While deciphering the hidden message behind emoticons or abbreviations like DILLIGAS may be brain-boggling, consumer communication tools like Whatsapp, Facebook messenger and Snapchat are making leaps forward in allowing people to communicate in a clear, and seemingly natural manner while on the move.
The evolution of functions -- from Facebook’s poke, to emojis, to "message received" notifications and voice messages -- are increasingly mimicing human gestures in real life face-to-face interactions. Rather than simply playing message tennis, new tools facilitate users having real conversations.
However, enterprise communication is still stuck way behind the times. Bots and live chat may allow companies to converse with their users, but interactions are still far from being human and personal. Users still receive the same spammy emails, generic newsletters and irrelevant messaging that do little to develop their relationship with a company or brand. Customers are used to emotive, one-on-one conversations in their real lives, but this does not translate into their interactions with brands and services which they pay for -- which reduces consumer trust and brand loyalty.
I spoke to Intercom co-founder Des Traynor and Affinio co-founder Ardi Iranmanesh about how enterprises can have real, meaningful conversations with their clients to keep them happy and coming back for more.
1. Treat users like humans, and they will return.
Traynor argues that as client interactions became predominantly internet-based, what businesses gained in terms of the ability of instantaneous global distribution, they sacrificed in terms of loyalty and richness of interaction.
Looking back to the pre-internet age, local store owners were able to develop trust with their local customers by building relationships over time. Chatty business owners accumulated information about their customers lives from short conversational snippets. All it took was a comment such as “How’s your kid’s team getting along?” “How was the holiday?” or “The Seahawks are killing it this year!” to instantaneously rekindle that personal bond that kept customers coming back.
Nowadays when we need to renew our online security subscription or buy a SaaS product for our company, who do we go to? As enterprises have become more faceless, they have lost the consumer trust and loyalty that was once enjoyed by store owners, who consumers knew as a real person with a face and a name.
In a time when products as simple as razor blades are being sold on a subscription model, this lack of consumer loyalty can really hurt the bottom lines of companies. However, there are steps online businesses can take to make themselves seem a little more human. Traynor argues the most important element is in careful messaging.
“Loyalty is the basis for everything," Traynor said, "and loyalty only comes from positive interactions and positive relationships. The only way to achieve this is by speaking to people, treating them like humans. Specifically that means no spam. You wouldn’t try to sell coffee to someone who is already drinking coffee in a coffee shop.”
It only takes one badly planned or irrelevant message to an existing customer to show them that your enterprise really doesn’t know who they are or recognize the fact they are already paying for a product or service. This could be a message asking them to upgrade to a service they already subscribe to, a deal not relevant to their package or addressing them as "Dear user" in an email.
If you treat customers like leads, customers will start treating your product as a simple commodity. They will start looking for the cheapest, easiest and most accessible version of it elsewhere.
2. Actively help users get value from your service.
Technology businesses have changed. Whereas software was once sold as a "one-off payment," businesses now rely predominantly on subscription models. This shift offers the opportunity to keep happy customers paying indefinitely for invaluable tools, but also means users can cut their losses and leave whenever a better offer -- or level of service -- emerges.
Traynor points to Adobe photoshop as an example. While 10 years ago it was sold for $1,000 upfront -- and they didn’t care if you used it or not because they already had your money -- It's now selling it for just $29 a month. “For the partnership to work they need to be on the ball and extract 30 months of revenue from you, which only comes from good relationship and positive interactions,” he says.
Whereas companies used to be able to make the big sale then sit back and relax, nowadays every client effectively becomes "at risk" at the end of every single monthly payment cycle. Traynor suggests the answer lies in offering proactive support, which involves a shift in mindset, merging sales and customer support.
“No product is so perfect that you can simply sign on and use it the first time. Everyone needs a nudge in the right direction, and that kind of nudge is best done person to person,” he said. “Businesses spend so much time spending money acquiring visitors to their website yet when they get to the website and they sign up, they don’t spend anywhere near as much time on making these people actually turn into customers.”
To do this, businesses need to make themselves available across a range of channels -- phone, email, Whatsapp, Slack, social media -- and respond to any queries in a timely manner with a real human customer service representative who can resolve any issues.
