My latest obsession: Prospective-Customer Service (PCS) departments. Their time has come. In Nichole Kelly’s amazing blog post, Is Your Ego What’s Really Driving Your Social Presence, she asks:
“…if [our social presence wasn’t] about our ego, wouldn’t it be okay to simply go out there and help people? I mean help ridiculous amounts of people with all kinds of things that have nothing to do with us?”
It’s a question that I simply cannot shake. And I keep arriving at a follow-up question: Is it time for brands to focus less (a lot less) on navigating the ever-increasingly tricky marketing landscape and, instead, plant their flag where they can have the most impact: helping people? Helping ridiculous amounts of people?
First, I hate the term “prospective customer”; it feels so impersonal (feel free to suggest a better alternative in the comments section below), but you get the gist. On one side of the line, you have customers. And you must keep those customers happy, loyal, and present. Hence, we have Customer Service (CS) departments. On the other side of the line, there is everybody else, many of whom you would like to convert into customers. To reach out to this majority, we rely heavily on marketing. And how is that going for you? Sure, we all wish to have a stronger presence, better messaging, and higher results through marketing, but why is that? Why must we all fight the same fight, with each of us always wanting for more (and, to be honest, we’re generally speaking to people who actually want less)? What if there were a different path to customer acquisition and brand loyalty, and what if that route was paved by helping others?
At its core, traditional CS should be highly focused on the customer; after all, “customer” and “service” are right there in the name. But how are you servicing the vast majority of people who aren’t your customers? What service are you providing to them? Through social, it might take the form of 3rd-party links to articles that you deem interesting, or perhaps you post an inspirational quote; maybe you have recently posted a humorous meme or invited your current customers to spread the word about your contest. But is any of this truly “service”? Are you actually helping anyone? When is the last time you were truly useful to a non-customer? And no, this doesn’t include telling someone to try your product.
Let’s explore how a PCS department might work. Let’s say that I have just created a brand new type of toothpaste: ‘tudepaste. On one hand, I could spend boatloads on advertising, spend crazy-time trying to barter for strategic partnerships, and invent some clever PR stunts to get noticed. That could work. Toothpaste is a mighty hard market to break into, but the above tactics, in theory, just might work.
On the other hand, I could stumble across this question on Twitter: “I’m using @camtasiamac to record @chirp_io. How do I save it & how do I link it to a specific point in presentation?” Now, I happen to know the answer to this question, so I (@tudepaste) take a small amount of time to assist. I jump right in and explain how to insert a .wav file into Prezi. Even though toothpaste has little to nothing to do with Prezi or Chirp, if I am able to help, what’s the harm? Likely, none; but what are the benefits?
If you were the person who had posted that question, what would your next move be? Most likely, you’d click on my Twitter handle to find out just who this out-of-the-blue helper was. Second, you might publicly thank me for helping out; goodwill often begets goodwill. Third, you may even decide to click on my website to find out exactly what ‘tudepaste is, now that I have your attention. #win or #winwin or #winwinwin
If all goes as planned (and I’m skipping a lot of steps here), that’s one potential customer who will convert to an actual customer, not because of any paid advertising or well-crafted marketing messaging, but instead because I actually served them: PCS. The message was not “Try out my new toothpaste”, but instead it was “Here is how I can help you”. There is a ton more value in the latter. So, there’s one customer. Not exactly mass reach, admittedly. But replicate that interaction many, many times over, and what can happen?
[Note: I make a lot of assumptions below; you can quibble with the numbers if you want, but they are simply invented for illustration purposes.]
If ‘tudepaste hires four bright folks to spend four hours a day simply helping people, what would that look like? At a rate of helping one person every five minutes: 1920 people helped per day, 9600 people helped per week, 38,400 people helped per month, 460,800 people helped per year. Close to 500,000 people helped per year with an investment of 4 x .5 FTE. Factor in RTs and public thanks on Twitter, and the brand exposure numbers climb even higher. I won’t try and guesstimate the impact any further, but the thought of exposing ~500,000 people to your brand simply through helping and servicing others…I really dig that idea. Personally and professionally, that’s the side of the line I want to live and work on.
The question that remains is whether this is a feasible idea. Could a brand actually abandon traditional marketing and instead survive with the mantra of “How can we help you?” Personally, I don’t know, but I’d love to find out. What do you think? Could a culture built solely on service, not only to customers, but also to prospective customers, survive? Where are the holes in the logic? What am I missing that makes the idea of PCS unrealistic, or is it simply untested? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
[Also, if you haven’t read Nichole’s four-part series on ego, I urge you to do so. Leave your comment on this post first, then go read her posts here, here, here, and here.]
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