By SCOTT ZIMMERMAN, President of TeleVox Software, Inc.

The request is all too common in marketing departments across corporate America today: “Keep customers happy, and while you’re at it, increase sales. But don’t – and this is important – increase your spending.”

A monumental if not impossible task, you say? Not to some. In growing numbers, forward-thinking companies are turning to the power of behavioral science to achieve impressive and cost-effective growth in both loyalty and sales.

A proven tool of successful businesses large and small, behavioral science is a simple, common sense idea that demands systematic strategy and execution. When applied correctly to a company’s marketing efforts, behavioral science strategies influence decision making at key moments of the communication process. To do so, these strategies target and engage consumers based on their beliefs, needs, motivations and barriers toward a particular behavior.

The idea is that the more a company understands what motivates individual and group consumer behavior, the better it can shape its communication with customers. The more actionable the insight, the better the influence for the desired action. Words, voices, layout and design, timing and methods of communication are all components of the marketing process that are likely to impact decision making in a positive way when grounded with an effective behavioral science strategy. The best executions enable consumers to experience marketing, sales and customer service communication as engaging and compelling. In such cases, consumers act without thought or hesitation.

The benefits of employing the principles of behavioral science, especially in today’s “do more with less” business environment, are attractive to all business-to-consumer companies,but are particularly attractive to service-based companies with heavy day-to-day customer interactions. Included in this group are financial services, healthcare, telecommunications and health and beauty service companies. Benefits range from reduced churn,to greater cross-selling,to additional customer referrals. Additional deliverables include decreased appointment no-shows, increases in on-time bill payments, and increases in customer satisfaction levels.

The bottom-line result for companies employing behavioral science strategies in their communication mix is profound, often anywhere between10times and 30times theresponse rates (or other measures)over traditional branding and marketing techniques.

Applying behavioral science to your communication efforts

What is the best way for businesses to put the theory of behavioral scienceinto action? TeleVox, a leader in engagement communication planning and execution, has five important steps for achieving increased communication effectiveness in cost-effective, resource-friendly ways.

  1. Find your touch (and you’ll enjoy the Midas touch)

Understanding how and when to “touch” your customers and prospects is central to success in today’s fast-paced, information-rich society. In simplest terms, touch can be explained as knowing people and what moves them. What inspires customers to action? What generates changes in their behavior? Determining answers for these questions for your target audience helps you create content that connects you with your customers in meaningful and lasting ways. At all touch points, it’s critical to communicate in ways that motivate customers and prospects to take action and feel valued.

Touch also involves frequency. Determining theright amount of correspondence is essential. Too much communication, excessive texts, e-mails or voicemailscan quickly send customers packing. Not enough communication can have the same disastrous result,as top-of-mind awareness erodes and customers grow susceptible to competitor offers. Planning, testing and the experienced hand of a communications partner are key to finding how much is enough to get results.

2. Send the right message

Finding and delivering messages that engage customers and prospects in ways that appeal most to them begins with data and research. Technology, too, adds great impact. A great example is Orange County’s Credit Union. A large credit union ($947 million in assets and nearly 80,000 members) with relatively few employees toreach out to members with past-due accounts, OrangeCounty’s Credit Union employed a customized message process to impact debt recovery.The technology allowed the financial institution to create and send customizable messages that adapted to various types of debt recovery without compromising the financial institution’s goal of personal service. Messages with variables for member names, account numbers, loan amounts, phone numbers, and more were generated.Response options took the functionality of the automated calls further, including multiple language options, message repeats and call transfers for instant bill payment. Overall, the impact of automated messaging has been sizeable; OrangeCounty’s Credit Union has increased its contact ratio by 23 percent, resulting in substantial increases in debt recovery without the expense of additional staff.

3. Work on your timing

Professor Richard Chase of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business has studied how communication timing can impact consumer opinion. In a Harvard Business Review article, he and his team offered principles for managers to consider when designing customer interactions. Get bad experiences over early, the report said, so customers can focus on the more positive subsequent elements of the interaction. Introduce pleasant aspects of the communication next. Finishing strong, the article went on to say, will help pleasant parts of the interaction form and stick in the customers’ memory.

4. Keep current and stay in the game

You’re only as good as your information. It’s as true in behavioral science as it is in life. It’s also the reason why database updates are a recommended part of your on-going marketing planning. Accurate contact data is essential for companies wanting to move from broad, mass advertising to personalized, direct communications that deliver desired increases in response and marketing ROI. A major health care plan’s use of TeleVox’s SmartAppend™database management service illustrates the impact. Employed before a phone-based outreach campaign, the database management service helped the company achieve a remarkable 549 percentimprovement in data quality. The improved quality of information resulted in enhanced message targeting and higher response. In addition, the company gained money-saving efficiency in the deliverability of its mailing.

5. Take a disciplined and comprehensive approach.

“He who fails to plan, plans to fail,” the saying goes and it’s true. In today’s competitive marketplace, building a multi-dimensional engagement strategy for your business greatly aids in both short and long-term success. Including automated solutions in that plan will help achieve the goal of breaking through and reaching consumers exactly where they are and how they have chosen to be notified, educated, reminded, instructed or encouraged.

Experience has also shown self-service options to be a preferable choice when compared to agent communications. The right automated programs, results have shown, give your customers exactly the kind of messages they want — when and how they want them.

Take on the challenge of “doing more with less” head on. Behavioral science can help you improve customer communications, loyalty and sales in today’s competitive economy. With the experience and insight of a professional partner, you can use the principles of behavioral science to do big things, reach customers, touch their hearts and minds, and activate the relationships and behaviors required for success in a marketplace of shrinking margins and growing competition.

Scott Zimmerman is the president of TeleVox Software, Inc., which provides customer and patient engagement communication services to healthcare and commercial markets throughout North America.