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In today’s ultra-competitive business world, consumers are more powerful than ever. Anyone who’s had a bad experience can do a great deal of damage by way of retaliation. All it takes is for a negative customer review or social media exchange to go viral, and the repercussions for brands can be severe.
Not only this, but consumers also have an immense choice at their disposal. This means that if they do have a bad experience with one business, they can simply take their custom elsewhere. However well-established your own brand is, you shouldn’t be complacent about the dangers of churn. Long-term customer retention remains vital.
Indeed, customer loyalty is the foundation of enduring success. If you can convert new customers into regular customers, you’ll be in a much stronger position. Too many businesses concentrate on pursuing potential customers and forget about the need to keep existing customers coming back, time and time again.
This is why it’s so important for companies to give due consideration to their customer engagement strategy, and to the overall customer experience. Effective customer engagement has to take a lot of different elements into account. These might include messaging, dealing with customer feedback, and providing customer support, among others.
Thanks to platforms like Shopify, it’s never been easier to start your own outlet. But whether you’re running an offline bricks-and-mortar business and dealing with customers face-to-face, or an eCommerce outlet, customer retention and engagement should be uppermost in your thoughts.
In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the concept of customer engagement and define in more detail precisely what it is. Then we’ll go on to explain why it’s so important to businesses, before discussing some appropriate strategies for building better customer relationships. We’ll also list some platforms for customer engagement and leading examples.
Finally, we’ll conclude by introducing you to RingCentral’s Engage Digital platform and explaining in more detail how it can help you with your efforts at customer engagement.
What is customer engagement?
Customer engagement refers to the methods by which companies build and maintain relationships with their customers. The term ‘customer engagement’ might seem fairly self-explanatory, but there are different aspects to it that are worth unpacking here.
There are various ways in which businesses may seek to strengthen relationships with their customers. This might include the addition of new products and services, based on an understanding of what consumers are looking for. Some firms conduct surveys or convene focus groups, as well as analysing customer data, to help them get a better understanding.
Some firms may focus more intensely on the overall customer experience. Before a customer completes a transaction – whether virtually or in-person – they’ll have to go through a number of touchpoints. One of the keys to a good customer experience is ensuring that the experience across each of these touchpoints is consistent and smooth.
Businesses must also make effective use of the customer data generated at these respective touchpoints. We know already about the importance of click-through and conversion rate data, for instance. You must determine which metrics to focus on and use this data to understand the customer journey, with particular attention to the factors that are increasing engagement and those that might be hurting it.
Effective customer engagement strategies require, in addition, a genuine willingness to listen to what customers themselves are saying. Too many businesses invite customer feedback, only to then fail to act on it. This can be infuriating for customers.
Put yourself in their shoes; if you make the effort to provide your views when prompted to do so, the least you would expect is that they’ve listened to and treated with real respect.
The importance of customer engagement
Now that we’ve clarified what customer engagement is, we need to look at why it matters so much to businesses and their marketers. There are many reasons why businesses are devoting so much attention to customer engagement; those that fail to do so risk falling behind their more attentive rivals.
What’s clear is that good customer engagement can make a big difference in profitability. Engaged customers are, generally speaking, more loyal customers. They’re also more likely to recommend their favourite brands to others – allowing you to grow your customer base through referrals and word of mouth.
What’s more, the effectiveness of good customer engagement is borne out by hard economic facts. We’ve noted already that engaged customers are more likely to keep returning. According to a study from market research firm Gallup, engaged customers are also likely to provide 23 percent more revenue than their less engaged counterparts.
We’ll elaborate on this in the next section, but the point to remember here is that customer satisfaction is about much more than conversions. It’s about creating products, services, marketing campaigns, and customer experiences that resonate emotionally.
Customer engagement strategies
One crucial thing to bear in mind when it comes to customer engagement strategies is that there’s no single solution to suit each and every type of business. It’s not as simple as looking at what others do and then emulating that wholesale.
