By Chris McLaughlin, SVP marketing and business development, Thunderhead
Gone are the days when financial institutions could rely on cashiers or brokers to retain customers and build relationships with prospects. People no longer have the time or the inclination to visit branches and talk about their account, insurance policy or the latest offer.
As a result, of the three modes of customer interaction – face-to-face, telephone and written – the latter has come to the fore as the main contact between marketing teams and their time-poor potential customers.
However, a recent Thunderhead survey looked at UK and US consumers’ attitudes toward their current financial services providers. Just 26 per cent of respondents said that they felt their current bank or insurance company sent them personalised communications that were immediately relevant to their needs.
Against a backdrop of an intensely competitive industry – with a customer base that often betrays brand loyalty for the best deal – it’s more important than ever to get written communications right. But the question for customer service teams and marketers is this: What does ”right” look like?
Avoiding information overload
One thing is for sure – blanket mailing branded leaflets is not the answer. Today, people of all ages digest information in more ways than ever before. The affectionately-named younger ”Facebook generation” and older “silver surfers” use a multitude of channels – including social networks, Twitter, blogs, online portals and emails – to consume information, as well as publish it.
Organisations that blindly continue to send generic printed statements and correspondence will soon find that their customers look elsewhere for someone willing to talk their language. At a time when customer retention is of paramount importance, business communication needs a rethink.
Financial institutions in particular need to use more immediate and interactive channels to bring their message to the public. These could include a combination of HTML, SMS messaging and even RSS (really simple syndication) feeds. For example, a customer might want to be updated by text that money has arrived in his or her account; or by post on monthly statements; or an email alert if the account is reaching overdraft limit.
Getting the medium right
If you don’t get the medium right, it doesn’t matter what the message is. As a result, banks and insurance companies must embrace new electronic delivery channels and emerging communications technologies.
Companies also need to already be responding to the environment-driven backlash of direct mailing – the trend is only going to continue. The public has become less forgiving of wasted paper – so posting reams of paper with irrelevant offers will hardly endear customers to your brand.
Financial institutions also have to adapt to the challenge of communicating on an increasingly global basis, as well as with increasingly multi-cultural populations within their own countries. We are seeing organisations diligently provide Spanish or French language support in their call centres.
But they then follow up with content, including contracts or marketing collateral, in English. It shows a lack of commitment to personalisation and can result in customers turning to more local establishments.
Finally, consider again the three customer touch points – face-to-face, written and voice. How many banks and insurance companies can be absolutely sure that all three touch points are aligned and complement the planned customer relationship management and marketing strategy? How many are absolutely sure that every email and item of correspondence incorporates customers' preferences?
In too many organisations, the communication strategy is not joined up and works in a silo. It means bringing context-based on the customer information you already own, to each and every communication.
Talking the same language
Quite simply, highly effective, compelling customer communications are really all about preference, channel and context. Getting written communications right means being personal. And this means talking the public’s preferred language.
Technologies have emerged to help organisations efficiently create and manage document-based customer communications. Critically, these solutions have been designed to allow business users, not IT professionals, to control enterprise communications processes.
Traditionally, document creation required a complex system requiring the IT department, which has nothing to do with customers or prospects. This means that non-business entity was driving business communications.
Rather than requiring multiple templates for each, newer solutions can easily produce multi-channel and multi-lingual customer communications. Electronic communications, including direct customer correspondence in call centres, to email and SMS notifications, and even Facebook Latest News and MySpace Latest News, can be produced with no extra effort.
In conclusion, there is no “right way” or perfect formula for written communications. The key is that the message and channel are fast and flexible – and fit the consumer every time.
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