Quality customer engagement and customer loyalty drive obvious benefits like increased revenue, better understanding of demand for products and the viability of new products/ventures, as well as better targeting. Selling direct to consumers puts customers at the forefront of all activities, which is why 75% of surveyed brands adopting the model see significant improvements in customer engagement and loyalty.
Engagement is often measured as a quantity, especially when it comes to social media, and the assumption is that more engagement is better and less engagement is worse. This is not strictly true of social media, but even worse is when this attitude is misapplied across a business. Engagement is a qualitative goal, so the question has to be: how did the customer feel before and after the “engagement”?
The tightrope brands must walk is to be available and proactive without becoming overbearing and clingy, or even worse, intrusive.
What do we mean by engagement?
Customer engagement is nebulous but basically refers to any time a customer interacts with the brand. Every time a customer walks into a shop and talks to a staff member; every time a customer likes a brand Instagram post; every time a customer wears/uses/eats your product; and… you get the idea. The only way to achieve success in all of these areas is to encode customer engagement into the culture of a brand, so that staff in each of these channels have the tools and training to make sure that each specific interaction goes as well as possible.
In practice, that means omnichannel businesses need to be able to leverage data from any channel to improve and inform the experience on others, and ideally should be able to quickly take customer feedback and bring it into relevant business departments to drive improvements.
Technology has made strides in this area thanks to virtual assistants, chat bots and other AI powered tools which help to automate some of the busywork of customer support and questions. Vitally, there has to be a clear path to reaching a human in any of these situations.
Who’s doing it well?
Using tech: ASOS
They're one of the most innovative retailers out there when it comes to technology adoption and usage, and it's core to their successful customer engagements. Whether it's an app notification advertising a sale on an item in the customers' wish list; an email updating a loyalty grade; or their new Facebook Messenger chatbot which recommends products based on photos customers share with 'Enki'; the tone is always on-brand and the personalised content keeps it all relevant.
Smashing social: Public Desire
Public Desire is a retailer of women's shoes, specifically targeting students and young adults. Their Instagram blends lifestyle posts with product shots, always speaking to customers the way they speak to each other. Typical posts invite friends to tag each other, thus increasing exposure in a way that places the product and brand in the context of a friendly conversation. Their Twitter account has 24/7 service, and Customer Service Reps are empowered to make full refunds instantly, meaning customers don't just get a quick response - they get a quick resolution.
Knowing what customers want, down to the local store level: Nike
Nike's new Nike Live store in Melrose, Los Angeles is powered by customer demand data. The assortment is "determined by Nike digital commerce data (things like buying patterns, app usage and engagement)", drawing on Nike's rich ecosystem of apps, each of which offers value to their customer in a unique way. For example, SNKRs features industry insight and live information about the latest drops, and their fitness and running apps serve their core athletic market.
Engaging customers for a purpose: Lush
One way to get customers not only engaged with but positively invested in the brand is to set the brand up with clear social purpose at its core. Lush’s purpose runs through the way their products are produced, the way they are packaged and sold, and the way their staff are deeply informed about the products. The effect is that staff becoming instore evangelists for the products, and by extension the brand and the cause – which are all more or less one and the same.
How to get good at customer engagement
Ultimately, until Alexa et al start becoming much more advanced, the backbone of your organisation and its relationship with customers is your staff. To improve how your customer feels after any given interaction often requires training, time and also the willingness to devolve some responsibility.
In an era where instant gratification is the norm, waiting for decisions to be escalated isn't acceptable. Staff need to have the power and the training to resolve cases as they come in.
Social media in particular is a double-edged sword, as we’ve covered elsewhere. Great customer service in the public eye is fantastic marketing that money can’t buy, but a customer having a terrible experience with your brand in front of hundreds of thousands is also possible.
There are three major ways to deploy technology that relate to customer engagement. Firstly, tech can help you get a better view of the customer journey and problem points. Secondly, it can enable you to personalise for individual shoppers, which massively improves conversion and loyalty. Finally, it can simplify and speed up experiences across the board, from product discovery to customer support.
3. Culture and brand
This is what gets baked into everything else, staff, tech and product. The throughline should always be 'how do we want the customer to feel as a result of interacting with the brand', whether that's at the point of purchase or when returning an item.