By Antony Paul, Global Product Head, Quadient
In the post-pandemic age and with the continued rise of digital technologies, many organisations, from small firms to large multinationals, have seen a steady shift in their customer interactions. Consumers have more options than ever before and are able to express their frustrations about businesses across a multitude of different channels. At the same time, legislation has come down heavily in consumers’ favour. As well as protecting consumer privacy, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) act has enshrined customers with powerful rights to decide how their data is being used. On top of this, we’ve seen these rights reinforced by further legislation like the Data Protection Act (2018) and UK General Data Protection Legislation. For digital communications, additional regulation such as the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) should also be considered to ensure holistic compliance. These rights are backed by substantial fines that can significantly damage any SMB if requests aren’t taken seriously.
SMBs now walk an extremely thin line. Communicating with customers over the right channel, at the right time, with the right message is one of the key components of a good customer experience, which turns into loyalty over time. And for SMBs, where every single customer genuinely does count, every customer interaction is vital.
Right data, right channel
Preventing these mis-steps should be a priority for SMBs. The first stages should be obvious – avoid over-communicating with customers with irrelevant or incorrect information. However, one person’s spam is another’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. SMBs need to make sure they know enough about their customers to ensure every communication is relevant, and particularly to guarantee that they don’t accidentally send a customer’s sensitive details to the wrong person. In this context, creating a single source of data and communicating through the correct channel is crucial.
It is far easier for an SMB to manage their data if they hold it in a single source. This prevents SMBs from misplacing communications and makes it easier for teams to delete sensitive information when requested. This also helps ease the workload on teams who might already be over-stretched with other tasks, and don’t have the time to constantly check customer data. Similarly, if a customer has complained to an organisation, then a personalised communication, such as a letter, email or even phone call will be more effective at mending the relationship than an anonymous notification.
To make sure this happens, SMBs need a good understanding of their customers preferences, and the best channels of communication for them. For example, some customers may prefer a blended communications strategy of both physical and digital mail, because physical mail is still impactful in some areas. It’s important to note here that data pertaining to physical mail must also be handled with care, as this too is subject to the GDPR and DP localised laws.
To ensure SMBs are keeping track of this data correctly it needs to be accessible to all, instead of being locked away for one team or worker’s sole use. Not only does this allow SMBs to form a more rounded view of their customers, but it also helps with basic data management best practice. This means that, among other things, an organisation can ensure it doesn’t hold multiple copies of data, or contradictory data on the same individual.
SMB communications in the digital age
When this data is correctly organised and collected, SMBs can discern the right message to reach the right customers with. Next comes figuring out the right time, and the right channel. To do this, SMBs need to have a uniform view of their customers and the different approaches they take when they interact. Which messages do they react to, and when? What new communication methods could the business implement, so customers are more likely to willingly engage? And how can an SMB improve a customer’s overall journey?
Understanding their customers’ journeys is crucial for SMBs because this enables the business to keep improving and growing.
After all, stale customer experiences can also cause consumers to cut ties with a business in favour of larger enterprises that offer more complete experiences. Many SMBs may see themselves as powerless in this regard, given that the initial implementation costs of adopting new communications technologies may be quite high relative to an SMB’s budget. Nonetheless, as consumers adopt new ways of interacting with the world, SMBs still need to keep pace with new communication channels and technologies. Those that fail to implement at least some more modern channels may be seen as dangerously behind the times, and this will cost them much more in the long run.
In the age of the unsubscriber, SMBs have to work harder than ever to retain their valued customers. For SMBs that do put in the extra work to improve their customers’ experience, there are added benefits. Providing optimised customer experiences can also be instrumental in attracting fresh business and opening up new avenues for growth. By empowering organizations to deliver communications through the preferred channel, customer engagement can be improved, adding value to the organization’s brand equity. After all, consumer power works both ways, and word of mouth can just as easily praise a business as condemn it.