Imagine: You have a new marketing employee who can consistently uncover people looking for your products and services before they contact a vendor. This employee adds credibility by speaking candidly about the products and services you offer, and provides a vision of what it's like to be a customer at your company. He is regarded by your customers as their top resource for product and service insight, and as a result, he helps to increase your business by as much as 10 percent annually.
Sounds like someone might deserve a raise, doesn't it?
The good- or bad- news is that almost all companies have this employee on staff in the form of their online presence. Increasingly consumers are turning to online review sites to help break through marketing white noise and learn from others what it's actually like to do business with vendors before reaching out to them. And they're working 24 x 7 via Yelp, Google Reviews, Glassdoor, Angie's List, Amazon, Rip-off Report, Kudzu, and others. Research shows 60 percent of buying decisions are now made prior to vendor contact-a stark contrast from even just a few years ago. In other words, if you have an effective marketer in the field, you're driving customers to you that you otherwise wouldn't attract and reaping big rewards as a result. Industry statistics vary, but the impact ranges from a 3 to 10 percent up-or-down-tick in revenues. Not chicken feed.
On the other hand, if you've got a poor online marketing and review presence, you're being eliminated from contention in many cases before you even knew you were in the game. Imagine if your top customers read a bad review and went elsewhere as a result. Now imagine this scenario potentially happening daily every time the wrong message is delivered.
Takeaway: Marketers function in tandem with the level of customer experience and feedback provided. Their success, i.e. ability to support sales, and move the revenue needle, relies entirely on the product and service quality and customer experience.
The good news is that in most cases, the negative repercussions of poor product and service quality can be overcome with positive customer service. In fact, studies show the way companies address and resolve an issue is where brand loyalty is often created. Didn't provide a perfect product this time? Service delivery less than stellar? Don't worry about it, make it better than right- prove to the customer that their satisfaction personally matters, and you'll have had them at hello. And they'll likely reward your efforts with a "love letter" posted online for everyone else to see what a great relationship you both have. Priceless.
Question: With stakes this high and the need to provide a superior customer experience that's reflected online, is it time to re-examine the role of customer service within your organization? Once considered a necessary operating expense, customer support and call centers are now demonstrating an ability to generate revenue. Should you:
Reconsider who is currently interacting one to one with your customer base?
Are their personalities suited to effectively dealing with people and solving customer problems?
Are they well-educated in product knowledge and empathy, or just reading from scripts?
Do the tools provided enable them to succeed and address issues quickly and effectively?
Once the customer's issue is successfully resolved, can sincere and helpful suggestive selling be incorporated when appropriate, creating a new revenue source?
Should customer service become a more lucrative career path in order to attract higher quality candidates?
This transformation is the beginning of a new era-Customer Service 3.0- an epiphany that customer service is no longer just a cost center to solve customer problems, but instead, a powerful marketing and sales tool to drive revenue. While online reviews have existed for decades, we're finally at a stage where we can measure and understand their impact on profitability.
My prediction: We live and work in a customer-driven economy. How companies adapt to meet changing customer demands now will dramatically impact how well they retain existing customers. Further, if companies are able to predict and meet future customer needs they will gain access to new customers, i.e. new revenue streams, and position their organizations for long term growth.