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The ideal approach to customer contact

  • 6 min read

In the article “Houston we have contact!” we talked about the first three steps to take in designing and implementing your customer contact strategy. Whilst these are all necessary steps, they are still “tactical”. What we mean by this is that these steps are required to stop you hemorrhaging, but at the same time they are just the first aid not the cure. In order to implement the right contact strategy you need to stand back and understand where you are headed. What is the ideal experience that you are aiming to create for your customers? What is your Customer Vision? Then, what contact strategy do you need to make this come to life?

Most of you will have heard of “Mission, Vision and Goals” which is usually some statement about the performance of your company and how you will go about achieving that. From a customers’ point of view, however, that is just arrogant self-interest on the part of a company. It does little for your customer and they are not interested in it. A Customer Vision describes a better world for your customers where they can achieve more and describes how your company can uniquely help them to do this. The Customer Vision is your purpose beyond profit and is about making your customers’ lives better. This is why an important part of creating the Customer Vision is to get your customers’ input. We suggest that you need to collaborate with your customers for innovation, product and service design, policy setting and promise statements that will make the Customer Vision tangible. When the Customer Vision is clear then defining all other strategies, not just your contact strategy, becomes much easier.

In the following examples you can see how the Customer Vision would inform what sort of contact strategy is required:

  • Disney hopes to create “the happiest place on earth”
  • Pret A Manger promises “hand-made, natural food, avoiding obscure chemicals, additives and preservatives common to so much of the “prepared” and “fast food in the market today”
  • Ritz-Carlton describes itself as “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”
  • TGI Friday’s seeks to “treat every customer as we would an honored guest in our home”

The next layer in the Customer Vision is to determine how the customers want to communicate with you. Customers want to do business when, how and where they want. In the ideal world you always say the right thing at the right time through the right channel to each customer on an individual basis. By its very nature, this means that your contact strategy must span the channels that you communicate through and the departments that you communicate from. Communicating on the customer’s terms means:

  • Pull not push.
  • Stories not slogans.
  • Advocacy not awareness.
  • Permission not interruption.
  • Relationships not transactions.
  • Conversations not campaigns.

But great customer experiences are much more than consistent communications delivery across all the different touch-points – they are about ensuring that the entire journey, not just the sale, is connected coherent, consistent and complete. It’s about bringing the Customer Vision to life, making it distinctive and relevant and ultimately adding value at every point along the way. Meaningful experiences are about relevant and distinctive interactions rather than irrelevant and undifferentiated transactions. Instead of customers searching, selecting and being sold to, they are about helping customers to explore, play and buy.

You may have completed some customer journey mapping in the past. Most organisations who do this usually focus on one part of the journey though, where they are looking to optimise the experience or the process. This might be, for example, when a mobile phone operator maps the customer journey from buying the phone to receiving it. This would then have variations depending on the channel that the customer uses to make the purchase. Online the customer would get their phone through the post but in store it is a very different experience to map. For retail and service organisations the focus is very much about the in store journey and experience as that is where the most customer contact occurs.

While this is all very interesting, useful and important, it is not enough to cover what we need to map for all your communications. From the customers’ point of view the journey starts when they have a need and they start to look at how to fulfil that need. You may have also created a need in them through a clever advert! To map your customers’ entire journey, you have to start with their world and their need. How will they chose you? What else will they consider? Who influences them? This should then all be directly connected to the purchasing process or experience that you have in place. After the purchase you then need to maintain the data about their need – i.e. understanding why they purchased and then continuing your communications based around this intent. By mapping their entire journey including your ongoing and functional communications you can then spot all the opportunities that you are missing or mistakes that you are making with your communications.

Design of your contact strategy is about making sure that the customer has the optimum experience with you throughout their entire journey. To start the process of setting up your contact rules you must be able to detect when a customer is on a particular journey, how far they are on that journey and how long they have been on that journey. You must also be able to detect that they might be on several journeys at once with you which may lead them to making one or more purchases at the same or different times. Your contact rules at a simplest level are then set so that you do not interrupt that journey(s). However, you will have instances where you do need to and must communicate with a customer. This may be a mandatory or functional communication such as a bill. Your contact rules should allow for this but also make sure that the communication that you send is in context of the customers’ journey where that is appropriate.

Therefore, after the three initial analysis steps are underway (as outlined within the article “Houston we have contact”) the next three steps are these:

  1. Define a Customer Vision that will serve as your platform for all other customer related strategies.
  2. Map your customers’ journeys as they should be in your new world (end to end).
  3. Design your contact rules so that your customers’ journeys are not “interrupted or disrupted”.

This may feel like “eating the elephant”, and if you were to try and do all of this at once you would no doubt become overwhelmed. We suggest that you start small and build it out one journey at a time. By “fixing” problems with the first three steps you give yourself time to develop and implement a more appropriate contact strategy that follows your Customer Vision and builds the ideal customer journeys for that vision.