In a recent blog post, Andy Mott brought up some excellent points about silos and skewed compensations plans in marketing departments.
I want to take this idea a step further. If only this were just confined within the marketing (or any) department. An even bigger problem is when different groups within the same company have different incentives that jeopardize your relationship with the customer.
Second only to intellectual property, a company’s most valuable resource is its customers. Not just the new customers we’re constantly chasing, but existing ones as well … especially in the age of social media, when your triumphs and foibles are just a click away from becoming a huge sales generator or PR disaster.
“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” – Henry Ford
As an experienced business leader, customers = valuable is not a breathtakingly new equation to you. But, why, then, in an era of social media, do so many companies still treat customers the way they did in the early industrial age? In other words, does the mission serve the process, or does the process serve the mission?
Take the airline industry, for example. Customers hate to be nickeled and dimed, yet every major airline does it. They charge fees for checked bags, phone reservations, curbside check-in, and snacks and beverages.
And they have to, right? It’s how they make money. Except … they don’t make money, do they? It is the rare airline that has not been through bankruptcy protection, let alone turned a consistent profit.
That rare airline is Southwest, which charges no fees, yet has been profitable for 37 consecutive years.
Everything is marketing
Those mainline carriers spend millions on advertising, with beautifully shot, heartstrings yanking commercials poetically telling us about how they keep us “United.” But every time someone has to pull out a crisp Andrew Jackson just to get a bag on a plane, how much do you think those ads matter?
To the savvy CEO, everything is marketing. From the fees charged to customers to the accounting department collecting on a late payment. Because even if you’re not promoting it with slick ads during prime time, your customers and former customers are doing the promoting for you thanks to social media marketing – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube.
Instead of going through the litany of social media marketing disasters you’ve probably already read about (and will be to future marketing textbooks what the Nova was to our marketing textbooks), let’s seek to answer the question at the root of this challenge – how do your protect the investment you’ve made in your brand by keeping customers happy while continuing to grow that top-line revenue number?
Make it lucrative and make it possible:
- What gets measured gets done. What gets incented gets done well. – You may say you’re customer-focused, but do your comp plans back you up? From top to bottom, does every MBO (Management by Objectives) document, every incentive plan, every compensation package, every corporate policy put the customer first?
Take a look at the recent financial meltdown. Investment banker compensation was based on fees generated from assembling financial products, not the performance of those products for the customer…
These people contend that Wall Street’s pay structure, in which bonuses are based on short-term profits, encouraged employees to act like gamblers at a casino — and let them collect their winnings while the roulette wheel was still spinning.
Compensation was flawed top to bottom,” said Lucian A. Bebchuk, a professor at Harvard Law School and an expert on compensation. “The whole organization was responding to distorted incentives.”
– “On Wall Street, Bonuses, Not Profits, Were Real”, Louise Story, The New York Times
- If everyone is in marketing, empower everyone like a marketer. – Marketers, at the very least, have tools and (in a best-case scenario) juicy budgets to entice, please, and sell customers. Why should other employees be any different? And, besides, if you’re going to make customer satisfaction part of everyone’s comp plan, you have to make it possible for them to reach that goal.
The prima example of this is The Ritz-Carlton. This luxury hotelier puts its money where its customer-focused mouth is. Every employee can spend up to $2,000 to make a guest satisfied. That is a corporate policy that puts the customer first with no questions and no doubt and helps employees live up to what is clearly more than just a cleverly worded motto – “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”
Yes I know that The Ritz-Carlton is a very high-end luxury hotel that has the margins for this kind of thing. And, while we’re on the subject, yes those robes are particularly fluffy and comfy. But get creative. Anyone can do this on an applicable scale….
- Do you allow customer service reps to solve problems or do you treat them like a 1980s-era teenager trying to make a long-distance call?
- Do you give customer-facing employees an opportunity to share customer plaudits and grievances with product marketing, product development, someone somewhere sitting in a corner office?
- How hard is it for someone in front-line manufacturing or production to stop the process when QA isn’t 100% met?
It’s banal, it’s hackneyed, it’s Businesses 101, and it’s certainly not new to you…however, the best way to protect your marketing investment (and make it thrive) in the age of social media marketing is to remember that the true boss is always the customer.