It’s easy to forget that it actually has not been that long that we’ve used the word ‘conversation’ to describe what happens between a brand and a customer. Conversations were not the norm as brands pushed out ads that were once unskippable and contacting the brand about a problem involved paper, envelope and a stamp.

The science of technology has catapulted brands and customers past all that. Unhappy with the way your new jeans are turning your hands blue? Just grab your phone and tweet away at the brand. An ineffectual response from them? Vent on social and share your experience on review sites. How a brand handles incoming contact from customers in all the myriad ways we can now reach out is a process issue—smart brands have put systems in place to catch problems and questions as quickly as possible. But it’s the response, not the way we connect, that has always mattered and matters still. 

People often just think advertising and big campaigns when it comes to branded communications, but with the ability to have direct conversations with consumers, the definition of branded communications has expanded while it has also become very very targeted. A strategy around these and all communications is critical and requires specific solutions. There may be an embarrassment of riches when it comes to ways to connect, but that gift comes with the need for thought out approaches and messages that matter.

As we see every day consulting on the performance of brand messages, brands can work magic to entertain and get attention. The real conversation begins when the person on the other end of that message actually cares. When a problem exists, the customer cares. And that, dear brand, is an opportunity in disguise. Technology caught that opportunity; now art must take over.

Customers reach out to brands on a device that is deeply personal. Ever lose your phone? And then find it? What was the emotional roller coaster like? The thing that connects you to the world, your tribe, your money…gone! When your hand touches the case between the couch cushions you start to breathe again. And this is the device customers are using most often to contact brands. That makes the outreach even more personal because that brand tweet sits in the customers feed, right next to her disappointment at the Game of Thrones finale. You, the brand, are inside her world.

That magnifies the disappointment when she gets that sterile and boilerplate responses from the brand. And it multiplies her resolve to walk away.

Technology is most brilliant and effective when it aids authentic interaction and does not attempt to replace it. As brands fall prey to the pressure of strained resources and fall back on automated responses, having real conversations with customers becomes a true differentiator. And so does having messages that really address what matters to customers. Customer-centric messaging becomes a serious attribute that offers real value as people increasingly hold brands to a higher standard. Getting new customers has always been far more expensive than keeping them. Today, the math is even more serious, as the ones who are lost have the ability to share their frustrations far and wide.

Putting the right processes in place to have a conversation is necessary; having the right team in place to shape and have those conversations is vital. Now that most brands have the science in place, let the art of listening and value-driven communications begin.