Engaging your customers with effective communication

In this article, we’re talking about effective communication with your customers. This content was transcribed from a panel from a 2021 Customer Marketing Summit. Look into our upcoming events; members have discount opportunities too.

Introducing our panelists

Igor Kranjčec

Hello, everybody, and welcome. Today we’ll be talking about engaging your customers with effective communication. My name is Igor, and I'm a Product Marketing Lead for Lemax (now Head of Marketing at Mediatoolkit). I'm joined today by Alex and Anita, who I’ll hand over to now to introduce themselves.

Anita Raj

Hi, my name is Anita, and I'm based in Germany. I'm very excited to be a part of today's discussion. I lead Product and Customer Marketing at ThroughPut Inc. We provide AI-powered supply chain software that helps companies make better sense of their supply chain operations and gain end-to-end visibility for streamlining productivity and output.

Alex Conners

And I’m Alex Conners. I work for a company based in New York City. We provide application traffic management. We work with some of the largest companies in the world – LinkedIn, Dropbox, Salesforce – to help them deliver the best application experience to their end users.

Common issues in customer communications

Igor Kranjčec

When we were preparing for this discussion, we all agreed on one thing – that companies often engage their existing customers in communication just before the renewal period, and the rest of the time, they just forget about them because they assume they're happy. We all highlighted the importance of making our products or services relevant throughout the whole customer lifecycle, and not only two months before the renewal comes up.

What are some other common issues that you see in customer communications?

Alex Conners

As you said, there's the challenge of talking to customers consistently. The other piece is what you use to talk to them. We often find that customers are communicating with us across different platforms, so their data is disparate. I think that's one of the biggest challenges.

I also think that companies struggle with the difference between customers and prospects and remembering that they already have a relationship with customers. Sometimes as companies are trying to grow and scale, there's not as much emphasis on continuing the customer relationship once they're deployed. They’re focusing on new revenue opportunities for the business instead.

We need to help customers to extract more value, and we need data uniformity so we can make sure we’re talking to the right people at the right time. If not, it's gonna be very obvious to our users.

Anita Raj

I completely agree about the issues you mentioned. What I would add is that there’s often a lack of any single source of truth. Internal teams are using so many different KPIs and pieces of software, so how do you centralize goals and objectives and the metrics we use to measure them? How do you obtain that single source of truth that tells you the right information to disseminate?

I also agree with Alex’s point about the lack of understanding of the distribution mechanism. Oftentimes, there is a lot of emphasis on the communication strategy, but distribution becomes an afterthought. We need to centralize and understand the right way to reach out, so we don’t have customer success, marketing, and product marketing teams all reaching out at once for different purposes.

The other issue is the information overload that typically ends up happening. Customers tend to receive lots of information from all of us. Understanding what information is helpful for them, as well as the best formats and mediums, is essential.

Communication techniques to engage your existing customers

Igor Kranjčec

If the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s how important customer focus is. Yes, of course, you need to scale the business and focus on acquisition, but a lot of companies, including ours, have realized that when everything stops, you have to focus on your customers.

We’ve intensified our communication with our customers on so many levels. We’ve had weekly meetings with them and follow-up sessions. That’s one of the most positive changes I’ve seen – this increased focus on the existing customer.

What are some other communication techniques that you use to engage your existing customers?

Anita Raj

I have a bit of a mixed experience. I've worked in sectors like high tech where there's a lot of sophistication in terms of adoption of communication channels, formats, and mediums that typically work quite well. Currently, I'm working in an industrial setup, where the majority of the customers are slightly different when it comes to digital technologies, so their preferences are completely different.

I tend to work closely with my customer success team to understand how we can engage better with customers, what account intelligence we can use for segmentation, and whether the customer is just beginning their digital transformation, or if they are moving from one tool to another.

Then we work intelligently to define a personalized approach to working closely with the customer, giving them a high-touch experience without overwhelming them with a lot of information formats.

We also tend to check in with them during the entire onboarding process and learn what formats they would like to engage with – we give them the option to pick and choose. Invariably, most of them like to get a lot of information on the product, like product-related updates, product maintenance cadence, release notes, and product newsletters.

Some of them also like to do a monthly engagement with us, where we walk them through a highlight of what's happening on the product side, they get an opportunity to interact with the product management team as well and share their feedback, and they get to know a little bit about what's upcoming on the roadmap.

It's all about working closely with the customer to understand their communication needs and making them a part of that process, so they feel that they have a stake in it. It builds trust and shows that we truly care about them, and at the same time, we’re engaging with them in a way that's more informative and valuable for them.

Besides that, we run customer advisory boards, power user groups, and customer workshops, where the customers come in and share their challenges, their use cases, how their process was when they started with the product, and where they’re going from here.

