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For the Customer’s Sake, Don’t Let Marketing Own the Contact Center

For the Customer’s Sake, Don’t Let Marketing Own the Contact Center

For the Customer’s Sake, Don’t Let Marketing Own the Contact Center

It’s time for contact centers to step out of the shadow of marketing. What contact centers need from marketing is information, not instruction.

8/5/2004
By Donna Fluss
Callcenter Magazine

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Oh, no. Here we go again. The debate over control of the contact center flares anew. In an April report by analysts Elana Anderson and John Ragsdale, Forrester Research asserts “Why Marketing Should Own the Contact Center.” This is neither a revolutionary concept nor an original one. The last time marketing was given responsibility for contact center transactions was in the period between 1996 and 1999, when the Web first became hot. Marketing departments owned Web sites and wanted to handle customer inquiries that came from this channel.

This idea sounded logical at the time. But it wasn’t. It was painful for companies and their customers. Marketing departments weren’t prepared for or equipped to handle the deluge of e-mail and Web-based inquiries – the primary reason contact centers were built. After receiving many complaints about customer service on their Web sites, marketing departments quietly passed responsibility for these inquires to their contact centers, where they belonged.

Forrester’s conclusion and action item are wrong. The mission of marketing is to analyze and spot trends in customer data to create revenue opportunities, not to respond to customer inquiries. Marketing departments should not “own” contact centers, as they’re not prepared or even interested in dealing directly with large numbers of customers.

Contact centers have more meaningful interactions with customers than any other area of a company. A company that can optimize these interactions will achieve three essential goals: providing outstanding customer experiences, increasing revenue and retaining customers.

Putting marketing in charge of contact centers won’t bring about these objectives. Instead, it places contact centers at risk of losing sight of their primary customer service mission. Without a strong focus on service, contact centers stand little chance of leveraging customer relationships for incremental revenue.

Forrester’s report accurately pointed out the “declining effectiveness of traditional marketing tactics.” Ironically, the report cited this trend as a reason to give marketing responsibility for managing contact centers. There are many reasons why marketing departments are less successful than in prior years. Federal Do-Not-Call legislation, passed last fall to limit outbound calling, is one possible explanation; anti-spam legislation is another. But marketing performance was already declining even before the introduction of these external regulations. The analysts’ observations actually suggest another conclusion: rather than demanding control of contact centers and changing contact centers’ missions from service to sales, marketing departments themselves should concentrate on becoming more effective. It doesn’t make sense to reward marketing departments for poor performance by giving them new responsibilities they’ve already proven they can’t handle.

It’s time for contact centers to step out of the shadow of marketing, and instead establish parity. Companies must promote contact centers within their organizations so that they report to the same executives as sales and marketing departments. They should compensate contact center managers in the same pay range as their peers.

Executive management must empower contact centers by converting them from cost centers to profit centers, and giving them corporate revenue goals aligned with departmental objectives.

Contact centers have been eager to contribute to corporate revenue goals for years and welcome the opportunity to do so. They have great potential as sales channels because customers share their preferences and needs during service interactions. But contact center agents do not have access to the marketing information needed to sell in real time, at the point of customer-initiated contact. What contact centers need from marketing is information, not instruction.

That doesn’t mean contact centers should get a free ride. They, too, must open up their resources and freely share customer information with all customer-facing departments on a timely basis. Marketing, after all, does need help and support from contact centers. Both marketing and sales teams are increasingly dependent upon real- or near-real time customer insights that are available in contact centers. If contact centers were better at sharing customer information, there wouldn’t be as great a need to “own” them. But marketing does not want and is not prepared to handle the day-to-day responsibility of managing customer interactions. If you have any doubt, I suggest that all marketing staff be required to do a three-month rotation getting to know their customers by answering inquiries in contact centers. I’ve never seen this done, but I suspect that you would have a hard time filling marketing positions if you did. For marketing departments to be able to manage contact centers, they must be prepared to handle all aspects of customer interactions – from simple requests to irate callers.

Marketing departments that are out of touch with customer needs and that are decreasing in effectiveness should not be telling contact centers how to deliver customer service. What makes more sense is for companies to introduce shared revenue and profitability goals for sales teams, marketing departments and contact centers so that these three groups can put politics behind them and work together. Companies should implement performance management applications to measure adherence to common corporate goals. When these groups are on equal footing, they bring out the best in each other and provide the best customer experience.

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