Marketers need to take a global view of the ways in which they interact with their customers. Even a business function such as billing---likely on the lower rungs of the marketing hierarchy---holds great promise as a strategic marketing tool.
Early in my career, I worked in brand marketing roles at Warner-Lambert, Mattel, and Coca-Cola. A little over six years ago, I took the helm of the marketing group at Billtrust. The focus of Billtrust marketing has traditionally targeted the finance and IT groups, functional areas that face the challenges of not having a well-run billing process. Given my background, it has been rewarding to see billing move from a back-office function under the purview of finance and IT to a credible and important marketing touch point.
Today's technology is giving customers more control over how they transact with businesses and raising their level of expectation about the quality of the relationship (i.e., transaction). Violate customer expectations, and risk losing customers.
Consider how many technology-enabled methods your customers have at their disposal to receive their bills and make payments. Some customers are die-hard traditionalists who will always buy stamps and make trips to the post office. Other customers want to pay invoices using a mobile device, pay multiple businesses simultaneously from a bank or third-party provider’s website, or use a credit card.
Customer convenience often frames the conversation about how businesses build relationships with customers because of technology. A Crain’s Chicago Business article published this past December discussed how a 70-year-old tool company saw a 30% jump in website traffic and a 20% boost in website sales as a result of providing useful---not just promotional---Web-based content. A Harvard Business Review blog entry that same month discussed the concept of “utilitarian marketing” in which businesses take advantage of technology to provide customers with “real tools” that improve their lives.
The more remarkable you can make the customer experience, the more likely customers will talk about your brand. This means looking at all points of communication, which most definitely includes the billing process. As the most frequent point of customer contact, it is a powerful business impression.
The Six Questions
Using these reference points, we can examine the “lowly” bill through a customer-centric, marketing-oriented lens. Ask yourself...
- What does your bill design say about your brand?
- Do you make it easy for your customers to do business with you?
- Are you sending bills to your customers in the delivery format they prefer?
- Do you give your customers convenient options to pay you?
- How easy is it for your customers to ask questions about a bill and communicate disputes?
- Do you provide your customers with personalized messages on your bill?
The bill is only one example of “new” assets that can be used as marketing tools as technology disrupts conventional ideas about how customers behave and what they expect. Customers are more likely to differentiate businesses based on the degree to which they offer useful service, a range of convenience, and hassle-free options.
Marketers can adapt to this shift by recognizing the following:
- Businesses must learn how to conduct transactions on the customer’s terms to a greater degree and demonstrate that they understand and are willing to address customer needs.
- Businesses should review even back-office functions to exploit potential opportunities to move those functions front and center as strategic marketing tools.
- Businesses need to learn which online and social network channels draw their target audiences and establish a presence there to connect with and build relationships with customers.
Marketing is in the business of understanding what target audiences consume and building bridges to communicate with those audiences. What is different today is that technology changes the dynamics of the interplay between the business and the customer. Customers expect more because technology-enabled tools open possibilities for how they will conduct business. For marketers, it is an exciting time to uncover new paths to reach them.