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Lessons From My Chimney Cleaner About Service and Marketing Best Practices

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A few weeks ago I called a local chimney-cleaning company and set up an appointment for a cleaning. When the workmen arrived, I asked them to remove their sooty shoes when walking around the house. Despite this request, the workers left an ugly trail of black soot stains on our basement carpeting.

So began a fascinating opportunity to experience how some companies are mastering the integration of marketing and customer service. My problem was turned into a marketing opportunity by the company -- but only because the person I spoke with to file my complaint understood that customer service is actually a marketing opportunity. That person happened to be the owner of the company.

Viewing customer service and marketing as two sides of the same coin is the first step in turning service disasters into marketing opportunities. This can only occur if marketing and customer service teams work together based on the recognition that customer retention is essential. Marketing can no longer afford to view customer service as a labor intensive "operations" function. In this era of empowered consumers with social media megaphones, the ability of dissatisfied customers to voice their opinions worldwide is astonishing and frightening.

Back to my chimney-cleaning saga: The owner listened carefully to my complaint and acknowledged his company's responsibility for the problem. He said, "On behalf of our company, I would like to apologize for what happened. I would also like to thank you for taking the time to call. We will do what it takes to clean up the mess we created."

The owner and I reviewed the details of the damage and the follow-up action, which was to have a professional carpet cleaning company come to my home within a week, at no charge. I then asked why he had thanked me for making the call. His reply was the essence of both great marketing and great customer service.

He said, "I want to be able to go to your home next year and the following year and the year after that, to clean your chimney. By calling our company, you provided me with the opportunity to prove to you that, while we made a mistake, we have the professionalism and integrity to take care of our customers. I want to prove to you, that even though we have already been paid for this job, we are not just looking for the bucks. I want you as a long-term customer."

I was intrigued. What he had just said was in line with one of the most important, though often overlooked tenets of innovative marketing: One of the most important metrics for identifying the success of a marketing initiative is its capacity to generate repeat purchases.

I asked about the company's customer service team. Was I getting a good outcome simply because I had been lucky enough to speak with the owner of the company? Or was this approach really part of the organization's service culture?

My call, as it turned out, had been no accident. Customer service reps at this firm were empowered to resolve customer problems; they worked closely with the marketing department to ensure that customer acquisition and retention were tightly integrated.

This was a fairly small company, a fact that intrigues me on two fronts. First, smaller organizations (which are likely to have fewer problems with "turf and fiefdoms"), may well have the inside track when it comes to seamlessly coordinating marketing and customer service efforts. Second, those companies that do manage to integrate these departments successfully find themselves in a position to significantly improve the customer experience and increase customer lifetime value.

Here are seven tips to help you improve your customer experience:

1. Do not view customer service call centers as cost centers. These are revenue centers.

2. Customers' post-sales experiences have significant impact on repeat purchase likelihood and willingness to recommend the company. Companies must consider the financial ramifications of losing customers due to poor post-sale experiences.

3. Do not cut back on training, quality control procedures, and related investments in customer service call centers.

4. Remember that it's seven to 10 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to sell an existing customer.

5. Mistakes happen. Make sure that, when they do, your frontline people are empowered to take responsibility for those mistakes, and propose a solution that is fair to the customer.

6. Customers expect high-quality post-sale support. If it is lacking, they will not only be inclined to go elsewhere, but they will also be inclined to use the power of social media to let others know about their dissatisfaction.

7. The big question is not whether we can get a customer to buy from us once, but whether, after a customer service problem, we can get him or her to buy from us a second time. What kind of experience will make a customer decide not only that he or she isn't going to demand a refund, but that a repeat purchase is in order?

The owner of that chimney-cleaning company knew that I, as his customer, considered the marketing and customer service experience to be inseparable -- so he made sure that he and his entire team operated under the same assumption. As a result, I am now a satisfied customer, a committed candidate for repeat business -- and an evangelist for his firm.

Ernan Roman is President of the marketing consultancy, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.
Recognized as the industry pioneer who created three transformational methodologies: Integrated Direct Marketing, Opt-In Marketing, and Voice of Customer Relationship Research.


Cross posted at 1to1® Media.