Pitney Bowes Study: Businesses Can Benefit From Customer-Controlled Communications

Wednesday Feb 7th 2001 by eCRMGuide.com Staff
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Giving customers the ability to choose the time, place and channel of contact could help companies developing lasting and profitable customer relationships, according to the study.

STAMFORD, CT--Developing lasting and profitable customer relationships may be as simple as giving customers the ability to choose the time, place and channel of contact, according to study findings released by Pitney Bowes Inc., a provider of integrated mail, messaging and document management solutions.

The findings, in Pitney Bowes' "The New Household as a Managed Organization" study, included:

  • 60 percent of household members would be more receptive to business communications if they could choose the point of contact. The company says this offers a strong incentive for businesses to re-evaluate the timing, frequency and method of their communications.

  • 75 percent of respondents agreed that too many offers they receive are not geared toward their interests or needs, underscoring the importance of personalized business communications for today's information-overloaded consumers.

"Interrupting people during dinner with unwanted, robot-like phone calls is not likely to increase sales, especially considering consumers prefer to be contacted by direct mail," said Meredith Fischer, co-author of the study and a vice president at Pitney Bowes Inc. "Consumers are more responsive and likely to favorably consider your product or service when initial communications are made in less intrusive ways that allow them to interact on their own terms. Once they are your customer, consumers do want to establish a relationship with you and will welcome talking to one point of contact who understands the history of their business relationship and respects their boundaries."

According to the study, customers use two different strategies, offensive and defensive, when communicating with businesses. Offensive strategies are employed when customers initiate the contact, such as a call or e-mail to a customer service department. In this case, they usually have clear objectives in mind and want to use media channels that facilitate a specific and immediate outcome. Defensive strategies, such as call screening, are employed when customers receive communications, allowing them to evaluate the communication's relevance and importance, which, in turn, dictates their response (or lack of one). Furthermore, the study notes that customer and company communication goals are different. While customers seek to achieve timely solutions, businesses seek to gain customer loyalty and repeat business.

"Companies that establish systems and protocols catering to customers' offensive and defensive communication strategies and helping them achieve timely solutions will be the most successful at creating the kind of positive customer experience that promotes customer loyalty and repeat business," says Fischer. "For example, provide a single point of company contact, 24-hour customer service, and multiple communications channels, such as phone, e-mail, and postal mail."

The study notes that businesses need to adopt more customized and customer-friendly communications to reach customers and cut through the clutter of information overload, and suggests the following strategies for successful business communications:

  • Make it easy for customers to reach you: Let customers pick when and how they want to reach you. For example, provide multiple access points to customer service such as the Internet, e-mail, telephone and fax.

  • Offer solutions, not headaches: The "work" of answering questions, resolving problems, finding the best deals, and filtering relevant information has increasingly been shifted to the consumer. Businesses should seek ways to decrease the "work" of the household, such as empowering customer service agents to "make it right" right away, and updating customers on sales and promotions via their preferred communication method.

  • Target the decision maker: Businesses sh
ould map the distinct skills and roles of individuals in the household. Develop indices, or portfolios, detailing skills, media preferences, mailing lists, information preferences, who is likely to handle follow-up, etc.

  • Develop response protocols: Knowing when to expect solutions and closure to a particular transaction reduces householder uncertainty and the frustration associated with the work of business interactions. Businesses should indicate, for example, that calls will be returned within 24 hours, letters within two businesses days, etc.

  • "Humanize" your customer service: Business communications about a product or service are a feature of the product or service. Households rarely, if ever, separate the interaction with a company or its representatives from the product or service. Arm your customer-service representatives with the tools and information to ensure that they can immediately answer all customer inquiries.

  • Pitney Bowes says the study takes an in-depth look at household communication flows and the emerging household ecology and was commissioned in partnership with The Institute for the Future. They say the study drew on ethnographic interviews, telephone surveys and diaries that recorded the communications habits of households and that respondents for the 2000 study were household members of varying ages, education levels and incomes.

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