With 2020 ushering in a period of change for businesses across the globe, it has never been more important to ensure your external communications are as effective as possible when explaining changes to your clients and customers.
Whether it is an operational change, a regulatory change, a change in pricing, supply, distribution or even adjustments to products and services, you need to communicate what, when and why.
A key aspect of managing change successfully is to promote understanding, or why change is necessary and how beneficial it can be. Taking the time to do so effectively can really enhance how your business is perceived by your customers.
Well thought-out, timely external communications with customers promotes understanding and loyalty with improved interest and interaction. The biggest benefit of clear communication of change, in addition, is securing the ongoing trust of your clients and customers.
Whatever the nature of your change, and whether your change is positive, or could be perceived as negative, there are vital steps you should consider when it comes to engaging with your clients and customers.
Choose the right channels
To communicate change effectively, you first need to understand your audience. You should then deliver a message that is tailored to that audience. This understanding and segmentation can be as high level as age-based demographics, or made even more nuanced by behavioural data, should you have this available.
For example, if your target audience is another business and their executive teams, who use technology daily, email may be a preferred channel for initial engagement. On the other hand, if you’re engaging with clients or customers who, based on their demographics, are not regularly checking their email, direct mail as a medium is likely to produce higher and more timely engagement. In fact, in Q2 2020, figures from the Joint Industry Committee for Mail (JICMAIL) showed that 96% of direct mail was engaged with.
The channels you choose should also take into account the changes being made. For example, if changes are regulatory, require an action on behalf of the recipient, or are complex in nature, a medium that allows for effective visual representation may be preferable. For example, a mail pack with a visual, personalised summary and accompanying FAQ documentation may allow the recipient to access the information they require more effectively than an overlong email trying to cover everything in one single ‘page’.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match your channels! If you want to maximise chances of engagement, as well as efficiencies, you can adjust your communications based on insights and activity. For example, if you receive a hard bounce on an email or it isn’t opened, you can follow this up with a letter or mail pack. The same applies if a piece of direct mail is returned to sender, you can follow this up with an email.
Tracking and understanding of the engagement of your communication, and adapting based on this insight, is key to helping make sure you a) maximise the chances of the information being received and engaged with and b) that you aren’t wasting time, resource and expense.
Frame your message – put your customer at the centre
When you’re communicating change, you shouldn’t just be communicating the change itself, you should be explaining ‘why’ the change is happening and outlining not only how this affects your customer, but also what they will need to do as part of the process.
When you’re creating your messages to your customers, everything should be addressing a specific question: how does this change affect our customer?
Whether your change is inherently positive, or you’re having to communicate something with negative implications, keep your customer at the heart of your message.
Consistently putting your customer at the centre will make your audience much more understanding to both the change, and if any hurdles crop up during the change itself.
The right message, at the right time
You’ve got your message, you have a plan on how to deliver it, now it’s about timing.
Timing will vary depending on what change you’re communicating. There are however two obvious and critical rules you should follow:
- Don’t send your message too early
- Don’t send your message too late
I wasn’t kidding when I said they were obvious. While this may seem less than helpful, they are two extremely important points to keep in mind.
For example, if you’re bringing in a new technology solution that will have a direct impact on your customers, telling them about it a year ahead while you’re still in the planning stages yourself is probably not a great idea.
If you can’t clearly answer the basic questions of when the change will happen, and what your customer needs to do on their part – it’s probably too early. The last thing you want to say to a customer is ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’.
However, if you wait too long before communicating a change and let your customers know as the change takes place, you may leave them feeling surprised, overwhelmed and frustrated.
So how do you work out the best time to communicate a change? Try listing out the top 10 questions you believe your customers will ask most often of the change. If you can’t provide a clear answer to these questions yet, you should probably wait.
Give your customer the support they need
Transitions and changes, while not always easy, can be exciting. You want to instil that excitement in your team and your clients as you support the change. Provide phone numbers or email addresses in your communications so your customers have somewhere to easily turn with questions.
Making sure you have briefed your teams on the support process, as well as providing talking points can help manage client queries. Consider implementing a response management solution, so your team dealing directly with the responses from your communications can see exactly what the caller has received as well as log any responses.
Effective response management can allow you to identify pain points you may have overlooked initially. If your change is regulatory in nature, they can also provide evidence that you have done everything in your power to effectively communicate the change to your customer.
Measure, adapt and improve
It’s important with any communication to analyse the results and effectiveness. When communicating a change, you may want to follow up with a satisfaction survey to get data on how your customer felt the change was handled. These insights will allow you to provide more effective communications in the future and shows that you value the experience of your customer.
Within your own business, you should aim to answer these six questions;
- What was the biggest sticking point for my customer?
- How many of my customers had issues with the change, and why?
- Is there anything still causing issues for my customer?
- Is there a range of actions I wish my customers to make based on my communication?
- What additional communications are needed?
- What can we do to improve our next communication?
Measuring the engagement with your communication and different channels throughout the process, the response management data from customer actions as well as feedback from your teams and customers will help you answer these points. Not only that, but the analysis and feedback will help you with your next communication, and there will be a next one because, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said ‘the only constant in life is change’*.
We’re here to help
We’ve helped businesses from many different industries communicate change to their customers with well planned, integrated and responsive communication solutions. If your business is in a period of adjustment, we can help make sure your customers are kept informed.
*this popular trivia answer you can have on us!