JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

At the 2013 Best Practices conference in Savannah, Georgia, Allison Cerra, Vice President of Global Marketing and Communications for Alcatel-Lucent’s Global Sales and Marketing organization, outlined for an audience of 150 CIDM members and colleagues how we might best reach our customers and communicate with them effectively. She reminded us that our customers have so much information coming at them that they struggle to find what they really need. People are exposed to thousands of messages a day, the equivalent of 5000 megabytes per day per employee.

In this barrage of content, we need to communicate creatively, hence the recommendation that we must communicate our messages seven times in seven ways.

Think of sending someone an email as just one way of communicating a message. If the customer is a member of the Boomer generation (1946-1964), a phone call with a support person may be much more effective than an impersonal PDF. If the customer is a Generation Xer (1965-1977), communicating through Facebook as a trusted source of information may be more successful. If the customer is a Millennial (1978 and on), it may be best to send a Twitter or a text message or establish a relationship through a wiki that allows feedback.

Effectively getting a message to the diverse generations represented among the customers means communicating differently both with different generations of customers and with different global mixes of those generations.

Cerra clearly outlined the critical characteristics of three generations of customers:

Boomers learned to fight for what they believed most important: equal rights, civil rights, the Vietnam War. Boomers feel that they can change the world by working hard and use their time to the best advantage.

Generation X was the first generation to be worse off than their parents, living through several economic downturns. They are skeptical of authority and need to know what they will get out of an opportunity. They seek trust because they are skeptical of the messages they receive.

Millennials are our first digital natives. They are connected everywhere, all the time. They value integrity and community but have difficulty weeding out what is important from what is noise. They seek attention and are willing to contribute to the community.

To communicate with the diverse customer base, Cerra outlined five important factors that will help foster creativity.

First—Be human. Your communications don’t have to be perfect. Customers don’t expect perfection in the messages that reach them as long as you are willing to admit mistakes. Customers will forgive you for being human.

Second—Use your customers to help you build your message. Millennials will want to help you communicate. Boomers are just waiting to be asked. Do you want customers to contribute to content development? They are waiting for you to ask.

Third—Prepare for war. Use an avatar to get your message across by giving your message a personal context. Using an avatar changes how we interact with one another.

Fourth—Create a dynamic workplace. Create new experiences for your staff by manipulating the environment. If you need people to collaborate to become more effective communicators, change the workplace so that they interact at every opportunity. Even meeting and exchanging ideas over the coffee machines increases creativity.

Fifth—Provide a call to action. Direct messages to the head, the heart, and the hands. Messages to the head use factual information. Messages to the heart explain why the customer should care. Messages to the hands provide a call to action.

Think creatively about how you are communicating your messages to the customer even if those messages are as benign as information about using products successfully. Find the seven ways to communicate with your customers. Try plain text in topics, video, feature articles, interactive graphics, wikis, blogs, twitter messages. All of these communication vehicles will help you get the attention of someone bombarded by thousands of messages a day.

Allison Cerra’s message provided a powerful foundation for the two and half days of exchanges. We shared ideas about customer conversations, changing the voice of our content, thinking creatively, using teaming to spur collaborative actions, and developing collaborative playbooks to grow our work environment.

We learned about successful agile projects, learned of enterprise-wide content development, new knowledge centers, and effective management of our resources and opportunities.

Finally, we investigated new staffing models and new ways of attracting talented individuals to our teams and effective ways of bringing our message of user experiences to senior management.

In all, a stimulating event with everyone ready to contribute through the year. Soon, you will learn more about collaborative playbooks and academe/industry research opportunities as we begin to plan for 2014.

Dr. JoAnn Hackos is the CIDM Director.