What you need to know about designing customer communications solutions

Consumers report that businesses are sending the wrong messages about the wrong things at the wrong times, and not responding to what they really want from communications. That’s not a great result for businesses.

Twilio’s "Bridging the Communication Divide" report recently surveyed 2,045 customers and 867 businesses across the US, UK and Australia and found 81% of customers say it’s often difficult to communicate with businesses, with only 34% of businesses acknowledging this as a challenge. That result indicates a significant divide in communication and perception between customers and businesses.

Another major finding of the survey, again emphasising the gap between expectations and performance, was that customers say responsiveness is the most important factor in communications, yet 89% of customers say businesses are too slow to respond to queries.

Customer communications has moved well beyond the phone and email paradigm. While those channels still hold sway among older customers, the report finds younger customers, especially Millennials and younger, now expect businesses to be on messaging apps like Messenger, Viber, Apple iMessage, WeChat, WhatsApp, and Kik.

Customers are moving fluidly across channels like SMS, social media messaging and web chat, but too many businesses are sticking with the channels they prefer, even when customers indicate they want other modes of communication.

The report found businesses consistently rated their communications output more highly than customers did across all channels and across a number of key measures. Worryingly for businesses, the majority of customers say businesses are missing the mark in eight key areas:

  • 85% of customers say they receive unsolicited messages

  • 84% say they received information that was not useful or relevant to them

  • 83% say a response to a request was untimely

  • 83% say communication is not personalised

  • 79% say they receive too many messages

  • 72% say they can’t reply to messages

  • 71% say requests for information go unmet

  • 67% say businesses don’t offer or use their preferred communication channel

The survey results highlight the need for businesses to build effective communications across all channels so they can be where customers want them to be. They have to deliver the information customers need; when and where they want it. This requires technical and cultural flexibility.

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Businesses can do this by keeping in mind what we call the the Four I’s Framework for Mobile Messaging. The four pillars of the framework are: interfaces, integration, intelligence, and infrastructure.

Interfaces: The messaging channels you use to reach your customer, which include SMS, push notifications, in-app chat, and dedicated messaging apps. Email and voice communications are additional interfaces. There will likely be more than one interface that works for your customers.

  • Are you monitoring the channels and communication habits of your customers?

  • Are customers showing a preference for text, video or audio?

  • Are you missing potential customers because you’re not active on a particular channel?

Integration: Communication needs to work with the natural flow of business, using information that’s relevant to each stage of the customer journey. Your communication will be more effective when you integrate data from your CRM, ERP, and other enterprise systems.

  • Are you drawing on all the relevant customer data available?

  • Is the relevant data finding its way into the right messaging?

  • Is the messaging timely and personalised?

Intelligence: Whether human or artificial, intelligence can help you engage with larger numbers of customers without sacrificing the quality of the interaction.

  • Are you getting the mix between human and AI (chatbots) right?

  • Could you be using your human agents in more effective ways?

  • Are you employing the right intelligence for the messaging context and channel?

Infrastructure: It doesn’t have to be an off-the-shelf SAAS or build-it-yourself solution anymore. Cloud building blocks are services delivered from the cloud using APIs. You effectively get the customization of a build-your-own architecture with the ease of an off-the-shelf solution.

  • How fast do you need your communications solutions up and running?

  • What sort of budget are you looking at?

  • What do you want it to do?

It’s challenging to keep track of all the channels customers use, especially when a business is operating across international markets, but building these solutions is not impossible. At a practical level, Twilio’s API provides developers with the platform and tools to build out quick and tailored solutions across all channels, with text, voice and video.

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At a cultural level, businesses need to make sure they are monitoring and responding to how customers want to communicate. Having a culture of excellent customer service within a business is as important as the actual technical implementation.

Customers’ preferences shift rapidly and with that comes high expectations for the brands they communicate with to adapt. Businesses attuned to how customers want to communicate and prepared to technically meet that demand will be in a far better position to foster excellent relationships with customers and in turn, will see a positive effect on the bottom line.