This sponsored post is produced in association with Ytel.

Consumers have thoroughly embraced the brave new world of modern communication and always-on connectivity — and they’ve also come to expect that. And if you’re a smart marketer, you’re going to follow them into that increasingly well-settled frontier to keep your competitive edge with an omnichannel approach supported by cloud communications.

But you’re not alone. A study by Neustar found that 40 percent of companies believe that omnichannel marketing is important — and 30 percent believe these strategies are critical. 35 percent are already out there with their message broadcasting throughout a customer’s digital life, with 27 percent making plans to get there soon.

The VentureBeat Insight report, Omnichannel Trends: Data, platforms, mobile, and commerce, found that 34 percent of marketers are upping their game by appealing to two to three channels, while 7 percent juggle an extraordinary 10­–20 platforms in their effort to corner of their target’s attention.

It’s a hell of a crowd, and you need to earn your place in it. If you don’t offer incredibly relevant messages that really mean something to your customer, they’re going to dismiss your company as irrelevant, too.

But there’s a major drawback when marketers take the leap without a strategy — the VentureBeat report also found that 39 percent of marketers feel pressured to use more engagement platforms than they can comfortably manage, and that’s when focused, relevant communication starts to break down. And your customer will always notice.

Failing to see users as people

The problem? Your customers do not think, live, or shop in channels. No matter the touchpoint, the channel, or the device they use, a customer is still just one person, and you need to learn how to treat them that way.

The answer isn’t adding more channels — it’s understanding and managing the channels your customers are in, in extraordinary ways. It’s understanding the power of communication on a granular level, and recognizing that the foundation of your business, from initial sale to eternal loyalty, boils down to basic human interaction.

Offer the products and services your customers want, but also know what they need. This comes from a deep, intrinsic knowledge of the industry you operate in, so you understand your customers’ pain points, and know exactly how to soothe them.

While on its surface omnichannel communication benefits the marketer — all those ways to get your message across, there’s no way your customer can miss them!—it’s really about giving customers a choice about where and when and how they want to communicate with you. Your customers notice when they’re getting the information they need, in the place where they want to be. More importantly, they notice when you don’t — and that’s the kind of service that sends previously loyal customers fleeing.

So that means actively listening and engaging with your customers, prospects, and leads, which directly impacts your bottom line — because according to a report from Walker, by 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.

How do you connect, listen and learn? Here are some of the channels where you need to be hanging on to your customers’ every word.

1. Strengthen social media listening

60 percent of marketers are still using social channels as a marketing tool, rather than a driver of customer experience, and that’s why they’re leaving money on the table.

The numbers don’t lie: A study from Bain found that when companies engage and respond to customer service requests over social media, those customers spend 20 percent to 40 percent more with the company — and they’re almost three times more likely to recommend a brand, says HBR. And if you aren’t responsive on social media, you’re going to see your churn rate increase by up to 15 percent.

So change your focus from broadcasting to listening, and engage with your customers on the issues and interests that matter to them. Dashboards like Hootsuite can help you monitor mentions of your brand across all your social media profiles and stay on top of conversations and comments.

2. Scour the web

Dimensional Research found that 88 percent of customers are influenced by online customer service reviews when making buying decisions, so you need to stay on top of your online mentions.

Set up Google Alerts with your company and product names to keep track, and keep tabs on the places where your customers are most likely to talk—from consumer review sites like Yelp, Insider Pages, and Angies list to directory services like Yahoo Local, Google Places, and Citysearch.

Responding to reviews helps make customers feel heard—and offering assistance to resolve any issues develops tremendous goodwill.

3. Solicit directly

Being open to direct customer contact, where and how they want to reach you, is one of the most important ways to establish authentic engagement and productive two-way conversations. Make contact links prominent across your site and on all of your social media profiles, as well as add a way for customers to contact you from an email or push notification.

You can also consider soliciting opinions via customer surveys and polls. Request feedback directly in notifications, and even use the Facebook’s Questions feature to pick your user’s brains.

4. Embrace cloud communications

Customers choose communication channels based on what they need to accomplish, so all avenues of contact need to be easy for consumers to find, be reliable, and be easy to use. More traditional communications channels, which include phone, email, and chat, offer a level of comfort for the customer and simpler access to your company.

eDigital’s Customer Service Benchmark found that live chat is a particularly popular avenue for customers, because it provides near-instant response times, clear answers, and an easy way to ask further questions or for clarification.

But the phone is both the most traditional communication platform of them all, and the most neglected. Nonverbal cues such as tone variations and pauses offer essential conversational clues to enrich the experience. And there really isn’t much that can beat that feeling of direct, one-to-one focused connection that makes a customer feel truly heard.

Active listening packs a huge punch for your business. You’re taking all the noise of marketing and sales and turning it into a real connection with your customers — the fundamental building block of sales and long-term loyalty. It’s omnichannel done right.

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