However, social media is proving to be increasingly central to customer engagement strategies across the board. Even now, a lot of brands and businesses tend to treat social media as another one-way method of communication. They put out their own material and marketing campaigns without much regard for what consumers themselves have to say.
This is a mistake because increasingly, consumers expect to be able to interact with their favourite brands on social media sites. Not just the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but also more professional outlets such as LinkedIn as well, and to have those brands respond to them in kind.
We’ve already talked about the importance of forging an emotional connection in ensuring effective customer engagement. Developing a distinctive brand personality on social media can do much to elicit this kind of favourable response. Of course, consistency is important here: omnichannel consistency to be precise. Meaning, you must have a coherent brand personality across different channels.
Accessibility must form another central pillar of your customer engagement strategy. Customers should feel comfortable about approaching your business for help – whether they’re making a product query or reporting a problem – and you should ensure that it’s easy for them to do so.
Helplines and emails are great, but there are other channels that customers will use for feedback, queries, and complaints. Many use social media itself, which is why your business accounts must be monitored continually. Other methods may include real-time live chat, customer support forums, and also mobile apps if your business has one.
Monitoring customer sentiment
It’s one thing to adopt customer engagement strategies, but working out whether or not they’re proving effective is another. Certainly, it’s not sufficient to just put a customer engagement strategy in place and then leave it at that. You must make an ongoing, active effort to deduce whether or not it’s working. Monitoring customer sentiment is essential.
There are several indicators that might suggest your strategy is paying dividends. For instance, if you see an uptick in positive customer reviews, there’s a good chance that it’s a result of a successful customer engagement strategy. You should keep a watchful eye on sites like Google to see what your customers are saying about you.
Likewise, if you see more positive mentions of your brand on social media, this too could be an indication that your strategy is working well. Brands should always be proactive when it comes to monitoring how they’re discussed on social media. It can give a good flavour of what consumers make of them and highlight potential problems that need to be addressed. Negative social media chat can be disheartening, but it’s important to be aware of it.
You can also be proactive by sending out customer surveys and inviting people to give their opinions. Consumers are generally quite happy to provide their views in this manner, particularly if there’s something in it for them. Perhaps you can grease the wheels a little by offering an incentive, such as an exclusive discount or voucher, to complete your surveys.
Calculating customer engagement
There are other, more empirical and direct ways of calculating the effectiveness of your customer engagement strategies. Metrics such as average order value (the amount the average customer spends on a transaction), purchase frequency (how often they buy), and guest checkout rates (users who buy without creating an account) provide valuable insights.
So, for instance, if a lot of users are making purchases without creating accounts, the chances are that they don’t anticipate making a repeat purchase. This suggests either that your current customer engagement strategy isn’t working or that there’s an opportunity to improve customer engagement. Ask yourself, how might these customers be encouraged to return?
For an overall overview of your retention strategy, your site’s repeat purchase rate should provide quite a reliable indicator. This tells you how many consumers made more than one purchase via your site, and thus provides an important indication of customer engagement.
Examples of customer engagement
Brands large and small are placing more emphasis on effective customer engagement than ever before. Obviously, the strategies you adopt will depend to a large extent on the size of your business, your customer base, and the market in which you’re operating. Your marketing strategy should take account of each of these factors.
Here, we’ll take a look at some good examples of customer engagement that have been successfully deployed by brands of various sizes to help them reach customers at different levels of engagement.
We’ve already stressed the importance of omnichannel engagement, but it’s worth elaborating on it here. Your customers are using all sorts of different channels, and as the old saying goes, you need to meet them where they are. Consumers will recognise and appreciate the effort you’re making to make yourself easily accessible to them.
US retail bank, Bank of America, is one big-name brand that’s been widely acclaimed for its efforts to create an integrated, omnichannel customer experience. Clients can use the bank’s mobile app to arrange appointments, cash cheques, and pay bills, among other things, for instance.
The flip side of all this is that customers increasingly expect their favourite brands to be accessible to them across channels. Businesses that fail to take heed of this should expect to be overtaken by more adaptable competitors.
