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I'll Tell You What I Want, What I, Really, Really Want

I swear I only know the lyrics to the Spice Girls because my sister had the album.

I also know it is no secret that customers are anxious for companies to know what they really want. In today’s connected world, this desire is especially true when it comes to channels of communication.

How many times have you personally asked your friends or business associates, “What is the best way to reach you?” We all know by now that different people prefer different channels of communication. In fact, some may not even communicate in certain channels at all. So naturally the considerate thing to do is to find out what works for them.

Well…if the polite thing to do is ask what channel people prefer, why is it that so many companies don’t even bother? Why do they so often instead make the sweeping assumption that their customers want to contact them only by phone? Does this really work for them? Unfortunately, by forcing customers into an unwanted communication channel, companies run the risk of frustrating and potentially alienating them. This spells trouble for gaining and retaining customers.

Building relationships with customers is about showing you care, and the place to start is by being considerate of how they would prefer to communicate with you. You must offer them alternative ways to communicate—phone, email, chat, SMS, etc. If a customer’s desires are considered, they will feel respected and will appreciate the interaction even more. That consideration will result in a more satisfying experience overall, resulting in loyalty and positive reviews.

Historically, the telephone has been perceived as the only option. Ironically, it also tends to be the most costly to your company. It can be an expensive way to service many questions, unless you are using an automated voice system. Let’s face it, though. People typically hate those automated systems and can’t wait to press “0”. Customers want all of the same options for communicating with your company as they do with each other. And why shouldn’t they be given those options?

When offering an array of communication options for your customer, keep in mind that not all channels are preferred for all matters. Consider how customers typically use the following:

  • Phone: Tends to be used for urgent matters or when a lot of interaction is required. This is partly why IVRs get such a bad rap.
  • Chat: Used for quick questions that won’t require an extended conversation, since the session only lasts as long as someone is in front of their computer. Customers expect a chat response within moments.
  • Email: Usually preferred for non-urgent requests or when venting a complaint. A response is expected within 24 hours, making a lot of back-and-forth conversation impractical.
  • Web forms: Similar to email, where an answer isn’t expected immediately. It is therefore not useful when a lot of interaction is needed.
  • SMS: New for most companies, but standard for most individuals. SMS lies between voice and web chat, making it appropriate for urgent matters. As a bonus, it can divert costly phone traffic. A response is usually expected within 5 minutes.
  • Web site information. Customers expect very little from this channel, which is precisely the problem with it.
  • Social media: Includes channels like Twitter, Facebook, etc. These avenues are typically used for less common communications and don’t necessarily have a specific time expectation.

The bottom line is this: Different customers prefer different channels in general, and they also prefer to use certain channels for certain types of communication. In order for your company to show consideration from the very beginning of the interaction, let the customers decide for themselves how they want to communicate with you. Your job is to give them options by making yourself easy to reach in any channel. Customers will reward you with their business and recommendations.

Why not embrace the opportunity as a company to build better relationships with customers? Yes, it requires some investment and logistics. But being an operation that offers more than just the phone saves you money and makes you money. So in the end it’s just smart business.

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