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Sunday, July 21, 2024

New Channels, New Powers: Are You Up to Speed with Customer Communications?

Consumers have more power than ever, and businesses will need to accept and embrace this to attract and, more importantly, retain them

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Not all the changes of the past two years are here to stay. But one area that has transformed is customer communications.

Every output from every customer communications management system is a customer experience, and each of those experiences is part of a customer journey – and that journey has changed. A digital-first, personalised approach is expected, and the ‘new’ ways of working are no longer new. Consumers have more power than ever, and businesses will need to accept and embrace this to attract and, more importantly, retain them.

Not only that, much of the digital transformation that took place at the beginning of the pandemic were short-term measures. In a world of unpredictability, businesses now need to look at removing these sticking plasters and replacing them with future-proofed solutions.

Digital first, not digital only

The circumstances surrounding the pandemic prompted a digitisation of business processes, including customer communications. Indeed, digital transformation was accelerated by several years[1]. Customers accepted a digital-first approach and now expect it, along with a high level of personalisation; both consumers and B2B buyers have an expectation that businesses know their specific needs[2].

Essential to personalisation is channel preference. There was a massive shift of communications spend to digital in the two years pre-pandemic[3], but that potentially overlooks the power of print. Studies have found that print is the most highly trusted medium available to marketers today, while website advertising, particularly through social channels, is the least trusted[4].

When planning their customer communications strategy, businesses should also bear in mind generational differences. Younger generations typically prefer digital-first methods such as text and live chat to phone and have embraced self-service and chatbots[5]. The pandemic has pushed older generations towards digital too, but organisations should be supportive and understanding of these new adopters as well as those who remain offline. In England, for example, this is nearly half of those aged over 75[6] – a significant proportion of a potential customer base who risk being lost via a digital-only strategy.

It’s not just missing the mark in terms of channel that could lose an organisation customer. Research by Quadient, a specialist in customer experience management software, found that 70 per cent of UK consumers would blacklist a company for failures in their customer communication, ranging from basic personal information errors, to using the pandemic as an excuse for delivering poor customer service, to sending spam[7]. One-third said they have stayed with businesses which offered poor customer service during the pandemic but will be moving to competitors when things return to normal.

Futureproofing for success

So, the customer communications landscape has changed, consumers have newfound power and organisations need to get up to speed quickly. But how do they adapt and achieve cut-through?

The key is a strategic, holistic approach that spans every line of business, ensuring each element is customer centric. Budgetary silos can mean organisations are not aligned across departments, resulting in a failure to meet expectations. For instance, if a customer calls the billing department to report a change of address, they will assume that change would be made across marketing and sales too. If it isn’t, they could be switching to a competitor. Customer communications solutions that do not replicate changes throughout the data flow, or do not automate such tasks, have the potential to create more problems than they solve.

Many organisations who made knee-jerk purchases prompted by the pandemic are now finding they are not fit for purpose long-term. Businesses may need to reconfigure or entirely replace them – otherwise they are simply a stopgap solution that could ultimately fail.

To be fully future-proofed, look also to the cloud. Traditionally customer communications solutions have been on-premises, but businesses should invest in a solution that is both on-site and accessible via the cloud with the ability to switch from one to the other – an approach that meets the needs of a hybrid workforce.

Hybrid working is now the norm across many parts of the globe[8]. It’s clear that for staff to complete customer communications work efficiently and effectively they need seamless access wherever they are located. As well as affecting customer relations, mistakes here could risk losing employees. ‘The Great Resignation’ reflects a greater ability for people to leave jobs which don’t meet their personal needs[9], or where they encounter obstacles to their productivity in their chosen location.

The uncertain future

Customer communications solutions typically have a lifespan of ten, and in some cases, up to 20 years. That’s a weighty consideration for anyone charged with the responsibility of making such investments. And, if the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that nothing is certain.

However, we can make some forecasts. Quadient predicts customer services will continue to fragment and multiply in volume and reiterates that meeting fast-evolving customer expectations isn’t possible unless organisations are joined up internally from a process and technology perspective[10]. Lines of business need to work together and consolidate data from different stages of the customer journey, making every aspect customer centric.

With that in mind, organisations should look at the changes that need to be made now. How can accurate personalisation be assured? How can departments work more efficiently together? What are the issues in the current workflow? Answer those questions today to invest in a successful tomorrow.

By Tushar Vashnavi

Director of Strategic Planning, Canon EMEA

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