Gronroos identifies two separate processes: the planned communication process is the deliberate delivery of planned messages and receipt of responses, whilst the interaction process consists of the customer giving and receiving messages through the consumption experience. He concludes, ‘Only the integration of the planned communication and the interaction processes into one strategy that is systematically implemented creates relationship marketing’ (Gronroos, 2000).
Planned communication is crucial in recruiting new customers, developing relationships with existing customers and reinforcing the positive attitudes of existing customers’ towards the organization. It must be remembered, however, that these planned messages create expectations, against which the customer will judge the quality of the organization’s products. Failure to meet these expectations will destroy the customers’ trust in the supplier. Hence, it is vital that the planned communication strategy be treated as an extension of internal policies, processes and values.
Establishing corporate values
This should be the foundation of any RM communication programme. There is little point in trying to develop the organization’s profile if it cannot withstand the critical gaze of the public eye. Establishing corporate values is more about internal processes than external. Quality assurance processes, a corporate code of ethics, and internal marketing all help to ensure that the organization develops a consistent voice when dealing with stakeholders. This provides the foundations on which a trusting relationship can be built.
Developing a corporate image
Corporate image is really an extension of the branding process. From the RM manager’s point of view, it helps ensure that any positive messages are correctly attributed to the organization, in the same way as a brand image ensures that satisfied customers re-buy the correct product. From the stakeholders’ point of view, it provides a vehicle for conceptualizing the organization. The use of consistent imagery in all of the organization’s messages, therefore, consolidates the relationship by presenting a recognizable face, which the customer will associate with the organization’s voice. Once again, the key issue here is consistency. As relationships develop and an increasing number of contacts develop between the supplier and customer, it is essential that the various messages transmitted by the organization do not contradict one another.
Communicating a corporate image
Having created a consistent image, the organization is ready to invite the scrutiny of its wider stakeholders. Tools such as press notices, publicity stunts, sponsorship, advertising and exhibitions ensure that the organization attracts the attention of interested publics. In ongoing relationships, there will usually be a substantial element of direct contact between the customer and supplier, both formal and informal.
The development of a consistent communication strategy has been presented here as a linear process. In fact there is a close and ongoing relationship between all three levels of communication, and at any stage the relationship can be destroyed by problems (such as the use of overly aggressive sales techniques) from within or without. Part of the RM manager’s job is to prevent actions or events that will harm the relationship with customers or other stakeholders through proactive communications. Obviously, this will not always be possible, for example in the event of product failures, so provision must be made for damage limitation -reactive communications.