It seemed not so long ago, communicating and interacting with customers was relatively simple. Customers would receive advertisements, talk to storefront workers, call customer service… many businesses understood their consumers well, and stuck to the methods that proved successful.
In the 1970’s there were already over 125 published definitions of the word ‘communication’, and still it can mean so many things today that it’s difficult to pinpoint.
Sarah Trenholm, author of “Thinking through Communication”, offers two of her favorite definitions. For simplicity, communication can be described as “a process of acting on information.”
But more thoroughly, “Communication…is an effort after meaning, a creative act initiated by man in which he seeks to discriminate and organize cues so as to orient himself in his environment and satisfy his changing needs.”
It seems the latter definition fits in well with the business world we know today, and two parts of it stand out to me.
- Organize cues as to orient herself in her environment
- Satisfy her changing needs
Surely these are important aspects of customer communication, but what does that translate to for businesses today? Well hello again, mobile.
Getting consumers comfortable
Smartphone and mobile device usage has risen steeply, and by now it seems most businesses are aware of mobile, and the potential impacts that it can have on business operations.
“The mobile device is essentially becoming the mouse to the physical world,” says Jay Yanko, a managing principal of retail at Verizon. Basically, mobile and mobile features, while continuing to mature, are starting to become accepted by a large number of consumers. The integration of mobile to all sorts of business activities is now widespread, and will continue to grow in the future.
As with many (new) technologies, widespread acceptance and usage can be slow to develop. Some first movers and early adopters have been relishing the mobile environment for years, but the majority of consumers were still coming to terms with mobile and the changes it brings. It is only natural that changes to the status quo provide some sense of unease.
However, it seems the tides are starting to turn. In 2013, the percentage of consumers willing to share their GPS location with businesses nearly doubled over the 2012 figures, to about 36%. A large increase is also expected this year, signaling that mobile users are becoming more comfortable with the technology and its applications.
This ties in directly to the communication definition above; as consumers organize cues to orient themselves in their environment, it is through mobile that businesses can interact with customers and provide real-time cues to affect shopping patterns and decisions.
To further exhibit mobile’s acceptance, the practice of showrooming can be examined. Showrooming, testing out items in a physical store before purchasing them online, was a common practice in recent years. However, the amount of online purchases resulting from showrooming declined by about 20% in 2013 compared to 2012, according to a current IBM study.
IBM Retail Consulting leader Jill Puleri tells us, “It’s really an interesting point here, where people are just more comfortable to go direct to online versus having to go to a store first.”
Satisfying your customers
The other important aspect of communication I mentioned earlier is the ability to satisfy consumers’ changing needs. As consumer lifestyles integrate with mobile devices, so too do their expectations for retailers.
Returning to the current IBM study, the company identifies the five most important factors (or needs) to shoppers making either brick & mortar or online purchases:
- Price consistency across shopping channels
- The ability to ship out-of-stock items directly to a home address
- Options to track the status of an order
- Consistent product assortment across channels
- The ability to return online purchases to the store
Many businesses have already moved towards implementing an omni-channel strategy, where efforts are coordinated and consistent across many different mediums. More are sure to follow this year.
Lastly, it’s important to know a customer’s limits. We all strive to satisfy our customers, but how much communication would a certain customer like to receive? Give your consumers options as to how much communication they receive from your business; it’s unlikely that each customer wants the amount that is currently being sent to them.
Passive mobile marketing tactics such as QR codes and NFC tags are great because they allow consumers to choose how much and when they receive information. Opt-ins that provide different options for communication are also vital, giving consumers the ability to choose the amount or intrusiveness of communication.
In a day where communication has a rather enigmatic meaning, for businesses it still boils down to developing customer relationships based on interaction.
Photo Credit: http://loveisinfinite.wordpress.com/