A guide for customer-focused companies

How to design a customer communication strategy that minimizes friction

Improve customer experience with a better approach to customer communication

Customer Communication
by Brian Casel

Since most people who use ZipMessage are using it for customer communication, we figured it would help to offer our best recommendations when it comes to customer communication strategy in 2022.  Let’s dive in!

This guide is here to help your company upgrade its customer communication strategy so that you won’t be left behind in 2022.

And yes, I do mean left behind. Competition is fierce and for customers, the way they communicate with you (and the communications they receive back) are what drives a customer to choose one company over another.  And there are plenty to choose from.

You can’t afford to get customer communication wrong.

So let’s get it right.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide:

  1. Customer communication in 2022: Everything’s changed.
    What your company needs to be up to speed on in 2022 and beyond.
  2. How customers expect to communicate
    Spoiler: Live chat is NOT the answer.
  3. 6 communication channels, compared
    From your customer’s perspective, how do these common methods of communication stack up?
  4. 4 strategies for eliminating friction in your customer communications
    How to up your company’s customer communication game in 2022

Why is improving your customer communication important in 2022?

Everything’s changed.

The pandemic has accelerated everyone’s willingness and ability to embrace web-based services, especially for those who are traditionally less tech savvy.

Think about it: Did you ever think your parents would use Zoom or order meals online? Neither did I, yet here we are.

With this all new level of comfort with web-based tools for communication comes a much higher bar for businesses to meet when it comes to how we communicate with customers. Embracing new tools for communication with customers and employees is no longer something you might get around to “one of these days”.

It’s essential if you’re going to remain competitive in today’s online, remote-first economy.

How customers expect to communicate with your business

The rapid pace of change in how customers interact with businesses means they a whole new set of expectations for how they should be able to send their inquiries and get a response back.

You need to meet your customers where they are.  These are 3 customer expectations you need to meet or exceed to win the customer’s satisfaction. 

  • Customers expect to communicate fast
  • Customers want to communicate asynchronously
  • Customers don’t want to work to communicate with you

Customer Expectation #1:

Customers want to communicate fast

Whether your customer is in touch to potentially buy your product or service, or they’re inquiring with a customer support issue, they need this interaction to be resolved fast. That doesn’t necessarily mean offering a very fast response time, although that’s certainly a factor.

More importantly, there is no room for miscommunications and misunderstanding. Nothing frustrates a customer more than when they ask a question, only to receive a response that ignores or misses the point of what they were asking. Now they must re-ask the question in a different way, and hope you “get it” this time. Round and round they go in a time-consuming, frustrating customer experience.

What about live chat?

Live chat can often be deceptively inefficient when it comes to communicating with customers. Chatting with someone live offers the potential for a fast response, but it rarely works out this way. More often, the customer first has to wait several minutes before a live agent joins the chat. And frustratingly often, that live agent is both ill-equipped to handle complex questions, and they’re multi-tasking so every response takes several minutes.

All this time, the customer is left waiting, and waiting, and frustratingly re-typing their question in hopes they could just be done with this interaction sometime today!

A better alternative is to offer asynchronous communication options that give your customer a sense of making progress, while also letting them get on with their day. 

Compare these three customer experiences:

Scenario A: The only way for your customer to purchase a ski lesson is to call you up during your business hours, often resulting in multiple rounds of phone tag just to catch somebody who’s able to help them.

Scenario B: The customer has a technical support question with their web hosting and the only channel available is live chat. After a 7-minute wait, they finally reach a live agent. Then there’s 15 more minutes of circling around the inquiry without a complete answer or solution.

Scenario C: The customer is able to send their request via a web form, go on with their day, and by the time they check their email again a few hours later, they’ve received a confirmation and complete answer to their question.

Which scenario do you think makes the customer happier? The asynchronous option, C.

So what’s the best way to resolve customer support inquiries fast? Make it easy for your customer to provide all the necessary information you need up-front so you can respond to the customer with a complete and thorough solution. The next two tips could help you do this...

