A guide to customer engagement strategies

Nothing assures growth like customer engagement




customer engagement strategies

What is a customer engagement strategy?

Nothing assures organic growth like customer engagement. Whatever your aggressive advertising campaign may be, from huge sale promotions, reward programmes or a promise of low prices, you might get customers through the door, but they will leave the room fast if you fail to inspire those people to become long-serving, loyal customers, otherwise known as ‘true-believers’. This leaves your company at risk of surviving purely based on price-relationships alone, and failing the opportunity to prosper. guarantees

"Customer engagement isn’t synonymous with customer experience, rather it is a consequence of a spectacular CX.”

Fundamentally, Gallup research has shown that “customers form strong emotions about your company based on their experiences with your people - and those emotions strongly influence their buying decisions.” Customer’s emotional affiliation with your company can incentivise them to buy your product, regardless of price. They will find a way to psychologically reason price to align with their brand beliefs, core values and provide them with reasons that they simply, ‘can’t live without it’ or buying or associating with this brand because it represents what they stand for:

  • 62% of Millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social media networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer – Forbes

  • 75% of respondents consider it fairly or very important that a company give back to society, instead of just making a profit – millennialbranding.com

  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated – helpscout

Isnt customer loyalty and customer engagement the same thing?

Whilst loyalty and engagement are closely linked, and often confused, they are in fact, their own entities. Loyalty is referred to as the ‘emotional state of the customer’, whereas engagement encompasses the 'actions and behaviours which results from that emotion’ (Bruce Tempkin, CCXP at Tempkin Group).

So, if loyalty refers to the emotional state of a customer, how do you measure that? Well, that’s where the limitations occur… It’s extremely difficult and complicated to draw predictive conclusions from its analysis; "there is quite a gap between customers’ intent and their actual behaviour, to the point where the two can sometimes express themselves in contradictory ways.”

One way to measure customer loyalty is by calculating your Net Promoter Score and polling your customers with surveys. However, these methods can be far from an accurate representation because people who respond to surveys are in most part, strong outliers with polarised opinions. On the flip side, even though a customer willingly gives you an NPS score of 10, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will increase their likelihood to genuinely recommend your services.

Measuring engagement

“The measure of customer engagement lies at the intersection of involvement and advocacy.” The point at which involvement is pertained is when a customer actively interacts with your brand, product, event, website, and content - from reading your newsletter to responding to surveys, participating in events and giveaways. Engaged customers will “keep their finger on your pulse; they know that remaining involved in your business’ evolution is very much in their interest.”

Advocacy can be referred to as the ‘holy grail of advertising’ since a heartfelt customer review or recommendation carries immense weight. A customer who is loyal, and has an emotional attachment to your brand compels them to actively endorse it. This can be done through word of mouth recommendations, referrals, serving as references, and even might include speaking at conferences on your behalf.

But what metrics should you measure? According to Tatango:

  • Activity time - The total time a user spends online, interacting with the offered service (this excludes inactive time, even if the user is logged-in).  
  • Visit frequency - How often a user returns to your service is a key reflection of the value they get from it. This can yield potential customer behaviour patterns.
  • Core user actions - When user’s explore new features and start to use them, the service grows on them, and therefore they want to use it more. Conversely, if a user is not performing Core User Actions, while still spending time on the service, it may be because he is unable to get to it (indicating a usability problem) or that you don’t understand the value they are getting.

What does your brand stand for?

“Brands that create purpose win Millennials’ hearts, and brands that are different and authentic win their minds,” says Jeff Fromm, co-author of Marketing to Millennials.

To engage customers on a level beyond mere price attraction or service quality, your brand needs to stand for something.

So, it’s becoming increasingly evident that emotion, not price, is driving engagement. This change in behaviour emanates from the ever-evolving (and increasingly influential) Millennial; they reject traditional marketing methods, have an outright sense of being altruistic and don’t know a world where they are not connected. This shift in traits causes brands to be more than their product; they have to wholeheartedly believe in something and stand up for it, and they can’t fake it - Millennials will know.

Following these revelations, and to some degree, this trend of consumer; brands of all sizes, around the globe, are constantly trying to engage Millennials and understand what drives their behaviour and motivates their attitudes.

First, identify challenges that engage the Millennial customer and then you can work on overcoming them. Research from VisionCritical has discovered that the Generation Y lifestyle desires, exemplifies and demands five main things: Constant connection,  short attention spans, an appetite for collaboration, a diverse group and a dislike for traditional marketing.

