Let’s talk about Customer Engagement, specifically the Communication Model.
We communicate every day, all day.
We communicate with friends, family, co-workers, industry peers, customers, vendors, celebrities, trolls, politicians, restaurants, airlines, etc., every day.
We communicate more today than we ever had in the history of the world, and tomorrow, we’ll do it even more.
Yet despite all this communication going on, we really know very little about how to communicate effectively.
We think, since we do it all the time, we must be good at it, but as with most things, frequency should not be confused with proficiency.
So let’s dive into this whole Communication Model thing and figure out how to more effectively engage our customers by simply communicating better. Join me, shall you?
The History of the Communication Model
Going back a long time – I think in the 1950s – there was the Shannon-Weaver model, created through the coming together of two different people.
Over time, the model evolved. David Berlo expanded on the Shannon-Weaver concept in the 1960s. But since then, the Communication Model hasn’t really changed a whole lot.
But communication – type, frequency, etc. – has changed in so many ways.
I didn’t invent the Communication Model. Obviously, people before me had modeled this out.
But what I’ve done is taken that and simplified it, made it easier to understand, and figured out a way to apply it to Customer Engagement.
So the Customer Engagement Communication Model, if you will, has six different pieces.
Communication Model: Goal
First of all is the goal. What is the goal of the communication that you’re doing, the message that you’re sending, and the meeting that you’re setting up? If you don’t have a goal, then why are you initiating this communication? Every customer interaction should have an associated goal.
I don’t care if it’s a pop-up inside the app. I don’t care if it’s an email that you send. I don’t care if it’s a meeting that you’re having in person, on site, with the client. It should have a goal. I will say that the more valuable this interaction would be from them investing their time in it, probably the more important it is to have a goal.
But also, we want to have a goal for everything we do because we don’t want to teach our customers to ignore us. When you communicate without having a goal, you’re basically teaching your customers to just delete the message, send the email to spam, and just to ignore you. And that’s the opposite of what you’re going for here.
So every customer interaction should have an associated goal. The question to ask yourself is, “What do I want out of this engagement,” or, “What do I want out of this interaction?” And if you can’t add value with this conversation – if you can’t add value with this piece of communication that you’re doing – then don’t do it. Right?
And so you might, just as a way to start out, audit all of your communication with your customers, and take out the pieces that don’t have a goal. If you can’t state the goal, if you can’t figure out why we’re doing this, then don’t do it.
So, how many of you have a QBR – a Quarterly Business Review – with a customer, and all it is, is a check-in, and you don’t really know why you’re even doing it? Maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.
Communication Model: Receiver
The receiver – the communication receiver – is the person – most likely a human person – who’s going to receive the communication from you. I mean, I suppose we could be talking app to app, but I’m not going to worry about that right now. We’re talking about humans.
So this is the person who’s going to be receiving the communication from you. You have to take into consideration that there are probably different personas within your customer’s company, right? So who is actually the receiver? You have to make sure that the right message goes to the right receiver. That’s really important.
And when you’re thinking about who’s going to be receiving this message or this piece of communication, or who you’re setting up the meeting with, you also have to think about who the message is coming from, because a receiver who is an executive may not – and whether or not this is a good thing isn’t the point – be moved to action by a message coming from somebody at a lower level at your company.
If you want to get an executive’s attention, you might need to have another executive be the sender or the source of the message you are sending.
So you have to think about how you match the sender and the receiver. The main thing is that you really have to take into consideration who is receiving the message: is it the end-user, a brand champion, a power user, an administrator, an account owner, or somebody in accounting? I don’t know. That’s what you have to think about.
So for every message that goes out, you have to really think about who’s going to be receiving it. Who are you going to be setting up the meeting with?
Communication Model: Method
Then there’s the method – the communication method. This is the modality. This is the channel – whatever you want to call it – this is a meeting, this is an email, this is Slack, this is in-app messaging, this is whatever you use to communicate. It’s the method.
If you think about what Customer Success is – and you know that Customer Success is when customers achieve their Desired Outcome through their interactions with your company – the Desired Outcome has two pieces: one is the Required Outcome, and the other is Appropriate Experience.
Appropriate Experience is what is going to dictate the method of communication that you use. It’s going to dictate the modality, the channel, or the method. It’s also going to dictate the ratios of those different modalities that make up that Appropriate Experience.
So sometimes, for one particular customer segment, it may be more high touch. It may be more human touch – phone calls, in-person meetings, that kind of thing – augmented, obviously, with technology. But for some customer segments, it may all be digital, right? It may be very little high-touch, very little synchronous communication.
And when you think about that digital aspect of this, you usually go into some sort of automation, of being able to leverage systems to scale humans. And that’s awesome, but what you need to be thinking about is the fact that automation isn’t something that’s really anything special; it’s just what you would do by hand, manually, if you had an unlimited amount of time and resources. But because you don’t, you have to figure out ways to scale that.
So the reason I say it like that is when you’re talking about automating messaging, it can be hard sometimes to sit down and say, “Okay, how do I write a blast email.” Well, the reality is you don’t. You’re just writing an email.
You’re just creating some content that’s going to pop up in the app as if you were talking specifically to a very specific person about a very specific thing, right? So automation is just what you would do manually if you could, right? So, you need to take that mentality and figure out ways to scale that. And that’s where automation comes in.
The other thing about method is that if you are having human interaction – if you are spending time in meetings or spending time on the phone with your customers, if that is the appropriate method, the appropriate modality, or the appropriate channel – then you want to make sure you’re not scripting that, and you only have an outline or a checklist of things that you need to cover, because if you script out what you’re going to say to a customer, that script goes out the window as soon as the customer gets on the phone with you or comes into a meeting with you, because customers have their own agenda.
