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Agencies think customer experience isn't your domain think again

Agencies: Think customer experience isn’t your domain? Think again

By Willie Mullen / November 7, 2018

The campaign is live! The client seems happy. Where’s the beer cart—right? Sort of.

Sure, you and your team can breathe a sigh of relief and maybe even grab a cold one from the trolley (if there still is a trolley) once that video you’ve worked on for months is up on Facebook. But, if you are charged with activating the client’s social strategy, there’s really no resting on your laurels. There is the important work of monitoring and reporting. And, if you are really looking out for your client, there are also questions to be asked—and problems to be solved—on behalf of the customer.

You might be thinking, “I handle the marketing, not the customer care.” But we have entered an age where marketing and customer care can no longer operate like separate departments. The two are coming together as a holistic discipline of customer experience—and in this case, marketing is learning from their customer care counterparts and taking a leading role. According to a recent Marketo report, 90% of CMOs believe that they will be responsible for the whole customer experience by 2020. So, chances are, your client is already starting to think this way.

If you really want to wow—and retain, and earn more business from—your client, you can do so by helping them pass that wow onto the end user. And one of the most powerful ways to do so is to view the brand experience you are marketing through the eyes of the customer.

This user-centered approach is called design thinking, and is defined by the Interaction Design Foundation as “a design methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems…by understanding the human needs involved, by re-framing the problem in human-centric ways, by creating many ideas in brainstorming sessions, and by adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing.”

While this process of discovery and iteration is most often used by product and UX designers to create optimal user experiences, the empathetic mindset behind it is useful for marketers to assume as well. Especially when it comes to customer care.

Applying design thinking to digital marketing

Let’s start with some data about how customers are interacting with digital marketing channels: 58% of marketers interviewed in a recent survey by Sprout Social said that they receive up to 50 customer requests a week. A sizable number (21%) of customers prefer to reach out to companies via social media versus the company’s care channels.

When do customers reach out? Often after they’ve been served up some branded content.

I was looking at the Facebook page of a well-known retailer during the launch of one of their recent campaigns and noticed that below their stunning video series, the comments called out dozens of issues—and opportunities. These ranged from a would-be customer complaining that their website was down and couldn’t take orders to another shopper wondering what style shirt one of the campaign models was wearing.

While I’m not here to workshop their representative’s responses, let’s analyze the brand experience these customers went through using a design thinking lens.

Design thinking is usually defined as a five-step process:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

Now, you can’t please everyone, but even based on the two comments above, you can see that while this retailer thoughtfully produced content that drove engagement on their profile, they could have done more.

Let’s set aside the fact that the site crashed for a moment and focus on the second comment: This end user wants the shirt one of the models in the video is wearing. In this case, someone manning the brand’s Facebook profile has kindly provided a link to where they can find and purchase the shirt. Great!

But what can we learn from this consumer experience as design thinkers and marketers who care about the end user? How might we improve the content to better serve the customer based on this insight? Let’s use a design thinking approach:

  1. Empathize: Put yourself in the shoes of this person who wants this shirt and is consuming content that did not tell her how to get it.
  2. Define the problem: In this case, the content is inspirational and aspirational, but it is not moving the consumer forward on her purchase journey.
  3. Ideate: How might we rethink this content so that it better serves this customer need?
  4. Prototype: Let’s develop new content that might better drive conversion.
  5. Test: Did it work?

The process of stepping into the shoes of the user is not just essential for product designers, it’s essential for brand expression in all its forms.

Learning from the best practices of social customer service

There are many brands out there doing a great job with social customer service, and agencies would be wise to take heed—particularly to the most creative approaches, as this is exactly what agencies can (and should) be offering their clients.

Spotify’s official Twitter support handle @SpotifyCares offers a wealth of content, from how to use less data when playing music to how to recover playlists. This reflects a user-centered, problem-solving approach often attributed to design thinking.

But there’s more to it—the likeable Spotify voice also shines through on this feed. The reps on this handle, who are extensively trained on brand voice, don’t just solve problems; they’ve been known to incorporate songs into their responses to customer inquiries. In 2016, Spotify user Sophia Skinbjerg wrote about “the absolute best customer support I have ever experienced in my life”, describing her exchange with a Spotify rep and her delight at the final message she received, which was delivered via a playlist with song titles spelling out the following, “Hey, Sophia. You are the best thing. We love you more. Have a nice day with wonderful things, friends, smiles and laughter lines.” This customer care response quickly turned into the best kind of free marketing there is: word-of-mouth accolades, spread across the internet.

Similarly, Skyscanner, an air travel search engine, made the most of a Facebook post mocking a 47-year layover in Bangkok that popped up on the user’s search. The Skyscanner rep rolled with it, suggesting options of what the user could to in Bangkok during those 47 years. This was another unintentional marketing win: a Google search for “47-year layover in Bangkok” yields 147,000 results. In other words, brand awareness for Skyscanner soared—something that traditional marketing efforts alone may not have delivered.

Bringing it all together for your clients

Agencies that see their social offerings starting and ending with marketing are missing an opportunity. Look at social—and the value you can bring to your clients—as a chance to leverage customer care opportunities to achieve marketing goals.

Whether it’s relentlessly probing consumer needs and optimizing digital content to improve the customer’s experience, or simply ensuring—through thoughtful, creative communication—that mundane (and even negative) social interactions leave the customer smiling, the moment is ripe for CX and marketing to join forces.

Working as closely as they do with brand managers and CMOs, agencies are in the best position to lead this charge. Show your client you can make the leap from campaign to customer care, and you’ll build a relationship that can go the distance.

Willie Mullen

Willie Mullen

Willie Mullen is the Sr. Manager, Agency Sales at Sprout Social. He has spent the past 10 years helping businesses understand the power & importance of SaaS technology. Since joining Sprout in 2017, Willie has worked with agencies to show them how social media management tools & strategies can drive better results for their clients, improve their internal processes and ultimately impact the bottom line. When not working, he can be found talking to his wife about agency life (she owns a boutique communications agency ) and spending time with his child (soon to be children!).
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