Do You Communicate Efficiently or Effectively?

Consumers now receive 81 pieces of email for every one piece of U.S. Mail, and some experts believe email is becoming increasingly less effective

March 2, 2013
Phone, email, or mail options_Max Pixel illustration

Do you remember the last time you received a piece of personal U.S. mail (not counting bills)? According to a recent study, the average American receives a piece of personalized U.S. Mail every six to seven weeks—and this includes birthday, holiday, and other family-generated cards. Wow, what a metamorphosis in personal communications in the past 20 years!

This same study also said that one of the most impressionable (good) forms of communications is—you guessed it, a piece of personal U.S. Mail. This leads us to a great discussion and excellent example of efficient versus effective communication. 

Clearly, the personal communications trend has been toward email. Email communications are certainly efficient, costing just pennies per open. The bad news is that the email median click-through rate is just 2.3 percent. Rarely do even the best-targeted e-blasts achieve a 30+ percent click-through rate. Yes, e-blasts are definitely efficient, but since consumers are now receiving 81 pieces of email for every one piece of U.S. Mail some experts believe email is becoming increasingly less effective. 

On the other hand, U.S. Mail communications are much more costly.  However, in addition to the favorable “impression” study, a second study showed U.S. Mail correspondence achieves an open rate 10 to 30 times that of its email counterparts! These findings suggest that U.S. Mail can be significantly more effective for actually reaching a valued audience.

Here are three questions to ponder about your current customer communication systems. First, are your customer communications congruent with your marketing message? If you promise personal service, then non-personal communications seems a bit disingenuous, don’t you think? Second, does your customer communication system place too much emphasis on efficiency over effectiveness? And third, has your outbound customer communications become as mechanized as an inbound automated phone attendant?

Let’s look at a non-home building example of “effective versus efficient.” Let’s assume you are preparing to celebrate a big event like an anniversary, a child’s birthday, or high school graduation. Would you choose efficiency and send an e-mail card, or choose effectiveness and send a hand-written note? Warning: Email anniversary cards are not recommended! Similarly, many customers consider the building of their new home to be a personal and emotional event not just a financial transaction.

This blog’s point is twofold. First, match your communications with your product and service pledge—if you are relational, then for crying out loud make the majority of your outbound communications relational!  If you are a transactional based business, then maybe automated customer communications is perfect for your organization – like your phone or cable company. Second, when undertaking all interpersonal communications consciously, rank the means on the efficiency versus effective scale—and for the sake of the customer, family or friends please err on the side of effectiveness!   

Charlie Scott has more than 30 years of first-hand home building experience, much of it in senior management positions with an award-winning, nationally recognized Midwest builder. Currently, he's director of Woodland, O’Brien & Scott for Constellation Homebuilder Systems. Scott helps North American home builders grow their own customer-centric cultures, pursue operational excellence, and increase referral sales. Write him at


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