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“You wouldn’t talk to your mother like that, would you?”

This article was originally published on The Little Black Book.

If your mother is anything like mine, she’s hard to get hold of. As a result, I’ve been forced to learn the nuances of communicating with her are dependent on what I’m trying to tell her, and how likely she is to respond to that particular method of communication.

An email is destined to get lost in her overflowing inbox whilst WhatsApp is irritating for her to operate so, over the years, I’ve established that a phone call to my father provides the most direct (ish) and reliable line.

Just as I’ve developed some rules of thumb I follow to reach my mother, I’ve learned through trial and error that there are unique ways to reach all of the important people in my life – but, crucially, have yet to discover a successful one-size-fits-all approach.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Do you alter your means of communication to reach certain people in your life? Would you attempt to reach everyone at the same time of day, the same day of the week, or even with the same tone? Chances are, your communication patterns have their own idiosyncrasies, developed over the course of your relationship with the different people in your life - a personal interaction-history, if you will – all of which enables you to tailor your means of communication accordingly.

Now, stop and think for a second. Why should it be any different for companies trying to reach customers? Why would customers, who have personalised ways of interacting with all the different people in their lives, respond to a one-size-fits-all approach to communications from their bank, their telco, their supermarket, or any other company trying to claim a slice of their attention and their wallet?

Admittedly, most companies don’t have the luxury of speaking with you over your lifetime, and learning the quirks about how to best reach you. They aren’t inherently capable of remembering the most banal (but useful) details, able to deduce from experience what works and what doesn’t, and some just don’t bother trying.

Over the last 12 months, my utility provider has tried repeatedly to arrange a visit, but their success has been limited to supplying me with a stack of calling cards which say they missed me, and leaving a couple of missed calls on my mobile. Had this been a personal interaction, they would have deduced by now that I am not usually home during the working day, and might have since tried a different approach. Frustratingly, I’m not unique in this, and customers are often on the receiving end of such experiences which seem illogical at worst, and impractical at best.

What if, instead, companies tried something akin to the approach I’ve taken to figure out how best to reach my mother? Imagine the incremental success they might have in getting through to you or me if they applied a bit more common-sense, or even better, if they used an analytics-focused approach.

So, what would a company need to do to get closer to communicating with customers in a way that recognises their preferences, their unique patterns of behaviour, their quirks? Well, not much more than you or I do on a regular basis – observe the people with whom you’re trying to communicate, remember what works and what doesn’t, and adapt your methods of communication accordingly.

Granted, I’m being facetious – a carefully-curated combination of technology solutions, data infrastructure, and analytics expertise goes into achieving this seemingly ‘simple’ output at scale.

However, as a starting point, this process doesn’t have to be overly complex, and a company doesn’t have to get it 100% right all the time, every time, for this effort to be considered a success. Any attempt at personalising communications has value and is worth trying if it has the potential to improve customer response. Ranging from the simple to the complex, an organisation could explore any of the following approaches:

  • Profile customers using any data you’ve collected, such as contact details, demographics, and/or contact preferences, then devise simple rules of thumb to test.
  • Segment your customer base and see what groups emerge organically from the data, subsequently applying a different contact strategy to each segment (e.g. device, time-of-day, frequency, tone).
  • Buy in third-party data to enhance your own data and to refine either a profile-based or segment-based contact strategy. Various providers exist, and offer anything from channel-preference estimates to socio-demographic indicators which you might not be able to reliably estimate from your own data.
  • Using customer data and historical interaction data (i.e. information about how a customer was contacted, what they were contacted about, whether they responded, etc.), build statistical models which can be used to further refine your communications. These types of models could inform which channel you prioritise when contacting a customer, what you choose to send a customer, or whether to contact a customer at all.
  • Implement a decisioning engine that ingests any existing customer data you hold, and keeps a record of all communications sent to customers (including responses) as well as any inbound interactions, such that it can personalise and adapt the way in which it communicates with your customers, based on ever-changing consumer behaviour.

As data-driven marketers, it’s worth remembering that “the answers are all out there, we just need to ask the right questions” (Oscar Wilde). Organisations just need a way of asking, collecting, analysing, and acting on this data, at scale. We always to strive to keep people at the centre of the questions we ask because, by successfully reaching and engaging with customers, our clients can have the best possible interactions, and grow lasting relationships, with their customers.

Imagine if your bank, energy provider, telco, supermarket, or your favourite retailer got just a little bit better at reaching you – that doesn’t necessarily preclude them from talking to you about a subject or product which you have no interest in (we all make mistakes), but at least they’ve got your attention, and they’re able to start the conversation. Despite years of practice, I don’t always reach my mother on the first attempt, but I get through to her more often than not, and during the few emergencies I’ve encountered I’ve always managed to reach her in a timely fashion.

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