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Use the right communications tool for the job

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Talking to customers in a personalised manner by using the correct communication channels is critical to the success of any business that wants to grow. But how do you choose the correct tools? GAVIN MOFFAT gives us a few guidelines.

Keeping tabs of all your customers and prospects is a tough task – it’s hard enough simply to identity them all and build up an accurate database of their contact details. But talking to customers in a personalised manner using the right communication channels and mechanisms is critical to the success of any business that wants to grow and retain its customer base.

So how do you go about it? To put it simply, you need to be out there in the real and virtual worlds talking to your customers wherever they are. There are basics to cover – setting up a Google Maps listing, ensuring that your business is listed in all relevant online and local directories, and perhaps even advertising online.

The right place to start is to figure out where your customers are and what communications tools and media they’re using every day. Before throwing your time at setting up and maintaining a Facebook page, ask your customers if they use Facebook and whether they’d value your presence there. For example, set up a poll on your website, ask customers in-store or send an e-mail survey out.

This being South Africa, just about everyone has a cellphone, and that will probably apply to your customers. Why not ask them for permission to interact with them using SMS messaging? They would probably be happy to hear from you from time to time, provided that you don’t abuse the privilege – only send your messages to people who have given you permission to do so.

Perhaps most importantly, make sure that your messages of your value to the customer – for example, SMS is a perfect way to let customers know that a long-awaited item is in stock again or that you’re having a clearance sale with some great bargains on offer.

Keeping in touch with your customers via SMS is both easy and relatively inexpensive. There are a number of platforms to use and companies that offer services. I have used www.bulksms.co.za for a while now and find their application to be very useful for sending reminders to customers and media before events.

These communications are still fairly one-sided – you are pushing information to your customers in the hope that they will get it, consume it, and take an action that benefits your business. But SMS does offer you a flexible, immediate and reliable way of talking to many people.

So my big tip for the day is ‘use SMS’? Well, yes and no. SMS is great communications tool for South African businesses, but like Facebook, email and all the other channels at your disposal, it is just a tool.

The message matters as much as the medium. You need to look at your customers, understand them, and then talk to them in their language in the right place and at the right time. Then you’ll find that talking to your customers will help you forge closer relationships with them that result in better business results for you.

* Follow Gavin on Twitter on @gavinmoffat

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