Customer care and the marketing process - Marketing Management

Where commitment to customer care becomes part of a company’s philosophy, we find that customer care impinges on the whole of the marketing process. This notion can most easily be seen by returning to the typical steps in the marketing planning process established in Chapter 1 and extended in later chapters. We can see from this how a company-wide philosophy and commitment to customer care affects the whole marketing process. Each of the steps in the marketing planning process, together with an outline of how customer care relates to each of these steps is now outlined.

Corporate objectives/business mission

Commitment to customer care should be reflected and enshrined in the overall corporate objectives and mission statements of the organization. At this stage, mission statements about overall customer care objectives feed into and shape the subsequent stages and strategies of the marketing plan.

The marketing audit/SWOT analysis

This encompasses an appraisal of the internal and external environments of the company. With regard to the external environment analysis, this should help shape required levels of customer care in, for example, changing cultural and social values. These, in turn, are reflected in customer requirements and expectations for customer care levels. Competitor customer care levels should also be appraised in the external audit. The internal part of the audit requires the organization to assess standards of performance regarding customer care and any shortcomings. As we have seen, the internal and external audit feed into the SWOT analysis. Part of the SWOT analysis should be an assessment of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats with regard to customer care levels and programmes e.g. a company may establish through the audit that it has major weaknesses in certain elements of its customer care activities that need to be remedied. Alternatively, a company may identify possible future opportunities by building on strong levels of customer care compared to competitors.

Marketing objectives and strategies

Marketing objectives and strategies should include customer care elements. Overall, marketing objectives may relate to, for example, growth and market share, but should also include specific objectives with regard to levels of customer care. Again, tools such as gap analysis can be used. As the term implies, gap analysis looks at any difference between planned levels of customer care and service and achieved levels with a view to correcting these differences. For example, a company may specify a maximum number of rings before a call is answered by a customer service operative. Possible reason for gaps may include operative overload or inadequate call queuing systems. As regards marketing strategies, different strategies for growth such as diversification will often have customer care implications. If the intention is to pursue new markets e.g. as a strategy for growth, the marketer will need to establish customer needs and expectations regarding customer care levels in these markets.

Marketing tactics/marketing mix decisions

Perhaps one of the most important facets regarding customer care and the marketing mix is to ensure that marketing mix decisions and in particular specific marketing tactics that can often be short term in nature, do not conflict with or detract from overall planned levels of customer care. For example, pricing strategies designed to attract new customers may result in lower levels of customer care than is necessary or required for existing customers. Many companies only make special offers available to new customers e.g. a new subscriber to a cable TV service may be offered an initial three months at a reduced price and free installation of the latest set top box. Existing subscribers, however, must pay the full rate for the service and pay an upgrade fee for the new box. In this way, existing customers who may have been with company for a long time are dealt with less favourably than new customers when it comes to offers and price deals. Needless to say, this can result in considerable dissatisfaction amongst previously loyal customers and is a major cause of high customer ‘churn rates’ in some markets.

Virtually every facet of the marketing mix has implications for customer care. Thus, delivery and after-sales service stem from distribution and logistics decisions; product and augmented product decisions (as discussed in Chapter 4) have a major effect on customer care; promotion should be aimed at building long-term customer relationships. Therefore, pricing should reflect overall customer care strategies.

Implementation

We have seen that overall objectives for customer care need to be translated into specific action programmes with the allocation of responsibilities, systems and procedures that should include training and motivation of staff. Suitable organizational structures need to be in place to implement effective customer care programmes.

Evaluation and control

It goes without saying that effective customer care, like other areas of marketing, needs to be evaluated and controlled. Systems for monitoring achieved levels of customer care, responses to customer complaints, etc. must be built into the company’s overall evaluation and control systems. Customer care affects, and is affected by, every single facet of the marketing planning process. Before we consider the development of relationship marketing, including how this relates to customer care, we need to consider the relationship between customer care and quality, and the distinction between customer care and customer service.


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