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This article is part two of a series on the importance of a solid customer engagement strategy for your business’ growth and bottom line. Head here to read part one and learn about the implications of customer engagement.
This article aims to provide actionable tips to implement a successful customer engagement strategy.
Why you need a sound customer engagement strategy
The goal of your customer engagement strategy is to encourage customers to involve themselves in the evolution of your brand, up to the point of becoming advocates.
Customer engagement is a necessary metric for your business. Customer loyalty is tricky to measure, and it’s trickier still to predict its concrete impact on your bottom line. Engagement represents the articulation of two things: the tangible manifestations for your customers’ loyalty (or lack thereof) and the quality of your customer experience. However, customers don’t engage themselves.
Figuring out a game plan
The engagement of your customers requires both an emotional connection with your business and easy, frictionless ways to act on that emotion. But where does the juncture of these two concepts lie?
Gallup’s State of the American Consumer explains a customer’s emotional rationale with the following statements:
1. This brand always delivers on what they promise.
2. I feel proud to be a customer of this brand.
3. This brand is the perfect company for people like me.
We can consider customer engagement to be the combination of the above emotional requirements, and of appropriate CX choices which enable customers to act upon this emotional rationale.
Here are ways to develop a customer engagement strategy which articulates and satisfies customers’ emotional and practical expectations.
To engage customers on a level beyond mere price attraction or service quality, your brand needs to stand for something.
Emotion, not price, drives engagement. Customers increasingly favor companies whose values align with their own. Your customer engagement strategy needs to captivate customers by first giving them a real reason to empathize and bond with your brand. Once you realize that goal, and it’s harder than it looks, you can focus on giving your loyal customers an outlet to express that loyalty.
Since emotion remains the driving force behind a customer engagement strategy, it’s necessary to define core values around which to structure your brand identity, and those values can’t be tentative. A hesitant and ill-defined brand identity precludes heartfelt customer engagement, since your identity won’t truly resonate with anyone.
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”.
Remember the brand hourglass
In their fantastic Trends 2017 report, Fjord explains the concept of a brand hourglass. Since the mid-90’s, technology has led the brand landscape to adopt the shape of, you guessed it, an hourglass.
At one end, large sprawling empires which have expanded their sphere of influence beyond their original ecosystem by providing consistently amazing CX over different projects (think Google, Facebook, and the like). At the other, small but revolutionary brands with laser-precise focus on one activity, one demographic, one set of values (such as FishBrain or Dollar Shave Club).
In the middle are the “squeezed” brands, the ones with neither the universal scope nor the potential for eliciting a feeling of kinship and an emotional bond. These brands can learn as much from either side of the spectrum.
As time goes by, the empires will expand their permission space by blurring the lines between services, providers and consumers; the small, focused brands will multiply as the demand grows for niche products tailored to specific consumer needs. The middle brands, without clear and relatable values, risk being squeezed out.
Your core values are supremely important to structuring your brand identity. But once you know what you want to represent, you need to organize your customer engagement strategy around that identity in a coherent and genuine way. It’s the “deliver on your promises” part of the plan.
Humanize your brand
Your marketing, advertising, and service efforts need to be consistent with your core values. Otherwise, your message will seem stilted and disingenuous. Increasingly, consumers mistrust traditional advertizing methods. Your best bet to emotionally connect with customers in order to engage them is to humanize your brand.
Humanizing your brand is a tightrope act: you want to engage with your customers on their level without coming off as patronizing or insincere. You want to involve customers in a relationship which seems both personal and genuine.
By dropping the jargon and speaking to customers in a straightforward way, you can come off as an authority in your field while remaining relatable. Involve your staff, show off pictures of your team or your offices, and share insight derived from your own business experience to make your brand more human and accessible.
Showcase your authenticity
Your core values are a way to differentiate yourself from your competition. Your marketing efforts are the way to ingratiate yourself to your customers by demonstrating a real commitment to those values.
Social media and content are both great means to humanizing your brand. Providing qualified, targeted content for your customers is more effective if you propagate it on social media. This method is less formal than traditional advertizing, and allows you to get closer to your customers on their home turf.
For example, let’s look at Levi’s customer engagement strategy. They anchor their social media presence in the values for which they stand: authenticity and quality. Their online presence serves to further causes which are aligned with those values.
