NORTH EAST based research agency Explain Market Research has launched its Explained! insights series by helping businesses to communicate with vulnerable, digitally disengaged and hard to reach customers in a round table discussion and insights workshop.
The event, held at St James’ Park, was attended by representatives from organisations such as Scottish Water, Cadent, Northern Powergrid, Home Group, Gateshead College and Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
Led by Kim Davis, managing director at Explain, the event outlined the key tactics that businesses should be using to engage with customers that the agency describes as ‘seldom heard’.
An onus was placed on determining who those customers are, learning how to understand them and developing a communications strategy to reach the target audience effectively to generate insight.
Explain Market Research provides quality insights to inform strategic decision-making to a range of organisations across the UK, specialising in utilities, healthcare, social housing, education and finance sectors.
With over two decades of experience assisting clients in improving their customer engagement, the agency is well-positioned to advise businesses on how to reach even the most vulnerable of customers.
At the event, delegates engaged in round table discussions facilitated by Rebecca Crinson, research director at Explain, and Darren Wake, research manager. Participants highlighted the customers that their businesses found most difficult to engage with, and worked with Explain to create strategic plans to improve customer insight with these audiences.
Emphasising the importance of engaging with seldom heard customers, the Explained! event revealed five top tips to businesses:
- Specify who your seldom heard customers are
A seldom heard customer could be digitally excluded, geographically isolated, vulnerable, elderly, apathetic, or distrusting of the business, so it’s important for a business to identify who that particular customer is for them.
For example, a social housing company may find it difficult to engage with transient residents, who also happen to be the most vulnerable, whilst a gas company may need to communicate with an elderly couple who cannot be reached through email or social media. Whilst both types of customers are seldom heard, it is imperative that a business specifies which is most applicable to them.
- Invest in creating personas
Once a business has an idea of the type customer it wishes to target, it should invest in creating a persona of that individual. A persona is a semi-fictional representation of a business’ target customer type. By thinking about the customer’s background, day to day life, knowledge and learning pattern, financial concerns and hopes and aspirations, a business can understand the customer better and create an engagement strategy to fit.
For example, a working mum’s daily routine can be imagined as revolving around the school run, full-time work, making dinner at home, whilst her main financial concern may be paying the mortgage, and her main source of knowledge could be her friendship group.
- Create a tailored communication strategy
When the persona has been created, and the business has developed a sound understanding of what a seldom heard customer looks like, it’s paramount that it spends some time developing a strategy for tailoring its communication to that individual to enhance engagement and ultimately insights generated.
The style of communication used depends on the customer targeted. A representative from the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust at the event highlighted how effective a recent social media campaign had been to limit visits to the region’s hospitals throughout a flu outbreak.
According to Explain, the communication must be directly suited to the customer. A working mum is unlikely to check her inbox at 8.45am, but may have a lunch break or few hours in the evening to read targeted emails or be alerted to a boosted Facebook post.
- Think digital
Digital engagement is key for some audiences, and a business should be making use of freely available information about customers that can be found online, through platforms such as Twitter Analytics, Facebook Insights and Google Analytics.
Each time a website has a visitor, it logs information such as age, occupation and marital status. On platforms such as Twitter, information about customers’ personal life can be observed, and this all aids in creating the persona that is necessary to develop an effective engagement strategy.
Equally, taking note of the analytics for a website can give you an understanding of your demographic, which you can use to target boosted posts on social media at the correct audience.
Sites such as Reddit and Quora are often the first port of call for the disgruntled customers that a business finds difficult to communicate with, so it is useful for a company to spend some time observing discussions revolving around it on these platforms and intervening where possible.
- Incorporate the insights learned into business development plan
Overall, investing time and resources into creating personas and developing an engagement strategy to suit their circumstances and needs is extremely valuable long-term to a business. Reaching seldom heard customers will aid in business growth and position the company as aware of its consumer base with the correct tools to help them.
Once a business has an initial two to three personas drafted and the strategy complete to target those customers, this should be incorporated into its long-term business development plan and the business should continue to place an emphasis on creating a strong engagement strategy to generate insight from seldom heard customers.
Valuable insight was also provided by Lisa Eaton, creative agency director at Newcastle-based Unwritten Creative, who emphasized the importance of creating personas, and Kevin Young, head of search at Media Works, who encouraged participants to think digital in their engagement strategy.