Many companies are still losing customers because they don’t know what they want, writes Marc Morris.

Someone once said that the customer is always right, and today, it is as true as it ever was, if not more so. In our on-demand society the customer has more control than ever over the way they consume information, and they have got very used to getting their own way. 

Just look at the lengths the BBC has gone to ensure that it offers its content through as many different channels as possible.

If eMarketers are going to stop their customers going elsewhere, it is now their duty to find out how the customer likes to be communicated with and meet these preferences. It is no longer feasible for them to dictate how the relationship is going to be maintained.

This creates a significant challenge for eMarketers, who must now hand control of their communications over to the customer. What we are seeing is a move away from marketers dictating the communication channel to customer controlled communications. Pandering to customer preferences are now the keys to success, whether it be SMS, email, voice or a combination of all three.

Challenge or not, marketers need to change and move out of their comfort zones in order to better connect with the customer. What we are beginning to see is a trend towards a two-way interaction between customer and brand. However, rather than a challenge, it is in fact an opportunity to move away from one-way communications to the creation of a true dialogue. 

Savvy marketers are experimenting with ways in which to launch this dialogue by offering customers a way of interacting with them outside of promotion responses. Short surveys as well as online user groups are on the increase and proving to be very effective in generating insights into customer’s channel preferences as well as offering a chance to begin a dialogue.

In order to facilitate this two-way communication, eMarketing departments must now have the full gamut of communication delivery systems at their fingertips.    

If Web 2.0 promises to put the user in control, then in eMarketing 2.0, companies need to do the same if they are going to attract new customers, reduce churn and establish long-term lucrative relationships with their existing customer base. 

Customer Controlled Communications

The eMarketer’s mantra used to be ‘the right message at the right time’.  Although still relevant, it is now vital to recognise a further element of ‘the right channel’.

Email remains the centre of most eMarketing campaigns and is an excellent starting point for identifying a customer’s preferences around message, time and channel. Through analysis of the data marketers can asses the best time to send messages as well as get a good understanding of the products and services that are of most interest to individual customers. 

If email is not working as a communication channel then a change of channel to mobile via SMS or land line via a voice message can re-invigorate customers.

1. Channel and insight

Insights are vital for hitting the customer’s hotspots and responding to changing channel preferences. In a world where time is a valuable commodity, the eMarketer must find avenues to the customer that is convenient.

Web conferencing provides marketers with a time and cost effective channel for gaining customer insight. As it is a very visual medium it presents a good opportunity to run virtual focus groups with valued customers and gain instant feedback on new products and services as well as up and coming marketing campaigns.

2. Channel and preference

To ensure that your multi-channel marketing campaigns have the maximum impact it is vital to analyse the behaviour of your customers so that you can map the relevant channels based on their actions. Open rates and click thrus are still important but now it is essential to look at all of your customer interactions.

Those that are not responding to email can be reinvigorated by targeting the through another channel such as SMS or voice. Alternatively you can give customers options in terms of the way they want to respond to promotions, e.g. an email promotion can be responded to via text or a call to the call centre as well as via the web. 

3. Channel and message

Today choosing the right channel is just as important as developing the right message. As many double glazing salespeople will attest, you might have the best sales pitch in the world but many customers are not very receptive when approached via the phone, especially if they are in the middle of eating dinner.

The same is true for marketing. Get the channel wrong and your message can easily be overlooked. The pop-up is an excellent example of how marketing messages can easily become an annoyance as it interferes with the users primary goal of being entertained or finding the information they want. The channel and message should always complement each other.

4. Channel and timing

The customer may not always be able to pick up an email but it is almost certain that they will be contactable on their phones. A good example of this is when they are on holiday. Just because your customer is on holiday doesn’t mean that they are out of the marketer’s reach. 

Rather then sending them an email, a travel company could very easily send the customer a push WAP message that offers access to promotions to local establishments. This not only keeps the dialogue going but also increases customer satisfaction as they benefit from the communication.

5. Channel and activity

Email is great for instigating online transactions but what if you want to increase footfall into a physical shop?

Many professionals do their shopping on the weekend, so it makes sense that retail outlets should send out SMS promotions at the weekend that people can use in-store. Supermarkets are a good example here because they have excellent data on when their customers shop and can therefore target offers to their customers on the days that they actually do their shopping. 

6. Channel and customer conversion

All too often a customer starts a buying cycle online only to leave the transaction uncompleted. Although finding out why this has happened is important, many marketers do not have a method through which to follow up.  By implementing a voice or SMS strategy, marketers can gain insight into why the process went wrong and how to make it right. 

An automated voice message or SMS can be sent to customers who have given their mobile and landline numbers. Automated voice messages offer the best benefits as any customer that it connects with can be connected directly to a call centre agent. Alternatively it will leave a message giving the customer the opportunity to either call back at their convenience or press a number to be put directly through to an agent.

Marc Morris is an eMarketing Specialist at 

Premiere Global Services