Photo by Roman Pohorecki
Before, opening up these direct channels of communication was timely and costly. It meant sending people out into stores to directly engage with consumers, or sending direct mail pieces and hoping that they got returned. With the advent of the internet, communicating with your customers got faster, but it didn’t necessarily become more effective.
Many companies are trying to engage their customers through traditional or existing channels. While some are experiencing success, that success still comes at a very costly price, requiring a lot of time, energy, and often money.
In other words, where suggestions and good ideas go to die. Physical suggestion boxes are easily forgotten, or ignored and as a result, the ideas submitted tend to go nowhere fast. Electronic suggestion boxes are a bit more manageable, but can still feel like a blackhole to users, especially if their ideas are never acted upon.
Direct mail has seen its heyday, experienced a decline, and now is making a comeback. The overabundance of direct mail pieces, lead to this communication channel becoming ineffective, thus people stopped utilizing it.
Now that we receive less pieces of mail, it’s becoming effective once more. Modern technologies, like making text look like handwriting to personalize these pieces, are having a direct impact on the open rate and the effectiveness of the communications.
There is power in a customized message delivered directly to your customers. And if this message is in a format to which it’s easy to respond, that’s even better right? Engaging your customers via email can be a relatively cost effective way to engage your customers.
You can either chose to engage these customers one at a time, which makes them feel special, or you can send an email blast. Emailing them one at a time enables you to better track nuances in their responses and engage a customer further if they provide useful insights. The mass communication in the email blast saves time, and allows you to reach a higher percentage of those customers.
These platforms have made it, not only into almost all of your customers’ households, but directly into their hands, wherever they go. Just like the old Party Line, social media platforms have now become the way your customers communicate with each other, the way they receive much of their news, and even where they make purchasing decisions.
When your customers utilize social media and are engaged with you this can be a great tool for gathering insights. Social listening and engagement has become a major part of the sales strategy for many brands.
What is better than actually getting to sit down with some of your customers and really talk to the about your brand, the way they feel about it and how they engage with your products and services?
Focus Groups enable you to directly engage with your customers, and see their reactions in addition to collecting their responses. This method of gaining feedback can help you collect a treasure trove of data.
Just because direct channels of communication exist, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they work for everyone or that they work all of the time. There are positives to utilizing more traditional channels of communication like email, social media and focus groups, but these channels come with drawbacks as well.
Direct mail, email, and even social media messages all start conversations with the brand and try to engage customers, but they aren’t a very smooth way to start a conversation. These pieces are considered disruptive, as in they interrupt the daily life of your customers and place the burden of engagement on them.
Think about the last direct mail flyer, customer appreciation newsletter or social media message that you received from a brand. We’re willing to bet that every one of these pieces asked you to do something.
All communication and customer engagement takes time, but how much time they take is an important question when considering which to implement in your customer outreach strategy. The time and effort these traditional channels of communication take to manage, can be costly. Every minute your resources spend creating emails, or conducting focus groups is a minute that they could be using to do something else, like actually make sense of the data being gathered. Direct mail requires a heavy design hand, email is faster but still requires time testing and validating, etc.
Your ability to collect information through engaging your customers is directly impacted by the quality of the data you already have. If you have bad or incorrect contact information for your customers, it’s going to be next to impossible to get information from them. People are now being bombarded with ads and messages from all of the brands they purchase and will often decline to give you their information, give false information or just toss it in the trash (both physically and electronically).
If you have one piece of information, like a mailing address or social media account for your customers, that doesn’t necessarily mean that these customers are excited to give you more access to their daily lives.
Once you leverage one of these traditional channels of communication, some resource or resources within your company actually has to gather up the data so that it can be analyzed, and used to make informed decisions.
The channel of communication used to engage the customer base has a direct impact upon the ease or difficulty of collecting that information, as does the technology that you implement around it. Take email for example, if you ask people to respond to an email, someone is stuck gathering up one off responses. Utilizing something like a digital form to collect responses makes it easier to collect information, but does so at the risk of diminishing the participation rate of respondents.
All of the negative aspects of these widely utilized yet ineffective direct channels of communication stem from the fact that we as companies are trying to use forms of communication that our customers choose for their personal communication. You are trying to reach your customers when they are engaged in other activities. Effectively, we are standing on the periphery of their life, waving our arms and shouting “come talk to me” every bit as much as we were, when we were sending people out into stores to directly talk to customers.