardless of whether they are buying or not. And they expect to have a consistent experience and relationship with the brand across their journey with the the brand.

What this really means is that every customer-facing function within the organization needs to be synchronized with others. Previous silos such as customer service, marketing, advertising, sales, PR, and product management, need to be working together – because the customer is not interested in your internal politics. To the customer all these internal departments just represent your brand.

Customer service is now seen as the heart of a business. It’s where your team interacts with customers every day. It’s where prospective customers ask questions, people who are about to be customers clear up last minute doubts, and existing customers get support. All these other internal departments stand to benefit from a tight integration with the team that speaks to customers day after day.

And the customer service team gains too. Far from being a dead-end job, those who excel in managing customers now have their pick of where to progress within the business. After all, is there a better apprenticeship than talking to real customers about real problems with your products?

Mercedes has shown that they are one step ahead of the crowd in aligning their customer experience team with marketing, operations and sales. I believe that the next few years will see customer service teams take on a key corporate strategy role for companies in all industries.
Amit Shankardass, EVP Marketing, Teleperformance