What's your preference?

Tuesday 27th November 2018, 9:10am

Striking up a conversation with your customers is a good thing – but it has to be the right kind of conversation.  

Positive personal relationships really aren’t that difficult. Just smile at someone, ask them how they are, maybe give them a present every now and then, and say thank you when they do something kind. Easy.

Well, there may be a bit more to it than that, but you get the drift.

Let’s accept that cordial personal relationships are easy and good, and that customers are also people and therefore likely to respond positively to well-targeted communication. So, here’s the big question: why are some businesses so hopeless at establishing a positive relationship with their customers?

For all their failings, Facebook, Instagram and the like have shown that personalisation is key to marketing communications. So is timeliness. What customers want to hear about today might not be the same as what they wanted to hear last year, last month, or even last week.

Enter the preference centre, an online microsite that empowers customers to personalise, keep fresh and generally manage their email subscriptions. A well-honed, smoothly-functioning preference centre is a gold-plated opportunity to establish a long-lasting relationship with your customers – so why would you want to continue with the clunky, abrupt or possibly downright rude webform that’s currently masquerading as your preference centre? What’s that? There’s nothing wrong with it? Ah yes, the classic denial routine.

Let’s test that by taking a look at your sign-up process. If you’re being honest with yourself, isn’t it a bit tricky to navigate? Does a customer have to put a fair bit of effort into unsubscribing or making changes? Are there lots of pre-ticked boxes that were designed to make the customer’s life easy but that actually make them wonder if they’re having the wool pulled over their eyes? Does it take up to 72 hours for a customer request to be processed? Is your preference centre only used for opt-in contacts?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any one of these, you’re annoying customers. If you answered ‘yes’ more than once, you’re leaking customers.

The solution is a great preference centre – but what would that look like? The best way to understand that is to take off your business hat for a minute and pop your customer hat on.

A good preference centre will be intuitive and easy to use regardless of the device that’s accessing it (and that includes mobile or tablet devices). It should offer the customer a good range of clear and obvious choices which could include their product and content preferences, their desired email frequencies and their interests.

Updates need to be activated in real time so that there’s no delay between customers advising you of their preferences and your business updating its system to reflect that new information. What you’re aiming for is a preference centre that is a single reliable source of data reflecting customers’ current preferences, regardless of where the first notification originated – from the store, from customer services or from the preference centre itself. 

Right, with your business hat back on you’ll want to make sure that your shiny new preference centre looks the part, works with your brand guidelines and mirrors your marketing strategy. After all, there’s no point gathering information and then ignoring it. To keep everything transparent and customer-friendly, and to help keep preferences bang up to date, put a direct link to the centre in every email you send, and embed another one in your website.

Unsubscribing customers is a delicate business. To reduce the risk of them unsubscribing from everything, a well-structured preference centre will give customers a very clear choice as to what they would like to hear about and when they would like to hear about it. You’re not just keeping the communication channels open, you’re tailoring them to the customer’s specific needs and desires, which can only be a good thing. Ensuring total transparency, accuracy and timeliness is good GDPR practice too.

In business, improving the customer relationship comes as a direct consequence of improving the customer experience. In light of that, it seems odd that so many companies choose – knowingly or otherwise – to keep their customers at arm’s length. If your preference centre is little more than a webform reluctantly nailed to your website, Optima will transform it into a force for good. By bringing customers into the fold, a streamlined and supercharged preference centre lets you talk to customers on their own terms. Perfect for them – and perfect for you.

Written by Tony Middlehurst