For most businesses, customer communication is simply a matter of conveying information to customers. They neither take into account customers’ comfort level with diverse communication channels, nor pay sufficient attention to the platform-specific message formats, and the correct conversation techniques for different purposes.
What does that result in?
A VERY high opt-out rate and subpar engagement rates.
According to this survey published in 2019, 77% of consumers have opted out of brand communication within the last 6 months in the US alone.
So, where are businesses going wrong and what exactly do customers expect from a communication perspective?
For starters, customers today use multiple modes of communication. They ask for quicker response times, multi-channel engagement and smoother transitions between communications across different platforms. These days, customer experience is all about convenience, personalization, and timeliness.
Just because multiple platforms exist though, it doesn’t mean you need to contact each of your customers using every single channel. That is neither realistic nor feasible and not to mention, extremely pushy from the standpoint of the customer. To improve communication with customers and drive customer loyalty, what is needed is a better understanding of communication preferences.
“Each conversation that a business has with the customer has a direct impact on customer loyalty and helps to build brand reputation. Businesses that fail to cater to customers’ preferred channels of communication will inevitably fall behind.” - Melissa Yuen, Product Marketing Manager at Statflo
Businesses need to start accepting that customers’ preferred channels of communication do matter to their customer engagement strategy and tailor their outreach accordingly.
Here are 5 things you need to understand about customer communication preferences and their effective integration into your outreach strategy
The reason-to-contact determines the channel of communication
Think of customer communication as a person’s journey from one place to another. Depending on why the individual is going to the destination, their route will vary. Going to the shopping center for an urgent errand? Take the shortest route. Visiting the store just to browse the collection and kill some time? Might take the longer, scenic path.
The same principle applies to the relationship between the purpose of the conversation and the communication channel.
According to this survey, 49% of people prefer getting notifications over text messages while 53% of customers contact brands via email for appointment management. When it comes to getting answers to their questions, 45% of customers prefer talking to an agent. For the self-service type of interactions, 48% of customers would rather go for the online chat option.
So, the communication channel preferences of customers are often dictated by the purpose of the interaction. The solution lies in using different complementary channels like calling, texting, and email to foster a seamless communication process that presents customers with multiple conversation avenues well-suited for specific purposes.
The message should be altered to suit the channel
Every medium of communication has its own set of strengths and shortcomings.
Phone calls, ideal for retail conversations that need a detailed exchange of information, are often considered intrusive by many. In fact, 90% of the people surveyed by this study say they would rather receive communication from businesses via text messages than phone calls. mail, which is perfect for communication that needs to be archived, lacks the personal touch that a text message has. Social media platforms are great for mass visibility and inbound messaging but are not so great for one-to-one outbound conversations between businesses and customers.
With people using all these platforms for specific purposes, it is only logical that brands should alter their business messaging to suit the characteristics of the individual channel.
Imagine receiving huge walls of text messages from a business trying to win you over as their client. Annoying, right? Consider those exasperating phone calls from brands badgering you with advertising about their new product. Such a waste of time, isn’t it? Now, imagine a bank sending urgent information about important transactions in the form of an automated email that usually ends up in your spam folder. Highly inconvenient and borderline dangerous, correct?
That’s what happens when the messaging is not matched to the channels. You end up with a huge mismatch that results in aggravated prospects, a huge stack of customer complaint tickets, and possible privacy and compliance law breaches.
When communicating with a multi-generational audience, segment based on generational preferences
Every generation grows up under diverse social circumstances and is exposed to a different level of technological advancement. If you have a multi-generational customer base, which let’s face it, you do, it is imperative to understand how these diverse factors have shaped their communication preferences. This is a vital component of creating successful customer experiences that elicit brand loyalty and customer retention.
A Twilio article delves deeper into the concept of generational communication preferences by categorizing consumers into the following categories:
- The Traditionalists – Born before 1945, this group prefers phone calls or in-person communications.
- Baby Boomers - Born between 1946 and 1964, they are shown to start their retail journeys in-store but are increasingly using online shopping platforms.
- Gen X - Born from 1965 to 1980, this generation is most comfortable with SMS and email when it comes to communicating with brands.
- Millennials – Born between 1981 and 1997, this category is the most at-ease with instant forms of written communication like texting, over-the-top (OTT) messaging platforms (WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger), and emails.
- Gen Z – Often referred to as ‘digital natives’ this is a set of consumers born after the year 2000. They are the most trusting of digital forms of communication and expect an increased emphasis on personalization from brands.
