- What is customer engagement?
- Why should you care about customer engagement?
- How to track customer engagement
- How to engage customers: Develop a customer engagement strategy
- Customer engagement best practices
What is customer engagement?
As our world is becoming increasingly globalized, it is fundamental to realize the big picture; your products and services represent but one of many options in a vast net of possibilities. The question then becomes: “How can you stand out among the crowd?” In this article, we will elaborate upon the most important aspect that can make your brand stand out. That aspect is customer engagement. It is expected that by the end of 2020, the number-one factor involved in a customer choosing a particular company will be customer experience.
The customer engagement definition we will use here is the process of strengthening the relationship between your customers and your brand, which can be achieved through a combination of effective and personal interactions on various channels.
The core idea is to help your customers feel connected to your brand; to offer them value beyond the products and services themselves. This can manifest through a customer’s feeling of being understood in terms of their desires, an experience of being supported in their decision-making and purchasing behaviors, or a sense of being emotionally involved or connected with your brand.
Why should you care about customer engagement?
Amidst the current consumer landscape characterized by endless options and limited attention, successful customer engagement depends on delivering appropriate messages to the right people at the perfect time. A well thought-out and executed customer engagement strategy can mean the difference between standing out and getting washed away by the competition.
In case that wasn’t enough to convince you, it has been shown that loyal customers are one of the best ways to improve your reputation and gain new engaged customers. A customer could be considered loyal if they have made repeat purchases, created an account with you, and/or even if they interact consistently with your content on social media channels. Remember, an emotional connection is one of the primary factors that will make someone stick with your brand and be less likely to consider switching to an alternative. That emotional connection can be fostered through a customer engagement model based on personalization, attention, and respect. Once it has been solidified, you can worry less about losing customers, as they will not want to miss out on that sense of support and connection.
It may help to think of your brand-customer interactions and the common social media channels as the primary networks for fostering this connection. After this point, the loyal customers themselves branch off to create a secondary network which has the potential to be more effective than all of the primary networks combined. There is no better incentive than a positive recommendation by a trusted friend or family member.
With the increasing number of channels through which people can connect – to each other and to brands – there is no reason not to learn to use these to your advantage. Not only will your sales increase, but you will attract and retain loyal customers, and most importantly, provide your customers with products or services and a customer experience that they won’t be able to keep silent about. If a potential customer sees that your brand is interacting with other customers, listening to feedback, striving to improve, offering promotions and rewards, and generally just fostering a personal connection, that will appeal to the brain’s emotional centers and make your brand that much more appealing than the other generic (or in this context, “soul-less”) alternatives.
For your existing customers, it’s the perfect way to show that you care about their needs and appreciate their business. For your brand, it’s the perfect way to stay up-to-date with trends and current demands, improve your products to better suit these needs, and generate a network of excited customers who are connected beyond the simple supplier-consumer relationship – which is precisely what will make the relationship last. Needless to say, that seems like a win-win-win.
How to track customer engagement
Sounds great, right? I know, but where can you start with this information?
Let’s begin with an overview of ways you can track/assess customer engagement. We will first define the following terms, and follow-up each definition with an explanation of why it is an important metric.
Bounce rate – the percentage of visitors who leave (or “bounce”) after visiting the first page of a website without entering further or taking action.
- This can act as a great indicator of how strongly your website is motivating visitors to find out more, explore your brand and offerings, or make a purchase.
- However, keep in mind that the relevance of this particular metric to your brand is dependent on the organization of your website and the flow of the purchasing process. A high bounce rate is not necessarily bad in all cases, nor is a low bounce rate the only sign of success.
Guest checkout rate - the percentage of customers who complete a purchase without registering/creating an account
- While it may be optimal to have your customers create an account with you in order to communicate more effectively, keep them up-to-date, and maintain that relationship, it has been shown that allowing guest checkouts can decrease the cart abandonment rate, the percentage of people who leave the site without making a purchase after putting items in their cart. The rate of cart abandonment is surprisingly high, as shown in the graphic below (from SalesCycle) indicating the average cart abandonment rate by industry:
Average cart abandonment rate by industry. The percentage of checkouts that are abandoned before completion is surprisingly high, and could be an indicator of what you can improve the streamline the checkout experience. Graphic by SalesCycle.
- While forcing guests to create an account can increase the likelihood of cart abandonment, customers with an account are more likely to return and make another purchase.
- A common approach combining the best of both worlds is to always offer guest checkout, but to include an offer at the end of the process for the customer to “save [their] details for faster checkouts in the future” or “sign-up to make sure [they] don’t miss out on exciting new products and promotions. Making the sign-up process as quick and painless as possible at this point will increase the chances of the customer being willing to do so. Other benefits you can tout include enhanced ease of tracking orders, streamlined customer support, and rewards or loyalty programs.
Purchase Frequency – how often your customers make a purchase
Knowing the average time it takes for a customer to return for their next purchase means that you can launch marketing campaigns, sales, or effective messaging tactics during this interval to remind them or show that you’re paying attention. You may even be able to shorten this interval, but at the very least you will gain insight into how engaged they are; something that works as a great starting point to determine appropriate (read: effective yet respectful) next steps for that particular customer.