But to make the service proactive, they need to highlight pain points for their clients and either resolve the problems before they arise, or be ready when they do. This can be achieved by regularly asking for feedback online, reaching out to users for regular updates and monitoring social media and community forums for any mention of products or bad experiences online.
A recent study by New York University found that more than 37 percent all Tweets were customer service related, which offers a goldmine of opportunities to reel unhappy customers back in and improve an overall service for the rest of the users.
Another method is to help customers solve problems by themselves by offering all of the information they could possibly need in FAQ sections. It's also smart to offer video tutorials for common issues that should resolve on their own. Forward thinking companies are increasingly concentrating on creating content machines which inform and educate the community with information relevant to their own interests and livelihoods.
A study by inContact found 87 percent of adults surveyed are happy to be contacted proactively by companies regarding customer service issues. Another report by Enkata found that taking initiative in customer support could increase customer retention rates by as much as five percent. While these tactics will involve rapidly expanding customer service teams and focusing efforts on new functions like creating content, Traynor thinks it is worth the extra expenditure. “People don’t necessarily wrap their head around it immediately, they feel like ‘oh gosh I have to hire all these people to have all these conversations that we were never having before’. But the trade off is you’re going to capture all this revenue that you were never capturing before -- and all their loyalty and engagement you were never capturing before.”
3. Show users you really know who they are.
Clients need to feel that the company they pay thousands of dollars to each year cares about them. They need to feel valued as a real person or business with specific aims and needs.
Today, enterprises have the opportunity to gather huge amounts of information about their clients from internal sources -- purchases, actions on their accounts, customer service interactions, behavior on website, content marketing clicks -- and external sources, like the goldmine of insights offered by social media platforms.
The ability to show a customer they are valued and create a flowing conversation lies in offering personalized and consistent customer service. This means every single customer interaction should be logged, so that representatives know exactly where clients are in their cycle and their history using the product or service.
“It’s infuriating if you dial someone, and they ask you basic questions they should already know," Traynor said. "That’s the experience created by using fractured systems which don’t create human-to-human conversations. You don’t want a customer to ever feel like you’ve forgotten them.”
But aside from making sure that customers have a fluid journey using internal data, Ardi Iranmanesh argues that modern enterprises need to use a range of external sources, like social media accounts, to paint the bigger picture of the client, their interests and their passions.
“Everyone is trying to reach customer centricity and own the customer journey," Iranmanesh said, "but to reach and optimize this, enterprises need to reach them on a different level. I like basketball. You like football. This has to be in journey.”
He argues that while segmentation has become a marketing buzzword, companies need to take it multiple steps further than simply knowing a person's age, sex and location. Using what he refers to as "unsupervised segmentation," Iranmanesh advises companies to use a mix of social media and internal data to learn real and useful insights.
“Go one step further. Look at their likes, interests, what they are talking about, what communities are they part of. These are real insights into their lives and character,” he said. “Enterprises are sitting on goldmine of social data which they have been collecting for years. They have a massive amount of data but no one to mine it and reveal the gold.”
When enterprises know how users behave in other parts of their lives, they can reach them in more natural manners. This could include reaching out to users on the social media channels where they already spend their time and targeting users with content they are really interested in, based on other information gathered about them.
However, Iranmanesh said companies need to use the wealth of data they have available in a constructive manner, by making graphs and mapping links and connections to truly create personal profiles for their customers. Companies should look at the people who are using the service, their passions, the other tools they use and the affinities they have. Use this information to facilitate building an emotional connection with them.
There is no silver bullet solution for B2C and B2B communication, but as consumer communication tools continue to improve, users will expect to see these improvements mirrored by the companies they use too.
Making customer messaging and marketing more personalized and human requires a cultural shift as much as a technological one. Customer service and sales teams need to harness the new tools available to them to ensure clients are walked through their journey and personal relationships are developed over time. With so many choices available to consumers, every communication becomes a make or break situation. It might only take one badly planned message to make the client send the email equivalent of an angry emoticon and head elsewhere.