How to Communicate with Customers in the Digital Age

We live in a world where communication is broken.

It has never been easier to send a message to someone. You can call, text, email, send a social-media message, video chat via Skype or FaceTime, or use a dedicated message service like Slack. You can even kick it old school and drop a letter in the mail. Or send a telegram. 


But while it has never been easier to send a message, it has probably never been harder to send a message that is actually heard.

We see so many memes and gifs and status updates that everything becomes one big blur. Because of the proliferation of telemarketing calls, we’ve signed up for do-not-call lists and started screening our phone calls. We’ve learned to tune out messages so that they don’t actually affect our real life.

It’s actually a crucial coping mechanism to help us get through the cacophonous clutter of everyday life. This coping mechanism is beneficial personally…

…but it’s a MAJOR challenge to businesses.

Think about the ways your business tries to communicate with customers (and potential customers).

Now think about how hard it is to actually get your customers’ attention and engagement…
* When you’re building the e-commerce platform that your customers will use to buy your products and services

* When you’re building a mobile app that your customers will use to interact with your company on a regular basis

* When you’re building a business application for a web-based business

* When you’re creating a marketing campaign to launch a new business or new product

* When you’re figuring out what to Tweet, Snap, or post on LinkedIn to engage with your customers

Unless you’re deeply connected to your customers, when you try to communicate with them in these or other ways, it goes in one ear and out another.

It’s not remembered.

It’s not even heard.

So what is a business to do?

You need to communicate at multiple levels.

This idea comes from poker, specifically authors David Sklansky and Ed Miller. The multiple levels go something like this:
* The cards I have

* The cards you have

* The cards you think I have

* The cards you think I think you have


In poker, the further you move through these levels, the better your results will be.

In this post, we want to talk about three levels of communication your business needs to engage in.

No matter what format your communication takes, it falls into one of these three levels.

As in poker, it takes more sophistication and nuance as you move down these levels. Unlike poker, you will need to operate well at all three levels to succeed. So you need to consider when to use each type of communication.

The three levels of communication are:
1. What I want to say
2. What you want to hear
3. What you need to hear

Let’s go through each of these three levels in detail, specifically in relation to your business. Then we’ll talk about how to use each of these levels of communication in a variety of digital communication formats—from marketing to mobile apps to business applications.

Level One: What my business wants to say

“We need to spread the message about our organization.” Most of us who have spent more than 30 days in the workforce have probably heard this kind of message. Same for people who have been to more than one planning meeting at a non-profit. This is a common thought.

It’s not a bad thought. But it is just level one of communication with your customers and the community.

So when a company ends up crowing about its mission or vision or values, or its brand promise, or its unique selling proposition, or its marketing focus…

…nobody really listens.

Of course, it’s important to be crystal clear about what you want to say. It’s valuable for your company’s leaders to spend time defining these things and crafting them in memorable language.

But here’s the dirty secret: Most of your potential customers don’t really care what you want to say. In fact, most of your existing customers don’t care.

You have to earn the right to be heard.

Now, if you earn the right to be heard, then the possibilities are endless. If you can build a community of fans who are big fans of your brand, then they’ll seek out your messages. Some companies build their entire businesses around creating this kind of customer base. A great example is Chick-fil-A, which focuses on creating raving fans. Apple has done this too—think of the excitement that comes with every new announcement Tim Cook and company give.


Lots of startups and business owners see these kinds of successes and assume that they can communicate in this manner too. But it takes a lot of years and countless beneficial interactions before you’ll get to this point. You probably aren’t at this point right now.

And that means that “What I want to say” ends up largely as sound and fury, signifying nothing.

So you cannot stay at this level and effectively communicate with your customers or the other people in your marketing funnel.

Nor can you start at this level and effectively build a customer base.

It’s important to be clear on what you want to say. As you build trust with your customers, you will probably gain some raving fans. You’ll have a chance to tell them the things that you want to say.

But you can’t live on Level One communication and really thrive as a business.

Level Two: What my customers want to hear

The flip side of what you want to say is what your customers want to hear. Level Two communication is much easier to get traction with, obviously, because it aligns with your customers’ interest.

This is the foundation of search-engine marketing (SEM). You identify the keywords that your potential customers are searching for, and you create content that will rate highly for those keywords so that the people who are searching will find you. You meet their specific interests so you can begin a conversation with them.

This is a tried-and-true strategy for attracting traffic—in fact, it’s one the big reasons behind the blog you’re reading right now. But in most cases, it’s not enough of a strategy for you to simple tell customers what they want to hear.

Any parent understands this logic. You can’t just tell a child what he or she wants to hear. If you did, every meal would be pizza and cupcakes, baths would only happen in swimming pools, and bedtimes would happen sometime after Carpool Karaoke on The Late Late Show. That might be fun for a day or two, but it’s no way to live. 


Likewise, you can’t just tell customers what they want to hear, because the customer isn’t always right. You can’t give away your products and services for free (at least not for long). You will have to enforce your terms of service. More robust services will cost more money. You may disqualify certain prospects as customers based on price or timeline or other expectations.