Growth rate in social interactions – increase or (hopefully not!) decrease in likes, shares, and comments on social media platforms over a given period
- Growth in social engagement is a strong indicator of brand equity and customer engagement. If you’re garnering more attention on these frequently used platforms, chances are that more people coming in to check out what you have to offer.
- Study the tactics of successful brands. It’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel, and there have been many great examples of expertly designed social media contests and promotions that have driven huge increases in sales.
- Cross-platform engagement is an even stronger indicator that a particular customer is really interested in what you are doing.
Customer reviews – reviews left by your customers, either directly on your sales channels (i.e. your website, Amazon, etc.), or on Google or your brand’s social media pages such as Facebook
- These are a great reflection of what your customers think about your product or service, and serve a dual purpose in helping other customers make their own choices. Tracking this metric, both quantitatively (average ratings, rates of increase in reviews over time) and qualitatively (specific likes/dislikes, and especially direct feedback regarding how you can improve) gives you valuable insight into how engaged your customers are, as well as what you can address to improve customer engagement by being more attentive to any shortfalls in the customer experience you offer.
How to engage customers: Develop a customer engagement strategy
Now that you know why customer engagement is important and what you can monitor to assess how you’re doing, how can you use all of this information to the benefit of your brand and your current and future loyal customers? In other words, how can you increase customer engagement? You’ll want to devote some time to developing a well thought-out customer engagement strategy. You most likely have some degree of strategy already in place, even if you’ve never thought about it in these terms. The optimal method for increasing customer engagement will depend largely on your specific products/services and your customers’ needs. Identifying it may take some time, and it will likely (even should) be a dynamic/iterative process. Nonetheless, this is time well spent, and is absolutely sure to pay off if done well.
With that said, we are now going to cover the essential concepts to keep in mind when developing and revising your strategy. You can use the points from the list below as a checklist to guide and assess the development of your customer engagement platform. Most importantly, don’t get overwhelmed. Be realistic, work toward incorporating these aspects at a pace that’s healthy for your business, and be sure to monitor periodically to understand how it’s serving you and your customers!
Engage. The strategy should focus on making it simple for your customers to get involved in the evolution of your brand, to the point that they can’t help but become advocates
- If customers feel that their needs/feedback are being incorporated into product developments, and are excited for what’s to come, they will follow your brand and develop a sense of trust that will make them more likely to hype you up to people they know.
- Relating this back to the previous section, you can encourage customers who have made a purchase as a guest (without an account) to make an account, with incentives for doing so. In that way, they will be connected more closely to stay current with updates or offers you may wish to send their way.
- Engaging customers across multiple social platforms is another way to keep them excited and up-to-date. It is simple to link content between different platforms, and you can leverage giveaways, tag-a-friend promotions, and other interactive and engaging content to incentivize customer interactions with your brand through these publicly visible channels.
- To go a step further, don’t forget to respond to your customers. Remind them that you’re people too, that you appreciate them and their investment in your brand, and that you’re there for them, listening to their feedback and being excited about their enjoyment of your products or services. After all, they are the reason your brand exists!
Define your customer journey
- Think like one of your customers. Identify the primary need, the emotional factors involved in a decision to purchase, and try to be objective about the customer experience you currently offer and what can be improved to make it more personalized.
Identify points of interaction
- From where do your customers arrive to your points of sale? Are they seeing ads on Instagram, are they clicking over from Google searches (were these searches for your brand or one of the products you offer in general?), or are they typing in your online store address directly
- Understanding the dynamics of how people come across your products can help you strengthen the main avenues to become even more attractive and effective, and make sure you aren’t wasting time trying to attract people from the wrong places or in ways that simply don’t work.
- Monitor customer interactions with these various points of interaction. This will give you further feedback regarding the success of promotions or campaigns and how your brand’s reputation or popularity is developing over time, and will be extremely useful for planning and acting accordingly to stay up to date with trends and demand.
Observe behavior in real-time
- This refers to the concept of interacting with the customer with appropriate context. In a face-to-face interaction, there is much more information available for you to use to interact appropriately with a customer. In the digital world, this is slightly more challenging. However, you can infer many things about a customer (their personality, motives, needs, etc.) based on their interactions with your various platforms.
- From that point of enhanced understanding, you can then communicate in a timely and relevant manner. Today’s world is extremely fast-paced, and if you extend that helping hand at just the right moment, it might be exactly what the customer needs to feel seen and thereby enhance their trust in your brand.
- You can also closely observe how individual customers interact with your platforms, watching for things such as how long they spend on the site, whether they are comparing products, if they complete a purchase or leave items hanging in the cart, whether they simply look at your social media accounts or take action by liking, sharing, etc. All of this information can help you better understand their inner workings and how you might be able to assist or motivate them to act further.
Offer personalized service
- This is closely related to the previous point. Try putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, and then ask yourself what would help you make a decision or complete a purchase – “Was I lacking information, did I need help with something, or what could have worked as the final push for me to follow through? Does the competition offer something more suited to my needs, or that is more attractive to me? Would they treat me better?”
