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Regular communication with customers is crucial to maintaining high client satisfaction and boosting loyalty. However, since there are so many different ways of reaching customers, you might be wondering, “Which option is best for me?”
In today’s article, I’m going to talk about the various communication channels that you can choose, along with the criteria for selecting the most appropriate ones for your business. I will also give you a few tips on how to keep your TOV consistent across all mediums of communication, and I’ll explain how multichannel and omnichannel approaches differ.
What are communication channels in terms of customer service?
A study by CMO Council has revealed that customers, irrespective of their age, expect businesses to communicate with them across various channels. In fact, 85% of survey respondents mentioned that they preferred a mix of physical and digital communication channels. Let’s now take a look at the mediums of communication you can choose from, starting with online.
- Help center and FAQ pages — you can use them to provide answers to the most commonly asked questions that don’t require back and forth communication. This will save your customer support team a lot of time, letting them focus on more urgent issues.
- Communities and forums like Quora — sometimes, customers post questions and share their opinions about brands on forums. Therefore, it’s worth using social listening tools to make sure that you don’t miss out on any brand mentions.
- Live chat — live chat software lets you interact with clients directly via your website. Most commonly, you’ll see a live chat icon or pop-up window in the bottom-right corner of your site.
- Chatbot — chatbots work similarly to live chat, however, with one key difference: Your customers chat with a bot instead of a team member. Bots can be set up as the first point of contact for all communication. If the client still wishes to speak to a customer service representative, a chatbot can connect them to the right person.
- Messenger apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) — these are becoming more popular; they work similarly to a live chat. Customers can get answers to their questions quickly, with little effort. And considering the number of people who use social media, using this channel is a must.
- Web contact forms — they allow the client to leave a message for customer service. They are particularly popular among companies that don’t offer 24/7 live chat support.
- Email — email is still one of the most popular communication channels and one that most customers are confident in using. If you include it on your customer support page, then make sure to check it regularly as customers appreciate speedy responses.
- Social media — on top of sending private messages, customers often ask questions or leave their opinions as comments on posts.
- Video calls — video chats allow customers to interact with support agents (almost) the same way they would if they walked into a brick-and-mortar location.
- Phone call — one of the most common customer communication channels, which lets your customers speak to a customer support representative or a voicebot.
- Face to face — if you have a brick-and-mortar store, then customers might visit you in real life, especially if their issue is complex or urgent.
- Mail — older customers might prefer to stick to good old mail as that’s what they are used to and most comfortable with.
How to find the best channels for your business & your customers
With the most popular channels of communication covered, let’s see how to select the most appropriate ones for your business. There are three criteria that you should consider:
- The industry/market you operate in
- Business needs and goals
- The type of customers you target.
Here are a few questions you should ask yourself:
- Do you run an online or offline business?
This will impact the communication channels you’ll have at your disposal. If you operate in the digital space, you’ll have a much wider choice. And, high chances are, your audience will prefer online communication. If you have an offline business, then customers might prefer phone calls or popping into your store.
- Do you operate in a B2B or B2C space?
Do your clients shop for a company, or do they buy from you as individuals? Knowing this will help you understand when they are most active online throughout the day. As a result, you’ll establish:
- what time you have the best chances of reaching customers (outbound),
- when customers are most likely to reach out to you (so you can plan your customer support/customer service team availability).
If you don’t know where to start, here’s a list that might shed a bit of light! According to Sendinblue, customers are most likely to open emails at these times of day:
- Ecommerce: 10:00 a.m.
- Software/SaaS: 2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.
- Marketing Services: 4:00 p.m.
- Hospitality/Online Retail: 8:00 am.-10:00 a.m.
- Professional Services (B2B): 8:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m.
- Nonprofits: 3:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.
- What communication channels does your competition use?
Take a quick look at the communication channels your competitors use. They can become a good source of inspiration. If you notice they’re highly active on social media and have a chatbot on their website, it may be what the customers expect. Reviewing the communication channels used by your competitions is also a great way to find areas where you can stand out and offer additional value for customers.
Business needs and goals:
- What’s your budget?
When you think of reaching customers, your budget also plays a role. Some communication channels are more expensive than others. For instance, a highly advanced voicebot will cost you more than a live chat or a chatbot. While it’s important to offer your customers multiple options to contact you, make sure that the option you select pays off.
- What’s your team size?
Not all mediums of communication can be automated or attended to at a later time, like email. Oftentimes, they will require an immediate reaction. So one of the factors you should consider is your team size. Do you have enough human power to cover multiple channels? The headcount will also help you decide which communication channels to use for which purpose. Not all customer interactions require human support.