Identify high-converting communication channels based on your buyer’s journey and integrate them into your omnichannel strategy
You need to start by identifying the channels of communication that yield the best results for the least amount of effort.
Reverse-engineering how your customers’ shop is the first step to understanding the value of each interaction and the channel best suited for those interactions.
Although this might seem like an obvious first step to take, unfortunately, research shows that only 5 percent of marketers note that they have the ability to predict their customers’ journeys.
Let’s take an example of a typical buyer journey in the automotive sector to help illustrate the importance of knowing how your customers interact with your brand.
This detailed report by thinkwithgoogle explores the buyer’s journey of Stacey, who is looking for a new car. Stacey took around three months to reach her decision of leasing a car. Let us take a look at the various stages she went through during those three months-
Once Stacey realizes that she needs a better car, the first stage in her buyer’s journey is a high-level search for which one is the best car in the market. During this awareness phase, she is unsure about what model and car to buy so she tries to narrow her search down by evaluating different options based on her priorities like family-friendliness or comfort and safety.
After coming up with a list of some good options, she enters the ‘is-it-the-right-option-for-me’ stage. In this phase, she starts to compare her checklist of prerequisites with the features offered by various car brands. As she starts to filter her list further, cost considerations come into play. This is when Stacey enters the ‘can-I-afford-it’ phase of her buyer’s journey and explores the price points as well as compares different options like leasing vs buying
Upon considering her financials and finalizing her options, Stacey now starts looking for possible dealership alternatives in her vicinity. At this ‘where-should-I-buy-it’ stage, she starts paying visits to nearby auto dealerships. These visits push her closer to her decision as she finally enters the last step of her buyer’s journey - the ‘am-I-getting-a-deal’ moment. Here, Stacey haggles for the best possible deal through various online as well as offline options and ultimately settles for the best one she finds!
Now, throughout Stacey’s buyer journey, there are various opportunities to engage with her through different channels of communication. While she is doing her research online and visiting websites of dealerships in her vicinity, there is a possible opportunity to capture her phone number. This can be done by offering some promo/offer that is enticing enough for Stacey to want to trade in her number. Perhaps it's "schedule a test drive over text". Once she visits the store during the ‘where-should-I-buy-it’ stage, she has already built some kind of rapport with a sales advisor who has been in touch with her over calls or text messages. After her first visit, the sales advisor can qualify her further, ask for her preferred method of contact, and can continue the conversation over her preferred channel.
Once a journey is mapped out, the next important concept to grasp is attribution – knowing which channel is driving conversions. Only through attribution can you determine what are the most effective communication channels to include in your next campaign.
If you’re just starting out, first-touch and last-touch attribution models are a great place to start. As you get more advanced, you will realize that attributing a conversion to a single channel using a first or last touch model no longer makes sense. Today’s consumers use a variety of devices and bounce from channel to channel, so a better exercise is to find out how each of those channels contributes to a conversion.
Narrowing down your focus to 3 or 4 best performing channels will give you the clarity you need to develop an omnichannel customer engagement strategy.
Make better use of customer data to communicate effectively with your customers
The more you learn about your customers, the better you will converse with them. As is the case with today’s customers, they don’t expect the interaction with their favorite brands to be simply limited to their purchases. They want brands to be preemptive in their communication and outreach. They expect you to know what they like and converse with them accordingly.
What easier way to do this than to use your own data to inform the next-best-action?
As logical as this sounds, it does not happen in most organizations. Though companies collect a ton of info from their customers, it rarely finds its. way out of specific departments. This creates data silos in which every team sits on a certain data set and that data set doesn't get shared with other departments, despite all groups being able to derive insight from the data.
A siloed data structure like this is usually born out of a lack of integration between IT systems but more broadly due to a lack of focus from senior leadership on striving towards a single view of the customer with the end goal of serving them better. This needs to change. Organizations need to start using customer data for strategic decision making.
With the help of the information that the customers have agreed to share with you, try to find out how they interact with your brand, what is their frequently used platform of communication, and what kind of messaging elicits the best response from them.
Integrate customer data with your customer communication tools and streamline your communication process to get maximum returns from the customer outreach strategy.
Customers today want brands to value their time and respect their opinions. In fact, this Forrester study states that 71% of consumers say that valuing their time is the most important thing that a company can do. Preference management in terms of communicating with customers over their preferred channels is one of the best ways in which a brand can demonstrate to the customers that they respect their time. Doing so will ensure that the customers stay loyal to the brand even when presented with other choices.