How to avoid alienating customers with irrelevant communications

By David Mills, CEO, Ricoh Europe

The cut-throat market of today requires companies to constantly seek new ways to innovate, make cost-effective spending decisions and apply technology best suited for growth across the entire business.

When it comes to customer communications, it can be tempting to take a scattered approach to attracting new customers and upselling to your current base. But how successful is this tactic? Could the answer to increasing customer spend and brand loyalty lie in the way you communicate? Boards across Europe need to take note and realise that how they choose to communicate with customers could be the crucial factor in pulling ahead of the competition.

Research commissioned by Ricoh Europe reveals that consumers receive an average of 47 pieces of communications from businesses every week. With a quarter of this considered junk, and over half of survey respondents saying they’d stop being customers of organisations if the communications they sent were poor quality, this adds up to billions of wasted euros in marketing spend. This means how businesses communicate with their customers requires a radical rethink to be truly effective.

Firstly, in addition to traditional direct mail, an ever-expanding array of channels including email, text and social media, are now available for organisations to instantly communicate with consumers. But with such wide choice, businesses need to ask themselves which channels their customers prefer, whether one might be preferable over another and when.

Brands, across all sectors, need to make their communications much more relevant to customers’ individual circumstances and increasingly that means digital. A staggering 70 percent of consumers want digital communications to serve the majority of purposes. However, print and more traditional methods of communication still have their place. Documents perceived as having more importance, such as contracts, are wanted in a digital format by 45 percent of consumers. With this in mind, brands must be prepared to offer communications in a range of formats, both print and digital, suitable to their purpose and the wants of the individual consumer.

Secondly, how to make communications work best for the business isn’t an issue that one part of the organisation can solve alone. The explosion of customer data in recent years means all members of the board need to work together more closely and look for ways to organise, manage and utilise information to create more targeted customer communications.

The good news is that eight-in-ten consumers are willing to share personal information to ensure the messages they receive from brands are relevant to them. Starting with the information they already have available, for example in billing, about their customers’ individual demographics, businesses should look to connect these pools of data to build a picture detailing each customers’ full range of needs. Using the knowledge you already have about the customer to learn how, and when, to communicate is crucial to its effectiveness and in securing repeat business.

Lastly, communications need to evolve in-line with the shift from selling products to selling services. With more and more businesses aiming to secure customers through continuous long-term service contracts rather than a single sale, regulators are keen to ensure communications are also accurate and jargon-free. Regulation such as the EU Directive on Misleading and Comparative Advertising means CEOs should be all too aware that misleading claims can result in heavy fines as well as reputational damage. In fact, Harvard Business School identifies leading a company amid shifting regulation and legislation as one of the top challenges facing the modern CEO. In a world where many companies are shifting away from selling individual products towards selling ongoing services, building strong customer relationships by ensuring customers feel valued though personalised communications is key. Impersonal communications can easily prevent that relationship from developing to its full potential.

In a competitive market, the quality of communications could be the deciding factor between a business’ overall success or failure. Communications perceived as spam have the potential to erode customer loyalty, trust and spend. Often overlooked, but with such a huge influence on the business, shifting your company’s mind-set to reorganise your approach to communication  starts from the top-down, and should be a priority in the boardroom today.

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Read the May 2016 issue of Business Review Europe magazine.


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