Maximum Access: Reaching Customers in Multiple Formats

Marketers today have unprecedented levels of access to their customers. Do you want to reach them by phone? By web? Email? Fax? Mail? Wireless messaging? Wherever your customers are, and however they communicate, you can reach them. And technology lets you do more than communicate — you can arrange commerce, exchange multiple messages, track responses, perform calculations, and retrieve account information — by any of these mediums. So how will you reach them? Every way and any way.

Too many businesses are used to marketing with blinders. They offer a service or application online and ignore the huge numbers of users that might prefer access by phone or interaction by another method. Some applications are made to cross boundaries between different mediums.

Each medium has its advantage — but it may also have shortcomings. Using a cross-media perspective can improve your reach to new customers as well as your level of service to existing customers by filling in any medium’s gaps.

What’s Cool
What It Lacks
Best Application
Worst Application
Web Displays complex information quickly and clearly. Is not accessible to all; somewhere between 20 percent and 50 percent of Americans don’t access the Internet.

Is not easily accessible outside a home or office.

Provides information that is both broad and deep; layers both marketing and technical data.

Offers complex interactivity: viewing photos, selecting criteria, performing searches, entering lots of data.

For example, online shopping.

Information that needs to be accessible to all your customers, such as account balances, and information that needs to be accessed while traveling, like messages, location information, etc.
Interactive voice response/Phone Is hugely accessible — the nearest thing to universal.

With cell phones, is accessible anywhere and is very mobile.

Is a completely intuitive interface.

Is easily multilingual.

Has no persistent display.

Is not good for complex information or visual display.

Provides fast, simple access to information that needs to reach everyone.

For example, bank balances, account information, order tracking, and location information.

Complex information that cannot be easily understood aurally.
Wireless Web Offers persistent display of simple information (for example, addresses, phone numbers, directions, email, pricing, and stocks).

Is accessible anywhere.

Has a very limited market compared to the phone or web.

Has slow access.

Has complex interface differences and lacks user familiarity.

Is similar to phones: It’s fast and offers simple access to information that needs to reach everyone.

Is similar to the web in its interactive functions.

For example, fast messaging, like email; small, interactive information like stock quotes; small, persistent information like scheduling and locations.

Information that requires more than 5 to 10 lines of data.

Information that requires more than 3 to 5 actions or keystrokes by the user.

For example, browsing, shopping, and technical data.

Integrated Services Provides access to all formats, allowing the greatest level of user choice and the best of all worlds: It is accessible anywhere, is capable of complex or simple information, and is interactive and intuitive. Is a new concept that can be hard to communicate, especially to companies with divisive phone, web, marketing, and MIS departments. Is best for information that needs to be accessible to everyone.

Is best for tiers of information: It is divided into layers of simple, fast summaries (for phone and wireless interfaces), then tiered into more complex details (when viewed by web).

For example, messaging, interactive searching on accounts or databases, location information, and bank balances.

So when should you use which medium? It comes down to two core questions:

  • What’s the information? If it’s big, complex, and visual, you’re stuck with the web. Can it be reduced to something simple — either spoken or abbreviated to the size of a phone display? If not, then don’t try to force it into an uncomfortable or useless format.

  • Who needs it? Ask your users what they prefer. If the information needs to be accessible to everyone, the phone or web is the best solution. Again, don’t force an uncomfortable interface on your users — the information should be there to help them, not to proselytize some new technology.

In most cases, the answer is not so clear cut: That’s why integrated services are becoming increasingly important. As interfaces appear, user preferences are diversifying, not consolidating. That is, there are more and more accessible options out there, so your customers’ preferences are becoming more and more diverse. Providing information hosted in multiple formats lets them choose the format that’s most convenient and most comfortable to them.

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