Four factors that influence customer communications

Integrated marketing communications is a well-understood and practiced communications theory. But the Relationship Communications Model introduces a new perspective that turns communications strategy on its head.

Integrated marketing communications or IMC is the practice of ensuring consistent messages are communicated to customers through every channel and touch point between the company and the customer.

IMC understands that there are several factors that influence the message that customers actually receive, but it still considers it from the company’s perspective. An inside-out approach that focuses the company on integration during the ‘sending’ part of the communication process.

RCM says the opposite; that it is actually the customer who performs the integration during the ‘receiving’ part of the communication process and that meaning is created as a result.

RCM proposes that, in order for the customer to receive the message as you intended, companies need to develop and implement communications that have considered the four factors from the customer’s perspective.

Four Factors

These are the four factors, which have been recognised for some time; albeit the ‘Future Factor’ has less research associated with it. The developers of the RCM theory have further categorised them under two groups:  Time and Situational.

Situational Factors      Internal: Thoughts, feelings, beliefs
External: Environmental factors
Time Factors Historical:      Past relationship experience
Future: Envisioned future experience


RCM is a tool designed to help research, plan, implement and measure an effective communications strategy. It enables companies to more effective deliver a message that will result in the intended meaning.

Situational Factors

The theory is that if you understand the internal (within the customer) and external factors (their environment) from the customer’s perspective, then you can better develop and implement communications that will result in the understanding that you intend.

Likewise, by measuring communication results that take these factors into consideration, a company can identify what to change or maintain in their communications strategy.

Time Factors

A customer’s past relationship with a company influences their current and envisioned future relationship with the company.

This means that a company must think long-term or even ‘life of the customer’ when it is developing its communication strategy. This is important, because if you build a strong relationship it will protect you somewhat when times are challenging.

Relevance to contact centres

The RCM has obvious relevance to the marketing department, and a less obvious relevance to contact centres and their customer-facing employees.

Contact centres are a key touch point and communication channel for any company. Considering RCM from a contact centre’s perspective, the following points emerge for consideration:

1. Understand what a customer is thinking and feeling is important (INTERNAL)

Keeping accurate customer records with information offered by the customer on their circumstances, their thoughts, feelings and beliefs about your company, and your products and services will help agents understand how communications may be received and interpreted.

This could include information that they have lost their job, lost a loved one, have a disability, have had a bad experience with your company or do not like dealing with automated call handling systems.

2. Understand what is happening in the external environment is important (EXTERNAL)

Keeping agents apprised of what is happening around the customer will also help to determine how communications may be received and interpreted.

This could include information about the weather, political, competition, geographical, social, technological, environmental, legal or economic events.

3. Understand your company’s past relationship with customers (HISTORIC)

Keep agents informed about your previous dealings with customers, because this is a key frame of reference your customers will automatically bring to their current interactions with your company.

Most contact centres are very good at this activity, logging reports for every customer interaction.

4. Understand what your customer envisions as their future relationship with your company (FUTURE)

This is likely to be more challenging, but perhaps one of the most important and exciting factors.  Find out what your customers hope for or expect from their relationship with you and develop strategies to deliver on their positive visions, as well as changing their negative ones.

Form a close relationship with your marketing department

Marketing strategies generally include great customer segmentation and customer profiling intelligence, relevant to their budget. This means that they know your company’s target customers inside out and back to front.

At a non-personal level, your marketing team will have a good idea of what makes the customer tick, what job the customer wants your products and services to perform (the value proposition) and how they want it delivered (all Internal Factors).

Your marketing team will also have completed significant environmental analysis that covers many of the points suggested under External Factors, which will be helpful in determining the world that you customer lives in.

They may even have developed visions of ideal customer relationships that you can benchmark your customer’s actual experience against and develop strategies for meeting and exceeding their expectations (Historic and Future Factors).

Customer analysis is one of the earliest types of analysis performed when developing a business or marketing strategy, so it is often left out of communicating the final action plan to other departments. 

At the start of every new marketing campaign, why not request a briefing from your marketing team on the target customers, touching on each of the 4 factors – and from the perspective of the customer? 

Then, share this information with your contact centre teams.

By Angela Shaw, CCiNZ



Rethinking marketing communication: From integrated marketing communication to relationship communication
Ake Finne and Christian Gronroos
Journal of Marketing Communications, Vol. 15, Nos. 2-3, April-June 2009, 179-195