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When Over-Communicating Backfires With Customers

Date: March 27, 2013

How to be sure you don’t overstep your bounds when it comes to customer communications

Can a small business communicate too much or too often with its customers? Three folks who should know say the answer is, yes.

"Some small businesses can come on too strong and may be perceived as being pushy," especially when they try to rush into a sale, suggests Barbara Rozgonyi, author, speaker, and principal of Chicago-based CoryWest Media LLC.

That’s true when it comes to face-to-face as well as electronic or otherwise written customer communications, says Alex Coroneos, principal at NFP Productions in Jersey City, New Jersey, who adds that the latter two options can be especially dangerous for small businesses. "The temptation [is] to bombard people with [written and electronic messages]. And, since you can't immediately assess reaction, you lessen your ability to modulate the message. If you’re face to face with someone, you have a far better chance of being able to assess how your message is perceived."

Regardless, he advises, wooing clients "is just like building any relationship, requiring the right mix of assertiveness, empathy and patience. Too much, or little, of any of those qualities will lead to much spinning of wheels and burning of bridges."

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1. Focus on the Customer’s Needs.

Coroneos’ words of wisdom aren’t all that different than the ones Thea Zagata, founder of New York City’s Pesce PR and former owner of an online cookie company called the Gumdrop Cookie Shop, has long put to use. While running the Gumdrop Cookie Shop, for instance, she sent customers a newsletter filled with fresh offerings about once a month.

"I know that some people recommend more, but I felt that was a good balance that worked for my company." When it comes to her PR business, though, she says she listens to current and potential clients "so I understand their needs—[and] based on their timing, I follow up appropriately. I think it’s all about finding the right balance so you’re seeing results."

She recommends small business owners can achieve that balance in two ways, depending on their focus:

  • Service-based businesses: Set up a communications schedule. That way, she says, "we’re on the same page in terms of what is going on with my outreach" and they know when to expect updates.
  • Product-based businesses: Monitor unsubscribing rates. If you’re finding that a lot of customers are unsubscribing to your newsletter, "maybe it’s time to rethink your strategy," she says.

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2. Review Customer Interactions/Responses Regularly.

"When customers start unsubscribing [to your e-mails or newsletters] or not responding to offers and sales go down, there's probably a communication problem that needs to be fixed. Mapping out each prospect or customer interaction, along with responses and results, will tell the business what's working and what's not," says Rozgonyi.

She also suggests drawing "up a model or two based on your best customers that answers questions like, 'Where do they go for information about companies like yours? What do they need to know to make a buying decision? What are the main steps in the sales process and how will they be managed through communications?'"

Coroneos, on the other hand, says that whether you’re talking about face-to-face, electronic, or other written customer communications, empathy is a must if you want them to be well-received.

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3. Avoid Sounding Too Promotional.

Try counting how many times
your letters or e-mails use "I"

"If your communications only talk about 'you'—try counting how many times your letters or e-mails use 'I'—you will send an implicit message that you really don't care about or understand 'me,'" he explains.

That said, you still need to "be yourself" when approaching potential or existing clients or customers, he adds, "since they can spot a fake tactic, or one designed to influence them, a mile away."

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