- There is plenty of data that can help you learn about your customers, and adding that personal touch of attention/assistance/understanding is what will make you memorable to those who were on the fence (and help your loyal customers remain that way).
- A great example of action on this point is setting up a chat window that pops up automatically if the customer is displaying certain behaviors such as hanging on the same page for an extended time, going back and forth to the cart, etc. You can define and decide when it’s appropriate to offer assistance, without being pushy or disruptive to their experience.
For offers/promotions/campaigns – Observe how many prospects accept the offer and take action
- If you have started a new offer or campaign, the rate of positive response can be a perfect hint at what works and what could be improved.
- Use this information in an iterative and perpetual journey of improvement. If an offer wasn’t popular, try to go into the minds of your customers and find out why. Make sure your offers are timely (i.e. seasonal products), enticing (no one is going to get too excited about a 1% discount), and relevant (to current trends, destined to the appropriate audience, etc.).
- Feel free to leverage some behavioral science! FOMO, or fear of missing out, for example, can be strong motivator. No one wants to fall behind the trend or miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
For offers/promotions/campaigns – Observe how many of the engaged users bounced without taking action
- Consider engaging these customers to find out if they needed help or further incentive to follow through with their purchase.
- If an offer was not popular, then this should be a good indicator that something needs to change. Use all of the data at your fingertips to find out how you can improve for the next one, and don’t get discouraged.
- Be realistic; you can’t expect to sell everything to everyone all the time. Celebrate the successes, and be motivated to stay ahead of the competition and have the happiest and most loyal customer base.
Be open to feedback
- While it can feel harsh, criticism can be your best friend. As applies as a general rule in life, don’t take it personally. Use it as the tinder to your company’s fire of constantly improving, excelling, and staying one step ahead of the competition.
- To take it one step further, respond to the feedback you receive, whether positive or negative. Your customers will appreciate it, and new prospective customers will notice as well. This is another win-win tactic, offering that personal touch and attention, and at the same time getting free publicity.
Customer engagement best practices
Get to the point
- We live in a time of hurry. Be concise and crystal clear with your messages. Such messages are not only easy to understand and retain, they’re also more enjoyable to read, and people appreciate you respecting their time.
- Keep your communications action-oriented. The idea is not to bother your customers with irrelevant information, but to spark action by hitting the right triggers and drawing a clear path to the checkout.
Adopt a personal tone
- You can probably easily ignore a robot that keeps annoying you, but you wouldn’t ignore a friend, right? Using a personal tone makes your communications feel more authentic and thereby your customers are more likely to respond positively.
- At Ada, you can personalize the in-chat experience by using personalization tokens, images, gifs, and videos.
Make it relevant
- There is already enough spam in this world; you don’t want to be added to the list of spammers. Messages need to be relevant and appropriate for the individual customer.
- Consider using segmented messaging, a strategy based on grouping your target audience into particular sub-groups based on any number of factors, including age, gender, prior purchases, location, or even aspects such as values and beliefs if you have access to that information.
- With communication that is appropriate to the particular customer with whom you are interacting, you can help ensure that they resonate with your messages and thereby increase the likelihood of meeting their needs and leading to an eventual sale.
Consider cultural differences
- Be aware of cultural differences that may impact your ability to sell into a specific area. It pays to be aware of the demographics to which you are marketing, as you don’t want to offend or alienate potential customers, let alone suffer from the potential repercussions of an unhappy customer who had a bad experience.
- Be aware of the timing of your message. We have touched on this already, but timing is extremely important. On the more obvious side, we could say that it would not be overly useful to offer promotions on a new line of premium Christmas decorations in January. On the more subtle side, however, the more you know about your customers, the more likely it is that you can hit them with that promotion or offer just at the time they are looking to fulfil that need.
- Create a company style guide to make the tone and voice of all your employees consistent.
- Relating this back to the concept of personalization and the customer-brand relationship, we can see the brand as a person, or at least an entity with a particular personality that its customers enjoy interacting with. A person and their personality are defined by specific traits and characteristics, so if a customer gets an entirely different experience every time they reach out or interact with your brand, it’s not going to be conducive to nurturing that personal relationship, and you will lose out on the benefits of a customer feeling emotionally connected to your brand.
- This also helps you build your brand reputation and make future customer engagements more consistent – if someone feel ecstatic about their experiences with your brand, when they tell their friends about it, those friends will be able to have a similar experience and understand what their friend was so stoked about.
The primary goal of customer engagement is to foster a sense of emotional connection to your brand; a personal relationship between your customers, considering their needs and feedback, and your brand, with all it has to offer them.
We have covered a lot of concepts in this article, but remember not to get overwhelmed. Grow your customer engagement strategy step-by-step, seeing each progressive development as a win. Remember to treat your customers as people, and to get them to want to be an ambassador for your brand. Stand apart from the crowd by offering increasingly personalized and relevant service, resulting in a following of loyal customers who can’t help but speak highly of your brand and your products. The graphic below may help to visualize the process, from capturing your customers’ attention amidst all the information and offers available (at the top), to securing them as a loyal and happy personification of your brand’s success.