Email is one way to communicate with your customers that reduces costs over print materials, but it is not the only way. Nor is the money saving aspect the only important facet of customer communication in this day and age.

Email is, for some, so last week. Or even last year. Many people find their inboxes so over-burdened with spam that reading their emails has become a chore.

Many people now rely on SMS or text messaging for contact, often in preference to a mobile call, which may intrude on the individual at the other end. And new tools such as Twitter, Push To Talk, Skype, MSN/ICQ, or the social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, Ecademy, LinkedIn etc) have become the preferred means of communication for many, with PMs (private messages) left in forums or on their profiles rather than sending an email.

Many of these resources will send an alert or even the full message to a user’s mobile phone or smartphone / Blackberry, and this is often the fastest technology to reach the individual you wish to contact, as well as the most likely to be read.

For those who have grown up in a world where computers are ubiquitous, all these methods and more are now the norm. The popular term for this generation is “Generation Y” or Gen Y.

Businesses in the modern technological age need to begin to research these tools, the value for the business, and how to use a variety of such for effective communication with their customers.

Regular reminders of your existence, brand, products, special offers, sales; through blog posts with an RSS feed, tweets, updates on your own social networking pages, as well as email newsletters, SMS and more are required to keep customers loyal and hence purchasing from you.

However, you need to start to gather information about your customers and potential customers preferred methods of communication to profile them, and discover which tools are most used by your customers in order to communicate effectively and efficiently.

You could start by running a survey amongst your customers to ask which Web 2.0 tools they use, with the offer of a prize for motivation, or include an article in your email newsletter about the plans you have and ask for feedback. Ask your customers every time they call or email how they would prefer to be contacted. Offer lots of choices which will give you a clear idea of how many different communication tools are currently being used, and which is the most popular amongst your customers.

All of this information is more than just interesting, it is giving you vital data to understand how your customers operate. It can all be held in a CRM tool, such as Sugar CRM (which is Open Source and free), and you can then contact each customer in the manner that they prefer, thereby winning you untold Brownie points.

Those companies who are adapting to the Gen Y modus operandi are finding themselves ahead of the crowd, and it is those companies who realise that there are more ways than snail mail, email and the telephone to contact customers who will join them rather than fall behind.

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About the author:

Phil Robinson is an online marketing consultant with over 17 years experience in marketing planning, internet strategy and online acquisition. In 2004, Phil founded ClickThrough, an ethical search marketing agency. He gives best practice training for businesses, runs seminars and writes books on digital marketing.