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I saw a Forbes story this week arguing that poor customer experience is actually a result of dysfunctional company structures. This rings true. We have all worked for companies where people spend more time negotiating internal budgets than considering how to improve the way that customers experience the brand.

But it is not just that existing hierarchical corporate structures are preventing companies from delivering great customer service, I believe that it is the service demands of customers that are now bending and breaking that way companies are structured. Because of what we are experiencing in the industry that supports customer service, enormous changes in how all companies are structured will take place.

Not sure how? Well think for a moment about how customer behaviour has changed in recent years.

Customer service as a process used to be very well marshalled. Companies offered specific channels, like a free telephone number or an email address. These were the only channels a customer could use to get in touch. The reasons for contact were mostly post-sale too – complaints, questions about a purchase, and so on.

Now look at the present environment. Customers have access 24/7 to information via the mobile Internet. This means that they can check prices, read reviews, see manufacturer information, and talk to existing customers before selecting a product. They can publish an opinion or question openly to their friends or ask the retailer or manufacturer directly.

The combination of social platforms and the mobile Internet has facilitated this change in communication. Customers now expect to be able to ask questions and get information long before a purchase is made, while they are making a selection in-store, and after they make a purchase. In fact, there is now a long customer journey that involves many interactions, building a relationship between the customer and brand that never existed when the service line was just there for a post-purchase complaint.

Much of this online communication between the customer and a brand takes place in public. Facebook recently changed their pages so a question asked publicly by a customer on the page of a brand can then be answered privately, but the majority of forum or social network discussion is all out in the open and transparent.

So this relationship-building and public discussion crosses over from a classic customer service function into marketing, and advertising, and where influencers are involved it’s also Public Relations. Any part of your existing corporate structure that communicates with customers in any way now needs to be included in this wider remit of customer communication.

So instead of taking the view – like Forbes – that company structures are dysfunctional and preventing great customer service to function well, it would be better to consider how a company should be structured to be customer-centric.

It won’t be easy. Director level managers are going to get bruised. Should the customer service director or marketing or PR director be running this new customer relationship department? It all depends on how you view your customer relationship, but the fact remains that customers don’t care about your internal hierarchy; they just want great service.

BLOG squad: mark hillary

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