Are your marketing communications cultivating customer loyalty or distance?

Theory: marketing communications cultivate loyalty

Recently I wrote a post on customer loyalty – Why Companies Are Struggling in Cultivating Loyalty – and one of the readers brought up the subject of communication.  In his words:

…………..It’s critically important that companies create an ongoing dialogue with customers to determine their preferences and then create solutions to meet those needs.

One way companies can nurture the overall customer relationship is to determine the best method of communicating with customers (voice mail, e-mail, text messaging, social media, direct mail) and when they would like to receive information. Once they have determined the appropriate channel for communicating, companies can engage customers in a highly personalized and tailored way.

Companies that actively engage with customers on a regular basis can proactively offer additional products, services and information that cultivates customer loyalty.

What is the reality as opposed to the theory?

First let me say that there will be an array of realities – one for each company and even within the company the reality will be different for each customer.  Given that context let me share with you the findings from a report (Data Wastage Report 2011) commissioned by Transactis  (a company focussing on data and customer insight  services):

  • 65% of consumers said that companies have sent them offers for products they would never buy even though these customers had previously handed their personal details and preferences to these companies;
  • 58% of consumers said that some companies have sent them offers to become new customers even though they are existing customers of these companies;
  • 52% of consumer said that companies have repeatedly tried to sell them products that they have already bought.

Furthermore another Transactis report (Customer Trust 2010) highlighted the following:

  • Around 80% of consumers do NOT see any of the firms they buy from using their personal data to make attractive offers and deliver good customer service.

So what is the impact of all this on the 2000 UK consumers that were surveyed?

  • 86% of consumers say they would withdraw permission for a company to even contact them if it continues to send them irrelevant communications;
  • 88% of consumers say they would refuse to hand over any more personal information if they continue to get these irrelevant communications;
  • 81% of consumers say they seriously question the competence of companies that ask for details that they have already given to the company

My take on this: reality is much messier than theory

Some kinds of communications can cultivate loyalty.  I can remember that some years ago I received a thank you letter and plastic coffee mug from Amazon (with no sales related offers) and that surprised and delighted me.  The result was that my loyalty was cultivated.  I have also written about three other instances where the communication left me touched and loyal:

The kind of communications that do cultivate loyalty are not the ones that marketing departments typically produce and distribute. Why?  Because, these communications tend to be self-serving and rather impersonal (even if they are ‘personalised’) rather than customer-centric and personal.  Put differently, these communications do not create value for the customers that receive them:   it can be argued that whilst 20% of customers may find them useful, 60% of customers are indifferent, and the remaining 20% are left annoyed and think less of the company sending out this ‘junk mail’.  What looks like success (ROI) on a campaign by campaign basis may be failure when viewed on a longer time scale.


Why you should not confuse ‘personalisation’ with ‘personal’

There is value in personalisation

By personalising content on websites you provide me with content that is likely to be relevent to me.  And that saves me time.  It tends to make me think that you have your act together.  That you are competent and possibly sophisticated in your use of data and technology.  Because of your personalisation, you make it that much more likely that I will purchase from you.

When you send me direct mail then it may or may not be personalised.  Simply putting my name on it does not constitute personalisation.  Doing that and taking my situation and/or my past behaviour into account when you talk to me in your direct mail does constitute personalisation.  And by personalising your direct mail to me it is that much more likely that I am going to read it.  Whether I act on it or not depends largely on your timing – did your personalised direct mail catch me when I have the need for what you are offering?

Why personalisation is not enough

The big issues with personalisation as it is practiced is that it addresses the rational / functional needs.  I’d argue that the kind of personalisation that I have described is a hygiene factor.  The thing about hygiene factors is that if they are present they do not build positive emotion, engagement or loyalty.  When hygiene factors are not present then they do build dissatisfaction.

Why the personal touch matters

Customers are people – human beings.  For most human beings there is nothing more nourishing than the personal touch.  The personal touch is always a human to human encounter.  It is one human being taking the time to acknowledge, validate and uplift another human being emotionally.  I can talk about this in many ways and sometimes an example is much more direct and useful.  Please take a  look at the image below.

I have an inquisitive mind and I read widely.  As a result I tend to buy quite a few books from Amazon and it’s partners.  Most of the time the books arrive and there is absolutely no emotional impact.  This time I am really touched.  Why?  Simply because of one personal sentence written by a fellow human being who works at RocketSurgery:

“Thanks for your order, hope you enjoy this excellent book and find it useful.  Best wishes. RocketSurgery Crew”

Now the interesting thing is that this sentence would not have had the same impact if it had been typed up.  It occurs as personal because it is handwritten and it lands as authentic – as heartfelt.

The net impact of this personal touch is that RocketSurgery is imprinted on my mind (and heart) and next time I am choosing between ANother or RocketSurgery, I know who will get my business.

Research validates the impact of the personal touch

I am not alone in being moved (influenced) by the personal touch.  The impact of the personal is described in the following book: “Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion”

You can download an extract of the book  and relevant secret (secret 10) by clicking on the following: Yes_Book_Extract

So what is the lesson we can take away from this?

Personalisation is necessary because it delivers on the functional (hygiene) need.  Yet it is not enough to build an emotional connection with your customers and grow loyalty.  To do that you have to be personal: leaving your customer feeling acknowledged and valued at an emotional level.

With so much customer focus why am I not drowning in thank you cards?

On the one hand just about every large UK based corporate is professing  their commitment to the customer.  Some say they are committed to customer service.  Some declare their commitment to customer focus.  A few are bold enough to state that they are customer-centric.  And many are busy improving the customer experience.

So how is it that deep in the festive season that not a single corporate – Sky, BT, Orange, Amazon etc – has written to thank me for being a customer over the last year?  If the customer is king – as is so widely accepted – then does the king not even merit a thank you wrapped up in a Christmas card or email?  Maybe I am just a poor customer and you are a good customer.  Are you drowning in thank you’s wrapped up in Christmas cards?

Think what my experience as a customer would be if I received a thank you card at Christmas.  Just a genuine thank you with no up-sell or x-sell message or offer.  Is it possible that would have occurred as positive customer experience?  For me definitely.  How about you?

Interestingly, the only cards that I have received are from small recruitment agencies.  Whilst they have followed the Christmas ritual they have not done so with heart.  Or put differently personalisation and personal are very different.  Business people confuse the two and at their costs.  Enough on that –  I will write a post to explain the difference.

It strikes me that customer-centricity in the UK is like the fresh fruit in the UK supermarkets:  the fruit looks good yet when I bite into the fruit it is almost always tasteless.  Now compare that with France where the fruit does not look as good yet is delicious.