If you have an underwhelming experience at a hotel or restaurant, you probably don't call up a customer service rep to air your grievance. Instead, you post a review on TripAdvisor or Yelp. And just like that, your gripe is public.

This is the new customer service challenge. Complaints no longer automatically fall under the jurisdiction of traditional customer service reps. With social media, it's now up to marketing to remedy these issues before they mar your company's reputation.

Consider the cautionary tale of #McDStories. The marketing team at McDonald's tried to boost its Twitter presence by encouraging others to share fun, engaging stories. However, the whole thing backfired after people began sharing negative customer service stories, resulting in a flood of complaints and criticism.

As marketers begin to take on an active customer service role, and as customer service reps take to social media, these departments need to join forces to preserve your company's reputation.

The Expanding Role of Marketing

Marketing has evolved beyond just customer acquisition. These days, marketing teams must consider the entire customer experience. With 91 percent of companies reporting that their marketing teams play a strong role in executive decision making, the ability for marketing to interact across departments is essential. And as customer service continues to become a spectator sport, marketing's responsibilities will only grow.

We're reaching the point where marketing, PR, and customer service are basically juggling the same tasks. Advertisers share promotions on Facebook, customer service reps respond to complaints on Twitter, and audiences share news coverage thanks to various social-media platforms.

If you haven't started fusing your customer service and marketing teams, your reputation could suffer. Here are three things you can do to unify these departments:

1. Combine the customer service and marketing budgets. Consumers don't pay attention to anonymous reviews. They crave real-time feedback from people they trust. So customer service needs to lead the way in every aspect of your marketing campaign. Because the moment a potential customer sees a positive review from a friend, you've already won his or her loyalty. Combine these budgets to make sure your marketing team has a stake in customer service initiatives.

2. Stay consistent with your messaging. Once your audience has come to expect something from you, you have to deliver. If you start a blog or a Twitter feed, you can't just let it go dormant after a few weeks. Have your marketing and customer service teams work together to develop a realistic content plan to stay consistent with your messaging, while leaving room for last-minute updates.

KLM Airlines is a perfect example of a company doing this well. KLM enables passengers to connect their LinkedIn or Facebook profiles to their flight plans to find someone they'd like to sit by on the plane. The company also launched a social-media campaign to win customers from other airlines. The #HappytoHelp campaign had employees monitoring Twitter and springing into action to solve problems for travelers.

3. Strike the right balance. Make sure your marketing, PR, and customer service initiatives are balanced properly through a clearly defined content strategy. Regularly assess how well your efforts are measuring up in each area, and make adjustments where necessary.

Merging your customer service and marketing teams isn't just a trend--it's a smart business practice more companies are embracing.

Look at Sprinklr, a social-media management company that recently purchased the customer experience and service platform Get Satisfaction. It recognized the relationship between social media and customer service and acquired Get Satisfaction to provide clients with new ways to collect and monitor online feedback.

Simply put, the line between customer service and marketing is blurring, and companies that don't recognize the shift are in for a rude awakening. To get the best results, it's time to merge these teams so they can become more effective together than either would be on its own.

Published on: Jul 8, 2015