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The changing landscape of customer communication

Shivakumar Ganesan
21st Sep 2016
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Communication has always been one of the primary sources of customer engagement and therefore loyalty. Irrespective of the size of the business, customer happiness and loyalty are of utmost importance.

Customer communication is no longer about being available when they want to talk to the company or vice-versa. It is about ensuring that this conversation is productive and happens via a medium of the client’s choice. Also, this communication needs to be powered in a secure manner without compromising on the customer's security.

Traditionally, the need for customer interaction occurred only in one instance - support. A customer interaction channel was necessary to ensure that they knew the right avenue to reach out to a brand in case of an issue.

The-changing-landscape-of-customer-communication

The role of technology

The use of technology to deliver a better customer experience is not path breaking. Customer service has been thriving with the help of technology for the last decade or so. With more companies turning to technology to help them deliver a flawless customer experience, more avenues of communication have opened up. Earlier, phone calls were the only known and accepted form of customer interaction. Then, there was a marked shift with more customers and companies choosing to move to email.

Businesses started experimenting with canned responses and auto-responders. This gave them a glimpse into the possibility of managing customer interaction without constant human intervention.

After that came real-time chat. And today, we have companies experimenting with bots to make customer interaction self-sufficient with as little human intervention as possible.

If we were to draw up a chart of progression of the use of technology, it would look like this:

  1. Telephones
  2. E-mails
  3. Real-time chat
  4. Bots

Changing customer needs

Today, customer communication is not just about being available to address grievances.

Give the customer what they want

The expectation of customers today is three fold:

  1. Personalisation - Spray and pray method has never really worked for businesses. But the only reason it continued to be the only way businesses worked was because of the lack of an alternative. In the pre-technology days, it was impossible for a business to personalise marketing, communication or support due to the lack of knowledge. But today, businesses can analyse data collected from customers to understand their preferences. And the reason this works is because businesses can train their systems to understand customer’s preferences without them having to explicitly state it.

For example, how would you feel if a customer service representative greeted you by name every time you called their helpline? Having to identify themselves and repeat their entire history before even getting to the problem is every customer’s grouse. When you do something as simple as integrating your customer relationship management (CRM) and your phone system, agents can see who is calling even before they answer the phone.

  1. Multi-channel presence - While brands have understood the need to be available across media, we still have a long way to go before customers can experience personalisation across media. A customer who tweets about an issue they’re having should be able to continue the conversation over a phone call or email without having to explain themselves all over again. Even if there are different reps handling both these media, the customer should feel like they are interacting with one entity - the brand.
  2. Better control - Technology also helps customers control their preferences. Customers can now tell brands how they want to be contacted.

Customers want self-service, voice, digital and social means to interact with a company and its people      and they still expect each to deliver a personalised experience.

The phone is still the most preferred tool, which makes sense when you consider that talking to a knowledgeable, kind person who is helpful is about as personal as you can get.

Still, in the past three years, the use of other channels has risen:

Web self-service18 percent
Online communities39 percent
Chat43 percent

source

While all of this seems like a lot of change and a lot of process for brands, it all points to one simple thing - proactive customer communication.

Why proactive customer communication is here to stay

Proactive customer communication is not the flavor of the season. It’s about giving customers what they need before they ask for it. It is here to stay because it works for both the customer and the brand they’re interacting with.

What is proactive customer communication?

Proactive communication is a paradigm of event-triggered communication based on user interaction with a product, service or application. When a customer initiates an event, you can choose to communicate with the customer. Usually, this communication happens via one or all of these three channels - calls, SMS and email notification.

While email notification is a good-to-have essential, it is seldom checked in real-time. Calls can be intrusive. SMS is the most non-intrusive and helpful way to keep customers informed.

For example, let’s take the case of e-commerce and logistics companies. Communication plays a major role in ensuring that the customer satisfaction. According to a global consumer survey82 percent of consumers said it is was important that retailers proactively communicate every fulfilment and delivery stage, with 45 percent saying they track order status by SMS/phone and 85 percent using email to stay updated.

In the case of e-commerce deliveries, proactive communication not only helps customers keep updated about their orders, but also helps companies avoid failure of deliveries. Delivery failures is a waste of effort, manpower and funds for the companies as well.

Toeing the line

While proactive customer communication is a powerful tool, there is a very thin line separating being helpful and spamming a customer. Brands need to be mindful of this access and err on the side of caution.

“You gain respect in drops, but can lose it in gallons.”

Creating a positive experience for your customers goes a long way to creating an affinity and eventually loyalty for your brand.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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