Levi’s are genuinely involved in causes which matter as much to their mission statement as they do to their customers, and benefit others in the process. That’s a sure-fire way to make customers think, “I’m proud of being engaged with this brand”.
Make it easy
Thus far, we’ve seen how you can cultivate an authentic emotional attachment to your brand. However, your customer engagement strategy should also make sure to give customers friction-free ways to express their engagement.
Customer involvement refers to a customer voluntarily and readily interacting with your business’ promotions, content, beta versions, giveaways, surveys, etc. It’s in your best interest to make those processes as smooth as possible in order to encourage engagement.
Rather than add to the customer experience with extra bells and whistles, it’s sometimes more worthwhile to erode customer pain points. As is the case with customer self-service, often a customer will appreciate their engagement being rewarded by a simplified experience.
Make it fun
When implementing an event or process meant to engage customers, make sure that it will add value to the customer’s experience. You want customers to feel that it will be worth the investment of their time for them to participate. That value can simply be showing the customer a good time.
Engaging customers requires variety and inventiveness. Guiding customers through necessary but tedious processes can be a big pain point. But there’s a way to turn a chore into an opportunity for engagement. The gamification of customer engagement is generating a lot of buzz, but it’s not just a buzzword.
Providing relevant and personalized content to your customers can inform customers, guide product adoption, and reaffirm your brand identity. For instance, implementing rewards for completing signup or onboarding procedures wraps a potential turn-off in layers of entertainment.
Making your processes and events more interactive can make your brand more memorable to customers.
Engagement begins at home
Disengaged employees create disengaged customers. Negative emotions and demotivation rub off on customers. This can make it impossible for your team to leave a good impression or earn a referral. Customers will amalgamate your service and your brand, and sever any emotional attachment they may have had to the latter.
However, if your employees are disengaged, it’s usually not their fault. The frequent causes of employee attrition include an off-kilter work-life balance, a lack of recognition or upward mobility, and regular old stress. The consequences of attrition are usually poor performance and high turnover. Most of all, employee attrition results in customer disengagement.
How to prevent employee disengagement
From the get-go, your business needs to be careful to select employees who can be a credit to your organization. Your team is your main asset when it comes to earning customer engagement through sensational CX. Hard skills are necessary, of course, but so are the special qualities which show that a potential new hire shares your core values.
Next, deliberate care should be taken during the onboarding process. Give your hires the knowledge they need to excel, and the positive reinforcement and enthusiasm you hope they’ll pass on to customers.
In order to continuously better the quality of your customer experience, your team needs to improve as well. Quality monitoring is a valuable tool but be sure that your monitoring methods are less punitive, and more geared towards progress and improvement.
When it comes to engagement, the war effort truly starts at home. If the engagement of your workforce starts to slacken, then your customers will churn before you realize something is wrong. To be fully engaged, employees should get the same degree of care that you provide to your customers.
Give back to your advocates
Advocates are the ultimate result of a successful customer engagement strategy. They can do so much for your business’ growth and your brand’s reputation, including spreading trustworthy and glowing reviews, providing promising referrals, and spreading your message on your behalf. All that deserves to be rewarded, right?
Investing in an advocate appreciation system is necessary if you hope to up your chances of retaining these highly engaged customers. However, different advocates will appreciate different rewards, so it pays to know your customers well. Put simply, you could offer:
Rebates (discount codes or free samples),
Influence (recognition or cross-promotion),
Privileged access (beta testing or a say in your roadmap).
Don’t be afraid to get creative and personal with these rewards. Recognizing an advocate can be a wonderful opportunity to be memorable and honor your core values, such as by making a charitable donation in their name.
Knowing how to best reward your advocates will create a virtuous loop of exemplary customer experience and reinforced engagement. This will only make your advocates more likely to spread the good word and recruit others to your cause.
It’s never over
The quest for customer engagement is never-ending. That sounds exhausting, but you can choose to take comfort in this: a sound customer engagement strategy never says “die”.
Disengaged customers are never a lost cause. The first step is starting a dialog, and understanding the ways in which you could rekindle the customer’s involvement. This insight is sure to be useful for the corresponding customer, but in other re-engagement situations as well.
Reigniting a disappointed customer’s engagement represents a 39% increase in value for each customer. Re-engaging customers is no easy feat, but once your have a strategy in place you can tweak and refine it to keep customers from slipping through the cracks.