It's a mix of information sharing from our side, but also from their side, which creates a community where customers are engaged and they educate each other.

Alex Conners

You mentioned customer success managers (CSMs) – I think they’re the unsung heroes of every business. I don't think I ever talk to a customer who doesn't highlight the value of their CSM. I don't think they sleep much, but they provide a ton of value.

To add to that, email has obviously always been a mechanism for communication, but a lot of customers are now on Slack, which I see as both a blessing and a curse. How do you ensure that all of the different assets and content that you're delivering to customers are also consumable on Slack or Teams or whatever channel that customers are using to interact with your team?

The other thing we realized in the last eight months or so was customers were looking for community. One of the cool things you can do for that is virtual events. I mean, as we're sitting on this panel, I'm in New York, Anita’s in Germany, and Igor’s in Croatia; we're all so dispersed, but having such an engaging conversation.

Customers have been looking for similar interactions, and being able to connect the dots between customers in Australia and Texas and see them sharing use cases has been an amazing output.

I’ve also found regular newsletters to be one of the most invaluable ways to communicate for three reasons. One: you can provide a lot of very condensed information, and customers can pick and choose what they want to look at. Two: it's very easy to make a newsletter consumable in Slack or Teams, so you're not reliant on just an email. Three: newsletters are really easy to share.

Newsletters give customers everything they want to know in one place, consistently. When you get a newsletter, you don't expect to be sold to, which I think makes it a really valuable place to share anything from updates to industry news.

Neglected communication channels

Igor Kranjčec

I see in-app communication as something that’s not used enough. I can kind of understand that – there’s a stigma because of all the web pop-ups bombarding us with ads – but it doesn’t have to be that way.

In-app communication can be a very powerful tool because you're targeting your customers while they’re using your solution. If you combine that with analytics, you can even target them to make sure you're not interrupting them in the work they're doing. You can do it as soon as they log in or right before they log out.

What other channels do you see being underutilized?

Anita Raj

Areas like product walkthroughs and major release updates are completely underutilized; they’ve barely even been experimented with. Most of the time, we only communicate when we are doing a massive product rollout or when we have a lot of UX updates and we want to create some interesting user guides. That's pretty much the status quo today.

Most inbuilt communication tools provide some sort of product usage and product analytics insights, which help you to dissect, target, and segment better. From there, you just need to go back to marketing 101 and send the right information at the right time to the right person.

I think it pretty much boils down to how you emphasize the basics better and better as technology keeps improving. The increasing complexity of communication channels means that all of us invariably struggle to do the basic aspects really well.

So I think on one side, there is this whole aspect of experimentation that needs to be explored; on the other side, the basics need to be fine-tuned to make sure that we can target and segment better.

Other aspects that I feel are not typically utilized that well are feedback and surveys in general. We shouldn't be just utilizing them during renewals or when churn is most likely to happen. It should be a format that guides product marketers and customer marketers to understand the customer experience.

It’s a better way to validate product and feature hypotheses so that you can work backwards with your product team to address the core areas where customers are struggling and boost the core areas where they see value. Then we can look into prioritizing certain features or changing our roadmap slightly in line with customer feedback.

Alex Conners

In an ideal world, all of your customers are living in your app. The reality is that's not the case – we probably wouldn't have jobs if it was. You wouldn't need customer marketing if customers were that obsessed with your product, right?

Another thing that we find is we have a lot of customers who access products via APIs, so how do you get in front of the customers who really have no interest in logging into an app or logging into a portal daily? Maybe they're logging in every so often because billing information and other useful information might sit there, but day in and day out they're doing everything via an API and moving on to something else.

If that's the case, then you need a balance of email, CSMs, support to some degree, your account management team, and Slack or Teams.

Full transparency: I love both of those products, but they also drive me nuts. They can be the most distracting thing in the world some days. I was just talking with a customer of ours and it was like a Slack vent session. I was like “I will never send you important information in Slack because if you miss it, you'll never see it again.” I always think of Slack like Twitter: it has 60 minutes of life, and after that, hopefully, they see it in an email.

Figuring out how customers want to consume information is a big challenge. One thing that keeps coming up for me as we're having this discussion is, we're marketers, right? We all know what we want. If we need information, we look at HubSpot, Gainsight, or Marketo (if we want to go a little more vintage).

That's where, as much as brand seems frivolous at times, if your users are disparate, and you're using all of the channels that you can, the next best thing is being that brand that people trust and go to when they're looking for more insight and more information. That's the job of everyone in marketing. That's the job of your entire company.

We need to utilize all of these channels that we've talked about, whether it's in-app communication, email, Slack, or even big customer forums. The next piece is leaning into your brand for those customers that just aren't going to access things in the natural way that most users do. We have to provide an omnichannel experience because customers function in different ways.