How do you keep the magic? 7 ways big companies get it so wrong with long-term customers

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By Mark Di Somma

Big companies find it hard to sustain meaningful relationships with customers

Everyone talks at length about customer engagement and the need to converse. The process is relatively straight-forward for high-street brands. They use the seasons, sales and releases to keep people coming back. There are timely prompts. But how do you keep customers engaged when they’re on a contract, for example, that may span several years or even a lifetime?

A while back, my company Audacity was involved in a complex, multi-layered change programme to transit a telecommunications company’s customer communications from paper-based to digital. Over the course of many months, we grappled with all the issues you’d expect: what needed to be communicated; when; how; through what channels … But one of the biggest issues we identified and addressed was how to evolve the tone of the communications over time so that they brought people closer to the brand. We identified this as crucial to developing meaningful, valuable and of course profitable long-term relationships.

Utilities, banks, telcos, car companies and insurance companies in particular seem to make seven crucial mistakes in managing a customer communications programme:

  1. They think paperwork is a relationship;
  2. They treat people as “the customer” rather than as individuals;
  3. They focus on conveying information rather than growing loyalty;
  4. They apply “flat” tone and manner guidelines that don’t adjust for the change in familiarity that should take place over time;
  5. They think of the communications themselves as set pieces driven by function or event (bills, policy changes, price rises) rather than integrating that functional information into a much more inclusive and interactive communications style;
  6. They use their CRM to “track” each relationship rather than looking for ways to increasingly humanise it;
  7. Customers receive multiple communications from multiple parties with multiple priorities. As a result, they don’t feel like they are dealing with one organisation throughout the journey. Instead they talk to one part of the entity about one part, and another part of the entity about another, and the manner and style of those conversations can be very different.

Inspired by the work of David Court and others at McKinsey in developing the “consumer decision journey”, we developed our own version of such a journey specific to communicating within a relationship rather than the purchase consideration process itself.

The Audacity Group MotivationMapIt’s underpinned by three key thoughts:

Inclination is king. The purpose of communications is to accumulate loyalty and each step up in the process represents a change in the loyalty dynamics. It’s not about the number of communications customers receive, but that everything a customer hears from and about a brand works together and consistently to incline them more and more towards the brand. You can’t just be interesting at first. You have to remain stimulating and relevant over time and from every angle.

Communications should be experiences, not just information. Brands need to design what customers continue to experience so that they exceed what customers just expect to receive. Anchoring core communications in agreed channels at set points throughout the journey gives the relationship structure. But then, on top of that, using more immediate and responsive media adds spontaneity, surprises, interest, rewards, up-sells and fun.

The tone and manner should keep pace. A brand’s communications must always report to its tone and manner and visual guidelines. But the journey remains interesting and engaging when different aspects of the brand’s personality come to the fore over time. Specifically, the transition points in the journey are opportunities to adjust the tone so that it becomes, and feels, more familiar as customers become more committed.

Audacity’s tool, MotivationMap, literally maps the change in dynamics that should occur in how a brand communicates over time. The goal is to continually match the tone of communications with the inclinations of customers throughout their relationship with you.

At first glance, the topline view of the model (above) seems very simple. The intricacies come in how it is applied – for example, the “prompt” points that step people up from one level of commitment to the next; and the fact that the motivational process is not a one-off. There is not one consideration point. There is not one bond point. In fact, the whole journey occurs simultaneously at different levels throughout the relationship: there is the inclination that people have towards the company as a whole; and the inclination they feel towards each offer/opportunity they are presented with. The greater the overall bond, the shorter the journey for each offer (in theory at least). The more offers that are taken up, the greater the bond.

MotivationMap is a model that continues to evolve. For example, one thing I’ve been working on is the final step of the journey: learning to say goodbye properly. It’s a reality of doing business today that I touched on in this post.

Let me know if you’re struggling to marry what you know about your customers with what you tell them and how you converse with them. Please leave a comment or email me:


Untitled image of a corporate building by ^W^, sourced from Flickr
MotivationMap is a tool of The Audacity Group in New Zealand

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