You need to have a checklist of the things that you need to get through, and you need to make sure that you always keep your customers on the right track during that meeting or during that phone call, but scripts don’t work. Flexibility is key. Think of it more as improv.
So now, let’s talk about some things around the method. The method is going to be determined by what your customers want or need as part of their Appropriate Experience. And this is obviously a very important thing. What people tend to do – and the reason I say it this way is that it’s based on the customer’s Appropriate Experience – is that very often, people default to what’s comfortable for them. So you, for example, say you want to send an email.
Your customer wants you to pick up the phone and call them. Which is the appropriate method? The appropriate method is whatever your customer wants, and if you don’t want to do that, too bad. You shouldn’t do business with that customer because you can’t give them the Appropriate Experience if you can’t pick up the phone and call them.
And if you can’t do that at scale in an economically feasible way, then that means that this customer would be a not profitable customer, and you shouldn’t go with a different modality just because it would be economically feasible.
You just shouldn’t be doing business with that customer. But that’s outside the scope of what we’re talking about here. However, that’s where Appropriate Experience comes in.
Communication Model: Sender
Now, let’s talk about the communication sender. I also refer to that as the source. But the sender is important to understand because when you send messages to our customers, when you request meetings with them, when you message them in app – when you do all of these things – you are hitting your customer with lots of different messages coming from different people.
So maybe it’s the Customer Success Managers; maybe you have multiple CSMs on a particular account. Or maybe it’s the support system, maybe it’s the support team, maybe it’s the system itself, maybe your executives are sending them messages, maybe finance is sending them messages, sales is also coming in, maybe it’s your channel partners.
You have all these different senders that are hitting your customers – that are hitting the receivers. You have to make sure that the sender matches the receiver and that the receiver matches the sender so that the communication is working… so that it truly resonates.
But you also have to take into consideration that you have all of these different senders communicating with you customers and that, at some point, this can get confusing, if not just outright frustrating. So you have to take into consideration all of these things and figure out a way to make it work.
You also have to take into consideration – like I said earlier when we were talking about the receiver – that an appropriate sender needs to be the one who’s hitting the receiver. So if you want an executive to show up at a meeting – and again, whether this is fair or not doesn’t matter as this is just the reality – if a CSM emails the CEO or calls the CEO at a customer company, that might not go very far. However, if you want that CEO to show up at a meeting, two things.
You might call the meeting, instead of a Quarterly Business Review, an Executive Business Review, so now the executive feels like it’s actually meant for them, and you might have somebody from your executive team reach out to them to invite them, right? So the sender matches the receiver.
You have to think about that. It’s pretty critical, but it’s, again, something you don’t put a lot of thought into, but you should, when it comes to customer engagement and really when it comes to communication in general.
Communication Model: Action
Then there’s the action. We all know call to action. We all hear that from marketing, from sales, and a lot more, lately, in Customer Success. But when it comes to customer engagement, we want our customers to take a particular action.
And if you don’t have an action in mind, especially if you don’t have a goal in mind – goal was the first thing we talked about – it’s going to be very difficult for you to come up with an action that you want your customer to take.
But if you don’t have an action in mind, why are you communicating with your customer? Why are you setting up that meeting, why are you having that call, and why are you sending that email? If it’s not to move them in the right direction, should you be messaging them? Should you be sending that message? Should you be communicating with them?
You want to have a call to action, and then you definitely want to be specific in that call to action. Believe it or not, people actually do want to be told what to do. The call to action should also match the source or the sender.
In other words, if you are sending a message, if you’re a CSM, should you be asking an executive on the customer side to take a particular action? That might not work, right? You might have to have somebody else on your side – the source or the sender – that matches the receiver, and therefore, you can make the particular action request of them.
So some calls to action must come from a different source; it must come from a different sender. And it should be very specific. So one of the things we’ll talk about is what the message should be like.
You want to make sure that you have basically one call to action in your message or your meeting. There should be one very specific thing that you’re building towards. Otherwise, you’re just going to confuse people. How many of you have received – or probably actually even sent – an email with 17 different calls to action? How many of those 17 actions get done? What if you could boil it down to just one?
And then send more frequently, right? Send more of those messages. Have more of those meetings – shorter meetings, smaller meetings, smaller messages, shorter messages – that all have one particular call to action. So, whatever it is, have a goal for that meeting, and then have an action that’s going to come from that meeting.
Communication Model: Message
Now, I want to at least plant the seed when it comes to the message. The message is the thing that people tend to focus on when it comes to communication, whether you’re setting up a meeting or preparing the agenda. When you’re sending an email, you spend time writing the email.
But are you actually spending time thinking about the message, or are you just spending time making the message happen? You know what I mean? Are you actually thinking about it, or are you just doing it? Most of the time, frankly, you’re just doing it. And I’m guilty of this, too. I’m not preaching here. I’m saying these are things that we – including me – need to always keep top of mind.
But when it comes to the message, I have this framework that I call BEAST. It’s B-E-A-S-T: Brief, Efficient, Actionable, Simple, and Thoughtful. I cover the BEAST Message Framework in detail in another post, but the main thing is, if you don’t have a goal and you don’t know what the action is going to be, how can you actually even craft a message that’s going to help do what you need it to do?
And that goes back to understanding why are you even communicating, why are you even creating the message, and why are you setting up a meeting. So when it comes to the message, BEAST – BEAST mode: Brief, Efficient, Actionable, Simple, and Thoughtful.
So, that’s it – the Communication Model in a quick nutshell. Think about it. Apply logic to the way that you communicate with your customers – the way that you communicate with everybody essentially – but especially customers if you want to engage them.