What Facebook can teach marketers about cross-channel communications

14th Jan 2013

Like Facebook, companies must realise that one-way communication with their customers is not going to work in today’s connected world, says David Harvey.

Your customers do it without even knowing it: cross-channel messaging. They post to Facebook via text message, track and respond to friends’ comments through email and upload photos directly from their mobile phone. Yet when they deal with companies, it’s an entirely different story.  Most companies still message at customers for a start and are incapable of switching between different forms of communication mid-conversation. That’s not going to cut it for too much longer. The ability to interact with customers when and how they want and to preserve the context of that interaction across multiple channels – email, text, IM, social - will be key to success when it comes to doing business with the next generation of consumers.
Where’s the problem?
Think for a moment about your experience as a consumer dealing with your bank, mobile provider or a retailer. In most cases you’re dealing with one company, but you receive messages from a number of different departments under that brand: product offers from marketing, bill notifications from finance, business updates from customer service. Often, there is no continuity across the company’s communications with you because each department views you separately. Worse still, most large organisations still treat email, SMS, social media and instant message (IM) as separate entities, run by different groups with individual objectives. It’s a structural roadblock that in turn has created technology barriers. So while consumers are merrily cross-messaging amongst themselves via Facebook, their interactions with companies are completely siloed.
We, the older generation might put up with this situation because it’s what we’re used to. But you can bet that Gen Y and its successors – social media natives – will not. They’ll choose the brands that ‘get it’ and that don’t dictate the method of interaction.
Some light on the horizon
It’s not all doom and gloom out there. We’ve started to see some companies creating technologies that allow them to communicate more effectively across channels — for example, mobile providers enabling customers to text short codes to get account balances or find out how much of their text or data allowance they have remaining. Some even offer the option of call-back requests, click-to-call or click-to-IM options, so the digital conversation can go beyond the initial message.
Beyond transactional messaging
Facebook turned what is essentially a simple transactional alert – the text or email you get to let you know that Jane posted something on your wall – into an engagement channel by allowing people to post comments in return or click through to the site. It is a simplistic form of cross-channel messaging, but is extraordinarily effective at driving traffic and increasing engagement. This form of transactional alert is not that different from the confirmation emails we get when shopping online, however Facebook alerts encourage interaction and ensure users can connect via other messaging channels, not just on the website. 
With good reason, Facebook has been called “CRM for individuals,” because it’s essentially a personal data store with intelligent messaging and communication capabilities integrated into the mix. While not every company needs Facebook’s level of engagement, every company should be aiming to provide the best customer experience possible. Most large and medium size enterprises already have advanced CRM implementations or customer data systems. The trick is to use that data more intelligently, to empower it with a centralised digital messaging capability. Consumers today use multiple modes of communication and therefore companies need to match their customer’s communication preferences.
Two-way communication across multiple channels
A company that has multiple systems for sending and responding to customer emails, texts, IM and social conversations will struggle to handle an interaction that strays beyond its initial channel. Going forward, it will be vital to preserve the context of a conversation even as it moves from say social to email. This calls for an intelligent messaging capability that can hook into numerous separate backend systems and handle outgoing and incoming messages in multiple formats.
Like Facebook, companies must realise that one-way communication with their customers is not going to work in today’s connected world. Younger customers expect one-on-one relationships with the companies they do business with and have no interest in dealing with a brand that does not respond to their needs when requested. The next generation of consumers will demand personalised interactions and tailored experiences when dealing with companies. This means it will be crucial for marketers to have the capability of participating in a two-way communication across multiple channels. Organisations that are able to effectively communicate with customers via their chosen channel will be better positioned to serve their customers’ needs and increase their brand loyalty. 

David Harvey is SVP EMEA at Message Systems.

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