Services marketing functions must master the “dark” art of misdirection whilst their services R&D relations manufacture next generation services that are capable of delivering magical customer experiences. Significant service quality impacting changes take time to develop and deploy. Customer benefits often take even longer to materialize. Customers are an impatient bunch at the best of times. They want instant gratification and they want it yesterday. Unfortunately, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither was a next generation service portfolio. Many service providers are unsure how to fill the void between the harsh realities of today’s less than ideal service experience and the promises of tomorrow’s value laden prevention-based interactive constituency-focused context sensitive experience. All too often providers try to dress up their existing reactive service lines in a proactive or predictive costume in the hope that the market and their customers won’t notice. This is always a mistake. Your customers are not stupid. They can tell when a provider is misrepresenting reality or peddling futures that don’t yet exist. Don’t go there.
So what should a provider do if futuristic fables or flights of fancy won’t work?
Well I guess you could always tell the truth. But a campaign based upon “we’re behind the times but we’re working on it” probably isn’t too appealing. That said, an open honest and frank “keep the faith” message accompanied by a published services roadmap outlining your planned route to prevention-based greatness may just be a very good thing! It will depend upon your customer base, the amount of hold you have over them, what your competitors are doing and current perceptions of your service quality…
Ok… In this particular instance, “honesty” may not always be the best policy…
Instead, why not learn a lesson from the great illusionists. Every great magician knows that stage craft is as important as the technical mastery of the mechanics of the illusion itself if they are to convincingly “sell” it to the audience. One of the key components of this craft is the art of misdirection. Misdirection comes in many forms. In its crudest incarnation it can be little more than someone shouting “Look over there! An elephant!!”. The audience look to where the noise is coming from and the performer takes the opportunity to do some slight of hand. A slightly more accomplished performer / marketeer may incorporate some subtlety and ask “Is that an Indian or African elephant?” instead.
So what sort of misdirection could / should a provider employ?
Most providers have some happy customers. Why not showcase how they are deriving value from your services? In the absence of customers “happy” enough to act as a diversion, why not extract benchmarking data from your delivery systems and allow customers to “go compare” how their experience rates against the crowd? If that fills your heart with dread, why not look at your current portfolio usage statistics and promote one of those hidden “gems” that only a small proportion of customers are taking advantage of? Every portfolio has them (or the service delivery execs that I talk to claim that they do anyhow). Although many providers seem unable to determine exactly what they are… Assuming you do know what they are, then why not promote the hell out of them? If you can’t find anything suitably “gem-like”, then why not “play the man, not the ball” instead… Focus on your grass roots service consumers. Elevate a very carefully selected subset of them to near heroic status – Make them household names (in households populated solely by system administrators). Praise how forward thinking they are for taking advantage of your services in the way that they do… Big them up big time. Help them to become aspirational role models for the technical masses. Still not convinced? Then perhaps you can become “cool” by association… Are any upstream or downstream technology providers ahead of you proactively speaking? Could you leverage “their” data to help tell your story?
The last refuge of a scoundrel is customer satisfaction metrics…
In the absence of anything more tangible, you could of course turn the magic mirror of self-delusion that is customer satisfaction and loyalty metrics back upon your customers and let them bask in the warm glow of your combined mutual happiness. “Everyone else says they love us so you should too!” may work some of the time but it is a dangerous game to play. Indeed, it could be argued that the normal rules of NPS don’t apply in the commercial hostage situation that is the long term support contract. 2010’s economic downturn saw 1000’s of “happy” and “loyal” customers cancelling or down-sizing contracts in their droves. And yet, providers had no inclination that this was probable as their customer sat scores were “the best they’ve ever been and getting better year on year” (If only I had a dollar for every time I have heard that phrase!). Scepticism (regarding the ultimate validity and usefulness of customer sat metrics in a world where you’re increasingly only as good as your last interaction experience and the crowd can turn nasty on a social media dime) aside, why not share the love?
So there we have it. There are a plethora of marketing opportunities for the “proactive provider in waiting” – Just be sure not to maintain radio silence as that does absolutely nothing to calm fears, allay doubts or clarify uncertainty. If you’re not talking to your customers you can bet that someone else is. And that someone probably hasn’t got your best interests in mind. The only way to set the agenda is to set the agenda. Crazy though it sounds, you actually have to talk to your customers. Unless of course, you’re a 200 pound gorilla and the first and only contact you make with your users is to demand your support renewal money with menaces once a year – you know who you are guys! I’m not criticizing… Really I’m not. But even the mighty Kong fell to his doom eventually 😉
Remember… Mastering misdirection makes marketing magic!
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