6 basics for building a customer messaging strategy

I just listened to a team member dealing with an unhappy customer.  She was complaining that she receives too many email communications from the company and wanted to know why.  The team member did a sterling job of diffusing the situation and helping the customer to understand the purpose of each email communication – working in a regulated industry such as financial services means that businesses are often required to notify customers of particular events (bill generated, invoice due, payment received, etc.)

This raised an interesting point – as a consumer, how busy does your inbox look?  Sales, marketing, operations, billing all generating their own notifications, updates and communications.  When was the last time you reviewed your messaging strategy with the other functions that communicate with customers?

My work often involves helping start ups and smaller businesses.  In most businesses, marketing “own” comms and defines what is sent & how it looks.  It starts off being very creative, purposeful and targeted, but invariably spirals out of control.  The need for alignment around a customer messaging strategy becomes apparent.  Here’s 10 simple points that you need to consider for your customer messaging strategy.

1. Purpose – this needs to be linked to the customer journey, with a goal to drive customer to the next stage of your customer journey.  What action are you trying to drive with the communication?  Is it explicitly clear for the receiver? Is it simply notifying them of an action with no follow up required? Is the communication really required? Could it be combined with another message? Question to ask yourself: will this communication distract the customer from progressing through the customer journey or nurture them?
2.Triggers – messages can be extremely effective when linked to event or trigger, which leads to a tangible outcome.  Someone clicking a request for more information is clearly interested in your product, so the correct response should inform and engage further.  In particular where you want to elicit a response, the preceding event outcome should drive the message timing, content and medium.
3. Medium – I’ve observed some businesses who routinely call customers, then always follow up with an email.  Ask yourself what the most effective medium is and whether it needs confirmation with another. Some products are well suited to email, but consider where that email might be read – laptop, desktop, tablet, mobile?  Check the rendering for all appropriate devices!
4. Audience – make sure it’s targeted, especially for automated messages.  No-one wants to receive a chaser to pay a bill when they manually paid it a few days in advance. Make sure it’s personalised as much as possible, and never signed off by a generic entity, such as “The Team” or “Customer Service”.  Templates can work perfectly well, but there will always be the need for customer facing teams to write messages, so make sure they are competent – no jargon, grammar and spelling, tone of voice, etc.
5. Frequency & Timing – wisdom suggests that early life (prospect) customers should receive no more than 3 unsolicited emails per day, whilst active / inactive customer (post adoption) should receive no more than 1 unsolicited email per day.  No-one likes spam, so aligning with other functions to stick to these guidelines and avoid the embarrassment of multiple communications from different functions on the same day.  Timing is key, too, related to triggers (see point above).  For B2B and service related industries, aim for + / -2 hours of business day, and avoid emailing or calling at anti-social hours where possible.
6. Responsibility – who is sending, who needs to respond? I’ve never been a fan of one department sending (e.g. marketing) but expecting another function (e.g. support) to manage responses.  Own your comms, but engage colleagues when required.
Reach agreement on at least a minimal set of principals, then make sure that your own function are following them.  Getting common agreement with sales, marketing, finance, etc is the second step once your own house is in order!
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