Don't Communicate With Your Customers; Engage With Them

Rohit Tripathi

“I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.” –Lee Iacocca

In conversations with colleagues in the boardroom or friends at the dinner table, the most important thing is to be an active listener. Executive leadership workshops advocate for managers to be better listeners, but I say we need to go further: Companies need to be active listeners.

Every good conversation starts with good listening, and companies are not being active listeners in their most important relationships, the ones with their customers. Conversations between customer and company are often one-sided, initiated by the company, and held in the communication channel of its choice. Coupons for oil changes are sent by snail mail. Event calendars show up in email. Dinner-for-two offers arrive in mobile apps. The list continues: there’s real-time Web chat, telemarketing, and multi-page FAQs. (Don’t kid yourself: those FAQs scream “we don’t want to hear from our customers or interact with them if at all possible.”)

Some companies have taken a good step toward improving their listening skills by letting customers select the communication channel that works best for them. For example, airlines have done a nice job letting customers choose from SMS, email, or phone call for alerts about flight delays or changes.

While this is good customer-first progress, the next step is to make these communications more intelligent by adapting the channel to the message. Any market would benefit from more flexible, customer-centered communications, but banks are almost the perfect business model for an integrated communication strategy. For example, I wouldn’t want to be woken by an email or SMS in the middle of the night to tell me my new bank statement is available; that can wait until business hours. On the other hand, if my debit card was used in Lithuania to charge the maximum amount (especially if I am not in that country), I want an SMS and a phone call and an email – no matter what the time of day it is!

When the message aligns with the channel, companies are actively listening and intelligently communicating with their customers. Today’s approach is ridiculously fractured and has a frantic, jump-on-the-bandwagon, me-too feel.

Customers like SMS? We can do that! Let’s buy a platform.

You can build a mobile app? Let’s do that too.

Email performance is down? Stop the campaigns.

Suddenly you have a Frankenstein’s monster of communications that doesn’t serve anyone well. What’s worse is that you can count on over-investing or under-investing in these separate initiatives. In rushing to join the latest and greatest, you lose your overall communication strategy and financial oversight.

Communication as a Service (CaaS) has the potential to simplify and unite communications so companies can be active listeners and respond accordingly. It also addresses the hugely popular communication channels of social media and instant messaging. Companies can’t ignore Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and all the other apps people enjoy using to communicate with their personal tribes.

CaaS moves all communications to the cloud and centralizes customer communications so that customers can interact in their chosen channels – and companies can actively listen to what they say.

For more on strengthening customer engagement, learn 5 Steps to Your Customer’s Heart with Emotionally Aware Computing.

About Rohit Tripathi

Rohit Tripathi General Manager, Head of Products, SAP Digital Interconnect, and brings with him over 20 years of experience in software and business operations. In his current role, Rohit focuses on bringing to market value-added products and solutions that help SAP Digital Interconnect customers get more engaged, secure, and gather actionable insights in the Digital World. Previously, Rohit held various leadership positions at SAP in the areas of technology and products. Prior to joining SAP, Rohit was with The Boston Consulting Group where he advised senior executives of Fortune 500 companies on business strategy and operations. Rohit also serves on the North American Board of Directors for Mobile Marketers Association.