“Make it relevant” is the theme for Interaction 2011, Varolii's annual client conference, which will be held at the beautiful Red Rock Resort outside Las Vegas from May 22/23 to May 25. Since I am going to be giving a couple of presentations at the conference, I have been thinking about what "make it relevant" means.
First, I better figure out what "it" is. Varolii is in the business of helping companies proactively communicate with their customers. In this context "it" must therefore mean one of these communications. These typically concern something the company wants the customer to know about, as opposed to something the customer wants to tell the company.
And there's the rub. When a customer calls, emails or texts a company, the subject is almost by definition relevant to the customer; the reverse is not nearly so certain. How does a company make what it communicates something that compels the customer to pay attention and if necessary take action? Here are a few ideas:
- Relevance starts by understanding who the customer is, both as an individual and in the specifics of their relationship with the company. Are they young or old? Male or female? Do they speak English or do they prefer another language? How long have they been a customer? Are they using a variety of your products or services, or just one? Do they pay their bills on time, or are they "credit challenged"? Knowing these and other attributes can help determine what they will want to know about and how to communicate it. For example,
- Younger customers are more text oriented than their parents, who are used to doing business over the plain old telephone.
- Newer customers should get more contextual information, since they are not as familiar with how the product or service works. So should those who are using multiple products so it’s clear which you are communicating about.
- Good paying customers may need a friendly reminder if they happen to miss a due date; the habitual slow pays may need something stronger.
- Personalization says "this concerns you". Using the customer's name in the greeting as well as some indication as to the subject makes it clear the message is not spam or general information. This also affirms it concerns an existing business relationship. If it's a text message, make sure you've got no spelling errors. If it's a voice message, try to avoid text to speech which no matter how well done still sounds robotic. Varolii uses a pre-recorded names library which announces the customer's name and any other dynamic variable using the same professional voice actor as the rest of the message.
- Talk less about the needs of the company and more about the needs of the customer. When Varolii helps our clients design their messages, we typically start from a communication already in the field. Our first job is to strip out jargon which may make total sense to the company but will likely confuse the customer. Next we have to rephrase it in terms of "what's in it for the customer" as opposed to the company. Instead of "we need to receive your payment today to avoid disconnecting your service", we suggest our clients say "you need to make your payment today to keep your service active".
- Timing is also critical. Telling me about a late charge you have just put on my account because I missed a payment is way less relevant to me than telling me I am about to incur a late charge while there is still time to do something about it. Take a hard look at your communication timelines and adjust any message that gives the customer too little time to react before a consequence, or worse tells them after the fact, which is no better than a playground bully's "nyahh, nyahh, nyahh-nyahh-nyahh!"
- If you want the customer to take action in reaction, don't put them in traction. Relevance is critical in the outbound communication, but when you need a response you must also keep it simple. I recently wrote about good and bad IVR design, suggesting that when applications are easy to navigate and respond, self-service is naturally good service. Make sure any response options offered take as few steps as possible and assure the customer along the way that they are making the correct entries. In voice messages, we use a pleasant audio cue whenever a customer successfully completes an input. This way each time a customer hears the cue, they know they are on the right track. If they make an error, they are clearly instructed as to what went wrong and gently prompted to try again.
Incorporating these ideas into your communications strategies will go a long way to insuring what you say is relevant to your customers and will pay you back in higher response rates and greater customer satisfaction. But as you work to improve your automated communications, one of the best things you can do is completely eliminate those which are neither relevant nor respectful.
My biggest gripe is “message blaster” calls which offer no interactive response options at all and instead require the customer to write down a phone number and make a return call to even find out what the message was about. You should assume your customer’s time is as limited and valuable as yours and do not waste it in this annoying, ineffective way.
Instead, consider incorporating a Varolii interactive message in place of any blaster calls you make today. In doing so, you’ll free up capacity on your dialing system, reduce the load on your inbound call center and most importantly, give your customers the information and tools they need to happily serve themselves.