Remember a time before the internet? How about before the main form of business communication was delivered with a little “swoosh” noise indicating that “you’ve got mail”? There was a time when information about your customers lived in notebooks and rolodexes. The only way of gaining insight into your customers’ behaviors was reading hand-written notes, contacting them over the phone or even going so far as seeing them in person! While it feels like the internet has been around forever, the World Wide Web wasn’t invented until 1991 and people have been doing business for far longer than that.
During this prehistoric time before internet connectivity, businesses were primarily concerned with customers based on locality, relying on geographically based advertisements and outreach to drive financial success. To make meaningful connections with customers, businesses had to appeal to their specific needs and problems in one message rather than mass emails, blog posts and strategic use of SEO. Although the advantages of computers and the internet are abundant and it’s hard to imagine doing business without CRM, automation, analytics and social media, it may be time to take a page of best practices out of our predecessors’ books to reconnect with our customers.
Although these business strategies for mastering the customer connection have been around for a long time, they can be adapted to fit our computer-ruled business processes and reapplied to the needs of our tech-savvy customers.
1. Detailed Personalization
Before connectivity, businesses relied on reaching out to customers via paper or television advertisement with geographically-based communication. Despite only reaching a subset of the market, their efforts were focused and their messages were clear. For example, a car dealership in Colorado could direct their efforts to promoting four-wheel drive and overcoming tough terrains, while a car dealership in Florida might show off their sunny convertibles. With the internet came virtual car dealerships and bidding websites where car buyers could view a vehicle from any part of the country. Of course, the convenience and variety presented by the internet is nice, but if you have problems with the car or want to buy another, will the virtual dealership remember that your son is almost of driving age? Making purchases with the click of a button is now an expected feature, but customers still expect personalization and recognition of their specific needs, some of which can only be uncovered during a casual conversation at a physical location. While you can implement web-based forms and surveys, nothing beats picking up the phone and reminding customers why they bought from you in the first place.
2. Great Omnichannel Expectations
Before connectivity, channels for customers to interact with businesses were limited to brick and mortar or telephone calls. While there weren’t as many options for customers, the ones that were available made it easier for businesses to provide a consistent experience. Customer information came from a limited number of sources at a lower volume, making it easier for businesses to access and manage when they communicate. When a customer service representative recorded an issue, it came from the telephone and not several different channels. Now customer information can come from a desktop website, a mobile site, a physical shop or any number of partners that connect to your systems. Businesses are expected to provide the same special treatment of the mom and pop shops from the pre-connectivity era, all while managing data from countless sources. Regardless of how difficult it can be to consolidate and cleanse customer information from your numerous sources, it’s important to remember that customers expect to be treated consistently and with the same care no matter how they contact you.
3. Leave the Spam in the Can
Before connectivity, customers didn’t have to worry about sifting through hundreds of emails facelessly shouting at them to purchase products and services. As much as we enjoy accessibility via the internet, this largely unfiltered territory leaves room for us to be inundated with options and not all of them are good ones. Most outreach goes directly into the Spam folder unless the customer has identified a need or a problem they’re facing. When you make a conscious decision to buy a new car, you suddenly notice every commercial, email and web advertisement about cars, don’t you? Instead of blindly blasting customers with random messages across television, email, web and social media, remembering the problems that your customers encounter, considering demographics, geography, time of year, and more will enable less, but more effective communication. Leave the Spam in June Cleaver’s casserole and create messages that don’t make your customers click “unsubscribe”.
The benefits that businesses have gained from the age of internet connectivity are vast. It would be hard to imagine functioning in almost every aspect of life without being tethered to our desktops, laptops or mobile devices. Computer connectivity is great for automating processes and streamlining communication, but with it comes the complicated matter of data pools derived from many sources which are infinitely deeper than any pre-connectivity era rolodex. The focus of many businesses has been diverted from meaningful communication to troubleshooting inconsistent and outdated data, leaving customers yearning for the days when their needs were considered first. While we balance the advantages and challenges of managing customer information in today’s computer-dominated world, failing to remember a time when businesses made personalized, consistent connections without the World Wide Web would be a disservice to your future success.