​4 brand leaders building the bridge between marketing and customer service

Mercer, Audi, Sumo Salad and Powershop customer and marketing chiefs share their journey to a connected customer experience

Powershop chief customer officer, Catherine Anderson, doesn’t see it as customer centricity; she sees it as common sense.

“The word ‘united’ is such a positive one and it is common sense,” she says of the retail utility provider’s decision to bring marketing, customer service and sales teams into one central function under her leadership.

“We got to a point where we knew it made sense for our businesses and ultimately, our customers. In the end, the business is going to win and customers will win.”

As organisations look to compete on customer experience, it’s to be expected the people, processes and technologies supporting all touchpoints within their customers’ journeys operate more in harmony. And arguably, there are no two more important teams in this picture than marketing and customer service.

The morphing of CMOs into chief customer officers in Australia has become the headline example of how organisations are striving to connect what have been distinct functional responsibilities of marketing and customer experience and service into one unified approach.

But as customer experience leadership expert, Jeanne Bliss, points out, it’s a marriage of responsibilities that have traditionally sat in silos, often misunderstood, disconnected and reflective of different skillsets.

“Each over time has become pigeonholed by organisations seeing them as one specific function,” Bliss tells CMO. “The call centre folks have a hard time getting out of the box of running a call centre, when in fact they hold a large amount of goals that can drive customer change. They’re still representing back about calls and complaints, when the work of the organisation should be addressing the issues resulting in these calls.

“In traditional marketing, there must be a focus on gaining operational experience, and experience in change management and employee and human sides of the business if they really want to be the drivers of customer-led transformation. Yet for a long time, marketing has been cordoned off and not involved from an operational standpoint.”

A chasm emerges between experience and marketing teams because both feel or perceive their job is to drive loyalty or advocacy, yet they’re not recognising each other’s role in the value chain, Bliss says.

“Those need to be merged,” she says. “We need to get out of the way of our own traditional siloed definitions of these functions.”

Because improving customer experience is ultimately impacted by the underbelly of an organisation and whether there is a culture of working together and trusting each other.

“It’s about collaboration, opening each other’s kimonos and working together versus separately. That’s a vulnerability people aren’t necessarily used to,” Bliss says.

Go looking though, and you can find examples of organisations actively bringing marketing and customer service teams together in the name of customer centricity.

Here, we speak to four Australian brand leaders leading the charge to find out what it takes to build a unified marketing and services front.

Powershop and the chief customer officer remit

A big benefit for Anderson having one customer team at Powershop is the efficiencies along the way. “But more than that, it’s the sharing,” she says.

“You have people under a common division and name, and there’s no longer a fear of sharing what’s going on and what the learnings were. We’ve found a particular learning from a customer service agent can be immediately applied to a marketing EDM about to go out. It saves so much time.”  

What’s more, Powershop boasts of marketers who understand what telephony metrics are and what average waiting time means. Equally, customer service reps are starting to understand brand awareness, why it’s important and what it means for customers calling through.

Being just five years old, Anderson agrees Powershop’s youth as a business is in its favour.  

“Having a culture so willing to try new things meant we didn’t have the stumbling blocks others may face,” she says. “If you have the right culture, and a team willing to try anything, you’re nine-tenths of the way there.”  

CEO-level backing also ensured everyone saw value in structural change and supported it. Anderson says showing quick wins has helped with keeping up momentum and buy-in.

“What other teams saw was streamlined work, and sales, marketing and customer service upskilling each other,” she says. “They also didn’t have to deal with three separate departments. Having those quick efficiency wins was very helpful.

“The motivation, attitude and work spoke for itself.”

Where challenges lay were in getting people out of their own head and remit, and being more respectful of how their actions could affect others, Anderson says.

“For example, seeing sales delay a decision because the rest of the business wasn’t ready to deal with the repercussions of that decision, and helping people understand why they were doing things for the greater team,” she says. “You’re always going to have that when you bring any groups of different people together – people will fight for their passion – and I know I had to force myself to adopt a wider team mindset. That just took time, and we’ve built better bonds as we went.”  

Supporting technology tools include Slack and a customer team channel that allows people from across functions to post comments and feedback from customers in real-time, share updates about marketing, and talk about the energy industry in general.

Another step making collaboration easier was to stopping looking at people based on which team they sit in. “For example, we bring customer service agents to higher level strategy days. We didn’t use to do that,” Anderson says.

“We end up drilling them with questions, as we’re getting insights we can’t get from different levels of data or metrics. We need a customer representative at every strategy and marketing planning meeting as we need their voice. It’s which data versus which voice you bring in. We have had agents who spend all day handling customer service queries, coming into executive meetings and drilling down into their insights.”

Powershop also hosts a monthly customer team meeting, and has buddied up a marketer with a customer service representative, “so they always have someone to go to with a quick query”, Anderson said.

“We started bringing customer service reps to large briefer meetings with agencies to get their feedback,” she added. “They love being asked. If you ignore people supporting and talking to your customers, you’re not working efficiently. Being able to just involve them in those agency discussions has enormous benefits down the track.”

Up next: Sumo Salad, Audi and Mercer on their efforts to bring marketing and customer service together

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