All too often, business communications are measured by their breadth of their reach and little else. It's the reason online retailers scrap for competitive keywords and companies gladly shell out a small country's GDP for ad spots during football games. Conventional wisdom claims the more eyes you can get your message in front of, the better off you'll be.
In some respects, the rising trend toward contextual communications turns this long-held notion on its head. Instead of crafting messages that appeal to as many people as possible, businesses can use new communication technology to hold a one-to-one conversation with every member of their chosen audience, no matter how large — the difference between addressing a crowd with a megaphone and stopping to shake each individual hand.
As with most modern innovations, though, the technology is only as good as the plan that makes it necessary. Understanding your customers and the contexts in which they wish to meet you is by far the most important part of a smart communications strategy. The following is how your company can harness this valuable tool for the benefit of everyone involved:
Contextual Communications 101: Meeting Customers Where They Are
A college student uses a web portal to sign up for classes. A potential client browses a few pages on a company's website and fills out a form to receive a white paper. While these might seem like mundane smidgens of technology-enabled behavior, both examples contain a trove of valuable data in the right circumstances.
In this sense, these communications can be described as the initiatives companies take to act on this data. In the first example, the school in the first example contextually communicates when it emails a list of classroom locations or updates the student's cloud calendar with midterm times and dates. The company in the second example could analyze the visitor's clickstream to determine services he or she might be interested in, then reach out to the provided email address with a personalized pitch from a real-life representative.
These are just two of countless ways brands can contextually adapt their messaging. In retail, for instance, a store's app might send a greeting and personalized promotions based on a customer's shopping history. Another may gauge customer interest by monitoring which links customers click in promotional emails, then build future campaigns based on the data.
Mastering contextual communications is as much about knowing your clientele as it is about putting the right technology in place.
The Art of Timing — and Technology
Of course, technology is an important part of the contextualization process, simply because it makes so many things possible. The retailer's location-aware smartphone app, for instance, could do things even an army of the most brilliant door greeters couldn't handle — after all, only one has access to the right databases and the ability to call them up on demand.
In other words, if humans can dream up a contextualization plan, there is a pretty good chance technology can make it happen. This is largely due to the immense flexibility and power of modern software tools. The solutions available a decade or two ago may have shoehorned companies into a narrow spectrum of functionalities (or forced organizations to deal with the budget and technological constraints of developing their own), but organizations today have far more freedom to pursue their visions once a solid strategy is in place. Better, these solutions offer wide integrations with existing workflows and processes, making it possible to contextualize without disrupting existing processes.
Application programming interfaces (APIs), an increasingly common set of solutions designed to help companies add extra functionality to their software, highlight this enhanced capability. A service-based company such as a dental office or landscaper wanting to add text-based appointment confirmations could implement a manual system and assign an employee to log in to the system. That employee could send the text, wait for a response, and log any confirmations. Or, the company could wrap an efficient communication API around its existing appointment system and largely automate the process instead, effecting significant long-term savings in both time and effort.
On the other end of the counter, a company that utilizes APIs to integrate social media or app-browsing insights into its CRM also contextualizes its customer interactions. The more you know about the person on the other end without them having to explain it, the better — and faster — that customer's experience will be.
In the end, then, mastering contextual communications is as much about knowing your clientele as it is about putting the right technology in place. One can't exist without the other. Which customer-facing processes need a little polish? Where could you stand to offer existing clients and prospective newcomers a little personalization and convenience? If your proposed solution makes customers' lives easier and doesn't throw your back-end processes out of whack, it's guaranteed to be a hit.