CRM - Tips and TricksOnce upon a time, a request for an email address was a sure fire way to be able to reach someone. Now, as recent research shows, email usage amongst the next generation has dropped by a staggering 59%, and for the vast majority of the rest of us, email has quite simply become a burden.

So, how do you get in touch and stay in touch?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems have been solving this problem for the last few years and we need to start learning, fast, from these solutions. But, that simple question: “How would you prefer to be contacted?” no longer has a simple three phase answer: email, snail mail or telephone.

What we need to consider now is far more complex. As social networks expand and people become more au fait with their smart phones, tablets, and alternative ways of communicating, you need to find the communication medium of choice for your customers and contacts. And you can pretty much bet your bottom dollar that for the vast majority of people – email is not IT.

Spam is not the only problem. The sheer deluge of emails into your average inbox each day means that many people are just ignoring email as a means for communication. And for instant communication, as the #blackberrycrumble showed this last week or so, even your smart phone cannot save you if something more major goes amiss with email servers.

People are relying on a variety of mechanisms to stay in contact and as a company, it is now down to you to learn and adapt to the chosen communication channels of choice for your users. Whether that is Twitter, Facebook, SMS, email, a phone call, or a visit. And then within each of those channels, you may need to understand more comprehensively how your user uses that channel to stay informed.

So, for instance, post something on Twitter as a reply to a tweet I have sent or as part of a conversation I was involved with, and I will only know if it includes @myhandle. I simply do not have time to constantly monitor Twitter so the only way you can reach me is a DM or a replytome. Start a conversation on Twitter with 3 or 4 other people and you will see how Twitter handles start to fall off quite quickly in 140 characters.

Post something on a Facebook page for a client and how will I know unless you tell me?

Understanding how each of those you contact uses social networking and communication channels is becoming a must. Look at those in your office and close family. Do you know the best method for contacting each of them, according to their preferences, which will raise an instant response? If so, then you need to start applying similar knowledge to your wider address book.

For instance, don’t leave me a voice message or expect me to spot an email in the several thousand which arrive each day. Instead, a DM on any of the social networks will arrive as an SMS to my mobile phone. However, you will never know how I set up my personal devices to receive my personal communications, so you need to guess until you know. And then when you know, you need to target me in the most effective manner possible.

Here are some examples:

x: will only answer emails. Thinks SMS are the spawn of satan and will not answer. Ever. The smartphone lives in a box waiting to be sold as a heritage item, like an Atari.
y: loves Twitter. Always picks them up within moments, even at the dead of night. Other than that….
z: checks email weekly. Chooses 10-20 emails to answer only. Facebook, LinkedIn, and social bookmark sites such as delicious and Digg are monitored constantly.

Worrying? It should be if you are relying on email to reach your target audience. It is time to get personal and understand how your audience wishes to communicate. A good CRM mechanism is essential and a full appreciation of the cost of NOT reaching your audience with your messages will force you to look into these solutions.

What does your company use?

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About the author:

A practising internet marketing consultant since 1996, Lindsey Annison helps companies improve their website marketing, online PR and information architecture. Lindsey is also a qualified adult education lecturer and author. As co-founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign, she has been instrumental in the provision of high-speed internet access to rural areas in the UK. Lindsey is also a past winner of Silicon.com's Outstanding Contribution to UK Technology