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How to Communicate in Your Customer's Language

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by: Per Caroe (@percaroe)
20 February 2013

In my nine years in the sales arena, I’ve learned a lot about talking to customers. I’ve also seen drastic changes in the communication channels we use. Take this story as an example:

A few weeks ago, I tried to call my son on his cell phone, only to get his voicemail several times in a row. After 15 minutes, he texted me back. What did I want? After several texts back and forth, it was clear we needed a 30-second call to clear up the situation. (We needed to figure out when he needed to be picked up.) Still, he refused to answer.

The reality is that we were having a fairly typical impasse of communication. Today more than ever before, communication is personal and — to an extent — generational. I may be preprogrammed to talk on a phone to resolve issues, but my son is much happier with text — and even better, Skype text.

Have you experienced similar challenges when trying to communicate with your prospects and customers? I’d lay money on your answer being yes, because there are so many questions you have to answer to overcome these challenges: when, what channel, what device, what offer? And so on.

That’s why I’m going to summarize the top challenges I hear in my conversations with Silverpop customers (and future customers) — and more importantly, how you can help resolve them.

The Challenges
My team partners with agencies that send emails on behalf of companies. Whether a large agency or a mom-and-pop shop, every client agrees that today’s buyers want to receive communication messages when and how they most prefer them. Therein lies the challenge — when and how. For example:

  • You might not know your client’s preferred communication channel. This is especially true when you’re first starting a new client relationship. It can be difficult to juggle which customer prefers what type of communication channels, as well.
  • It’s tough to master new forms of communication. For example, you may not know how to use text messaging as well as your client who prefers that channel. Or what about Twitter? It’s hard to limit yourself to 140 characters and still get clicks.
  • Generations often speak different languages. My age bracket (Generation X) and older are predisposed to using the phone for one-to-one conversations, while the Millennials (like my son) are consumed by texting and technology. So how do you achieve effective communication if you’re in one generational group, and your customer is in another?

In short, it’s tough to conform to a style that’s not your own, especially when you consider how many customer preferences you manage en masse. But with the right approach, it’s possible to connect on your customers’ and prospects’ terms.

The Solutions
The first step in speaking your customer’s language is adapting your style to match theirs, both through your digital marketing automation platform and via manual observation. Here’s how:

1) Track and record communication preferences, so you have a better idea what, when, and how to speak with buyers. For example, Ted may use Facebook daily, but never open an email. Using your digital marketing platform, you can capture communication behaviors such as whether Ted frequently clicks your email links or socially shares content on your site. You can also offer options in your preference center in case, for example, Ted prefers email for one type of communication and SMS for another.

2) Progressively profile each customer. One way to find out what channels he prefers for communication is to ask, so consider incorporating a question on communication preferences in your progressive Web forms. And keep in mind: Communication preferences may change, especially given the ebbs and flows of social media trends.

3) Pay attention to cues. If you email him and he calls you back, he may prefer the phone. Or, if he falls below a certain threshold of inactivity, you might have your marketing platform send him a message triggered by this inactivity that asks if he would prefer to receive communications via a different channel.

4) Track digital cues — marketing behavior — to see how your clients are interacting with you. For example, your Web tracking and email social-sharing data may tell you that a customer only spends a moderate amount of time on your website, but regularly retweets your email content. This is invaluable behavioral data to store in his profile.

Conclusion
At times, you might ask how you can speak your customer’s language — and maybe even why you should. It’s a question I inevitably hear from my team: If I’m a phone person, and my client is strictly email, how do I balance using email and the phone?

The answers are simple. If you don’t change, it will cost you sales, money and relationships. The customer will find someone who does speak his language and take his business elsewhere. With my team, I stress the importance of speaking our clients’ language. If that’s Twitter or text, that’s where we should be.

Remember: With clients, it’s not about you. It’s about them. If you want to develop a meaningful business relationship, it’s worth the effort to bend your own communication preferences to accommodate.

What’s your preferred method of communication? Tweet me @PerCaroe.

Related Resources:
1) Blog: “Using Behavior-Based Triggers and Other Tactics to Make Automated Emails More Personal
2) Video: “Minimizing Inactive Subscribers
3) White Paper: “Let the Buyer Be Your Guide: Leveraging Buyer Behavior in a Multichannel World

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