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Is Customer Service the New Marketing?

Today, consumers tend to base their purchase decisions on reviews, social media, and referrals from friends. They are interested in marketing, but only if it matches their expectations about the brand.

Customer service is one of the best avenues for directly influencing this perception. So is customer service the new marketing?

This topic was at the center of a recent Google+ Debate that I moderated, hosted by research firm Software Advice. A panel of experts discussed what kinds of companies should embrace a customer-centric strategy as a form of marketing, and how they go about implementing this approach.

The speakers included:

* Shep Hyken, a customer experience expert, keynote speaker, author, and chief amazement officer of Shepard Presentations.

* Micah Solomon, a top keynote speaker, thought leader, bestselling author, and consultant.

* Denis Pombriant, CEO and cofounder of the Beagle Research Group.

* Jon Miller, marketing vice president and cofounder of marketing automation vendor Marketo.

Here’s a quick snapshot of their discussion:

The group first emphasized the importance of mirroring your customers’ expectations, rather than trying to dictate your brand to them. Customers won’t believe what you say about yourself unless it matches what their social networks also say about you. This can be amazing customer service, or it can be price, selection, or something else.

For companies that do want to implement a Zappos-like level of customer service, you need to start at the top. Make the decision to put the customer at the center of your business, then reinforce the idea with processes, resources, and measurement.

Next, the panelists talked about breaking the bounds of marketing and customer service departments. Instead of feeling that you have to choose one or the other, leverage them together. Retweet an interesting customer service interaction on Twitter. Or get service agents to collaborate on buyer persona development. Be creative.

Finally, the group said the most important thing marketers need to consider is that the buyer is in control of their buying process. You can’t decide what information they will go after, or when, so you still need to make your company as attractive as possible. Customer service is just a piece of that puzzle.

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