Recent reports in publications such as The New York Times have questioned email’s longevity as a communication channel of choice. But what’s the reality? How can we do communication with customers effectively? The argument goes that Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) – a generation raised on social media and instant messaging – prefers almost any other communication channel to email.

Amongst this younger generation, email is regarded as an archaic tool – one that creates more problems than it solves. These workers cite shortcomings such as errant messages in spam folders and anxiety around timely replies. Gen Z workers prefer video chats, instant messaging or live collaborative docs over email. Is this attitude starting to influence marketing decisions? Should we still be considering email as a core component of the messaging mix? 

In a recent survey, Adare SEC (an Opus Trust Communications company) put this suggestion to 250 senior decision-makers across the utilities, financial services and retail sectors, asking directly about email’s role as a customer communication tool. The results suggest that reports of email’s death have been greatly exaggerated. 

Will the use of email as a means of customer communication change in 3-5 years’ time? 

Increase significantly 32% 
Increase slightly 50% 
Stay the same 9% 
Decrease slightly 7% 
Decrease significantly 2% 

In fact, 82% of respondents believe email’s role as a customer communication channel will have increased in 3-5 years’ time. Only 9% of respondents expect email usage to diminish. So, who to believe? Can the New York Times article be dismissed as fanciful projection? Actually, it’s not a case of right or wrong. The messaging landscape is fluid and ever-changing, and one person’s channel bugbear will be another person’s go-to channel of choice.  

Building agile communication strategies  

What’s clear is that building agility into communication strategies will help businesses stay on top of shifting customer demands.  Through digital transformation, businesses across all sectors are moving away from the anchor of paper-heavy legacy processes towards more nimble ways of working. This agility makes it much, much easier to tailor communication approaches to individuals.  

In this way, a business can match the message type to the recipient profile – for example, a Generation Z recipient may be targeted via a different channel to that used to communicate with a recipient who is over 30. Finding ways of accurately and efficiently enabling channel choice is the key.

This challenge is already apparent in sectors such as banking. Traditional banks have seen digital-only challenger brands burst onto the scene and dramatically change the landscape. Perhaps the vision for these traditional banks is to mirror this digital-first approach, but they also know that a large raft of current customers still welcome and appreciate paper statements.   

Becoming more agile 

At the heart of the communication agility challenge is the siloed nature of service delivery and the insular structures as well as processes that companies rely on. Consider the variety of ways that a customer might interact – perhaps an in-store conversation, web visit, call-centre conversation, mail or email exchange. Even as the teams responsible for each touchpoint work hard to optimise their own function they are at risk of losing sight of the big picture – what the customer sees and wants.

an image showing a digital email journey of a customer.

It’s a disconnect that can be hard for a business to recognise. Individually, these business functions might score highly in terms of customer feedback and response. But the customer may still feel that the overall experience with the brand has been disappointing. 

So, what does a good experience look like? A company with a holistic customer journey perspective will still do the best possible job at each touchpoint. But the business will join the dots, understanding the context behind the interaction, addressing the root cause and looking to feedback any intelligence to drive continuous improvement. Ultimately, interactions become personalized to individual’s preferences and circumstances. 

Businesses are partnering with experts that have the tools and experience to quickly drive change without burdening internal IT departments. The first step is to help business leaders evaluate and review key customer journeys. What’s the reality for customers? Where are the pain-points? What is the resulting burden in terms of cost and efficiency on the business? When these, and more, questions are answered sensible steps are proposed. Thereby, making improvements that can be implemented rapidly and which produce clear cost and efficiency wins.   

Emergence of apps for communication  with customers

The emergence of apps as a viable means of communicating with customers further exemplifies the fluidity of the communication landscape and the importance of investing in solutions that have the flexibility to adapt to changing customer demands. Would apps have been a prominent choice just five years ago? Probably not. And yet if businesses are unable to meet this expectation now, will customers and prospects switch allegiance to more digitally advanced competitors? 

The burden of legacy can often seem like a huge mountain to overcome in order to arrive at contemporary customer communication sophistication. The reality is much less daunting. Digital transformation needn’t mean a top-to-toe reinvention. In most cases, digital transformation begins with solving smaller tactical business problems which, once implemented and proven, lead to further opportunities to digitalise legacy processes. 

In conclusion 

Clearly, email’s time is not up – at least not for everybody. There will be those within the customer base who can’t wait to leave it behind. Similarly, many continue to rely on its convenience. The goal for any business is to position in a way that makes the provision of channel choice effortless and efficient, resulting in a better customer experience.  

Getting to this point is not as challenging – or expensive – as many leaders fear. Small, quick digital transformation of legacy problems can lead to comprehensive long-term improvements – to the benefit of the customer base, and the bottom-line. 

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