By Chris Cole, Strategic Accounts, OpenMarket, for Engage Customer
Who would be a brand today? Where once it took years of grafting to build a retail company from the ground up, through major investment in premises and sales teams, the barriers to entry have now dwindled to almost nothing – so much so new brands pop up on a daily basis on the internet says Chris Cole.
As competition burns more intensely than ever, established and emerging brands need to ensure they are meeting the ever-increasing expectations of their customers, if they wish to retain their loyalty and drive sales. This means not just having innovative and exciting products that meet customer needs, but also tailoring all interactions to ensure they match customer lifestyles, and boost opportunities to sell!
While many firms are now exploring technology solutions that can enable the shopping journey to fit perfectly with consumers’ preferences, the difficulty lies in knowing exactly what technologies and channels should be used, at which times. Email, push notifications, SMS and other technologies are all available to be used by brands’ marketing, sales and customer support teams.
They need to step carefully, however, because if they are used at the wrong time or in the wrong way (with time sensitive information being sent via a slow communications channel, for example), the brand-customer relationship can be harmed or even irreparably damaged. It’s important that brands recognise that not all communication channels are created equally, and understanding a customer and their information needs is the key to driving effective communication strategies.
With this in mind, we recently worked with eDigital Research to explore and map out consumer preferences for communication channels. We surveyed more than 1,000 UK shoppers between the 22nd December 2014 and 5th January 2015, asking them about how they liked to receive information, and how they expected brands to communicate with them. What became clear very quickly is that modern consumers see two clear categories in the types of communications they receive.
The first is non-time critical information, which could include details about offers, new product lines being added or the opening of a new retail space. The second was information that was time critical, for example delivery details, customer support or highly targeted offers within a specific time bracket.
For the first category, consumers saw email as ideally suited. Out of those we surveyed, 59 per cent said they preferred to receive promotional information in this way and 54 per cent saying they always or mostly always open offers received in this way – the channel with the highest open rate for this type of information, closely followed by text message. This indicates that email is the perfect channel for delivering promotional information, such as marketing materials.
At the same time, our respondents pointed to email as an ideal way of receiving receipts and invoicing details, as they saw it as easy to store, and easy to retrieve information from in the future. Email is far and away the most popular for the delivery of receipts with 70 per cent naming this their preferred channel.
When consumers spoke about real-time communications with time-sensitive information, such as delivery updates, they felt text messaging was the number one service they wanted, with more than half of all those surveyed preferring this option. At the same time, 85 per cent of respondents said that unopened text messages would be prioritised over emails and push notifications from apps. Given this information, retailers should clearly count on SMS to support communications around their ‘Click & Collect’ services, particularly if their client-base are expecting updates while they are ‘on-the-go’.
Our study’s findings suggest that retailers need to ensure that they have robust communication plans in place incorporating multiple channels, to enable them to engage with consumers in a range of different situations all the way through the customer journey. Unfortunately, that is often not the case, with communication systems misaligned with changing consumer demographics and behaviours. We’ve often found that while retailers have recognised the power of mobile communications, for example, the implementation of mobile strategies is often done in a piecemeal and unsatisfying way: perhaps an app here, maybe some in-store QR codes or the occasional offer via SMS there.
Perhaps some of the most obvious examples of poorly implemented mobile campaigns are visible in London’s transport system, where adverts can include QR codes, despite many people not being able to access their mobile network while hundreds of feet underground. Even worse, a recent security poster warned commuters not to flash their valuables to potential thieves, while simultaneously encouraging them to pull out their smartphones to scan the advert. While amusing, these examples can show how brands and companies can weaken their messaging and tarnish their image, by not fully thinking through their campaigns.
As consumers become ever more mobile, they expect the brands they are engaging with to match their evolution, offering enhanced services online and via mobile technologies. Retailers need to place mobile communications at the heart of the complete customer journey, harnessing context-and location sensitive marketing as well as optimised customer support and fulfilment services to create a satisfying customer experience.
Key points that retailers can bear in mind when aiming to create this holistic and productive customer experience are:
Relevance – retailers need to ensure their communications are tailored to the consumer, providing the right information at the right time. Marketing teams should carefully consider how each of their channels (and not just email) can be aligned with customer preferences, with personalised messages offered throughout the acquisition process.
Insight – retailers should always think of the bigger picture when trying to picture their customer’s journeys. By using all data at their disposal, companies can know more about their customers and further tailor their offerings. While some people talk of Big Data, here at OpenMarket we like to think of Small Data – personalised messaging that is focussed on the individual consumer.
Automation – In many cases, automating, or transferring to other channels such as SMS can enable a consumer to “self-service” their query (often in the channel of their choice) helping to free up valuable resources in a retailer’s contact centre. This is particularly relevant for certain call types, such as a “where is my order” call or a password reset for an online account.
Efficiency – using multiple channels effectively can enable companies to flatten their demand curve. For example, offering a “text to call back” feature enables inbound peak call volumes to be decreased, allowing a call centre’s staff to focus on priorities and be more effective. It also means that, rather than consumers sitting on hold and being frustrated when they finally get through, every call starts with them feeling satisfied that a brand has called them back.
Feedback – Once the customer journey is completed, retailers should act quickly to gather data on satisfaction. SMS surveys can typically generate response rates of around 25%, with over 75% of those responses in the first hour. This “in-the-moment” feedback is difficult to get through any other channel, where response rates may be lower or slower.
An effective mobile strategy, like that detailed above, not only helps ensure customer satisfaction across the consumer journey but can be iterated upon and tweaked to deliver communications to each customer’s preferences. Through intelligent use of messaging platforms, brands improve the quality of service for customers while gaining valuable actionable insight from those interactions.
Chris Cole works in strategic accounts at OpenMarket, a division of Amdocs, which helps enterprises use mobile to transform their business