Customer Expectation #2:

Customers want to communicate asynchronously

It might seem like scheduling a live call on Zoom or Google Meet is the most efficient way to communicate with a customer, but this requires scheduling appointments, which means more time passes before the customer can even get their questions answered. Not to mention the time your team must invest in sitting on live 1-to-1 calls with customers.

This is why asynchronous communication methods are much preferred by customers, even when they don’t necessarily know what asynchronous communication is.  In short, I’m referring to messaging options where both parties don’t need to be present at the same time, but still send and receive communications clearly and efficiently.

Examples of asynchronous communication methods would be email, text message, sending an inquiry via a web form, or sending a video message using a tool like ZipMessage.

For example, when a customer support request requires more “showing” than “telling”, a quick and asynchronous ZipMessage is a great alternative to scheduling a live Zoom call with the customer. 

Customer expectation #3

Customers don’t want to work to communicate with you

How much work is required of your customer in order for them to communicate effectively and give you all of the information you need in order to respond with a complete and satisfactory answer?

Too often, we see customer experiences that introduce way too much friction in the communication process.  This only leads to frustration for all parties.

Here are some examples of requiring too much work of customers just to enable communication:

Written communication only.

A quick email could be fine for simple questions. But when a customer has a complex technical issue, writing a long email is a lot of work.

Most customers don’t have the time or patience for that, so they resort to a one-sentence call for help, only to have to go round and round with your team before you truly understand the crux of their issue.

Learning a new piece of software

Do your customers need to create an account or download and install some software just to be able to communicate with you?

That only introduces barriers that stand in your customer’s path of submitting their inquiry and getting back a satisfactory response.

Stick to the methods of communication that your customer is already accustomed to: 

  • Sending their inquiries via a form in their web browser (no login necessary) 
  • Sending inquiries via email, as long as it doesn’t require a heavy amount of writing.

6 Communication Methods, Compared (from your customer’s perspective)

Now let’s compare the 6 most common types of communication channels we see companies using to communicate with their customers.

Every one of these has their place, and can and should be used in certain situations.  We recommend offering customers multiple channels to choose from when communicating with you.

Our chart below lays out what each communication channel is best suited for, not well suited for, and we offer some tips for how to reduce friction when offering this channel in your communications mix.

Communication Method Best for... Not suited for... How to reduce friction
Email Best for... Short, relatively simple questions and answers. Not suited for... Longer, more nuanced technical support. How to reduce friction Always accept replies to emails (no more “[email protected]”).Offer alternate methods for those who don’t prefer writing emails.
Live chat Best for... Simple questions with a manageable volume of inquiries. Not suited for... High volume of customers, resulting in long wait times.Complex tech support where live agents aren’t equipped to solve problems. How to reduce friction Offer easy ways to switch away from the live chat to a more asynchronous option, like email or video message.
Support forum Best for... Community building and making questions and answers visible to all members. Not suited for... Products and services where a community doesn’t offer a value-add for customers.Communications where the customer prefers not to make their message or identity visible to other users or the public internet. How to reduce friction If possible, avoid the need for customers to register and use a special login just to be able to communicate in the forum.
Live call Best for... Higher priced services where face-to-face calls fit the business model.A manageable volume where customers aren’t waiting long to talk to someone. Not suited for... Lower priced services where the cost for live calls isn’t tenable.High volume of customers, which require long wait times to speak to someone. How to reduce friction Don’t require live appointments as the only available option.  Offer alternative, asynchronous communication methods so that customers can submit their inquiry right away.
In-person meetings Best for... Local services where it helps to be on-premises with customers. Not suited for... Cases where far travel would be required for in-person communication with customers. How to reduce friction Unless your service truly requires an on-premises appointment (for example, home services), it’s best to avoid in-person communication as the only option.
Video message (async) Best for... Offering customers an alternative to written communication.Cases where the issue is complex and it’s easier to show, rather than explain over email. Not suited for... Quick questions that are easy to ask and resolve over email. How to reduce friction Avoid requiring customers to download or install special software just to record and send their video messages.

