As I continue to study my digital marketing course, and I start to delve more into trying to understand content marketing, to me, I end up going back to my foundation, which is customer service and consumer relations, and how that all ties into what technical communication is about.
My career did not start in tech comm. My first job out of college was doing field sales for a gift novelty company. I wasn’t good at it, to say the least. The next two jobs were working on the other side of a toll-free number for customer service, specifically for a consumer goods company, then a pharmaceutical company. As much as I wasn’t a fan of those jobs, they laid a strong foundation for work that I would do later. When you get calls for a medication that’s been temporarily discontinued that are literally a life-or-death medication needed for someone, yet you can’t say, “Sure, take some of our reserves!” to potentially save that person’s life, it has a big impact on you. Nothing after that, short of other truly life-or-death situations, are important in the big scheme of things. I found that if nobody died and the economy didn’t crash if I didn’t do something, then it wasn’t quite that important in the grand scheme of things if I couldn’t get it done on time. It would just be an inconvenience that the content providers could’ve avoided if they did their jobs in a timely manner.
But there are a few things I learned during my years in customer service that have stuck with me, other than most things are not life-or-death situations. Customer service is a two-way communication. All situations, even non-business ones, require providing customer service to each other. There can’t be full understanding unless there is a full give-and-take from all parties involved. You can’t talk without listening. And listening alone doesn’t work unless you give feedback. This applies to personal relationships as well as professional ones, if you think about it.
So as I’ve gotten older and transitioned careers from customer service to technical communications (and random IT-like jobs in between), the idea of providing customer service has stuck with me–how can we communicate information so that everyone is happy in the end?
This is an important point as to why being a technical communicator has been a good fit for me. As a technical communicator, it seems to me that we produce what creates and maintains customer service. We write product manuals, we write help files, we write FAQs…we are the ones who write the content that makes customer service happen. We fill in the information gap!
Now, content strategists are starting to lean towards content marketing. In my mind, marketing has always been the push for the product, or the “razzle dazzle” to entice you towards that product or service. Customer service, and by extension tech comm, was the post-sales process that helped keep the customer experience smooth and happy, thus promoting brand loyalty. I’ve felt that customer service always had the harder job of retaining sales and customer loyalty than those who hawked the products and services.
But with the advent of digital marketing, and more and more use of the Internet for searching before even getting to the marketing part, those lines between marketing and customer service are seriously starting to blur. Digital marketing is now, from what I can see, turning traditional marketing upside down. People will look at product instructions and specs and the FAQs before purchasing now. Wait, that’s backwards by traditional marketing standards! The sale of goods or services is now based on reaching individuals as closely as possible through searches and website content. The “bling” of media ads are still around, but don’t have the same impact as finding websites that can provide you with exactly what you want at the right time, when you want it. Technical communicators, especially those in mobile, know this already. It’s something that I’ve heard time and time again before I’d ever heard of “content marketing”.
Having a technical communications background along with my customer service background will help with this topsy-turvy new world. But when content marketing jobs continually advertise asking for heavier emphasis on marketing skills and experience rather than content strategy skills and experience, those prospective employers are wrong. Moving forward, the internet is where customers will find more information, and content strategists and tech writers know this already. We’re already grounded in this. We can learn the marketing stuff, but understanding how to write the content that customers want and need is something that often eludes marketers, but not technical communicators.
Time will tell how this pans out as the call for “knocking down the silos” between content strategists and marketers has bellowed, first by the content strategists, from what I can tell. The way we search, heck–the way we acquire any information anymore is through the Internet more and more. Why not let those who are more experienced get a crack at making the marketing experience in this new digital age more effective?
Sharon Burton has written an entire series on how content writing and product instruction writing deeply affects the customer experience. I highly recommend reading it when you have a chance–good stuff there that support my viewpoint.
What do you think? What is your experience? Do you agree with the idea that tech comm holds a bigger place in customer satisfaction than people are giving it credit for? Share your comments below.