Customer Service Is Key Strategy

Forget about advertising, forget about new media, forget about social media. The real action is going to be in customer service.
Customer service? You mean those exotic sounding people in our outsourced call center in India? Or the FAQ’s buried somewhere deep on our Web site? Or the automated voice-prompted instructions on our telephone? Surely you jest?
Actually, I’m dead serious.
Or perhaps you’re wondering, “How is this my problem?”  “I’m in advertising” or “I’m a storyteller,” you might add. “I’m a brand builder” or “I’m a user architect,” you might retort. In all of these cases, customer service is more relevant than you could ever imagine.
Get as excited as you want to about a bumper Super Bowl audience this year. Or the anomalies of a few other well-rated events. But how does this help you if you’re Toyota dealing with the largest auto recall in recent times? Or Domino’s attempting to recover from a viral video hangover? Or United Airlines that found out the difference between band and brand is an “r” that stands for reputation (or perhaps “revenue”) as far as Dave Carroll and his guitar were concerned. Or Southwest Airlines that in spite of more than 1 million followers on Twitter discovered Bob (or rather, Kevin) was not so silent. Or Evergreen Cinemas that learned when a customer threatens to “drive to White Bear Lake” for a better experience, the appropriate response is not “to go fuck yourself” from the cinema’s vice president, who also happens to be the CEO’s son.
Last year I attended Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum in New York. At the exact moment in time, there was a silly little ad festival going on in the South of France. I thought to myself, “Which event is more likely to help attendees keep their jobs?” It was a rhetorical question really.
Whether you know it or not and whether you like it or not, the phrases or philosophies of “customer experience,” “voice of the customer” or even the back office concept of “retention” are going to become beyond critical in your corporate lexicon. Learn them or else. Master them and you might just separate yourselves from your competitors at a pace never imagined or seen before.
My belief is that “customer service” (or “servicing customers” — it’s the same thing) is the new marketing, the new PR, even the new crisis communication. During increasingly confusing, cluttered and complex times, what is it that really separates — or differentiates — one company, product, service or brand from another?
Until recently, I might have told you to “join the conversation” and instead of expecting your consumers to fit into your brand’s space, flip that on its head and attempt to find context, relevance and purpose by fitting into theirs. Today, I need to evolve that call to action to be a little more focused and relevant. With whom should we be having these conversations? The answer is obvious: your customers.
Customers are our lifeblood. They’re the reason why we’re in business at all. In fact, it is almost solely because of them that we have these fancy marketing budgets in the first place. Why then do we neglect them directly (apathy, indifference, lack of respect, non-response) or indirectly (relatively overspending on “perfect strangers,” aka acquisition)?
Do you even know what percentage of your revenue comes from returning customers versus first-time ones? And if you are aware of this number, what are you spending on — or perhaps I should say investing in — them? Or is there a gaping void or chasm that lies in between? 

What would happen if you changed it all up? What would happen if you flipped it all on its head and invested in your customers commensurately with their investment in you? Perhaps then, instead of a funnel that keeps on getting smaller and smaller, you’d end up with one that only expands over time — expanding your customer base, word-of-mouth platform and revenues in the process.
It all begins with the elevation of customer service from an outsourced “department” to a key — if not the key — component of the marketing pecking order, a critical part of the strategic planning process, perhaps even at the head of the table.
But don’t take my word for it. Just asked Zappos, USAA, Best Buy, Method, Virgin America, Kayak, Umpqua Bank and the list goes on.
Thank you. Come again.
Joseph Jaffe is chief interrupter at Powered and the author of Flip the Funnel: How to Use Existing Customers to Gain New Ones. You can contact him at