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Conjoining vs. Conflating marketing and customer service


Near-term, commerce will see marketing and customer service conjoindefined as “to join together (things, such as separate entities) for a common purpose.”

Ultimately, I believe the two will conflate—viewed as combining two or more ideas into one.

It’s kind of like the difference between a strategic partnership, where two companies work together toward a common purpose; and two companies becoming one entity.

In recent years, the conjoining of marketing and customer service has become more pronounced and apparent in a variety of ways.

In a 2018 Forbes.com article, contributor Micah Solomon notes, “Customer service is the new marketing, and it’s the new sales engine.  Some organizations, large (Amazon, Apple, Patagonia) and small (your favorite local hair salon, perhaps, or local restaurant) already understand this. They’ve learned to focus their efforts on great customer service and let that customer service drive future sales…”

According to the late Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, “We believe that customer service shouldn’t be just a department; it should be the entire company.”

Despite increasing conjoining of the two, there are still many companies that view marketing as what they claim (true or not) versus what they have to deliver—enough customer service to avoid damaging their reputation and generating bad word-of-mouth.

Conflation of the two will occur when what the company communicates aligns with what they deliver—performance matching promises. My longstanding favorite example, Costco, already has conflated marketing and customer service. With no formal marketing and advertising department, their brand of stellar customer service has carried the day, with an impressive reputation and constantly glowing word-of-mouth. Echoing Hsieh’s words, Costco’s customer service is the entire company.

Given its growth and profitability, bottom-liners get to see the results they want. Hsieh also addressed the importance of a correct culture to drive it all, noting, “Our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff, like great customer service or building a great long-term brand or empowering passionate employees and customers will happen on its own.” 

Even as the “Great Resignation” continues, I still see many familiar employee faces at Costco. I conclude that they’re both empowered and passionate.

Costco’s incredibly liberal return policies also resonate with Hsieh’s practices. Notes wsj.com, “ Tony Hsieh, the former chief executive of Zappos.com Inc., helped build the online shoe retailer with a model of customer service that rested on a simple premise: Make every customer as happy as possible, even at the expense of sales—in the short term.”

What Costco loses in sales short-term through this liberal return policy gets much more than made up with purchases made by consumers who are confident they can get satisfaction if there’s a problem. Costco has been my #1 go-to for decades because I know I’ll get fairly treated after the sale as well as before.

My most dramatic example in the last year was a flooring redo through Costco. I felt, and confirmed with their designated corporate representative, that they would back me up if I had problems post-installation. I did, and Costco is backstopping resolution every step of the way through their third-party partner that originally installed the flooring. I don’t know how many companies in any construction-related area would have provided this type of stellar service, especially with a pandemic in the middle of everything. Fortunately, all I had to know was one—Costco.

As frustration with poor customer service mounts in our currently challenging environment, concurrent with enlightenment among companies determined to make customer service their be-all-end-all, the ultimate result will be conflation of marketing and customer service. Companies that conflate will grow and prosper; those that don’t will wither and die.

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Customer service, especially a perceived lack of it, can impact a company’s reputation—and profitability—in no time flat. In part, this is why customer service really is a company’s “everything” at this point in time. Marketing campaigns unsupported by stable or stellar customer service are proving a waste of time and money—as consumers see through marketing promises that don’t seem to match up to customer service performance. Great customer service is a company’s best marketing. When customer service goes south, so do company reputations, reviews, stock prices, employee satisfaction, and revenues.

Mark Lusky

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