Think back to the first time a customer reached out over social media to ask an important customer service question. Were you surprised to find them there? Were you surprised they found you there?

Now, here comes the really cringe-worthy part: How long had that message been sitting there before you noticed it?

You may have wondered why they didn’t just call your business or email you. The reality is customer communication styles and preferences have changed drastically over the past few years. It’s the customers who are in charge.

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If you don’t catch the messages when they come in, and on whatever digital channel the customer may have chosen, it’s not just the missed message that matters. You could actually lose the customer for good.

In the past, businesses dictated how customers connected with them — call us at these hours when we’re standing by the phone, otherwise, you’ll have to wait for us to get back. Yet, today’s customers expect round-the-clock access to your business — as well as a carefully thought out, authentic response.

Welcome to the age of digital customer communication. If you’re new here, this blog will walk you through the basics of customer communication preferences and help you get — and stay — connected with your current and future customers.

What Is Digital Customer Communication?

OK, don’t get me wrong. There’s still tons of value in a good old-fashioned handshake. Um, well, maybe not so much while we’re still in the midst of the pandemic. As you know, COVID moved a lot of business to digital tactics, and customer communication is no exception.

Thanks to technology, you can conduct so many customer interactions digitally. From placing orders and accepting payments to posting reviews and more. When it comes to customer communication styles, here are a few ways to digitally connect that you may have thought of, and some you haven’t:

  • Setting appointments and sending reminders
  • Emailing birthday or anniversary wishes
  • Texting this month’s sale or promotion
  • Answering questions on Facebook or Instagram Messenger
  • Replying to a complaint over Twitter
  • Grabbing customer contact info over a webchat or live chat
  • Sending an estimate and receiving a signed agreement
  • Signing, sharing and storing an important document
  • Receiving requests to contact your business
  • Sending personalized invitations for follow-up services

You get the idea. The ways in which prospects or customers can connect with you are seemingly never-ending, and you need a way to stay on top of it all.

And maybe more important: The customer doesn’t necessarily care if you’d prefer that they call. They’re going to shoot you a DM or comment on a social media post, and they expect a timely and considerate answer — every time.

Which Customer Communication Styles Should I Start With?

So, yes, it’s important to cover all of your digital customer communication channels, but you don’t have to conquer all of them at once. The place to start is wherever you receive the most digital messages from your customers today. That’s probably over email or social media. Get a handle on those, and quickly move to the next.

Today, any email marketing service worth its salt will also cover text messaging. That’s a big win, because you can use both, once your customers opt-in, to send marketing messages to let them know of upcoming offers, appointment reminders and more.

Even better, choosing a centralized inbox that displays both texts and emails to and from a particular customer will further keep you organized. And just like that: You’ve just mastered two critical channels in your digital customer communication strategies.

For social media messaging, consider a centralized dashboard that will show you all of your business pages at once. You’ll want to not only be able to schedule your social media posts in advance, to communicate what’s going on with your business, but also see any incoming comments, likes, shares or messages from customers and prospects.

At a bare minimum, turn on notifications for your social business pages so you’ll get a ping whenever someone connects with you. And don’t let comments or messages sit too long.  Facebook rewards businesses with an above-average response time. This means they’ll show your page more often on your followers’ news feeds.

85% of consumers expect a business to respond to a social media inquiry in 6 hours. But most business take an average of 28 hours to respond.

Here’s a not-so-subtle hint: If you want to gain an edge over the majority of your competition, use digital strategies and tools to figure out how to meet that six-hour response expectation.

How to Speak Over Digital Customer Communication Channels

Messages can get lost in translation when they’re sent over digital channels. Everything from typos to brevity to tone of voice can misconstrue the intent of a message.

There’s a reason that “authenticity” is a buzzword these days. When it comes to customer communication, here’s why: Just take a look at nearly any large corporation and how they respond to complaints in Facebook comments. Chances are, it goes something like this:

“Thank you for your response. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please call our 800-line to speak to a customer representative.”

And they use that response over and over and over again. It’s sterile, impersonal, insincere and inconvenient. It’s copied-and-pasted, for goodness sake.

Isn’t this just one example of how small businesses have an edge over big corporations? It’s our personal, intimate human-to-human connections. You don’t have to lose that element of customer communication just because communication styles and preferences are shifting to digital channels.

4 Quick Tips for Communicating Online

  • Watch your tone. It’s easy to get defensive, but this is a public arena — and everyone is (potentially) watching. Keep it professional, upbeat and solution-oriented. Tell them how you will follow up, and then do it.
  • Don’t add extra steps for them. We now know that the consumer is in control. Don’t tell them to call you. If they’re a customer, hopefully, you have their contact information already (if not, see the section below). Tell them you’ll reach out over email, text or phone.
  • Use names. Namely: Theirs and yours. Begin the response with their name (Hi, Brian) and end it with yours. It’s a very simple tactic that makes them feel seen. It also shows there’s a human on the other end, not a bot posting canned responses.
  • Stay cool. There are times when someone will just be inconsolable. If they are firing off angry comments of posts over social media, tell them you will respond to them in the direct messages of that app. That way, they don’t have to leave Facebook or Instagram, and they and everyone watching will see you’ve attempted a private conversation.

How to Stay on Top of Your Digital Customer Communication

If you feel like you’re drowning in the deep end of the communication pool, there’s good news: There are tons of tools to help you.

First and foremost, you need a robust CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool to store all of your clients’ names, contact information, past services, birthdates and more. This critical first step makes creating personalized and meaningful email and text communication effortless.

Second, when you connect the CRM to a robust inbox as well as your social media profiles in one dashboard, you’ve got one centralized place to go and handle it all. There’s no need to jump from multiple website browsers or apps on your phone to read and respond to all of your messages.

Don’t make communicating with your clients harder than it needs to be. A tool like Thryv also provides a Client Portal, so customers can log in to their personal page and conduct business with you whenever or wherever they’d like. Thryv will also allow them to set appointments, make payments and more — in one organized place.

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