Customer engagement in an omnichannel environment has been undergoing profound change for years. Especially the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered what many sectors have tried hobbling towards digitalization. Omnichannel puts customers with their expectations and new upcoming needs further in the foreground by offering them the possibility to communicate and interact with a company at any time in real time and entirely according to their preferences. Those companies that no longer think in a silo-based way, but focus entirely on the interaction with the customer instead, can create a unique customer experience and efficiently engage them to bring new value to the company. However, there is no silver bullet that could turn a company into a customer engagement leader in one night. There are several initiatives and steps which have to be taken to achieve this ambition in a reasonable amount of time and money. In this article, we would like to point out some key areas which make up good customer engagement and the way to start implementing it efficiently.
Why is it an urgent matter to engage your customers?
In times when customers may almost effortlessly switch between brands providing similar services, it is crucial to building a bond between your brand and a customer. It requires companies to actively listen and understand customers, to react in real time to their needs, and to communicate with them in a targeted way and just in time. However, it is not easy to deliver such complex, personalized communication. And this struggle is reflected in everyday customers' reactions (or lack of them). In e-commerce it may occur:
In a form of abandoned baskets (for example customers get distracted and forget to finish the purchase)
Weak response to your online marketing campaigns (ads are irrelevant to customer needs or interests)
Visiting your e-commerce page only once and never coming back (for example they cannot find what they are looking for)
Or even worse - giving negative feedback on social media (no examples here needed, we assume)
Those were examples of lost sales opportunities. And if those issues are addressed correctly, they boost opportunities to increase revenue. Customers who feel connected to brands are more likely to:
Buy over a competitor (76 %)
Recommend the brand to a friend (68 %)
Be loyal to the brand or business (64 %)
Spend more with the brand (57 %)
Shop there even after a bad experience (38 %)
Connection starts to be perceived as a new currency. Service-dominant logic becomes more and more popular and assumes that just the delivery of products is not enough anymore. Almost everything can be proposed as a service. Customers do not buy a smartphone anymore. They buy mobility, access to communication channels, and entertainment. This approach creates impressive possibilities to increase revenue streams. But service-dominant logic requires a long-lasting relation to make it profitable for companies as well as for their customers. And customers define feeling connected to a brand if they trust it, share values, feel understood, and find its services reliable. And all of those are part of customer engagement policies that every company should develop to stay competitive.
We know it is important. But what is customer engagement?
Customer engagement is a broad concept, interpreted in many ways and discussed from different angles. But all perspectives might be combined in the definition proposed by Gartner, that it is "the process of interacting with customers through varied channels to develop and strengthen a relationship with them".
Customer engagement initiatives can be implemented at every step of the customer journey. However, in our story, we would like to focus on the angle of supporting customers in research and buying. It includes support in choosing the next best offer which would suit the customer most.
“The path to customer engagement begins with insight”
But, to get insights it is crucial to start collecting information about customers' behaviours, choices, activity with a brand, etc. With this intelligence and proper analytics, we can understand customers better. And afterwards, we can propose interactions through channels that might be most suitable for them. It is a two-way exchange based on enhancing the connection between the customer and brand.
Deliver personalized experience to the customer
Personalization is a process of adjusting an experience and interactions to the interests and needs of an individual. To be efficient it should be data-driven. For example, instead of having all visitors of a webpage see the same thing, a personalization engine adjusts content to visitors' interactions in different channels (FFW Omni-channel Personalization: Comparing Personalization and Journey Orchestration). Personalization is a process that should be almost invisible for the customer and happen with minimal or no effort from their side. However, it is important not to evoke in customers the feeling of being spied. If they start to feel insecure about their privacy, they might lose trust in the brand. Therefore, individualization is a great supplement for personalization. The individualization concept is based on the assumption that the customer is actively engaged in co-creating the value by providing information about themselves intentionally. That information can refer to their interests and lifestyle, the type of products and services they look for or when and where or when they want to be contacted (text, email, phone, etc.). Maybe only in the evenings or at the weekends). 83 % of buyers are ready to share personal information in exchange for personalized offers or discounts1. When that information is provided by customers on purpose, they might be more interested in the offers and campaigns you send out. And for your company, thanks to the data you had, it would be much easier to personalize it.
