Help Me, Please: Where Marketing & Customer Service Collide


Look at me! Look at me!

Actually, when it comes to marketing, that doesn’t work anymore. Read on.

Sitting in Jay Baer’s keynote at Pubcon a few weeks ago, we were reminded that most TV shows today would have been cancelled 15 years ago based on their current ratings. There are so many TV shows today, you just can’t get the ratings that used to be the minimal standard for airing.

Just like on TV, marketing efforts are competing for our increasingly fragmented attention, as well. And our competitors are changing. When our brands publish on Facebook or Twitter? Don’t think your competitors are just the businesses that provide services similar to yours (the other restaurants, the other hotels).

No, the person you’re competing with is the family member whose status update is right above your brand’s update in the newsfeed.

Jay Baer on choosing to take the time to read your brand’s status:
“Are you more interesting than my wife?”

Is your brand’s post more exciting to read – and comprehend, and act on – than the friend below who just got engaged or had a baby?

Probably not, no offense.

So, how do we stand out? What do we have to realize?

“Marketing and customer service have now collided.”

Today, the most important thing we can do – the most valuable thing our brands can offer – is help. We can help using the resources we have and the information we know because we’re experts in our particular fields.

Jay Baer reminded us that it used to be okay to say, “I don’t know.” Before, if you didn’t know how to bake a pie or remember what happened with a news story or why a chemical works the way it does (or whatever the case may be), it was okay.

Now, “I don’t know” is an unacceptable answer. We have nearly all of the information in the world accessible, from our phones. We have all of the information we could ever need right in our back pocket.

What we can do as brands is be the providers of information. Answer the questions. Provide the how-tos. Be there when people need help.

Jay Baer spoke of @HiltonSuggests, a Hilton Worldwide initiative dedicated to helping answer people’s travel questions, whether they’re Hilton customers or not. A quick scroll of their Twitter feed shows that they respond with advice to travelers – and even people with other concerns at the moment.

Why would they invest in time on such seemingly random topics? They’re counting on the fact that, whether or not you’re traveling right now, some day you are going to be traveling. And that you might in fact think of Hilton, because they’ve been helpful to you in the past.

They’re certainly responsive.

I left Jay Baer’s keynote and Pubcon that day feeling so inspired. So motivated. So excited!

And then things started to go downhill at the airport.

An Airline Travel Story Where Information & Help Was All Everyone Wanted

Our plane sits away from our gate for more than an hour after our scheduled departure. Some passengers had boarded as early as 1:40, and it’s 3:30. We’ve heard minimal updates (two quick ones every 30 minutes about weight balance and having to do it the old fashioned way because the computers aren’t working – as a small child is yelling Bam! Bam! Bang! – so stress levels are already high).

I am surrounded by people who, still on the ground in Las Vegas, are aware they’re probably not going to make their connections in Charlotte, North Carolina. Seeing as our connections in Charlotte are the last flights of the night, this is causing considerable stress all around me, as there’s a family trying to get back to London, a woman visiting her elderly mother, a young guy with a big presentation tomorrow for work and dozens of others. I’m happy to not have any pressing needs, just a want to be in my own bed.

That said, realizing while on the ground in Las Vegas I’d miss my connection five hours from now, I thought I’d try to get a jump on the Charlotte standby options rather than wait until landing at 10:30 p.m.

I consider that maybe I wasn’t clear enough that I was on the plane and thus unable to walk up to a booking agent, but it did make me wonder if the @USAirways social team has access to basic flight information (having all my connection locations and name, they’d see my flight as “departed” already… though we’d only gone a few feet).

We take off. The first announcements after we lift off are about the current credit card offer and other sales items to cover. The flight update and new arrival time doesn’t come until we reach cruising altitude, now 2 hours and 25 minutes since boarding began. The next announcement, a few hours on the plane so far, a few to go, is that snack boxes (for purchase, no apologies for hangry passengers) have run out halfway down the aisle.

And for the next few hours, I listen to everyone around me asking the flight attendants questions. And I feel for the flight attendants, because that’s a really tough job surrounded by cranky people everyday. There are people all around who just want to know if this cause of delay is the kind that results in a free hotel at the end of the night. The answer was never “I’ll see what I can find out,” or “I’ll do my best” (no promise implied). It was “I don’t know.” Every passenger was told to see a gate agent when we landed.

And the anxiety levels around me rose higher, and higher, and higher.

We land in Charlotte. My time of departure has just passed, but I’m hopeful they held the plane as it was the last one of the night and would be parking in my Albany destination (so what’s the problem with delaying 20 minutes, I hopefully think). Without any announcements from our flight crew yet, I write one last (admittedly, anxious) message as we land.


You hope I can make it? And I picture the social media intern crossing their fingers. And I get the giggles.

Here’s what I had hoped might happen when I sent that tweet:

  • “Hi Janae! We just checked and they’re holding the plane – you’re at gate B7 and need to get to C18.”
  • “Hi Janae! We’re sorry to inform you that flight #### has already departed. Call 1-800-428-4322 to rebook.” (At least I’d finally know I’d missed my flight)
  • “Hi Janae! Your flight has departed, but you have already been booked on flights tomorrow. Enter your confirmation number online for details.”

Because in fact, as the social media team had written that they hoped I make it, my ticket had already been cancelled and reissued for the next day, we just hadn’t been notified yet. Similar news was true for at least 100 other people (though it’d be 45 minutes longer before we’d find out about hotels).

I was home 14 hours later, happy, healthy and with no real complaints about anything. But for the dozens of others who waited in line at the counter that night after six hours of waiting and wanting for any information, I thought about how the experience could have been better – both in-person and online. What could change. For instance…

This can’t be the “contact us” policy any more.


People demand better than that now, because we can be better than that. We have the tools to help. To find answers people are looking for – and if we can’t right away, to let them know we’re doing the best we can.

And that’s really what we’re looking for, even if the answer is we missed our plane.

We’re just looking for companies that are doing the best they can to help us.