Customers know this, of course. So they’re not just looking for what they want to hear. (More on that in a minute.) But often, what customers want to hear is the starting point where you actually first meet the people who will become your customers. This means it’s crucial that you succeed at Level Two communication.

A big question you need to ask is how closely your Level Two message aligns with your Level One message. Is what you want to say at least close to what they want to hear? If so, you have a chance to gain traction with a promising customer base. If not, you’re going to face a long, uphill slog to build your business. 

Level Three: What my customers need to hear

The next level of communication is telling customers not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. Level Three communication is truly in a customer’s best interest, because it risks alienating them in order to help them find the right solution for their problem.

Obviously, this level of communication requires a lot of trust. And trust isn’t instant. It takes time and relationship to get to the point where you have enough trust to communicate this way.

If your business is transactional, you may not ever use Level Three communication with your customers. For example, you don’t see a lot of retail clothing reps telling customers that that pants don’t look good on them.

But if your business relies in any way on repeat customers, you need to communicate at this level to have a strong long-term relationship.

With our customers, Level Three communication can look like this take one of these forms:
* You will have to change your feature list or your timeline, because we can’t fit that amount of work in that amount of time.
* That idea is more complex than you think because of your existing technology stack.
* That’s a good idea, but this idea might work better in the long term.
* We’re not the right fit to work with you. Let us point you to a company that might be.

This is a higher level of communication with your customers. But it takes care, time, and trust to get to this level. If try to start here, you’ll come across as a know-it-all and turn off potential customers.

How to Use These Levels of Communication in Your Business

Now that we’ve laid out the theory of these levels of communication, let’s talk about how they actually impact your digital interactions with your customers.

We’ve already talked about many of the digital marketing and social media applications of these different types of communication while explaining the three levels. Now, let’s talk about how to use all three levels of communication effectively in software your business uses.

Customer-facing Mobile Apps and Web Apps

It’s important to think about what you are communicating to your customers as they use your public-facing software, whether it’s a web-based portal or a mobile app.

While business leaders usually think of this in terms of user experience, let’s take a minute to think about what you’re communicating. Here are two key questions to ask:

Is it easy to use? 

You are communicating how valuable a customer is to you by whether you give them an experience that makes sense to them. One way that companies often fall short on this is by organizing things by their internal divisions instead of by how a customer thinks.

For example, your company may have different divisions for sales and fulfillment and shipping. But to the customer, these are all parts of a unified buying experience. If your software doesn’t organize these things as one unified whole, it won’t communicate at the customer’s level. You’ll end up with a Level One/Level Two communication breakdown, and a bunch of frustrated customers as a result.

Is the value of using the software clear?

Can a customer immediately discern how this app will help them save time or save money? If it does’t, a customer may wonder whether it would be better to call you, visit you, or even choose a competitor. But if you are given a customer more control at more times of day, you are communicating value—which is something customers know they need. You end up with a Level Three engagement with customers, whether or not they originally thought they needed to use a particular piece of software.

This includes messaging, but it can also be intuitive. Think about mobile apps for Chick-fil-A or Starbucks. They make it so easy to pay that the companies don’t have to spend much time extolling the virtues of the app. The customer quickly finds value, and so they keep using the app.

One extra note about mobile apps

Lots of companies come up with the idea of connecting with their customers using a mobile app. They spend a lot of time brainstorming what they want customers to do in the app, and what features customers might use. Planning for that kind of communication and engagement is well and good, but you can’t start there.

The first moment of decision for app users is whether to download it. Sometimes, this means using data or storage space that are limited quantities. This is a purchase, even though the cost is not monetary.

So you need to communicate about your mobile app in a way that tells customers why they should download your app. To put it in Level Three terms, what do they need to hear and do specifically through this app? This question should focus your mobile app strategy and especially the way you launch and marketing hte app.


When it comes to e-commerce, the way you communicate with your customers is vital to earning their trust—and to converting sales. So make sure you are effectively communicating things like:
* Pricing

* Shipping

* Features (color, size, etc.)

* Availability in stock

* How payments will happen

Here, you need to think about what your customers want to hear in terms of information, and what they need to know so they can expect precisely what your company plans to deliver. These are keys to customer satisfaction. Even more, you need to deliver this information in a way that is easy to use, for the reasons mentioned a little earlier.

When you think about the e-commerce process as not just a transaction but as a form of communication, you will set a new standard for how you engage with your customers through these platforms.

In Conclusion

Exceptional companies are exceptional because of the strength of their customer relationships. And the path of building strong customer relationships marked by trust requires using all three levels of communication.

So whenever you interact with your customers, or whenever you build software meant to engage with them, ensure that you are successfully navigating all three levels:
* What your business wants to say

* What your customers want to hear

* What your customers need to hear

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We'll never tell you a lie, but we might tell you a success story that protects the intellectual property of our clients and partners. Our Worthwhile Storyteller is an amalgamation of all of our thoughts, experience, and expertise brought together to give you the facts about our relentless improvement in the software development space.