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Where existing customer contact goes wrong

  • 5 min read

As you start to investigate where your customer contact/communications are causing problems with your customers you will quickly realise that what you need is a contact strategy. Your next question will be “What is a contact strategy?” if you have not come across this before. At a most basic level it should be rules that can be implemented organisation wide that define what customers should receive, how often, timing and channel that they get the message on. That is generally a lot harder to do than it would seem on the surface.

The worst experiences that the customer can have with your communications are generally caused by having no contact strategy at all. For organisations that operate like this, it basically means there are no rules that govern any communication with the customer. Given how long CRM technologies have been around and how long there has been plenty of research showing how being customer focused is a much more profitable way of doing business, you would think with that there shouldn’t be any businesses doing this. But old habits die hard. What has invariably happened is that there was some focus in the past but new people have come into the organisation and the focus inevitably slips back onto my product or my function and looking after my part of the world. The result is that contact strategies get abandoned.

Equally commonplace is where a contact strategy does exist but only within an individual channel or department. For example, you may have rules in place for outbound campaigns that time and sequence who receives what messages but the rules are not applied to any other communications being sent by the business. This is most often the case in B2C organisations where there is a contact strategy run by marketing for campaigns but nothing in place for customer services or other areas of the business. As a consequence a customer could get a promotion for a product when they are in the middle of a complaint process. This is the most obvious example but there are others that are not so obvious such as the customer receives a “functional” communication such as their bill at the same time as a promotional communication. A “functional” communication is anything that is sent out by any other department than marketing. It could be debt management, to do with a service issue or loyalty if the loyalty programme is not managed by marketing. On the face of it, it does not seem to be bad that your customer would receive a promotion message at the same time as the bill. However, what if it was a promotion message at the same time as they are in debt management? And more importantly, assuming you do not think it will be a problem is a risk that you should not plan to take.

The problem of different departments not having a common contact strategy can be deepened when there is a further division of labour by channel. For example, as is often the case, the digital team may be separate from the campaign management team. Indeed, many organisations have a separate digital team who become a law unto themselves. They will take ownership of email and social as all being “digital” and these will not align with the wider marketing strategy and will send its own communications to customers with no reference to the marketing team. In addition, the digital team also tends to take a more technology based approach to the channels rather than customer focused. As a consequence the organisation loses the power of “compound interest” by all communications being centrally coordinated.

In the B2B world you would think that as the customer numbers are potentially lower that the problem should not be as severe as it is in the B2C world. But the problem manifests in a different way. In B2B organisations the general maturity around being customer-centric is much lower than in B2C organisations. Whilst there may not be the same challenges with customer service and functional communications as with B2C companies, the average B2B organisation tends to be much more focused on products rather than customers. As a result, there are communications silos around products rather than the business functions although they do suffer from this as well. In a product focused organisation there will be product marketing managers each with targets for sales of their product line. With no over-arching contact strategy the poor customer will simply get bombarded with everything.

So the final thought to think over is whether you know the extent of the problem within your organisation or not? Do you have any form of customer communication audit? Do you research your customer communications experience? Do you have a contact strategy and how effective is it? If not, you should.