Internal marketing: The Engineering-Marketing Interface

By Dr Peter Prevos, author of Customer Experience Management for Water Utilities

Water utilities provide services to their customers ‘at arm’s length’. They deliver water into the homes of customers who rarely need to contact their service provider to enjoy this service. Providing the high level of service that consumers are accustomed to requires a large number of engineers, scientists and a dedicated team of customer service staff to assist customers with any issues they want to be resolved. The large distance between the users and the people that provide the service weakens the relationship between water utilities and their customers.

Water utilities are in many ways like firms that sell consumer electronics. A dedicated team of engineers and scientists creates and supplies products and services, but they never interact with the end users of their work. In the early days of the home computer industry, products were functional, but they did not necessarily meet the needs of users. Recognising this tension, the design of personal computers has evolved over the past few decades from beige boxes with fist-thick manuals to aesthetically designed user-friendly devices. Steve Jobs was a marketing genius because he understood that engineering and marketing need to work together. Design, construction, promotion, customer relationships and so on, are all part of the process of creating value. This evolution in product design is an example of how marketing and engineering can work together to provide better value to consumers.

When technical and marketing professionals work closely together, they can experience tensions. Engineers sometimes struggle to understand why the customers’ opinion has primacy over their expertise and marketers can perceive engineers as being rigid and lacking social skills. These issues are rarely caused by personal differences but by foundational contrasts between the two professions. Water supply engineering applies the physical sciences, while marketing uses the social sciences. Engineers value objective evidence collected by instruments, while marketers rely on subjective customer feedback. While the physical sciences help to deliver a very high level of service, the social sciences contribute to understanding the customer.

Service providers can undertake activities to minimise the potential for tension between the various professional groups. These activities are called internal marketing because they assist the organisation to ‘sell’ the value proposition to employees.  The purpose of internal marketing is to ensure that all employees are focused on the needs of customers, not only the ones that deal with them directly. Examples of internal marketing are customer service training, value proposition workshops, job rotations and so on. In my work, I have used water taste testing as an internal marketing activity because it brings the customer experience into the office. Internal marketing helps to connect engineers who work ‘backstage’ to the customer interface. Marketing is not a set of activities undertaken by a department with the same name, but by the whole of the organisation.

Engineering and marketing are not as far apart as might seem. In 1969, marketing guru Philip Kotler and his colleague Levy wrote a seminal article about the essence of marketing. Marketing, they wrote, is “customer satisfaction engineering”. Both marketing and engineering are processes to achieve an objective. Marketing and engineering can work together to not only provide technical excellence but also to meet the needs of customers.

This article outlines key concerns covered in chapter four of Customer Experience Management for Water Utilities (© 2018 IWA Publishing). This book is written from the perspective of an engineer and will provide a new perspective on managing water utilities and help managers make decisions focused on customers. If you like to know more about how to apply marketing theory to your work, consider purchasing Customer Experience Management for Water Utilities from IWA Publishing. 

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