From Amazon to Apple to Netflix and beyond, focusing on delivering an exceptional customer experience (CX) is a hot growth strategy these days. But customer experience at U.S. companies actually got worse overall in 2017, according to analyst firm Forrester, which measured CX trends at 314 brands in 21 industries to see how a brand’s CX affects customer loyalty and revenues.
Fortunately, there’s one clear-cut way to move the dial up on customer experience and that’s by improving customer communications. “How well your company communicates with your customers has a surprisingly large impact on your brand’s overall customer experience. In turn, this outsized influence translates into a revenue impact that can be a game-changer for your bottom line,” according to Read My Lips: Clear Communications Can Mean Billions in Revenue, another Forrester report issued in July 2017.
Drawbacks of Poor Customer Communications
No one intentionally creates documents that customers can’t make sense of, but confusing statements and letters are all too common, especially in financial services and healthcare. Poor communications with customers can cause short- and long-term damage:
- Customers don’t understand or know what to do, so they don’t do anything, such as pay the bill.
- Customers worry the unfamiliar jargon or other terms, pages of legalese, complicated designs and other communications flaws are deliberate, that companies are trying to put something over on them, undermining loyalty and trust.
Neither reaction is the basis for a strong relationship.
Tips for Improving Customer Communications
To turn things around or make good communications better, review your customer documents by putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. The key is readability, which is a mix of vocabulary, sentence structure, document layout and other factors that directly affect how understandable the material is. Americans, on average, read at a 7th to 8th grade level, and some recommendations, especially in healthcare, suggest writing to a 5th grade reading level. And English may not be the first language of a subset of your customers—do you know how many?
Here are some guidelines for effective communication with customers:
- Know the purpose and business outcome of each communication. What do you hope to accomplish? How do you want to influence the customer’s behavior? In creating your communications, consider what you want the customer to think, feel and do as a result of reading your letter, statement or email.
- Use plain, clear language. Try to reduce or eliminate the legalese as much as possible. Also, adopt the best practices of adaptive content – using fewer words to deliver a similar message based on the communication channel. An email may give you the luxury of 500 words, but you must be able to deliver the gist of the message in 50 words or less if sending via text.
- Understand your audience and what’s meaningful to them. Effective communication is a dialogue or conversation with one person at one time. Personalize communications whenever, wherever possible.
- Employ effective design concepts. This applies to all letters, statements, documents—paper, online and mobile. Brush up on the basics or have a design professional assist with proven models. Borrow best practices from other industries and companies that excel in consumer-friendly communications. Responsive design changes how content is displayed based on viewing device, such as mobile phone versus laptop.
- Gauge understanding. Are your customers reading their communications and responding as you intended? If not, why not? Don’t make changes based on assumptions – ask questions via surveys and focus groups. And test different designs, measure the results and optimize as you go.
Customer communications management platforms like our Expresso application can make developing, managing, changing, distributing and tracking letters, bills, compliance notices and other customer documents fast and easy. Expresso also lets companies improve customer choice and convenience by providing the ability to communicate through multiple channels such as email and mailings. With real-time document retrieval, customer service staff can offer an enhanced experience and responsiveness. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to learn more about how to leverage our CCM solutions.
About the Author
Bryan joined Nordis Technologies in 2016 to manage and grow the company’s already-large vacation ownership client base. He also is responsible for business development and market expansion in the healthcare and financial services markets. Before joining Nordis, Bryan spent more than 21 years with Interval International, a leading global provider of vacation ownership services. Bryan graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor of science in political science.