Customer service and marketing staffers have a history--at many companies at least--of being cool to one another. Now that businesses are worried about generating good word of mouth, however, some business owners are looking for ways to close this gulf. Andy Sernovitz, the co-founder of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and author of a new book that bears the straightforward title Word of Mouth Marketing (Kaplan Business), explained how bosses can change the behavior within their companies to Inc. editor Mike Hofman.

  1. As an evangelist for word-of-mouth marketing, what are you seeing today that you didn't see in 2004 when you started your group?
    As companies are coming to believe that good word of mouth is critical to their success, I think you're seeing a sea change in attitudes about how you treat your customers. Companies are realizing that you are your customer experience, and no amount of advertising can cover up for bad service. Conversely, the more you take care of your customers and the more they tell their friends about that positive experience, the more advertising you get for free.

  2. So what does this mean in practice?
    Marketing is crossing the line into customer service and vice versa. Companies no longer think that it makes sense to save $2 to $5 a call by getting cheaper call center help. They are realizing that the word-of-mouth price you pay for $2 service is too great. So you're seeing new math out there.

  3. New math?
    Companies are tracking customer service and marketing expenses on the same spreadsheet. If you want to get really creative, you can track the volume of sales you lose to bad customer service. Here's what you do: Look at how many customers call or e-mail you more than once with a customer service problem. Then multiply that by your average sale. Finally multiply that number by five, on the grounds that if a customer calls you twice, he's probably annoyed. Research shows that, on average, angry customers tell five people about a bad experience. So that final number is the potential sales you are losing due to poor customer service. This kind of accounting affirms the idea that companies that can increase their customer satisfaction are more profitable, which means that service reps are at least as important as marketing people to the health of the organization.

  4. In the past, haven't customer service reps been treated like second-class citizens by the marketing world?
    Yes, but I think this could be the beginning of a great change in the status of customer care people. Of course, as customer care and marketing people come together and are seen as being of equal status--well, that's going to be a painful process at some companies.

  5. Any other changes worth mentioning?
    I'm also seeing lots of big companies adding word-of-mouth marketing campaigns to their requests for proposals when they go to advertising agencies. All of these programs are experimental, but nevertheless it's a line item now.