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Strategy

Don’t Brush Off Using Both Automatic and Direct Communications

Automated communications can reduce repetitive tasks, but personal interactions still have their place

Marshall Lemon
January 10 2019

From email and social media posts all the way through lead generation, there are tools to automate tasks which would otherwise take hours to complete. As these methods become more streamlined and user-friendly, many firms are embracing new technology to engage potential and existing customer and coordinate projects with clients.

While they are convenient timesavers, automated processes don’t always resonate as powerfully as direct communication. They’re incapable of responding to complex situations, making them prone to error – sometimes with amusing results. A Domino’s Pizza customer service bot once responded to a glowing Facebook review with an apology. Pinterest accidentally congratulated single women on their recent engagements. And the classic marketing email opening with “Hello [FirstName]” is a running joke at this point.

In some cases, a good-natured apology renders the gaffe endearing. (Full credit to Pinterest’s customer service team, who compared its offending bot to “an overbearing mother who is always asking when you’ll find a nice boy or girl”). But even with continuous improvements, technologies won’t likely reach perfection anytime soon, and the wrong “marketing fail” at the wrong time could truly do damage to your brand.

Even automated, error-free communications don’t ensure a positive outcome. Today, email is one of the most important marketing channels, yet open rate in 2017 was only 33.5% in the US. Click-through came to just over 3%. As the marketing field becomes more saturated, customers will increasingly ignore messages that fail to pique their interest. We’ve all hit ‘delete’ before even finishing to read the entire email subject line.

The good news is that there’s no reason to disable these features entirely – in marketing, there’s room for both automated processes and direct communication. The trick is identifying interactions which require the kind of personal touch that your bots can handle.

The exact metrics will vary depending on your industry, but the following principles are a good starting point:

Automated communication is effective for scaling your communications and lead generation.

Direct communication is best for personalized follow-ups and sales offers.

Consider a branded Twitter account. Like any social media platform, Twitter runs 24/7, so unless their employees are willing to tweet at 4am, organizations require some level of off-hours automation. Users potentially engage with the account for customer service concerns at all hours, and would appreciate a response as soon as possible. Use an automated reply to direct the user to a specific customer service account or gather more information, eventually passing the issue to a service rep.

This scenario draws equally on the strengths of both automated and direct communications. With potentially dozens to hundreds of initial communications each day, automated replies minimize the time spent on repetitive yet important interactions. Users with the greatest needs are then filtered to human beings who can provide the most helpful responses.

These principles extend beyond social media to lead generation. Let’s say you have an email subscriber list of contacts who have signed up to receive emails from your brand. The same tools that enable functions like drip campaigns can monitor how these recipients engage with your emails, take advantage of special offers, and other useful metrics. These powerful indicators of intent should be regularly monitored for any sign that prospects may be ready to buy or are at risk of disengaging with your content. Metrics like consecutive email opens, high click-through rates, and above-average interest in specific content topics are all strong signs that it’s time for a direct sales discussion.

Once automation tools filter warm leads out from the larger subscriber pool, your sales team can offer personalized recommendations and communicate with customers directly. Automated processes are generally less helpful here because the nature of the communication needs a personal touch – but you can use automated principles (such as targeting data) to assist sales efforts.

There isn’t one right way to determine when direct communication is needed. Many companies still see great success without an automated communication process, but it’s much harder to scale and the sales process is more time consuming. The freedom to focus on your most engaged and valuable customers shouldn’t be understated.

Automation isn’t intended to replace personal communication. It’s about reducing repetitive tasks, so marketers can best utilize their skills. implementing the right methods for the right tasks will help you balance communications across your marketing channels and provide the greatest benefits for engaged users.

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Marshall Lemon

Marshall Lemon is a writer, editor, librarian, and game designer. As the Content Marketing Manager at Fluid PR Group, he helps businesses craft engaging stories within the context of well-researched industry data. He lives in London, Ontario with his wife and two adorable puppers.

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