Direct Line Blog

Controlling customers: both freaky and futile

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At SES New York last week, I heard “sales and marketing need to come together” so much I thought it was a Beatles tune or something. I've harped on this before, but it really needs to be a trifecta of sales-marketing-customer service. The panel “Search Marketing & Social Media for Regulated Industries” really drove that point home for me.

There was, throughout the panel, a lot of talk about controlling customers, which makes sense. Marketers by definition want to control the message, and of course the stakes are so much higher in heavily-regulated industries like pharma or financial services.

Razorfish's SEO director Sri Nagubandi for instance spoke about the importance of claiming the brand online. For instance, Pfizer should consider claiming a Zoloft handle on Twitter even if it has no intention of maintaining a social media presence. Additionally, he added the companies should try to control what it wants customers to do, and that a good way to get brand coverage without any of the usual social media risks is through sponsorship efforts (the cynic in me cackles; the idealist swoons).

During the Q&A following the panel, however, an audience member asked: “What happens if customers start criticizing you publically?” He was referring to the Facebook wall, which ended the ability for corporations to turn off comments, thereby forcing two-way conversations essentially.

And then there was silence. Because everyone seemed seriously baffled.

That's why I think customer service needs to be involved. They're the ones (presumably) trained at dealing with disgruntled customers. If a customer grumbles on Facebook, a customer service rep (CSR) can acknowledge the customer and direct him or her to an offline, or less public, channel.

So while brands might not be able to initially control customer behavior, they can direct it while, at the same time, show they are both responsive on social media and sensitive to customer concerns.

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