Make Your Communication Technology Work for Customers

Fractured communication channels can make or break customer experience.

In 2019, businesses will pour a massive $1.5 trillion of their IT spend on “communications services” technologies, Gartner predicts. Across all kinds of organizations, managers are looking to add new platforms to expand their reach with customers and increase internal productivity.

Unfortunately, much of that money will be wasted.

After more than a decade of working with businesses of all sizes on their communications challenges, both external and internal, I am observing a growing number of problems that companies are facing with regard to how they engage their customers. Chief among them is how fractured this engagement has become.

Era of the Consumer

We’re experiencing a golden age for the customer. With tech giants like Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon using algorithms and machine learning to tailor experiences to customer tastes, buyers have come to expect this kind of personalization.

They expect to be in the driver’s seat, determining when and how they use any channel for communicating with a business — from phone and email to online chats and forums, SMS, and various social media platforms and apps. A report by Microsoft found that 66% of consumers actively use at least three different communication channels to contact businesses.

Customers are well ahead of most businesses in this respect, using new tools more quickly than the businesses can adopt them and get their customer service teams up to speed. But even when companies do adopt these technologies in hopes of serving their customers, they often fail to use the tools harmoniously.

Managers all too often have no functional system for collecting customer information into a single repository. At every point of contact, consumers provide the business with valuable information. Businesses are getting inundated with data, but that data isn’t being gathered in a holistic way that provides managers with knowledge about the customer.

As a result, managers and businesses struggle to keep track of what customers are communicating across different platforms, which negatively affects the customer relationship.

Staying in the Loop With Your Customers’ Journeys

The last thing customers want is to have to re-explain something they’ve already discussed. They feel like strangers to the company. A business that lacks this knowledge about their customers sends the signal that they don’t really value them.

It’s just as frustrating an experience for managers, particularly customer service managers, who keep finding that they don’t have important information about the prospective and existing customer journeys at their fingertips.

A survey by our company, Nextiva, found that 63% of business professionals experience communications-related issues with their customers, colleagues, or team that stop them from achieving business goals at least once a week. One-quarter of those surveyed said communication issues have led to lost customers for their business.

A survey by The Northridge Group found that one-third of consumers say customer service personnel rarely or never know about their accounts. Half say the personnel rarely or never know their history with the company. And even more (54%) say customer service representatives rarely or never know previous reasons they’ve contacted the company.

Ernst & Young, meanwhile, drilled down on how this problem affects a single industry, insurance, in which customer dissatisfaction is very high. According to an EY study, only 14% of consumers report being very satisfied with communications, and the authors note the customers’ needs in this industry, saying, “Insurance consumers want more frequent, clearer, and more personalized communications from their insurers.”

The study further noted that by adopting a holistic, customer-centric approach, insurers develop a clear and more compelling business case. The benefits here are many — from reduced call center volume to reduced customer churn and reduction of operational spend. Over time, this reduction in costs and improved operational efficiency can prove to be a competitive advantage for businesses.

How Organizations Can Step Up

To be successful in today’s environment, businesses need to focus less on how customers contact them and more on how the information those consumers provide at every touch point is collected and used. The value for modern businesses lies in providing real-time and actionable information to everyone in their organizations, from front-line employees all the way up to the CEO.

MIT Sloan senior research scientist Peter Weill, chair of the Center for Information Systems Research, has said that “to dramatically increase the quality of the customer experience using digitization usually does require fairly radical organizational surgery.” I couldn’t agree more.

When it comes to communication, the first form of “surgery” businesses need is not an enhancement. It’s a fix to get all parts of the organization’s body working together. Customer information should be in the blood of an organization, constantly pumped out to all parts of the body. Technologies that do this can help equip organizations to strengthen their all-important customer engagement — and build toward a stronger digital future.