The value of integrating customer contact into your online marketing efforts

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Companies are licking their chops to develop online marketing campaigns to take advantage social media’s ability to reach a targeted audience of engaged consumers. However, in the rush to use these channels for branding and to tap create sales, many executives have failed to address the service component. Successful business leaders are making the strategic decision to coordinate the activities of their sales, marketing, and contact center service functions before launching a new campaign – not as an afterthought.

Come to think about it, this challenge isn’t a recent development: in the (long ago) days of more traditional marketing, a print ad containing the wrong price for an offer could result in a barrage of complaints or inquiries. Often, the contact center wasn’t informed of the special or the error, leaving them flatfooted when people started calling. Then, as now, a lack of coordination could cause lasting reputational damage to a company that was ill prepared to deal with an issue.

Two recent examples highlight the lightning-fast ripple effect that social media has spawned. In the first, Air New Zealand heavily promoted a special offer that would be available on Facebook for just one hour. The promotion was a success, with 46,000 Facebook members ready to pounce on the cheap ticket deal. When the offer went live, the volume of traffic overloaded the Facebook app, leading to confusion, frustration, disappointment, and the inevitable venting in online forums.

Similarly, Amazon’s recent offer of Lady Gaga’s album had the potential of introducing hundreds of thousands of music buyers to Amazon’s platform. What could go wrong? Although Amazon is recognized as a customer service champion, the flood of traffic overwhelmed its website, resulting in album downloads that took hours. Instead of an army of new converts, the company instead had to cope with a PR nightmare. Its second attempt to sell the album was also marked by technical glitches.

Both incidents included tepid customer service responses. Air New Zealand provided this explanation: “Hi everyone, thanks for taking the time to participate. Unfortunately due to high demand and initial technical difficulties not everyone has been able to access the deal… Keep your eyes out for more upcoming Facebook Only sales in the very near future.” How would you react if a company that had just failed spectacularly instead treated it as an opportunity to promote other deals?

Let’s learn from our marketing and service predecessors and institute safeguards to ensure that no new deals or campaigns are launched without first briefing the customer contact organization. In addition, since online marketing has a strong technology component, IT should also be looped in to identify any potential issues before launch and devise a post-launch strategy to respond to mishaps. Only then can the sales, marketing, and contact center functions develop service recovery measures so that the company doesn’t end up in a worse place because of well-intentioned promotion gone wrong.

So while the problem isn’t new and the solution seems to be common sense, many organizations have yet to adopt a more integrated approach. As these two experiences drive home, companies shouldn’t dip their toe into the social media pool without a well developed plan in the event they fall in.