Millennials are unable to remember a life without the Internet, it’s an ingrained habit to check online before buying anything. The “ubiquity of mobile” causes Millennials to expect a “seamless customer experience, regardless of the device they’re using.” Next, with the preferred communication tools leading the way via text messaging, Snapchat and Instagram, these short, bitesized blasts of information being delivered visually whenever, wherever and however, it’s no wonder that the Millennial’s attention span is ever-diminishing. By growing up with the Internet, Millennial’s love to be part of a team, they see the value of the saying, ‘two heads are better than one’. They crave participation, collaboration, yet want their ideas and opinions to be heard; this, in essence, is how social media works. “It’s dangerous to look at Millennials as a homogeneous cohort” when a wide ambit of tastes, behaviours and incomes are at play. And finally, the notion of being disingenuous is heavily rejected. 75% of Millennials believe that “advertising is disruptive” and 77% claim to actively “tune out ads” The influence of ‘Millennial-think’ has infiltrated many other generational groups; this may be because workplaces has morphed, social media connects generations and incites communication and maybe the simple fact that they’re not so young anymore and consequently moving up through organisations.

Now we know that “customers increasingly favour companies whose values align with their own.Your customer engagement strategy needs to captivate customers by first giving them a real reason to empathise and bond with your brand.” In order to do this, companies absolutely must define their core values that structure their brand identity; and as iterated, these values must not be hesitant or ill-defined, if this occurs, your identity will fail to truly resonate with anyone.

In a recent blog post Lola Barbier recommends: “Be bold. Decide which qualities your brand wants to represent and uncompromisingly stand for what you embody. Being decisive might be intimidating; perhaps taking a clear stance could alienate certain people? It will, but that’s not a bad thing. For every person who decides you’re not their cup of tea, one might think, “this is the perfect brand for me”.

To reference myself earlier, psychological reasoning must adhere to Gallup’s State of the American Consumer emotional rationale with the following statements:

  • This brand always delivers on what they promise
  • I feel proud to be a customer of this brand
  • This brand is the perfect company for people like me

The power of authenticity

There are few industries more volatile than fashion. How is it possible for a single brand to remain cool, relevant and in demand for more than 162 years? Whilst competitors may see fleeting moments of short term success, one brand remains at its zenith and has stayed the course; Levi Strauss & Co.

Levi’s CEO & President, Chip Bergh, states that it’s all centred around their core values - values that have stood the test of time; empathy, originality, integrity and courage, which exists in every corner of the organisation and across their supply chain.

They don’t get distracted by fashion ‘fads’ or trend-following, in an all-so-tempting world dedicated to chasing next quarter’s revenue targets. Instead, they live their values and choose to use social media to educate consumers about world-wide issues, such as water conservation, or supporting social justice leaders. By association, they promote their products for the greater good.

Levi’s live by the statement; ‘Brand = Reputation.’

People desire to connect with products that feel safe and certain. Levi’s clearly identifies its core purpose, attributes and value—and then uses them as a compass for everything it does. This resonates particularly with today’s influential young consumers.”

Having beliefs you stand by, a message you believe in and values you trust is about more than just gaining and keeping customers, it’s a way to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Being genuinely involved in the causes which matter to your brand, is a sure-fire way to make customers think: “I’m proud of being engaged with this brand.” You can integrate yourself into your customers lives by demonstrating a real commitment to the values in which you believe. Humanise your brand by targeting content to attract the right audience and propagate it on social media. This modernised approach to traditional advertising allows you to get closer to your customers, on their home turf and incite engagement. By your customers being able to write comments and interact with your brand, you can gain those all-important insights into your customers and help them to feel consistently valued and listened to.

What about employee engagement?

Your employees are the direct representation of your company, brand and ethos. From the very start, be highly selective of who you hire as they need to be a credit to your organisation. “Your team is your main asset” and when it comes to customer engagement, you must provide sensational customer experience.

It’s essential to adhere to an exceptional on-boarding process giving your hires the knowledge to excel, positive reinforcement and enthusiasm that will be passed onto to your customers. Once your workforce start to lose engagement, “your customers will churn before you [even] realise something is wrong.”

You need to also ensure that your employees receive the same degree of care that you provide to your customers. Do this by fostering the right atmosphere; hone in on empathy, kindness and helpfulness. And this can’t be a ‘HR department initiative’. To be effective, it starts ‘top-down’ and is pervasive across the organisation so it can drip down to the customer. Listen to your customer, always and use the right technologies. If you don’t have the right tools, how can you possibly keep a seamless line of interaction in-house let alone to your customers?

The art of re-engagement & giving back to your advocates

Engaged customers are the gift that keep on giving. They are less sensitive to price, more likely to make repeated and more purchases, more [inclined] to give you valuable feedback, and [motivated] to recruit more advocates to your cause.” When a customer feels valued and rewarded they are less likely to churn, continue their patronage of your business and invite further peers to get involved. “Improved customer retention by as little as 5% and you should see an increase in profits by anywhere from 25% to 95%."

A company only hears from around 4% of dissatisfied customers. 96% remain silent, 91% churn without looking back and most unhappy customers don’t even bother to complain, yet the ones that do are sure to be vitriolic. This can be dangerous as peer reviews are taken extremely seriously by prospective clients and acrimonious critiques are a strong deterrent.

