Follow the money.
At some point, whether it’s a “whodunit” or a discovery call, you have to follow the money. In spy movies or murder mysteries, it could be a paper trail that leads to a shell company that leads to a secret volcano lair or a sudden but inevitable betrayal.
In a B2B disco call, it’s not quite so dramatic; following the money means finding ROI. Return on investment. How does a company make money? And how can you make the connection between your product or service and more of that money?
But there’s a near-infinite number of ways a company can make money. You can sell access to a software platform on a subscription basis. You can manufacture and distribute a product to consumers or to retailers. You operationalize the logistics of shipping those products. You can monetize your money, like a lender or bank or investment firm. You can monetize attention, like platforms that serve advertisements. You can monetize your own time and expertise if you’re a consultancy or a law firm. You can even monetize other people’s time if you run a gig app!
I could go on, but where would I be going? I’ll get there, but first —
A quick word about recurring revenue
If you happen to be in sales or business development and you happen to take a disco call with Front, I’ll make it really easy to “follow the money.” We’re a classic SaaS business model, which means we make money when our customers renew and expand.
In subscription software, the initial sale is just the beginning of a relationship. Some SaaS companies take a net loss in the first year of a subscription just from paying costs of goods sold (COGS) — things like implementation costs, training, support, services, etc. Even for software like ours, which is pretty simple to implement and start using, it’s just not lucrative for us to sell once or for a few months. It costs more to get a burger and fries at Shake Shack than it does to subscribe to our software for a month. We need our customers to stay over the long term. And since we sell to businesses, those customers only stay if it’s profitable to do so.
In other words, our customer relationships are the heart of our business.
Customer relationships are the heart of all business
So where was I going?
In the age of the customer, all those infinite business models can really be reduced to one: monetizing customer relationships.
Do you sell farm equipment? Not anymore — now you sell service contracts. Do you sell phones? Not anymore — you sell an ecosystem.
Software is ethereal. Code can be duplicated infinitely. Hardware and manufactured goods are cheaper than ever to produce and distribute. But customers are scarce. And therefore they’re precious.
And every interaction between your customer and your company is a potential inflection point that drives the relationship forward or irrevocably fractures it. That’s why companies are investing heavily in this emergent category: Customer Communication Management.
What is Customer Communication Management?
How to start to answer that question? I suppose where any modern person starts. I Googled it. Then I clicked the Wikipedia answer box. It had multiple issues.
No, really, check it out. It has “multiple issues.”
But let’s set aside Wikipedia’s editing standards. Why does this seem so complicated and archaic? Like, customer communication technology “usually includes or integrates with” Extraction, Transform, & Load software, envelope inserter machines, and customer journey mapping?
And it doesn’t get clearer when you dig into Capterra, G2, and TrustRadius.
We’ve got Zendesk up there on Capterra, Adobe Experience Manager on G2, and Isis Papyrus on TrustRadius. It’s tough to imagine a category filled with a wider variety of company types or offerings. If they’re all Customer Communication Management companies, we need a clearer definition of what that means.
The 4 parts of customer communication management
Let’s forget the Wikipedia article and forget the categorizations on the review sites for a second. Any customer communication management system or strategy needs four “layers” in order to meet the minimum threshold.
1. Data Layer
It all starts with knowledge. Who are the customers you’re trying to communicate with? And what’s the record of your interactions with them? At its most basic, this looks like an ordinary list of contacts and an ordinary message history. At its most complex, you’re looking at a fully formed CRM that maps contacts to accounts and includes detailed notes alongside a record of all interactions.
Because companies can be large and fragmented sometimes, you may have multiple data layers sorted by team or technology. You probably don’t need to be convinced that the more data you have duplicated or siloed throughout your company, the greater the possibility for a fragmented experience. Best-in-class customer communication management either consolidates all their data layers into one or integrates them into a single “viewing” layer.
2. Communication Layer
This is where the interaction actually happens. And Wikipedia is correct here. This could totally include print campaigns and mailers if that’s what you’re into. But these days a digital channel is almost certainly your primary channel. At its most basic, this is just a standard email client. But let’s be real: almost every company is communicating with customers over as many channels as possible. Email, SMS, webchat, digital advertising, telephone — the list goes on.
And just like data fragmentation can create a likewise fragmented customer experience, so can communication fragmentation. What does that look like?
Multiple stakeholders emailing one contact about the same thing without realizing.
Different functions lacking the context of previous communications.
Quick responses in one medium and glacial responses in another.
Ideally, all your communication channels as well as all your communicators will be working from one shared inbox.
3. Action Layer
This is business, not pen pals. Almost no communication touch point between a company and a customer requires no actions. How often do you have a customer text you just to ask how you’re doing? Half of my friends don’t even do that! Any customer communication strategy needs to connect each message to an action. This could be extremely manual and ad hoc — like you forward an email and put a post-it on your monitor. But that’s not very effective.
Legit customer communication management offers you assignment options, incorporates workflows or playbooks, and ideally includes some level of automation to take the busywork out of all this.
4. Analytics Layer
I thought about making this a “bonus” layer, because it’s not strictly necessary to measure, analyze, and optimize your customer communication — oh wait, actually it’s absolutely necessary to do that. Remember how each customer interaction is an inflection point and how all of them together are the heart of your business? You can’t afford to leave that up to luck.
And successful businesses aren’t leaving it up to luck. There’s so much quantitative data you can harvest, like how fast you’re responding to inbound messages. How fast you’re taking action. How fast you’re resolving them. Which teammates are swamped and which ones have operational slack.
So what is a customer communication platform?
A best-in-class customer communication platform is best-in-class in all four layers. And no platform is a customer communication platform without functionality in each of them. And that’s why the system and technology you implement in your business is more than just a “tool” or a point solution — the heart of your business deserves a strategic platform.
Written by Matthew Klassen
Originally Published: 24 September 2020