The best way to reach your customers is... in the way they prefer! Discover how customer communication preferences have changed in recent years and how you should communicate today to improve customer retention and engagement.

Which digital channels can customers and businesses use for communication?

Thanks to advancements in communications technology over the last couple of decades, we can now communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world, through devices like smartphones and computers. Some of the most popular channels for customer communications include:

  • Text messaging – which you can do via a text blast service or an OTT messaging app.

  • Phone or video calling – back in the day, phone calls involved landlines and wired systems. Now, you can use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to make phone and video calls over the Internet.

  • Social media – as well as social messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messenger, you can use social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, X, LinkedIn and TikTok to reach customers in creative ways.

  • Live chat – typically used for customer-initiated conversations via websites, customers simply type their questions into a chat window and receive responses from a live agent or an automated chatbot.

  • Email – a channel that's stood the test of time and is still popular and widely used for long-form content like e-newsletters.

  • Mobile apps and websites – as essential communication tools, websites and mobile apps can act as your shop front, helpdesk and sales team (24/7).

Customers’ communication preferences and recent trends

As online channels have evolved, so have customer preferences. Customers want to communicate on their terms – often, that means using the fastest, most convenient and efficient channels. So, what are the most popular channels for customer communication?

Well, different sources have revealed different results. For customer support, social media, live chat, chatbots and phone calls seem to take the lead. For purchasing and other transactional information exchange, it's SMS or email. But what's most apparent is that no matter the channel, speed, quality and relevance is the priority for customers when talking to businesses.

Let's look at some interesting facts and statistics about customer communication preferences:

  • SMS (texting) is the easiest communication channel for 67% of customers below 40.

  • 93% of consumers said they want to receive text messages from small businesses (especially retailers and service-based businesses). However, two-thirds of those surveyed said fewer than one-third of companies actually text them. Hence, there's a gap here that businesses need to fill.

  • DriveSure, a dealership solutions brand, conducted a survey to compare its own customer communication preferences between 2020 and 2023 in relation to updates and other service-related information. The results showed that text messaging preferences rose from 32% to 40%. In contrast, email preferences dropped from 50% to 43% in the same time period.

  • Live chat has an incredibly high customer satisfaction rate of 92%, according to a Zendesk press release. SMS messaging is an excellent alternative to website live chat and can also be used with SMS chatbots.

  • The cloud-based CRM software company, Salesforce, reported that 65% of customers prefer self-service to resolve minor issues rather than using other channels where they may face a lengthy wait.

  • Netomi's State of Customer Service Study from 2022 revealed that 60% of customers have hung up on customer service representatives due to frustration.

  • Another study by Sprout Social showed that 80% of consumers expect businesses to engage and communicate with them via social media platforms. Nearly half of the study participants actively use social media to discover new products and sellers. Moreover, 76% of consumers who reach out to businesses via social media expect a response within 24 hours.

  • Consumer patience has significantly dwindled over the last few years; 39% of consumers have less patience today concerning wait times than they had pre-pandemic. Only 30% are willing to wait for two minutes to chat with an agent.

  • Salesforce also revealed that most customers expect immediate engagement from a company, with 70% of shoppers saying they prioritise convenience over branding. So, having a well-established brand won't guarantee customer loyalty. Customers could abandon your business if another lesser-known or small-scale brand offers a more convenient experience.

  • 74% of customers say they've started and completed a transaction with a business via more than one channel. This suggests consumers want a seamless omnichannel experience, where they can easily switch between channels throughout the buying process.

  • Chatbots have received mixed reviews over the last few years; however, recent studies have found that opinions might be shifting to a more positive view. For instance, voice assistants are extremely popular now. And according to Dashly, customers are more willing to interact with chatbots than ever before, especially for scheduling meetings or quick enquiries. While some trust issues exist around this technology, human-like chatbots fare favourably.

Live chat widget on web page

How COVID-19 influenced consumer communication preferences

The pandemic was responsible for a sharp shift in channel usage, with customers rapidly moving towards digital channels, according to a 2021 study by Forrester. Pre-pandemic, agent-led phone calls were the most popular form of communication for customer support, but during Covid-19, usage of these channels declined. Email is now the top channel, with SMS and messaging apps being the second most utilised channel overall.

The growing need for personalisation

The global management and consulting company McKinsey reported that 76% of consumers said receiving personalised communication was key to considering a brand. And 78% said personalised content makes them more likely to return to a business and refer friends and family. So why is personalisation so important?

Firstly, customers don't want to feel like they're interacting with a machine or bot – they want to feel like you've been paying attention to them! Personalisation involves considering all the customer's personal information and previous behaviours (all collected with consent) to have contextual and relevant conversations.

Secondly, targeting customers with generic communications wastes their valuable time because they probably won't be interested. By personalising communications, customers are more likely to be interested and amenable to what you have to say. And above all, personalisation is convenient and adds value to the customer. This increases satisfaction and loyalty, leading to greater customer lifetime value (CLV).

Types of communications that engage customers

So, what does being present at every step of the customer journey look like? Here are some main types of content and communications that help engage and nurture customers.

  • Onboarding materials – such as a welcome email or text or a 'thank you' after a customer places their first order.

  • Order updates – dispatch and delivery status notifications.

  • Post-sales follow-ups – like review requests and customer satisfaction surveys.

  • Related product or service recommendations – based on the customer's previous buying behaviour.

  • Targeted promotions – according to customers' demographic and geographic status, interests and behaviours.

  • Special offers – such as flash sales, discounts on selected products, free shipping, multi-buy deals or a free gift with a purchase.

  • Announcements – company news, product launches, new feature releases, exciting products available to pre-order, new premise openings and more.

  • Scheduling and confirmation messages – for appointments, meetings, hospitality bookings – and associated reminders.

  • Service and support messages – two-way communication for technical, account or product enquiries.

  • Well wishes – holiday or birthday wishes to let customers know you care.

  • Entertainment – fun facts related to your business or customers' areas of interest, memes, and other lighthearted materials that give your brand a human touch.

Eight winning tips for communicating with customers

To get the most out of your customer communication strategy, follow our best practice tips below:

  1. Focus on brand identity and personality and maintain this across all communication channels, even in printed communications.

  2. Always personalise your content so that it resonates with customers.

  3. Be human – this can be difficult when using chatbots for automated conversations, but there are ways to humanise them, such as giving your chatbot a distinct personality and getting it to mimic human speech patterns.

  4. Give your customers the freedom to choose from a range of channels.

  5. Think about the content you want to send out and ensure you use the right channel for each type of communication. For example, short, straightforward messages are best sent via text or messaging apps, while email marketing is better suited when you have something complicated or lengthy to say.

  6. Use the right tone and communication styles when interacting with customers.

  7. Strike the right frequency for reaching out to your customers. Bombard them, and you'll risk annoying them. But customers may forget about your brand if you don't communicate enough!

  8. Send communications at the right time, when customers are most active and receptive. (Not too late at night or early in the morning).

Happy customer concept

Adopt an omnichannel approach for customer communication

Advances in communications technology mean customers now have more ways to interact with businesses than ever. Digital channels like email, SMS and social messaging apps are among those customers prefer because they're fast, convenient and efficient – so it makes sense for your business to use these channels too.

Ultimately, the way customer communication is headed is omnichannel. Customers will switch from one channel to another, even during the same interaction. Investing in the right customer communication management (CCM) solution will help streamline conversations and provide a seamless customer experience.

Above all, remember that what customers value the most is the speed of communication and the quality and relevance of the content they receive.

Considering using SMS for business communications? Learn how Messente's messaging solutions can help.