4 strategies to eliminate friction in your customer communications

As you design the customer experience in your business—specifically the communication channels where your team interacts with customers—consider how seemingly minor things can cause a great deal of friction for your customers.

Here are 4 simple communication strategies that reduce or eliminate these friction-points and make for a seamless customer experience with your company.

Communication strategy #1:

Don’t abandon a native web experience

The native web consists of 2 key pillars: Email and the web browser. Multiple decades in and these tools are still amazing.  They continue to get better and faster every day.

More importantly, your customers know them, like them, and they already use them in their everyday interactions online.  Whether on their mobile device, their laptop, or their desktop computer, email and the web browser are the way your customers already communicate online.  Why mess with what works?Too often we see companies asking their customers to download and install a special app, or register their account in a portal just to be able to communicate. This adds unnecessary friction for the customer. 

Emailing with customers is a great async option. But what’s with all the “[email protected]” email addresses we still see in 2022? Don’t make it impossible for customers to do the most basic form of communication on the internet: Replying to email!

Communication strategy #2:

Don’t make written communication the only option

Not every customer is a comfortable and fluent written communicator—especially older and less technically savvy customers.  It’s just easier for them to use their voice to get their message across assuming they don’t have to download or learn a new app.

Likewise, for complicated technical issues, asking a customer to write out the details of the issue they’re faced with can be a daunting task, often resulting in omitting key information.  That leads to a frustrating back-and-forth before you and your customer are on the same page about what’s actually going on.

There’s no getting around the fact that in order to scale high volume customer communication, most companies can’t afford to do live face-to-face calls with customers.  It’s too time consuming and also adds more friction for the customer, since they have to schedule and wait for their appointment.

That doesn’t mean you’re forced to stick with written-only communication channels like email and live chat.  With the help of a tool like ZipMessage, you can offer customers an easy way to record their message on camera or screen share without having to download or install any special software.

Communication strategy #3:

Optimize for resolutions, not tickets closed

When communicating with customer support, customers can tell when the support rep is just trying to close the ticket quickly without actually resolving the underlying issue.

Canned responses, links to support docs, autoresponders, and the like are common practice in customer support messaging.  These can help in some cases, especially when the question fits nicely into these automated responses.

More often, the customer has a question or problem that isn’t easily solved with a pre-written support doc (hence the reason they contacted support!).  In these cases, the most important thing is to get to a complete and satisfactory resolution as efficiently as possible.

The best way to do that is to ensure your customer can give you as much information about their issue as possible—up-front.  This reduces the need for multiple exchanges just to fully understand the problem.

If the customer is already logged into their account, perhaps you can automatically pass along key information about the customer’s history, technical environment, or other details that can help your support team diagnose the issue.

This is also an area where offering an alternative communication method, such as asynchronous video support can go a long way to helping customers show you or explain their issue, without having to type it. Plus, it doesn’t create any additional work for your support rep. It might actually reduce the time they spend on a ticket since they record their screen instead of having to type out their full reply. 

Communication strategy #4:

Offer multiple options for communication

Remember, every customer has slightly different preferences in how they communicate with you.  Some prefer writing, others prefer speaking, while others prefer showing

You don’t need to manage 10+ different communication channels to cater to all styles of communication.  But it helps to offer at least two options.

The key is to reduce or eliminate friction for as many customers as possible, while helping them reach a resolution as fast as possible.

If booking a live consultation call with someone on your team is one option, that’s fine.  But we recommend also offering an asynchronous option, like email or submitting a video message, so that the customer can send their inquiry right away rather than waiting for a scheduled appointment.

If live chat is an option, then make sure the customer has an alternative path to communicate with you, if and when they can’t wait on line for your live chat queue.  The ability to send their question via email is a good option alternative here.

I hope you found this guide helpful. If you’re looking for a zero-friction method for customers to communicate with you on video or screen share, we made ZipMessage for companies like yours.