Marketing's Holiday Strategy: Customer Service



Brian Jameson
12/21/2010

Is it just me, or have you noticed Marketing’s new secret weapon, Customer Service?

It’s common to hear sales teams and executives point out their company’s superb customer service as a competitive advantage, seldom translating into front line marketing/advertising messages that consumers see. Until now at least. With economic activity still relatively stagnant, and as products and services become more standardized and commoditized, companies are increasingly choosing to compete on customer service and experience-based differentiation.

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Marketing communication pro’s and advertising agencies typically leverage emotion, argument, or endorsement strategies in order to elicit a reaction (Brand Awareness, Brand Purchase, Brand Recall) when conveying messages.

As of late, consumers are seeing television advertisements with Customer Service messages woven into these strategies to attract customers with superior customer service claims. Here is how some companies are embracing customer service in their television ads:

Discover’s "Want Better Customer Service?" Campaign

Discover developed a humorous series of commercials (and a Facebook page) about Peggy, who works as a call center employee for a fictional credit card company based in a remote ice covered landscape. Peggy is actually a man with an Eastern European accent who fumbles calls, maintains long hold times, lies to customers, and is pleasantly ineffective in helping customers. This commercial pokes fun at the poor state of customer service in the credit card industry while at the same time highlighting Discover’s award winning customer service. Discover uses emotion and humor to build consumer awareness and hopefully attract credit card holders with superior customer service.

eSurance’s "People When You Want, People When You Don’t" Campaign

Consumer preference for interaction channels are mostly divided between the phone and web self service options. Some customers like to pick up the phone, and some don’t. eSurance highlights the choice their customers have by showcasing one of their Online Coverage Counselors being "copied" for an electronic web version.

This commercial minimizes the disparity between a phone experience and a web experience for eSurance customers. eSurance uses customer service features like "Online Coverage Counselor" to make the argument that regardless of the channel the customer uses, the experience will be consistent.

Best Buy’s "Who’s Supporting Christmas" Commercial

In this commercial, Best Buy introduces Kenneth, an animated elf leading Best Buy’s customer support this holiday season. In a motivational speech, he rally’s his fellow elves to provide great support this holiday season over the phone, online, and…. on Christmas Day!

By highlighting this customer service advantage, Best Buy is attempting to raise customer expectations by offering to service them on the day when many people may have to support needs for newly opened gifts when most businesses are closed. Best Buy leverages this customer service advantage as a logical reason for them to buy holiday gifts from their stores.

The idea of Marketing "Customer Service" is not a new strategy. In the 1990’s, Valeria Zeithaml and Mary Jo Bitner founded the concepts of "Services Marketing" which highlighted 5 potential areas for gaps in delivering services to customers:

  1. Customer Gap: Difference between customer expectations and perceptions
  2. Provider Gap 1: Not knowing what customers expect
  3. Provider Gap 2: Not selecting the right service designs and standards
  4. Provider Gap 3: Not delivering to service standards
  5. Provider Gap 4: Not matching performance to promises

The Services Gap Model is more likened to MBA lectures and case studies, and is not exactly dinner table discussion material. However, its concept points to the tactics we see companies deploying customer service as a marketing tool some 20 years later.

When companies minimize the internal and external communication gaps, understand their customers, set realistic expectations, and deliver on promises, a great experience is realized by the customer.

Zappos CEO Tony Hseih built a business model around customer service and has this to say about it, "at the end of the day, we aren’t in the selling shoes online business, we are in the stories and memories business. If we can create a WOW customer experience every time someone interacts with our brand, then those customers become our best marketing effort."

In today’s hyper-connected world, a happy customer is a marketer’s best friend. Customers make their experiences very public on Facebook, Twitter, millions of blogs, and consumer reviews sites. A great experience can lead to word of mouth and referral business. To that same point, a bad customer experience can easily go viral with a catchy tune or a sad-but-true blog post. Social CRM thought leader Brent Leary stated, "In the social age, customer service is the new marketing."

How many times have you read reviews on a restaurant or laptop computer before making a purchasing decision? Think about the powerthat the consumer has now.

Whether you choose to follow the Services Gap Model or develop a Customer Experience Management strategy, customer service as a marketing strategy has staying power in our commoditized, social world.

For this reason, it’s nearly impossible to fake it. You can only market to what is true. If you don’t have great customer service, tell customers that you acknowledge the pitfalls and that you are working hard to fix them.

Don’t put lipstick on that pig! That’s what Domino’s Pizza has done with "Show Us Your Pizza". If your company has created a service innovation or received a customer service award, it’s time to tell the world how great you treat your customers. They will respond to it.

For further reading on this subject, check out Brian’s article When Poor Customer Service Goes Viral