Kieran Kilmartin from Pitney Bowes Software outlines how organisations can achieve effective cross-channel communication with customers.
The proliferation of new channels has put marketing communications at a crossroads. In principle, ubiquitous access to always-on customers is like manna from heaven for marketers. However, these days, customers are becoming less and less tolerant of the marketing onslaught, especially when it is done indiscriminately.
At the very least, today’s savvy customers expect to be understood by the brands who want to sell to them, and communicated with accordingly.
This may sound obvious but the historical silos between customer-facing functions such as service, sales, marketing and brand make it challenging for organisations to speak to customers in a clear and coherent voice.
A recent Opinion Matters survey of marketing directors in financial services, telecom and utility companies showed that the majority of brands fall short of reaching effective integration of all communication channels and messages.
Fragmented, inconsistent communications not only cause annoyance and frustration among customers, it leads to lost business opportunities and may ultimately lead to customer churn.
A holistic approach
Rising acquisition costs continue to reinforce the received wisdom that retaining an existing customer is five to six times less expensive than winning a new one. Hanging on to customers also opens up greater opportunities to increase revenue and raise profitability throughout the customer life cycle.
However, many companies already fall at the first hurdle, with customers often being lost during the ‘on-boarding’ process; typically characterised by the first 90 days of a commercial relationship. This is the period when customers need to be shown that their custom is valued and reassured that they have made the right purchase decision.
The Opinion Matters research shows that the single biggest reason for losing customers at this early stage is fragmented ownership of the client relationship within the organisation. Nearly a third of respondents highlighted this as an issue.
Clearly, a customer is not going to be impressed when they receive uncoordinated communications from what they perceive to be the same company, or get passed from pillar to post when they have a query. What they don’t see is that, in the background, different parts of the organisation all scrabble for their attention.
Often these ownership silos have evolved over time, where functional departments have developed their own customer data repositories and communications programmes. In order to handle customer relationships effectively, these fiefdoms need to be removed as a matter of priority.
Each customer-facing department must have access to a single, comprehensive view of the customer, their buying history, previous interactions and preferences, preferably in real-time. It has to be clear what communications the customer has received, from whom and at what time, and policies have to be put in place to avoid communications ‘overload’ and inappropriate messaging.
Earlier this year, the industry analyst group Forrester highlighted that, when interacting with companies, customers want to be able start a dialogue in one channel and seamlessly complete it in another. For instance, if they have already had an IM exchange, or have received an email offer, the expectation is that the call centre will be aware of these conversations when they ring in. In the minds of customers, clearly, it is no longer about ‘multi-channel’ communication, but agile use of different media, allowing them to communicate however, and whenever, they choose.
This change in the customer mindset means that integrating the diverse communications channels companies use is becoming critical to the success of a company’s marketing efforts. Not surprisingly, the day-to-day reality is very different.
With the rapid proliferation of channels over the last decade, many organisations have taken an experimental approach to deploying them. It is therefore not surprising that only a third of the marketing directors surveyed by Opinion Matters claimed to have a truly cross-channel approach to customer communications.
One channel that lives a particularly sheltered life is the call centre. The picture that emerges from the study is one of static scripts and limited access to customer information, preventing agents on the frontline from having effective conversations with callers. In the same vein, nearly a third of organisations surveyed do not exploit inbound calls to cross-sell or up-sell to existing customers - even though it is often the only way to communicate with customers who have opted out of receiving marketing messages.
It’s all about you, and you, and you
Once marketers can achieve a single customer view, make this information available to all customer touch-points and integrate their channels across internal divides, they will be much further down the road of personalised marketing.
For now, however, many of them are stuck in the age of mass marketing. One strong indication of this is the research finding that static, broad-brush segmentation models abound, and that marketers make little use of customer value or response data.
This is at odds with the need to enter into meaningful, personalised dialogues with customers in order to overcome their – by now well-honed – defence mechanisms against marketing.
That said, sophisticated audience segmentation is not rocket science: ever-more complex analytics can now straddle the online and offline worlds, taking on board more and more feeds of inbound customer information, whether it is demographic, location-based or behavioural. As a result, it is easier than ever to profile customers, model their lifetime value and profitability, as well as predict individual customer behaviour and identify offers and messages that they will respond to.
In the age of the savvy customer, fragmented, inconsistent and broad-brush communications no longer have a place in modern marketing. What is more, such outdated practices are likely to be a turn-off for customers and prospects, and will not help with new sales, raising customer lifetime value or stemming churn.
To increase the likelihood of a positive customer response, companies must use every opportunity to glean customer insights, use them to analytically drive their interactions with customers, and put mechanisms in place to coordinate their communication outreach. Otherwise, they may find themselves on a downward spiral.
Kieran Kilmartin is marketing director, EMEA & India, Pitney Bowes Software.