• February 25, 2011
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

The Jobs, They Are A-Changin’

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For years, CRM magazine and I have railed against the tendency of organizations to become siloed and of job descriptions to become exclusive and overly specialized. I assert this as a writer-analyst-consultant for social CRM—a job description at once overly general and too specific, so you can bet I know what I’m talking about.

While it’s well and good for doctors and the like to have specialties and subspecialties, it’s usually counterproductive for customer-serving businesses to do the same. It shows when workers become so set in their ways that they can’t adapt to changes. Most of us have been on a customer service call when the agent had to hand us off to a superior because the issue had gone beyond her area of expertise. This process is called “escalation,” but I call it “stalling for time.”

Now imagine if you were in the middle of a buying process and had to switch to another salesperson because the parameters of the deal had passed some invisible and arbitrary boundary. You’d lose your temper, the prospective buyer would lose the sale, and everybody would go back to square one a little grumpier.

Fortunately, there’s another trend countering that one. I’m not sure what to call it—maybe role reversal, line blurring, or generalization. The idea is that the three major disciplines in CRM—sales, marketing, and customer service—must retrain themselves to use the skills of the others.

Marketers have to back up their efforts with numbers, showing the ROI from campaigns (as detailed in CRM’s excellent January 2007 feature “From Crayons to Calculators,” by Jessica Sebor) and working to support the selling process. Salespeople—the good ones, anyhow—are learning that strengthening the brand and supporting the customer are more important in the long run than any individual sale. Customer service agents are called on to do sales work and keep the brand image shiny and positive.

Sure, there’s been some pushing back. Salespeople in particular have been raised on the image of the lone hunter, able to go solo and sell anything to anybody. They argue that they’re still hitting their numbers, despite all this social media foofaraw. But they are loath to admit that they haven’t been gaining any ground, while the people committed to collaborative selling and long-term brand strength are accelerating.

Marketing professionals are learning, with the help of vendors like Marketo and Eloqua, that their jobs aren’t done when the campaign goes live. They need to be responsive, both to the sales department and to customers. Maybe it’s because they’re tired of being mocked as occasionally useful drones, but marketers are rising to the challenge. The ones who are not continue to be mocked, which is as it should be. Heck, I make my living on mockery.

But the most impressive change in the past few years has been in the customer service pits. The mockery of marketers is nothing compared with what CSRs have suffered—the job has been a national punch line for decades. There’s a revolution in customer service practices and the technology that supports them, and reps are consuming it all hungrily.

Customer service agents actually want to help people—can you imagine?—because their jobs are so closely tied to consumers with questions and problems. Customers are actively using the social tools that reps are finally allowed to leverage, so they meet on common ground and get things done. Today, it’s the old school customer service manager, and his reliance on average handle time as the key metric, who is the butt of jokes (at least in industry circles).

I never thought I would say this, but dedicated and well-supported customer service agents are some of the best people working in customer-facing jobs and are the friendly faces of CRM (social or otherwise). You heard it here first.

In other news, there’s peace in the Middle East, and dogs and cats are living together. If you look up, you might see a pig flying.

Marshall Lager is the chief cook and bottle washer of Third Idea Consulting, a business devoted to examining the implications of social CRM and using words like “foofaraw.” Contact him at marshall@3rd-idea.com, or via www.twitter.com/Lager.

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