Personalization? Yes, but in a social way. Customers are not only interested in personalized offers, but they want to have access to the social context of a service or product they consider buying. They are interested in information on how other customers perceive your brand and specific services. Many want to know, which products are bestsellers, so they can follow this trend. Customers are more likely to decide to buy products that other customers were interested in. Social proof based on informing customers in real time which products are bestsellers, or how many were purchased so far, is quite easy to implement. AI algorithms can also show your customers products that are not only dedicated to them but also most popular among others.
More and more companies decide to engage customers in active participation in the community related to their brand. It is usually set on a social media channel since many customers have already accounts there. Building customer engagement through social media is a whole, individual topic that would require a separate article. Yet, if you feel sceptical or overwhelmed with the concept of building an active community around your brand, you can start small by monitoring reactions and comments to the posts that your marketing and PR team post on the wall of your company.
Actively support the customer in making good decisions
Customer engagement means also actively supporting the customer in making good purchase decisions. It can be done by guided selling procedures (also in e-commerce) when the customer is lead through the process step by step. Starting from collecting information about their needs, through a choice of service, till finalizing the purchase. Another way is to give customers the possibility to create their wish lists, mark their favourite products and services. Thanks to that, you can send them auto alerts about availability, sales, and private offers. Information provided by customers may be also used by recommendation engines which, based on customers’ interests, send alerts about sales, new products or new reviews on services they are interested in2.
24/7 access and support is essential nowadays. And it is possible to achieve this by applying user-friendly, personalized, self-service solutions whenever possible (self-service portal, chat-bots, etc.). However, it does not mean resigning from human-to-human interactions at all. Some issues still cannot be addressed with digital solutions yet (since they are, and will be for a long time, still imperfect). Moreover, some customers still prefer to talk to a human employee, even if we give them the best self-service possibilities ever. However, just providing human-to-human contact is not enough anymore. It will not work if you just hire and train people to work in your contact centre. Your team must be equipped with tools that would help them easily receive insights about customers, personalize communication and be consistent with the messages the customer gets from other channels.
Provide a consistent omnichannel experience
Providing omnichannel experience (consistent communication everywhere) is crucial in building a great customer experience. Following Gartner's definition, an omnichannel is (…) seamless integration of digital and physical assets (…)3. Some say that "digital first" is not enough anymore. It should be "were customer wants first". It means that customers might want to start their journey in one channel (e.g. a point of sale) and finish it in another (e.g. e-commerce). And it is crucial to provide them with a seamless experience during this process. This means consistency in the content presented, offer and style of communication. Customers should perceive your company as a consistent and trustworthy brand. It requires a developed strategy and standards on the one hand. And on the other hand, execution supported with cloud-driven platforms, which can aggregate data and process them to provide a consistent experience throughout the whole journey.
In the newest document about global marketing trends in 2021, in three out of seven chapters Deloitte focuses on human-centred relations between companies and their customers.
One of the issues emphasized in the report is building mutual trust between companies and customers based on:
"Humanity – genuinely caring for the experience and well-being of others”
“Transparency – openly sharing information, motives, and choices in plain language”
“Capability – possessing the means to meet expectations”
“Reliability – consistently and dependably delivering upon promises made”
By addressing those four principles you will be able to persuade customers to redefine the way they perceive and communicate with your company. Moreover, they will willingly share with you more information about themselves.
One of the biggest challenges is to execute general knowledge about customer engagement practices into tangible actions. The key questions to answer are how and where to start. The good information is that there is no need to start big. The improvement of customer engagement practices can be delivered in steps and does not have to be an overwhelming process for a company. In the second part of our article, we characterize those steps more deeply. We refer to
Data collection and synchronization
How to use those data to listen and understand customers
Redesigning, automation and scaling up conversion paths
Those steps are the first drivers of customer engagement implementation, and each of them can bring added value to a company.