Negative opinions echo louder and last longer that positive ones. Credit tends to be given to more harsh feedback and positive ones are sometimes left discredited as biased or disingenuous; which ties into the Millennial’s already mistrusting attitude of marketing in general. This leads to the notion of humanising your brand, knowing what you stand for and positively, clearly and exemplary showcasing these standpoints. If you try too hard to connect with your customers, you can be perceived as patronising and often times insincere. You must present yourself as honest, personal and genuine; ditch the jargon, speak with clarity and in a straightforward manner, exhibit authority but remain relatable.

This all sounds so confusing and pretty high-maintenance, but there are easy ways to display personality: represent and show off your team, your offices and what goes on inside, give it a humanised aura, give a ‘behind the scenes’ insight. On that note, share your insights that are derived from your own business experience. Become accessible, show off who you are as a company and again, what you stand for. By letting the consumer inside, they get to know your company’s personality and thus enhancing this emotional connection with your brand.

What’s your strategy?

Remember, customers don’t engage themselves. And there is a whole handbook on the practices, methods and intricate ideologies behind the differentiating ways to involve and engage your customer, but at the very base, it all boils down to that emotional connection between the customer and your brand. You must provide the customer with the opportunity to act on that emotion in a frictionless way. By encouraging proactive participation, your customer feels involved, listened to and valued. This can be parlayed into loyalty and, more often than not, as iterated above, encourages customers’ to become an ambassador to your brand.

According to Billy Rudnick, general merchandising manager for New York retailer Dr. Jays says: “What has kept Levi’s in the forefront of the ever-changing jean world is their market research— how they test product with a variety of diverse retailers and use that feedback to address various fits, washes and fashion elements to stay current. But they never go too far into the gimmicks that have misled many good companies.”

Here are 23 Top Tips from ‘the Pros’:

  1. Listen to Your Customers with Empathy - Sophie Miles Cayman, Vice President, QuotesAdvisor.com

  2. Encourage Your Customers to Participate in Reviews - Sarah McVanel, ChiefRecognition Officer, Greatness Magnified

  3. Learn What Really Matters to the Customer - Gustavo Mayen Esq. / MBA, Trial Attorney, Law Office of Gustavo Mayen

  4. Know How to Greet a Customer - Nancy Friedman, President, The Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training

  5. Connect to Customers With Text Marketing - Marc Prosser, Co-founder, Fit Small Business

  6. Ask Questions - Kevin Lindon Ryan, Creative Marketer and Founder, KLR | PR

  7. Humanise Your Brand with Live Video - Tiffany Monhollon, Director for Marketing and Communications, ReachLocal

  8. Use Twitter to Keep a Constant Flow of Customer Interaction - Simon Zaku, Twitter

  9. Marketing Specialist, SimonZaku.com

  10. Use Mobile Apps (like a loyalty system/card, vouchers, push notifications) - Ian Naylor, CEO, AppInstitute

  11. Practice In-Person Interaction - Ricky Marton, Founder, Be Robin Hood

  12. Use Surveys to Get to Know Your New Clients - Lauren Brown, Operations Director, Coalmarch Productions

  13. Utilise Personalisation - Lili Le, Marketing & PR Manager, GREAT WINE, Inc.

  14. Avoid Being Too Sales-Oriented When Speaking with Customers - “The most powerful sales approach is to educate the customer.” - David Scarola, Chief Experience Officer, The Alternative Board

  15. Use Pop Culture References to be More Relatable - Eric Ramos, Personal Injury Lawyer, Eric Ramos Law, PLLC

  16. Utilise Simple Polls - Ayat Shukairy, Co-Founder, Invest

  17. Use the ‘Four I’s’- Involvement, Influence, Interaction, and Intimacy - Jason Perkins, Founder and CEO, San Diego SEO and Online Marketing Inc.

  18. Add Interactive Content to Your Website- Grant van der Harst, Managing Director, Anglo Liners

  19. Do More of What Works - Ali Jafarian, CEO, MemberDev

  20. Be Strategically Sassy on Social Media - “Sassiness gets a huge response and following, as voicey personas on Twitter are more interesting and more enjoyable to interact and engage with for the audience.” — Outbrain, Audrey Fernence

  21. Nurture Free Trial Prospects and Get Them to Upgrade - Buildfire, Iain Blair

  22. Don’t Ignore Your Low to Mid-Loyal Customers As Well - Ameyo  

  23. Sponsor a Local Non-Profit - Wheniwork  

If you are going to implement opportunities for engagement, such as surveys, newsletters, beta versions, content, promotions, giveaways etc; always keep in mind and ask yourself; ‘will this add value to the customer’s experience?’ Customer’s want to feel that it will be worth investing their time to participate. Make your processes and events more interactive (take Netflix’s Bandersnatch episode) and make sure your brand is memorable.

Maybe customer self-service is the future of engaging CX; with results proving that customer’s value a short response time and first call resolutions so highly, offering them the power to solve their own queries could be the answer to these two highly regarded demands?

Whichever direction you choose to take your engagement strategy, always keep your customer in mind, be sure to stand for something and offer seamless, frictionless processes from start to finish, and throughout the future. You may have lost a customer once, but it doesn’t mean they’re gone forever!  

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