Customer communication is one of the most important aspects of your business. Your customers will dictate the success of your enterprise—keep them happy and informed, and they’ll keep coming back to you for all their needs, telling their friends about the pleasant experience. Make a misstep, however, and you could permanently lose a potentially lifelong follower.
Communication is the key to retaining this level of satisfaction. No matter how perfectly constructed your business is, something is eventually going to go wrong—you’ll miss a shipment, you’ll send out a defective product, or your service won’t go as anticipated. When those things inevitably do go wrong, communicating quickly, politely, and accurately is the only way to remedy the issue.
We’re entering a new era of customer communication, and adequately preparing for the transition can position your company for great success.
For decades, most businesses have worked to turn their customer communication strategy into gigantic funnels, one for inbound communications and one for outbound communications. At the mouth of the inbound funnel, the entirety of the customer base would be ushered into one channel for further service. For example, a company would have a single “customer service” phone number that would accept all requests, no matter their intentions. This number would be listed on product packaging, promotional materials, emails, catalogs, ads, and would be given out to anybody who inquired using a different channel.
Similarly, the majority of outbound communications would occur in a concentrated medium. For example, a company would work to ensure that every customer was signed up to receive email blasts, and then rely on the power of those emails to reach the entirety (or majority) of its customer base.
The advantages of this model are clear; by concentrating all your effort into one channel, you save time and money and produce a much more efficient system. You can invest exclusively in your inbound customer hotline, making new hires and establishing new processes, and eventually, your team will become masters at handling inquires.
But there are also disadvantages to this system. Because there is no redundancy, a failure in this line of communication is an instant and non-rectifiable failure across the board. Because you can never be sure that you’ve made this channel available to the entirety of your customer base, you’ll have a few stragglers that never realize its benefits.
Today, the disadvantages to the funnel-based system have outnumbered the advantages. Too much has changed, both from a communications technology and from a customer needs perspective, to allow this approach to continue.
Take, for example, the sheer number of communication channels available. In a world once exclusively dominated by in-person visits, direct mail, and phone calls, a funneled approach could be feasible. However, once you add in emails, online directories, instant messages, video chats, and about a thousand different social media platforms, that once-narrow path becomes much wider. Ostensibly, these channels are so diverse in function, advantages, and disadvantages, that it would be inefficient to forward each one to a singular final destination.
Along with this, consider the fact that each individual customer has different communication preferences. A high school student might only use apps like Snapchat and Instagram to communicate with his/her peers. A young adult might rely mostly on emails, but jump on Facebook from time to time. A senior might prefer more traditional means of communication, or direct human contact. Each demographic and each individual will have unique preferences, so funneling them all to one communication channel will instantly alienate the majority of them.
The sheer availability of technology has also created more problems for the funnel approach. The majority of modern users have a smartphone in their pocket at all times, capable of using multiple forms of communication instantly and reliably. This has created a generation of users that demands instant answers to common inquiries. If they are forced to go through multiple steps, or are forwarded to different communications channels, they may become impatient and abandon the process altogether.
The best approach for the modern era is to capitalize on the number of channels that are available. It’ll take some extra work up front, and in some cases, more managerial expenses, but the flip side is that you’ll be able to please a larger percentage of your audience a larger percentage of the time. At the end of the day, your customers’ happiness is all that matters.
If you’re looking for a checklist of channels to make available, this one can get you started—but be sure to add your own preferred mediums to the mix:
Begin your strategy by offering as many mediums as possible, but do monitor their progress over time. You’ll likely find that some of your channels perform better than others, and some are flat-out duds. Feel free to eliminate the duds in favor of routing those expenses to your more popular channels. Having a multi-channel approach doesn’t mean you have to invest in all those channels equally—it just means you have to make those channels available.