- Do you get a lot of website visits?
Take a look into Google Analytics or any other web analytics tools to check how many customers visit your site. If you have any contact forms, do they fill them in, or do they prefer visiting your social media profiles? If they come to your site, this could mean it might be worth investing in a live chat or a chatbot.
- How old are your customers?
Your customers’ age will help you decide on the type of communication channel to go for. If they are young, they will probably prefer to contact you through a chatbot or social media. If they’re older they might feel more comfortable using email, phone, or even traditional mail. The more varied your target audience is, the more communication channels you might have to use.
- What communication channels are they used to?
Focus on communication channels that your audience prefers. If it’s social media, then which network is it exactly? Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn? It will also depend on the sector you’re in. If it’s retail, high chances are your customers will favor Instagram or Facebook. To identify the most popular channels, dive into analytics. Alternatively, you can run a survey asking your clients how they want to be contacted.
- Are your customers tech-savvy?
If they’re comfortable with technology, they will be more open to talking to your voicebot, chatbot, or contacting you through video chat. The same goes for messenger apps. Tech-savvy customers are likely to talk to you via communicators like WhatsApp and Viber, which might make integrating your tools with them worthwhile.
How to adjust your tone of voice (TOV) for different channels
You might now be wondering: Does my brand have to sound exactly the same across all channels? Can I adjust my tone of voice depending on whom I speak to and where? Below are four tips that will help you find the answer to these questions!
Create communication guidelines
It’s worth creating communication guidelines to make sure that the entire company sticks to the same language and TOV, irrespective of the department they work in. It helps to maintain the same communication standards across all channels.
It will also make it clearer for customer-facing teams how far they can go in personalizing their communication without going off-brand. For example, if they get a call from an upset customer, they’ll know they have to show extra empathy. At the same time, they won’t be tempted to overdo it by making promises they won’t be able to deliver on.
Make sure your TOV is cohesive
Don’t forget about integrated communication, i.e., keeping your tone of voice cohesive across all communication channels as it’s an important part of branding. That’s not to say you should communicate in exactly the same way irrespective of the medium! It’s natural that the way you speak will differ when you interact via chat from when you talk to someone on the phone. In the latter scenario you can better adjust your tone of voice to the caller’s intent and age, and show emotions. Speaking of emotions, it’s harder to keep them under control when you interact with someone on the phone or face-to-face. The previously mentioned communication guidelines will tell you how to behave irrespective of the situation or communication medium.
Use the 7-38-55 rule to communicate more effectively
Have you ever heard of the 7-38-55 communication rule? It says that there is much more to quality conversation than the words we use. It comes down to:
- Spoken words (7%)
- Tone of voice (38%)
- Body language (55%)
This is worth keeping in mind while communicating with customers face-to-face, where body language plays a major role. The same applies to video conversations. Clients will be able to say a lot about your attitude just by observing your behavior.
Refer to your customer segments
How diversified are your customers in terms of age? Let’s assume you have a customer segment made up of youngsters who primarily contact you through Instagram. Your TOV will be different when you speak to them than when you interact with an older group, who contact you exclusively via phone. When you speak to a young customer, you can go for slightly less formal language and assume that they have a certain degree of tech-savviness. This means you won’t need to take them step-by-step through your website or app, the same way you might while speaking to, say, a Baby Boomer.
With the mediums of communication and guidelines now covered, let’s move on to another important topic — omnichannel vs multichannel customer communication.
How to reach customers: a multichannel vs omnichannel approach
High chances are, you’ve heard about omnichannel customer communication. But do you know how it differs from a multichannel approach?
In the case of the latter, all mediums of communication live a life of their own. How so? Customers expect different types of experiences and tones of voice depending on the channels they are using. In the worst-case scenario, each channel will have a separate conversation history. This might lead to a lack of crucial information and context regarding the person they’re speaking to.
Here’s where omnichannel customer communication comes into the spotlight. It offers a consistent, cohesive standard across all channels of communication. If the client feels like it, they can contact you through, say, five different mediums without worrying that they’ll have to fill you in every time on where the conversation left off. Refer to this guide to omnichannel customer service for more information!
Given the number of online and offline mediums of communication, it’s important to understand which ones will work best for your interactions with clients. As I’ve discussed in this piece, there are three key areas you need to consider:
- the market your business operates in,
- who your target audience is,
- and what their business needs and goals are.
Now, here’s a thought I’d like to leave you with. Regardless of the channels you end up choosing, make sure that you follow an omnichannel customer service approach. In doing so, you’ll maintain a cohesive tone of voice across all channels and have access to the entire customer interaction history. And that’s what we call offering a superb customer communication experience!