Marketing through Operations

OK, so to review, here’s the premise.  Customer-centricity is something companies want to embrace more than ever.  Company can do this through a Chief Customer Officer, but why isn’t a Marketing exec taking the reins on this issue?  In direct marketing companies – where customer-centricity is not just a fad, but has a decades-long history – the Marketing folks know that Operations typically contains a goldmine of customer-centric Marketing opportunities they can take advantage of.  Many of these opportunities come from problems with empathy and context – or for the more technical folks out there, “Usability”.

Yes, you can optimize the service side of a business just like you can optimize a web site.  Here is how:

1.  Do you have a relationship with a peer in customer service?  If not, that’s really short-sighted for a marketing person who wants to be viewed as a strategic thinker – find someone, OK?

2.  Does customer service record the reason for each call?  If not, that’s nuts.  Most every call center system provides this capability, but you do have to turn the damn module on and populate it with the reasons people call.  So if the center is not using this functionality, get talking about how to get it turned on.

3.  You and your customer service peer need a list of the reasons people call.  Get this by talking, of course, with the agents.  If such a list does not exist, create it.  If such a list does exist, review it – it’s probably filled with crap or default reasons that don’t really have much to do with your business.  This is the most common mistake I see made in the “customer centric” area – using default call reasons not customized for the business.

4.  Once you have the module running and the call reasons right, make sure the agents know how important it is to status every call correctly.  Tell them by statusing calls, you plan to make their jobs easier by reducing routine problem calls, allowing them to spend more time on quality of call and resolving complex issues.

5.  Determine how to report on compliance with correct statusing.  If you don’t do this, all your effort will be subject to failure.  Hint: Do not provide agents with a giant “other reason” bucket; force accurate call accounting by providing a full and complete call reason set that only allows a very small percentage of “other reason” ticks.

6.  Find out from Customer Service or Finance what the internally acceptable “cost per call” calculation is; what does Finance think it costs to take a customer service call?

7.  In conjunction with customer service, study the reasons people call and think about how to reduce the need for those callers to call.  This project is about reducing or eliminating the triggers for a call.  Why do they call?  FYI, most really customer-centric companies have a meeting on this topic every week.  At HSN, we had this meeting every day.  Why?  Because we could react in real time.  If you are in an interactive business, perhaps you can too.

8.  In many cases, you will find they call because of things marketing does or could affect, for example:

  • Confusing language or other problems with marketing materials / advertising – this is a huge category which includes all kinds of bad Marketing execution – wrong or expired coupon codes, collateral distribution problems, etc.
  • Incomplete or confusing instructions or product packaging
  • Incomplete or confusing installation process or procedures
  • Pricing or bundling logic issues – the options don’t make sense to the customer
  • Problems with call center script language or logic
  • Illogical touch-tone trees or branching problems
  • All kinds of similar problems with the web site too numerous to mention here

Note to web analysts reading this:

Sound familar?  After you optimize the web site, find out if they will let you join the BI unit and optimize the business.  Idea: Optimizing a VRU / IVR is really no different than optimizing a web site using path analysis – think about it.  Traffic sources, the funnel, leaky bucket, pogo-sticking.  Same thing.

9.  Get off your GRP-lovin’ ass and fix the operational problems Marketing is causing or can affect.

If you are saying to yourself, “But I don’t have control over a lot of the items on this list” then ask yourself why that is.  All this stuff is about copy and presentation, and heck, you’re the expert in those areas, right?  So why don’t you have control over these issues?  Did you ever ask for this control?  If not, why?  That’s what a strategic thinker would do, because all these customer contact issues directly affect customer value and retention.

This stuff is marketing.  It directly affects the value of the customer and customer retention, not to mention word-of-mouth.  You want that new fangled social media thingie you bought to boost sales, right?  How about optimizing the customer experience with your company?

Oh, I forgot, less than 30% of you said increasing customer LifeTime Value is a top marketing objective.  So I guess less than 30% of you should move to the next step.

10.  Measure the reduction in phone calls for these problem areas you have fixed, calculate the cost savings, present to senior management.

Extra credit: measure the increase in customer satisfaction, if that’s all you can do.  Better than nothing.  Hopefully you have some kind of statistically correct, longitudinal study going and can measure satisfaction properly.

Super extra credit: measure the actual reduction in customer defection and monetary value of this reduction.  That’s the right thing to do and will boost the monetary value of your actions tremendously.

11.  Pitch strategic seat at the table / Chief Customer Officer responsibilities using knowledge from “why they call” study and resulting operational modifications.  You will have no shortage of future issues to work on.  Somebody has to do it, might as well be you.

12.  Convene cross-functional team, you will need it.  Get best and brightest from every area of the company or unit.  At minimum:  Marketing / Sales, Customer Service, Finance, IT, Distribution

13.  Start fixing more stuff that pisses the customer off, generates calls, and truncates customer value.  Achieve customer centricity.  After all, they tell you every single day what pisses them off.

Why don’t you fix this stuff?

Any takers?  Anybody doing this?  Any Marketers think they will get resistance if they start poking their nose into customer service land?


5 thoughts on “Marketing through Operations

  1. Great post! I have trained customer service reps in the past. And I’ve worked on an intranet for them. I also spent several months talking to the angriest of the angry customers. I try to listen to customer service calls every now and then. Unfortunately I believe part of the problem is that you can get great processes and systems in place, but may have a difficult time getting your staff enthusiastic about it. Why? Customer services is often, unfortunately, a low-status job.

  2. Re: low-status job, that may be true in some places but not always.

    I have seen call centers where the folks are not particularly well paid, but they work in an environment that is supportive, their goals are realistic, and their bosses listen to them – the agents have input. There is also a lot of opportunity for advancement, which solves the pay problem.

    Part of creating an environment like this is making sure other silos are not creating trouble for the call center. A lot of Marketing folks think it’s silly to get input on their work from agents, but trust me, it is always best to let them review ideas and see the pieces before they drop.

    This is best practice in direct marketing; I expect the rest of the world will follow some day when they realize just how much it costs to NOT do this.

  3. This is a *great* post Jim!

    You may have posed it from the perspective of marketing, but hot damn this is sooo relevant to IT.
    You’ve posed it such that the “Client” is external. The *exact* same logic applies to the internal clients of the IT team(s).

    Excellent Stuff! I just may reduce the thoughts in this posting to a single slide and print out to hang beside the one other pithy saying I have on the wall: “In God We Trust. Everything Else We Monitor.”

    – Steve

  4. Yes, well, you know from some of my previous posts I think IT and Marketing face a lot of similar management challenges.

    The idea of Marketing in “Service” to internal clients (and the customer?) is probably not thought of very often in most companies, but is common in the Direct Marketing model.

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