Customer Engagement: How & Why

Customer behaviour is changing, and rapidly. I’ve already covered the rise of the smartphone and the challenges that throws up for mobile commerce. Then there are the opportunities that new digital means of engagement open up for organisations and the way they process data and manage segmentation. The upshot? No organisation can avoid coming to grips with the rapidly evolving behavior of consumers and business customers. The critical moments of interaction between companies and customers are spread across different parts of the organisation; customer engagement is now everyone’s responsibility. There are ways of making sure that everyone in the organisation gets that message. Read on to find out more.

Marketing and its place in the Company

The marketing function is best placed to orchestrate customer engagement for an organisation, or so the common wisdom has it. To be successful in this, the marketing function must be pervasive and capable of influencing touch points it doesn’t directly control. Yet companies are struggling to determine the appropriate role of marketing for their business. The absence of solid return-on-investment data does nothing to help secure marketing’s place in the new environment.

I’ve thought through some simple steps executives can take to widen the lens their companies use to view customer-engagement needs, enabling rapid responses, building internal lines of communication, and creating nimbler organisations with more pervasive marketing across the piece.

Define customer-engagement

Few companies undertake annual or six-monthly summits to discuss how to engage with their lifeblood, their raison d’être, their customers. Just do it. Start with a participant list including those at the top of your company and make sure you cut across units and functions; your Accountant may surprise you with customer focused insights you’d never have considered before. Make customer engagement, as distinct from the customer experience, the driver of the summit. Think of engagement as going beyond managing the experience at touch points to include all the ways companies motivate customers to invest in an ongoing relationship with a product or brand. Address the following:

Part 1

  • An aligned vision for engagement which examines the kind of relationship you want with your customers
  • Examining their decision journey to help you to compare your level of engagement with what you believe it should be and against your competitors

Part 2

  • coordinate the activities required to reach and engage customers across the full range of touch points: this will pin-point any anachronisms such as independent functional silos

Remember, your aim is to create a coordinated plan spanning all the customer touch points.

Part 3

  • agree the elements of the customer-engagement ecosystem that should be undertaken in-house and those that will involve outside partners: you can’t do everything

Drive customer-engagement through the company

Having carried out a customer-engagement summit, I can just bet that there will be a need for an ongoing forum for focusing management’s attention on engagement. Your customer-engagement council may already exist under another name, such as the strategic-planning or brand council, get your needs on their agenda. After all, your aim of bringing together all primary forms of engagement— marketing, communications, service, sales, product management, and so on—to coordinate tactics across touch points in a more timely manner, is what strategy and brand management is all about.

Make sure that:

  • Your customer engagement council is an operational and decision-making body, it must translate the findings of the customer-engagement summit into specific actions at individual touch points
  • The council’s membership is large enough to ensure that all key players are represented but small enough to make decisions efficiently
  • The council meets often enough to manage outcomes and measure progress
  • Inputs and support ensure fact-based decisions, so assemble information on everything from priority touch points to customer behavior and the moves of competitors as well as measures of progress to date
  • You reduce the risk of gaps, rework, and turf wars, by ensuring everyone in the organisation is clear about the aims and understands decisions about touch points and the processes that affect them

When conceived, constructed, and operated correctly, a customer-engagement council plays a critical role in breaking the “silo” mind-set that diminishes the effectiveness of customer engagement in organisations.

Create content

A decade ago, when the digital revolution first began, many companies quickly appointed digital officers to oversee these emerging touch points. It’s now evident that the challenge isn’t  just about understanding digital channels but also coping with the volume, nature, and velocity of the content needed to use them effectively.

Sophisticated and interactive content is king when customer needs for information and engagement are at stake. In this increasingly social world a mechanism to manage the content consumers generate is also needed, curating and editing skills are a must.

Companies across industries—from luxury goods to retailing, financial services, automotive, and even professional sports—are adopting a journalistic approach to recognise hot issues and shape emerging sentiment by delivering compelling content that forges stronger emotional bonds with consumers. You will need someone to provide on-brand, topical, and provocative content needed to engage customers, to develop and manage all aspects of the supply chain for content from where and how it’s sourced to overseeing the external agencies and the in-house creative talent generating it.

Even with a CCO in place, designing and executing a content strategy still requires coordination with several key business areas. Don’t forget that critical aspect when looking to engage the right person, you need someone who can work as comfortably with HR as CSR and beyond.

Now, listen

Engagement is a conversation. Communication is two-way. More social and other media are available to mobilise your fans and opponents than ever before, and any interaction between a customer and your company could be the match that starts a viral fire. Listening centres that monitor what is being said about their organisations, products, and services on social media, blogs, and other online forums can help hugely in shaping comms and defining the emerging issues.

Hardwire a listening centre into the business to reduce response times during crises, complement tracking on brand performance, feed consumer feedback into the product-development process, and serve as a platform for testing customer reactions.

Get a budget

Companies struggle to figure out how they can afford all the new tactics, vehicles, and content types required to engage with customers effectively. Look at it this way: recognise that there’s plenty of money in the organisation, but in the wrong places. Companies can now communicate with customers much more productively, through digital and social channels for example, at radically cheaper rates and more effectively than traditional media communications or face-to-face sales visits. So, make trade-offs across functions to free large amounts of money to invest in customer engagement. If the experience of customers is so positive that they voluntarily serve as advocates for your brand, for example, can you reduce advertising expenditures? Yes, you can (a soon to come post will address how using Facebook as a test case).

If you’re using customer engagement to look at customer engagement across the organisation and at every touch-point, why on earth are you failing to achieve productivity gains and cross-function trade-offs when arriving at total spending on customer engagement? The two go together. I’d go even further. Add up what you spend on customer engagement—in areas such as sales, service, operations, and product management, as well as in marketing. Then identify all the radically cheaper approaches you could take and ask, for example, how you would take them if your budget was 15% of its current size or how a competitor in an emerging market would approach this problem. Challenge ingrained assumptions and conventional wisdom, highlight and develop overlooked opportunities.

In summary – More customer interactions across more touch points are shaping the degree of engagement a customer has with your company. The barrier to harnessing the potential value in this shift is organisational.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s