Customer Service Is Your Marketing Strategy

To have a successful social media strategy, customer service will need to play a prominent role— blurring the boundaries between service and brand marketing.

November 26 2012 by Joshua March


Corporate social media started out in the marketing department, and has become established as an effective marketing route. A recent survey from Call Centre Helper found that the marketing department controls social media in 79% of businesses. In another study, however, 75% of marketers noted customer service as a primary use of their social channels. The public nature of customer service through social channels means that it has a big effect on your brand, and can be a powerful marketing tool if used properly. Take Four Seasons, for instance, who proactively helped a guest who posted a photo of their disappointing room on Instagram. After being given a different room, the guest shared another photo unsolicited, this time in praise of Four Seasons and the excellent care they provided. On social media you have the opportunity to delight your customers by promptly giving them the help they ask for, and be recognized for it publicly— while at the same time generating hugely valuable customer insight to feed into your marketing machine.

Providing good customer service is the best kind of social marketing. The endorsements that happy customers give your company are the best kind of brand promotion you can get, genuine and objective, from a highly trusted source. A survey conducted by American Marketing Association found that 90% of consumers trust peer reviews, and 70% trust online reviews.

On the other side of the coin, failing to deliver great service over social carries big risks. Complaints and questions voiced on social media are highly visible to other customers, and if you fail to acknowledge them your reputation can quickly deteriorate. For example, a study we conducted earlier this year entitled “Top US Clothing Retailers on their Customer Service Response Times on Twitter” showed that retail giant Gap was ignoring complaints on Twitter about damaged clothing, among other issues, while customers subsequently shared their problems on the platform. If Gap had responded and intervened earlier, their reputation with these customers may have been salvaged. The ongoing silence from the Gap led many customers to abandon their loyalty to the brand and take their business elsewhere. In addition to the day-to-day brand damage (88% of consumers are less likely to buy from companies when they discover they ignore customer complaints online*[link to our study here]), neglecting social customer service can have more disastrous consequences – people sharing poor customer experiences is the number one cause of social media crises.

Customers who are helped over social media are highly likely to become brand advocates, spreading their stories and recommending you to others. Dell has recently reported that 40% of upset customers end up publicly promoting the company after being helped by their social outreach team. Turning negative sentiment into positive sentiment simply by giving your customers the help they are asking for goes a long way in the public arena of social media. In any case, the only way you can do that is to train real customer service agents in social, emphasizing the importance of resolving real issues directly.

Marketing teams don’t have the skills or resources to solve real customer service issues, and you can’t community manage someone who needs a refund. Leading companies have set up social customer service teams, trained in social and tone of voice by their marketing departments. This requires marketing and customer service teams to work together – which can only happen if senior management makes it happen.

Customer service is rapidly becoming an essential part of marketing, and the most successful brands of tomorrow will be the ones that understand this. CEOs have a responsibility to recognize the need for great social customer service and ensure that a) customer service departments are allocated the necessary resources, and b) marketing departments give customer service the attention it deserves.

Joshua March is the co-founder and CEO of Conversocial, a venture backed SaaS company providing customer service software for Facebook and Twitter for companies such as Tesco, Groupon, Net-A-Porter and River Island. It grew out of iPlatform, the UK’s leading social app development company (and the first official Facebook Preferred Developer Consultants in the UK), which he co-founded in 2008, which has built major social campaigns for Big Brother, The Economist, Swatch, ITV and Facebook themselves.From 2008-2010 March was the chairman of the Facebook Developer Garage, London, an official Facebook event running monthly for developers, entrepreneurs and marketers working on the Facebook platform, which he helped found in 2007.