Do you communicate with your customers? I don’t mean in the sense of having a website or an e-newsletter, but real interactive communication.
Few companies will answer “no” to this question, but many may say they could do a better job of communicating. And why don’t companies do a better job? There are many explanations. It’s hard. It’s time-consuming. It’s expensive. Even more discouraging, it may provide the company with answers it doesn’t want to hear, which include bumping up against employee notions, internal strategies into which countless hours of staff time were poured, or even egos.
While the digital age has given us many ways to communicate with customers, it’s only now providing us with good ones. There are parallels within other technological innovations. Typically, innovations in communication have involved something that people wanted to transmit—information, pictures, music—and a medium over which those data are transmitted.
At first, the transmission is slow, of low quality, and intermittent. The early telegraph was dependent on expensive copper lines strung across vast, often inhospitable spans of the country, or on the bottom of ocean floors where cable were often cut or corroded into uselessness. Then came radio, which offered wire-free communication but had limited range and poor quality. Black-and-white television followed, and like radio, suffered from range and quality issues. The Internet’s early days were marked by speeds that would grind business to a halt today, while digital imaging’s first offerings were small, pixelated scenes. And the first, noisy, bulky computer printers gave us rows of dots on large green sheets of paper that had to be torn apart by hand.
But things changed. The telegraph gave way to crystal-clear telephone communication. Radio went to satellite and offered nation-wide, static-free service. Television is so lifelike that many of us fight the urge to dive into the pool when a commercial for a travel destination appears. The Internet is near-instantaneous, and digital cameras offering amazing clarity and detail can be found on our cell phones (another innovation that improved with age). Lastly, our home laser printers and color inkjets offer quality and speed that even publishing houses couldn’t match a few decades ago.
Corporate communication is transitioning now, too, and as a result, it’s becoming easier, faster and less expensive for companies to know their customers better than their customers know themselves. Social networks provide a level of interaction never before imagined. “Big data” and information mining gather megabytes of facts on all of us, from our favorite sports teams and foods, to our religious and political beliefs. Analytics massage and churn the data, creating a picture of us—an avatar—that predicts our behaviors and makes suggestions about new products or services we may like. And artificial intelligence allows companies to communicate with their customers in real time, with only one real person doing any communicating.
Like other technological innovations before it, corporate communication is reaching its maturity. It will be interesting to see if companies take advantage of these new technologies or if they continue to rely on yesterday’s modes of communications.