Every once in a while, former president Barack Obama will send me a quick text message asking for help.
Okay, if I’m being honest, they’re not that quick. Barack can be a little long-winded with his texts, but even those are brief compared to his emails.
Oh yeah, he emails me too.
You see, President Obama (or rather, his comms team) has what we in the industry call an “omnichannel communication strategy.” Twitter, Facebook, SMS, email, you name it. If you can send a message on it, Obama will send you a message on it.
I have a texting relationship with Barack, but it’s not really a relationship. In order to have that, I’d have to actually get a personal response.
Companies who value their customer relationships have adopted or are moving to adopt an omnichannel customer communication strategy. But it’s not enough. The only thing worse than not talking to customers on their preferred channel is not listening to them.
You need more than omnichannel tactics, you need a customer relationship strategy that works in any channel.
Going from omnichannel tactics to customer relationship strategy
Your omnichannel play can actually hurt your customer relationships if it’s not part of a bigger picture. Here’s what I mean:
You start putting out messaging on all the channels.
Some percentage of every channel will see it and take action, so you try and multiply that percentage by a greater number of channels.
But that just multiplies the number of messages you don’t have the ability to respond to.
Each unresponded message could become a fracture in the relationship. And sometimes all it takes is one fracture…
That’s the barrier. That’s why, for something most companies would describe as “table stakes,” not nearly as many companies are investing in it.
An omnichannel — or even just an “any channel your customers want to use” — strategy is much more complicated than a one-channel strategy. Let’s break down why.
Every customer communication system has two basic components: 1) the data layer and 2) the engagement layer. When you run a business of any scale, you naturally consolidate your customer data in a CRM. That leaves you to figure out your engagement layer on a channel-by-channel basis.
Each new channel creates a new communication workflow. Many companies end up copying and pasting their email strategy onto their SMS strategy, which is where you get those infinitely scrolling templatized text messages you sometimes get from companies. Or you get SMS responses at the speed of email. There are just different implicit expectations society has created for each of these methods of communicating.
You end up with a worst-case combination of highly fragmented communication workflows plus copy-and-paste strategies, when what you need are copy-and-paste workflows plus a highly flexible strategy.
3 principles for an omnichannel customer relationship strategy
So what does that strategy look like? We’ll get into the nuts and bolts of the operational side of things, but let’s start off with some best practices:
Communication should be consistent across channels. It’s hard enough maintaining a consistent voice and high standards across one channel. Customer communication is a team sport, but individual performance can vary. Now add in a variety of channels, each one with its own workflow. Consistency is key. That means each channel should be similarly fast, accurate, and personal.
Customers should be treated like humans, not numbers. I know what you’re thinking. When you increase your channel coverage, aren’t you increasing your message volume? And doesn’t that mean you need to deflect a good chunk of them? When your customer relationships are on the line, it doesn’t matter whether it’s an email or a DM. High-stakes messages demand a personal response every time.
Each interaction should exceed customer expectations. Any given interaction with a customer could be a “moment of truth.” A make-or-break moment for the relationship. When you neglect a channel, you’re opening yourself up to dropping the ball at one of those moments. Each channel needs to be your “best” channel. (Side note: you need a way to track CX within each channel and across all channels. More on that later.)
Maybe you’ve spotted the issue already. How do you scale fast, accurate, excellent, and personal responses across every channel? How do you adapt an email-first strategy to much more immediate and conversational media like SMS and chat without blowing your workflows wide open?
How to operationalize your omnichannel relationship strategy
Just like we had three guiding principles for better omnichannel relationships, we have three tactical solutions for implementing those principles at scale.
Consolidate your channels in the engagement layer, not the data layer. If you imagine the “conversation” as the closest your company gets to your customer, that’s what you should be striving to make as frictionless as possible. Most tech stacks try to solve omnichannel from the outside in — “how do we plug as many things into our CRM as possible?” We prefer to think of it from the inside out — ”how do we bring as many people, data, and systems to the conversation as possible?” In other words, no matter where the conversation is taking place (email, Twitter, SMS, wherever), are all the internal stakeholders present? Is all the data and context they need present? Is it all surrounding the conversation as it’s happening? With knowledge more scattered than ever, you’d be surprised how hard it is for reps to answer even basic questions about an account — only because their systems are so fragmented.
Automate everything except the conversation. How do you scale personal interactions across every channel? Take away the manual work of sorting messages and channels. Let rules triage your messages and route them to the right human for the right response at the right time. Remember how we talked about copy-and-paste workflows with highly flexible strategies? Your team should follow the same workflow for any message but be able to tailor their response by channel and customer.
Track customer experience within and across each channel. How do you know when your customers are getting a subpar experience in a given channel? You won’t if you’re not tracking it and comparing it against each other channel as well as the overall customer experience. This can be incredibly cumbersome if you’re using each channel’s built-in analytics (if they even have them) or trying to put together a report on them all by hand. Let’s refer back to point #2: If a machine can do it better, let the machine do it! If a human can do it better, get everything else out of the way for the human.
Build your strategy from scratch — or just get Front
Just like it’s table stakes to offer every channel as an option to your customers, it’s table stakes for a customer communication hub like Front to offer them to you.
Where Front has an edge is how easy it is to build simple, standard, but flexible workflows for all of them in Front. Reps can use the same processes across channels without getting slowed down while also playing to the strengths and social expectations for each one. Every conversation is surrounded by rich data, easy collaboration, and insightful analytics — in every channel you need.
I just wish Barack Obama could read this blog. Then he’d know how simple it would be to go from one-way marketing at his audience to building long-lasting, meaningful relationships with them. If only I had his number so I could get in touch with him…
Written by Matthew Klassen
Originally Published: 26 July 2022