Customer Service vs. Marketing


The headline of this article is a trick.

Normally, we think of Customer Service and Marketing as two distinct company functions and departments.

And that’s probably getting a lot of companies into trouble…even if they don’t realize it.

Customer service IS marketing.

How a customer (or prospect) is made to feel while dealing with your customer service team (or chat bot, or phone voice prompts) will determine:

  • If they will buy from you once or ever again
  • If they will recommend you to others
  • If they will trash your company to others (in an instant on social media)

Keeping customers happy then is critical to your marketing efforts, isn’t it?

Yet, most companies remain singularly focused on winning customers…not keeping them.

They focus on marketing to attract leads and convert them into opportunities.

And they focus on sales to convert opportunities into won business.

Why don’t more companies focus on customer service?

If it’s common knowledge that it costs a lot less to keep a customer than to get a new one, why do companies keep spending the bulk of their resources on trying to get new customers, only to neglect those customers once they’ve got them?

THIS SHOULD BE INVERTED.

Let me tell you a story about what happened on my birthday a few weeks ago.

What got me started on this?

There’s a brand new sushi restaurant in my neighborhood. That’s a welcome addition. I thought it would be fun for my wife and me to try it out on my birthday.

Wrong.

They have an interesting menu with two dining choices – à la carte, or all you can eat.

As we sat down at our table, our server explained “the rules”:

  • If you order all you can eat, NO SHARING WITH ANYONE ELSE WHO IS EATING À LA CARTE. IF YOU’RE CAUGHT, YOU’LL BE UPCHARGED.
  • If you order all you can eat but can’t finish everything on your plate, YOU WILL BE UPCHARGED FOR WHATEVER YOU DON’T EAT.

Hmm. I guess there may be practical reasons to have such rules, to prevent the restaurant from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous diners.

But, I would argue that restaurants have just one thing to sell: hospitality.

(Imagine going to a friend’s house for a nice sit-down dinner and being told “the rules” before starting the meal. How hospitable might that feel to you?)

Being presented with “the rules” as our welcome actually felt quite authoritarian to us.

It sent this message, loud and clear: “Welcome to our restaurant. We don’t know you – but we already don’t trust you. So we’re imposing rules in advance on your dining experience, which you must comply with or you’ll be penalized.”

OK, that in itself was off-putting, but we decided to gamely stay and try out the food. My wife got à la carte and I got all you can eat. I also ordered a beer.

I got my first plate of food in about ten minutes. My wife – nothing so far.

I got my beer after waiting twenty minutes. My wife – still nothing so far.

After thirty minutes, my wife excused herself to go to the bathroom. Our server came by to ask “How is everything?” I told her my wife was having to watch me eat while still waiting for her food.

My wife remarked afterward how funny it was that she was required watch me eat and I was not allowed to share any of my food with her, because she was à la carte.

Keep in mind – the restaurant was not that busy that night. It was a Wednesday.

We are never eating there again. We are telling our friends never to eat there. We will be counting the months to see how long they survive.

This is a perfect story for Yelp and Google Reviews (the only thing keeping me from posting there is that I hate leaving negative reviews…but maybe I should in this case).

With just one dining experience, this restaurant has negated any amount of marketing they could throw at us. Multiply that by the number of other patrons who’ve had a similar experience. These guys are essentially spending money to drive people away.

The following night, I took my wife out for Valentine’s Day.

We ate at Crab Hut. We had a delicious seafood meal.

More notably, the server was among the most congenial and attentive we’ve ever experienced. It was night and day from what we’d encountered just the night before. WE LOVE CRAB HUT! And I will sing their praises from the highest rooftops.

That’s FREE marketing folks. For Crab Hut. All because they treated us right. And we’ll definitely be back. Again and again.

Customer service IS marketing.

Those of us who run companies need to start giving customer service the emphasis it’s due.

Customer service.

Not lip service.

The profitability and the viability of our businesses depend on it.

Ron Marcus is the principal of BRANDV I V O™, a brand and marketing consultancy. He’s been helping businesses and nonprofits create and live authentic, successful brands in service of people for thirty years.

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