Customer service is the new marketing


So who’s job is social media? Is it a marketing role, something for only a highly trained team of specialists? Should we involve management or would they just not get it? Well one mantra that I’ve heard mentioned a few times recently is that “customer service is the new marketing”. At the recent Internet World conference,’s Andy Hobsbawm asserted that your brand is no longer what you say it is, it’s what Google says it is. There’s some truth to this concept. Search engine pages are more often than not used by internet users as a diving board into the pool of information on a particular company or product.

So here’s my contribution to anyone looking for customer service information from Fitness First. Spurred on by a recent conversation on general healthiness, I realised that my current gym (the Old St branch) isn’t serving my needs, it’s not in the best location for me, it’s a little dingy, not big enough, there’s no spa… I’d not had any real problems with the place, but I needed a little extra investment to help get me going. My contract had expired, so there should be nothing stopping me from leaving, other than a reasonable notice period. Unfortunately, it didn’t play out like that – and it wasn’t even close to the experience in the Friends episode.

Attempt 1: Go to gym for one final work-out, ask to cancel membership. I’m told that I need to talk to the “membership services manager”, she’s not there. Arrange for her to call me on Monday.
Attempt 2: Monday comes and goes – no call…
Attempt 3: Book appointment to see membership services manager, which I’m unable to make due to work commitments (no call to follow up)
Attempt 4: Call to speak to msm, she’s not there… so arrange an appointment to see her in person
Attempt 5: Show up to my appointment (yesterday), she’s not there, and there’s no record of my appointment. Oh, and the membership services manager has gone on holiday for a week, which means that I can’t give notice in time to avoid paying for June membership. Finally get a cancellation “request” form (I have to request?) so hopefully that’s the end of the issue.

It should not be that hard. Brands like John Lewis are celebrated for its customer service, and Dell is held up as being able to turn 180 on their customer care. Why is it that when a contract is involved (TV, phone, broadband, gyms) brands are so dreadful at taking care of us once we have a direct debit set up? Social media and the transparency of the web is sure to bring about some seriously rude awakenings in the next 12-18 months for brands. Anyway, I’ve joined another gym let’s hope they get it.


3 Responses to “Customer service is the new marketing”

  1. Top quality post. Have been mulling over exactly where the barriers are between PR and customer service in the service sector. And can’t find the answer. And the fact that you post that story confirms that there really isn’t one…

    What a nice surpise it might be if Fitness First read your post and get in touch to offer you something nice to say Sorry or Thanks.

  2. Been reading for a while now. Just wanted to say good job.

    Chris Tackett

  3. 3 Lewis

    Thanks Chris, I think the issue is that the two functions had not really had much to do with each other before people started documenting their brand experiences on the web. Customer Service is used to dealing with a specific person’s perception of their company, but social media blows that model apart. I’m still a “specific person”, but I’m also a node in a network. The sooner CS reps get involved with this stuff the better.

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