You need a game plan for customer communications

With new rules for automated sales looming, businesses must reexamine the best ways to communicate with their most precious resource - the customers, says SoundBite Communication's Mark Friedman.
Written by Mark Friedman, Contributor
Commentary--In 2008, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adopted an amended Telemarketer Sales Rule (TSR) citing consumer protection against unwanted marketing communications.

As of December 1, 2008, prerecorded sales calls must provide an easy opt-out feature. More significantly, beginning September 1, 2009, automated sales communications can be delivered only to those recipients who have provided their “express written consent” to receive them. Having an existing business relationship (EBR) will no longer suffice as sufficient approval for organizations to attempt to sell a good or service via an automated, prerecorded message.

The FTC Telemarketing amendment is a unique opportunity for organizations because it combines both critical and strategic issues: the urgency of a time deadline (i.e. they must obtain permission by September 1, 2009) and a strategic opportunity that can impact long term success by enabling more targeted, effective marketing.

The FTC’s amended TSR rule is a game changer. Organizations need to act quickly to maximize the percentage of consumers that they will be able to cost-effectively reach via automated calls to sell their goods and services.

Customer communications and brand loyalty
Companies establish a brand impression with their customers – the better and stronger the brand impression, generally the more profitable the relationship for the organization. Customer communications plays a major role in forming that brand impression. Yet how many organizations really know how each of its customers prefers to be communicated with? And under what circumstances?

For example, if you are running a special sale on an item they might be interested in purchasing – would they prefer to find out via an email? Voice message? Text message? Direct mail? Some combination? What if you wanted to make a special offer to members of your loyalty/reward program – how would your customers want to hear about this offer?

Each consumer has his/her own communication preferences. Some want to receive emails, others voice messages, others text messages, and others would prefer to be called on their cell phones. And many would prefer to receive communications through a combination of channels. It is important to ask consumers directly how they want to be communicated with so that you can develop a communication strategy that encompasses their preferences.

Communications are all about getting consumers to act. And here’s the point: if you know in advance what their preferences are, you will be in a much better position to have your communications “breakthrough” and be acted upon. This will mean more market share, more revenue, more profit.

As an organization determines the individual communication preferences of its consumers, it can then secure express written consent from these consumers (i.e. their permission.) As a result, organizations will be well positioned to deliver relevant information to consumers who have expressed an interest in their goods or services.

The opportunity Is now
Seize this opportunity and create a formal Consumer Communication Preference & Opt-in Program. The requirement to gain permission by September 1, 2009 creates an urgency to do so. The value of understanding consumer preferences should create a strategic drive to do so.

Here are some questions organizations should be asking:

  • Do you have contact information for your customers and prospects?
  • Is this contact information complete and updated – for Mobile phones? Emails? Landlines?
  • How do you keep contact information updated?
  • Do you understand your consumers’ communications preferences? Text Messages? Email? Voice Messages? Direct Mail? Live Agents?
  • Do your consumers’ communications preferences vary by the situation? Service Reminder vs. Special Sale Offering vs. Loyalty Program Update vs. Fraud Notification?
  • How do you track and update your consumers’ evolving communications preferences?
  • Can your entire organization access your consumers’ communications preferences?
  • What’s your organization’s plan to handle the September 1, 2009 Telemarketing rule changes?

Those that act swiftly and with purpose in creating a formal Customer Communication Preference & Opt-In Program will have a head start in building a targeted, qualified list of customers who want to hear from you and will welcome your communications. After all, it’s all about customer choice, so why not deliver your communications to those who want to receive them- how they want to receive them.

biography Mark Friedman is the Chief Marketing and Business Development officer for SoundBite Communications. Mark can be contacted at mfriedman@soundbite.com.

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