Providing expert guidance
Algorithms are a familiar feature on retail eCommerce sites. You know the drill already: you browse a particular product page and you find that you’re also being recommended a range of other products, based on your previous search history.
However, one notable new feature of online customer service goes beyond this. It was pioneered by clothing brand Carhartt, which gave customers the option of live chat with experts, who were on hand to help consumers find the items they were looking for (and perhaps some which they didn’t even know they were looking for).
The company subsequently reported a 10 percent improvement in conversion rates over comparable self-service alternatives, along with the growth of up to 25 percent in average order
Customer experience isn’t just about the individual. In fact, the feeling of being part of a collective experience can be much more satisfying than individual gratification. Numerous brands have recognised this and sought to capitalise on it with a variety of campaigns focusing on shared experiences.
One of the most famous of these campaigns was Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign, which was first launched in Australia in 2012 and ran for several years. The concept was a simple one: the company’s logo was replaced on the label by the most common names in the respective markets where the campaign ran.
This was coupled with a marketing blitz across traditional media – broadcast and print – and social media. The objective of the campaign was to forge an emotional connection with consumers, encouraging them to share the experience with friends and family both in person and via social media sites.
Needless to say, it delivered results. The summer after the campaign was launched, 1.25 million more American teenagers tried Coca-Cola while sales of rebranded Coke packages rose by 11 percent in the US.
Inviting customer feedback
Customer feedback is hugely important in giving you a better idea of how engaged your customers are. This is why businesses should always make active efforts to ensure both that consumers have the opportunity to provide feedback and that they’re being encouraged (and, where appropriate, incentivised) to do so.
Some brands are well known for actively soliciting customer feedback. Apple, for instance, asks consumers how likely they would be to recommend the business to a friend or colleague. Those who give a score of less than 6 out of 10 are considered unlikely to recommend, but scores of 7-10 are viewed as more promising.
Apple is, of course, renowned for the loyalty of its customer base, which suggests its various customer engagement strategies (coupled with the general strength of its brand) are working well. Its Net Promoter Score – which measures customer experience – compares consistently well to other top brands.
Online retailer Amazon is also renowned for its use of customer feedback. Amazon’s customer reviews are an attraction in themselves to people using the site. For a lot of shoppers, it’s become second nature to check Amazon reviews before buying anything (whether you end up buying it from Amazon or not).
You don’t have to be Apple or Amazon to solicit and make good use of customer feedback. Automation has made the job much simpler. You can present customers with feedback forms when they make a purchase, and there are lots of templates available online.
Platforms for customer engagement
Customer engagement platforms can make life much easier for online businesses. They perform a wide variety of functions, bringing them together in the same place. In particular, they track customer interactions and enable support teams to respond to consumer queries in a quick and efficient manner.
Through the use of customer engagement platforms, businesses can analyse, manage, and optimise the customer journey. They bring customer data under one roof and thereby help to deliver a more personalised customer experience. For example, personalised messages can be sent to customers to help and guide them where they need it.
Some people confuse customer engagement platforms with customer relationship management (CRM) tools like Hubspot CRM. There is indeed considerable overlap between the two, given that both are focused on data management and customer satisfaction.
CRM tools, however, are more concerned with automating processes rather than the customer experience, as such. CRM can be used to improve the customer experience by streamlining these processes and simplifying customer interaction, but it is less directly focused on forging emotional connections between consumers and brands.
Learn more about RingCentral’s Engage platform
Earlier, we discussed the importance of taking an omnichannel approach to customer engagement and meeting consumers where they are. RingCentral’s Engage Digital platform does exactly this, allowing you to manage responses to customers from various digital channels – including social media, email, and live chat – in one place.
Better still, the platform utilises artificial intelligence and machine learning so that incoming messages from customers can be filtered and directed to the appropriate agent. Its detailed analytics, meanwhile, provide finely-grained insights into the volume, activity, and quality of customer interactions.