How to Turn the Call Center into a Meaningful Marketing Platform

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Posted: 11/28/2009
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I will always remember one of my first days as a brand marketer at Procter & Gamble, when I visited our call center team as part of a general onboarding to each of the parts of our business. In a large office across the street from our Cincinnati headquarters, I got to listen in on dozens of calls from consumers who had questions about whether Mr. Clean was safe on their wood floors, complaints about the new scent of Tide, and compliments on the grease-fighting power of Dawn. I was immediately fascinated by the pure feedback from a small representative of the millions of people that used our products daily, and I was impressed with the call center professionals’ skilled handling of new contact.

I remember thinking that if the world could hear these calls it just might be the best form of marketing for P&G’s high quality products and the people behind them. If a broader base of customers could "listen in" like I do, they would hear about products that consistently perform very well, and they would know that this big, "faceless" corporation does stand behind its products and has great people making them better every day. This dream was impossible in those days. But today digital technology and social sharing is making this idea possible. And at a time when companies are struggling with tighter budgets and less effective traditional advertising tools, open sharing of call center exchanges just might lead to more meaningful customer connections and higher sales.

Word of Mouse

In many ways the one-to-one exchanges between customers and customer service representatives is already a form of public media thanks to digital sharing. Unfortunately this has mainly meant that the customers’ worst experiences are shared with no holds barred. One of the most popular topics for any given blogger is a recap of a poor customer service experience. And infamous examples of bad customer service pop up in excruciating detail every few months, powered by simple tools like YouTube and Twitter. Who can forget the audio recording of the customer who was unable to cancel his AOL account—or the YouTube video of a Comcast technician who fell asleep on a homeowner’s couch while he was kept on hold by his own call center?

But if these negative examples can be shared and spread quickly, what about the many positive customer service experiences that great companies spawn each day? A growing number of companies are embracing this new era of openness by sharing even these once personal exchanges, and finding a new way to earn a marketing return on their call center investment.

Perhaps the most public call center activity is happening around the hottest new social media tool, Twitter. Millions of people are sharing their thoughts about products and services in 140 characters or less with their followers through this tool, and studies suggest that as high as 30 percent of all Twitter posts involve specific brands.



Turning PR Nightmares into Marketing Opportunities with Social Media

The forward-thinking call center is already monitoring what customers are saying, and a handful of call centers openly reply when people publicly vent. Companies as diverse as Dell, Nordstrom and Honda all monitor negative posts on Twitter and respond with a "How can we help?" These companies understand that complaints online from highly-connected Twitter users can be turned from a PR nightmare into a marketing opportunity when a fast response follows quickly for all of the customers’ followers to see.

The opportunity to turn customer service into a public marketing platform is perhaps best shown in the success of the Zappos call center. The online shoe-seller has risen to lead the category with a focus on winning its customers over, and its call center employees use social media to connect with the public. A visit to http://twitter.zappos.com shows real conversations between Zappos staff and its customers on topics as diverse as what’s new in fashion and how pregnancy impacts shoe size.

Imagine if customer service calls were transcribed and searchable through Google, and if customer service online happened mainly in an open discussion board, rather than in closed-off email accounts. Of course companies would have to ask permission for these conversations to be shared, but if only 10 percent of these exchanges were available it would create enormous content and search marketing results. After a positive experience, call center representatives could simply end the call by asking customers to share their experience online, and send them one-click ways to share their feedback with friends on Facebook or Twitter. Studies show that even negative customer feedback and reviews help add credibility to a brand.

At Last the Call Center and Marketing Unite

The possibilities are great and only growing as our society continues to embrace digital technologies to deepen personal connections. The first step is for the call center and marketing department together again to build joint plans. All too often these critical groups with common responsibility for customer relationships are separated in different offices, if not different countries. In many ways marketing and customer service roles are merging—as customer service can be the best or worst marketing when people pay much more attention to word-of-mouth than interruptive advertising. By combining forces the two groups can guide their brands through this turbulent time and drive success through this next evolution of marketing.

First published on Call Center IQ. Find out more on Bob Gilbreath's book The Next Evolution of Marketing: Connect With Your Customers By Marketing with Meaning.

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