Communication methods have evolved, over the years, from cave paintings to smoke signals to pigeon carriers. Now, we have emails; we also have the Internet, which has opened new communication channels like social media, blogs, and websites, among other things.
For businesses, communication has been proven to be a make-it-or-break-it moment. A good example is Netflix’s disastrous handling of the announcement of Qwikster, a DVD-by-mail offshoot of the company.
It led to the company losing half its stock value within two months and an estimated subscriber loss exceeding one million.
Netflix’s communication approach also cost the company customer trust, with over 20,000 negative comments on its Facebook page.
In an African context, let’s use Mrs Lagbaja, the only trader selling household items on MacGregor Road, Lagos.
Mrs Lagbaja rarely responds to customers’ queries, insults them often, and sometimes closes her shop without warning. They complain a lot, but she never accepts she is wrong.
Mrs Karen also opens a household items shop on MacGregor but treats her customers right and communicates off days. And within two months of her opening, most people only buy from her, with Mrs Lagbaja’s customer base dwindling fast.
Now, the question becomes, how should businesses approach communication today, especially with the increasing number of channels open to them? This question is also fundamental, considering how much the COVID-19 pandemic has affected companies’ current modes of operation.
Thankfully, Ifedolapo Festus, Head, Global Business and Partnerships at Termii, answered this question during a fireside chat at the Termii Elevate Conference themed “Scaling with stellar communication technologies.”
You can watch the fireside chat here.
Important communication tenets
While there are no hard and fast rules to communicating with customers, there are certain tenets which businesses must not ignore, and Festus listed two: customer experience and analytics.
“These are tenets that people don’t really pay attention to, that when you start paying attention to them, you know your customers better, you understand behaviour. Some customers would prefer to chat on Instagram rather than SMS.
“The moment you start paying attention to all of these things, it helps you to scale, it helps you to grow. It helps you engage better [with customers].”
He said it goes beyond the metrics of timely message delivery at an affordable rate. Having insights helps to understand what the customer likes, why they like it, and where and how to improve it.
“You will see that when you do this seamlessly, those customers will be your advocates. If you can crack this, the sky is your starting point.”
Using communication to scale
“What you cannot track, you cannot scale. You can’t do things haphazardly. You have to be able to monitor. Let’s say the people that came on your platform were 30 this month. Have you been able to check if there’s growth in one month and if there is no growth, what really caused it?”
These indices help companies see why their businesses grew or stagnated in the past quarter and provide trackable and useful patterns that can be repeated or discarded.
Festus also said that tracking these insights helps a company determine product adoption.
“For example, you release a product. Have you been able to check if it is fit for the market? How well is the market engaging with what you have put out?
“With a product like Termii, if you sent 1,000 messages this month, you can track that you grew a certain percentage. All of this helps in tracking the growth, and if there is a decline that needs attention, you make the right decision.”
The importance of customer feedback
From our earlier example with Mrs Lagbaja and Netflix, one thing that stands out is the importance of customer feedback.
In Netflix’s case, it took losing subscribers and stock prices crashing for the company to understand that customers were not happy with the model it was introducing. For Mrs Lagbaja, refusing to accept customer feedback resulted in her losing customers.
Festus emphasised the need to get periodic customer feedback.
“It’s better to know what they want and build for that. That is how businesses grow; when you connect with the people you are building for.”
He also advised that businesses know where to find their customers, asking questions like, “How can I meet them?” “What are the things I can build to engage them?”
But it goes beyond onboarding.
“After you’ve been able to bring them in, how would they like to be engaged?”
He believes businesses should know their strengths and double down on them, whether it be customer acquisition, experience, or support, as this helps them advertise themselves.
“There must not be any disconnect between the business and the customers they are serving.”