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How Do You Communicate With Your Customers?

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Communication is at the center of human interaction. Marketers are well aware of the importance of communication and it’s no surprise that customer engagement, customer experience, and lifecycle management are  popular keywords today. We have to communicate well to engage our customers and to deepen relationships over time.

Marketers have plenty of collected data residing behind multiple firewalls. The opportunity remains to put this data to use and drive more effective communications. The trouble is, as we’ve been accumulating customer data, the target just shifted. There are more channels than ever that we can use to communicate with our customers and it’s a big challenge to understand customer preferences by channel.

The essential question remains: How do we communicate effectively with our customers?

If that sounds like a theoretical or just plain dumb question, consider this:

Email is the new postal service. Come rain, shine, or snow, it’s the core communication vehicle for most people. Of course when the “cloud” has a stormy period and outages occur, business grinds to a sudden halt.

Meanwhile, conversations are sparked through LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, SMS, and the occasional comment stream in a corporate blog.

Where conversations start says a lot about where they should best be maintained. I don’t know if this is scientific, but it sure is practical.

LinkedIn messaging is often indicative of newly formed relationships. Sometimes though, we get messages, invitations, and read questions from trusted friends who prefer to communicate within this social network, and it takes effort to move the stream to email.

The same thing happens in Facebook. For those who consider their Facebook page as their entry point to the internet, conversations flourish “on the wall”.

Direct messages in Twitter often deliver the substance that some people think is otherwise lacking in the microblogging format. Information is shared that would (should) never be in the public timeline, making it a great vehicle to collect opinions of high reliability.

Closer and more personal connections tend to share via SMS, and there are folks who leave their favorite IM package open all day in substitute for SMS. Conversations as well as file transfers are facilitated. Skype is becoming more powerful in this area.

The simple act of setting up a meeting these days carries with it an overhead factor that is fueled by channel choice. “Overhead” is defined as the time required to organize call participants, set up conference lines, confirm with everyone, and then remain flexible to accommodate fluid schedules. Think about how much time and effort you have spent to organize your last few conference calls. Not the recurring sales call on Monday morning, the call with the newly formed project team or with a prospective client or partner. I’ll bet 20-30 minutes could be absorbed to organize a one hour call.

Calls and meetings on my own calendar over the past month have been originated and organized via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, SMS, Skype – yep, everything except Foursquare. Have you noticed the same phenomena in your business day?

Shift your attention back to the original question…how do we communicate effectively with our customers? The old saw of making the “right offer, right person, right channel, right time” has taken on another dimension as channel choice has exploded.

The bad news is that finding the right combination to perfect communication is more complex. The good news is that the opportunity to solidify relationships and build trust when you get the combination right is more potent than ever.

In a world where points matter less and building trust matters more, you must rationalize a way to  engage your customers through the channel of their choice in order to put the magic back in your communications stream.

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Communications

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