Master Customer communication: Tips and Best Practices for Teams
Every business has a Communications Team (aka Comms team), even if that “team” is one person who wears five other hats because the role is vital to any successful business. Comms teams communicate an organization’s message to external audiences. In other words, they make sure the world knows your company exists! Traditionally, comms teams have consisted of PR professionals, but more recently, there has been an increasing number of Social Media managers. While it may not seem like a major change, this shift is part of a much broader move in how customer communication happens.
A couple of decades ago, customer communication would be a one-way flow of information (from company to news outlet to consumer). Now, it’s an actual conversation that goes two ways. It has never been easier for customers to talk directly to companies, whether through online forms, emails, or direct messages on social platforms. In 2023, customer communication is a two-way street, and as a company, you aren’t just projecting your message to the world, but listening and responding to what customers are telling you.
Getting this two-way customer communication right can benefit your business in several ways, and getting it wrong can seriously damage it. First, good customer communication improves the overall customer experience. People like to know they’re being listened to when they have a question, concern, or suggestion. Strong two-way customer communication allows you to engage those customers on a one-to-one, human level. This benefits them, and according to a paper by Forrester Consulting, can result in more sales and greater brand loyalty.
What’s more, effective customer communication can help your internal teams too. Having the channels and frameworks to engage with customers effectively can help drive innovations, implement new ideas, and even open up other markets. Moreover, good customer communication means that your comms team won’t be running around in circles – they’ll know what, how, and when to communicate different messages, reducing confusion and increasing productivity.
Tips For Teams Communicating With Customers
While overhauling your communications strategy sounds daunting, there are actually plenty of simple ways that your team can improve customer communication straight away. What’s more, most of these tips are actually more natural than the “company comms voice” many teams have affected in years past.
First, make sure to respond in a timely manner to any customer inquiries (see, we told you these tips would be easy to implement). Nobody likes to be left out in the cold, and having a message go unanswered can make customers feel like they aren’t important.
The tone of your communication will depend largely on your existing company voice – are you fun and bubbly? Serious and stoic? Carry your brand into your comms. That said, you should always try to maintain a balance between professional and friendly. Customers need to know that you’re serious as a business but also human.
Ambiguity causes uncertainty, and people hate uncertainty. At best, it makes it look as if you’re trying to hide something. Improve customer communication by being clear and concise in all your messaging.
Nothing helps improve customer engagement quite like listening. Make active listening part of your customer communications strategy, and you’ll soon be able to understand and respond to their needs. This will help customers feel validated and also give valuable insight to your team, guiding your products and company as a whole.
Finally, take action on the feedback you receive about your customer communication strategy. Just as you would respond to customer complaints about your product, listen to feedback about your comms.
Different Customer Communication Channels for Teams to Consider
Another important aspect to consider when improving your customer communication is how your team is communicating. There are dozens of channels that your company can engage customers through, and sometimes choosing the right one is half the battle.
One of the most tried and trusted methods of customer communication, email allows for instant messages in an asynchronous package. Its long history (relatively speaking) makes it feel like a secure way to communicate for many people, and it offers a good balance between friendly and professional.
Nothing says “I’m listening,” like hearing an actual human on the end of a phone line. While robot menus have become common and certainly have their place, nothing creates a human connection quite like a phone call. Ensuring that customers can speak to a member of your team, especially if you run a smaller service business, is vital.
Different channels suit different businesses, and choosing the right one for you is far beyond the scope of this guide. However, regardless of the platform, it’s important that you have a presence and respond in a timely way. Social media tends to be a little less formal than email or phone calls, but at the same time, people expect faster responses.
Never underestimate the power of in-person interactions. Humans are made to speak to one another face to face, so including this as a “channel” and actively preparing your team for it just makes sense. Of course, many companies now operate remotely, so if in-person communication is never an option, brush up on your video meeting skills!
It’s becoming increasingly common to talk with companies through online chat tools. These great tools allow for speedy, clear, and concise customer communication. They are especially effective in dealing with simple problems or inquiries.
Finally, consider how all these communication channels interact with one another. If you’re using more than one – and you certainly will be – you need to consider a Unified Communication strategy to manage them efficiently.
Best Practices for Teams For Each Communication Channel
Having these tools is one thing, using them is another. Many of the best practices are common sense, but getting it right can be the difference between business and bust.
When using email for customer communication, there are a few simple steps to ensure a successful interaction.
- Personalize the subject line. As discussed earlier, people like to be treated as humans. Even if you’re using email templates, a personalized subject line lets people know that you’re taking the time to respond to them.
- To keep your communication clear and concise, you can use bullet points in your email to deliver the key information. Customers can quickly understand exactly what you’re saying.
- Have a clear call to action. Once a customer knows what you’re saying, let them know what you want them to do – no ambiguity!
- Keep your tone friendly and professional, including with the signoff, which should reflect your company voice.
When speaking on the phone with a customer, you need to achieve the same goals (clarity, friendliness, etc) with a different method. It’s not hard if you follow these simple steps:
- Greet the customer in a friendly, but not canned, way. This can be challenging if you’re dealing with many calls, but taking a more natural approach generally wins out.
- Speak clearly, but avoid being short. There is a fine line between delivering concise information and being curt, especially on the phone. If you struggle to deliver your thoughts clearly, try writing a list of points to follow.
- Finally, you should summarize the conversation at the end of the call. This way, you ensure that you’ve understood everything and the customer knows you’ve listened to their comments, inquiries, and concerns.
As mentioned, how exactly you use social media will depend on the platform and, in turn your business. However, there are a few best practices that should be implemented on any channel.
- Speed is of the essence on social media. When using it as a comms channel, you need to respond as fast as possible.
- Social media is supposed to be a more “honest” place compared with, for example, adverts. Be transparent and open with your customers.
- Don’t be afraid of negative comments. Instead, treat social media as a customer service platform – face complaints head-on and solve problems. People will value your ability and willingness to solve issues out in the open.
In-person interaction can be some of the easiest, as well as the hardest, customer communication you’re likely to face. On the one hand, if they aren’t happy, it can escalate quickly. On the other, we’re often best able to express humanity when communicating in person.
To keep your in-person customer communication on track:
- Maintain eye contact. This shows you’re paying attention to what the person is saying and can build trust between you and the customer.
- Don’t be afraid to show empathy. You might be the face of the company, but that doesn’t mean you don’t empathize with a customer having a bad time.
- Don’t sidestep issues. Try and be as proactive as possible in resolving any problems the customer has. If done right, the interaction will end up a positive one for the customer, even if it started as a complaint.
Finally, when it comes to chat tools, you have to strike a balance somewhere between email and the direct messages on social media.
- Respond quickly – anything over 30 seconds is considered slow for instant messaging.
- Be less formal than email. Chat tools allow for a more conversational tone; use this to your advantage to build rapport.
- Don’t ever paste in big chunks of text. It’s the chat tool equivalent to answering the phone, saying hello, then playing a recorded message.
Thanks For Calling, Is There Anything Else I Can Help You With Today?
Good customer communication is the backbone of any business, and these days, that means two-way conversation. Whether you’re using email, phones, video calls, chat apps or face-to-face meetings, many of the principles stay the same. Be friendly and professional, clear and concise, listen (actually listen!), and act on what the customer says. Go out and follow these simple tips and best practices in your business and you’ll master your customer communication in no time at all.
The future of email is here,
are you ready for it?
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