Customer engagement is more than just a nice idea with warm feelings associated with it.
According to a recent Gallup study, engaged customers represents “an average 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth compared with the average customer.”
Customer Engagement Defined
When companies use the term customer engagement, they don’t always mean the same thing.
When we talk about customer engagement, we’re talking about the customer’s level of emotional attachment to your company or brand and the level of that emotional attachment.
The level of engagement a customer feels for your company is influenced by the following ideas:
- Trust – High trust in a company or brand to keep its promises increases customer engagement. Trust is created, when a company makes a promise for a specific deliverable, feature set, timeframe, or performance and then keeps it. Trust is the foundation for customer engagement.
- Pride – Strong feelings of pride towards a brand help to increase customer engagement. Company behaviors deemed as positive by the customer help to increase a sense of pride. Pride builds customer engagement.
- Community – This is the “people like me” feeling. When customers observe that the company engages other people who share their values, ethics, or goals they feel a stronger sense of community within the brand. Increased sense of community enhances customer engagement.
- Aspiration – The company represents who I want to be in the world. Companies with messages such as hope or empowerment tend to be aspirational. This sense of “we’re the best” because of who we are and what we believe strengthens customer engagement.
Overall, customer engagement is built with the right blend of trust, pride, community, and aspiration. Truly world-class brands are able to bring these together in a way that creates loyal brand fanatics.
As a result, many companies are actively seeking ways to increase customer engagement.
Customer Engagement Continuum
We measure customer engagement on a scale of 0 to 10. Within that scale, we have a continuum to provide context for the score of a customer’s engagement.
- Unaware –Engagement score of 0. This is someone who is unaware of your company, your products, or your brand.
- Uninterested – Engagement score of 1 to 3. This is someone who is aware of your brand (peripherally – perhaps they’ve heard the name, seen the product advertised), but has no active desire to do business with your company.
- Uninvolved – Engagement score of 4. These people are aware of your company and your product. They do not purchase your product and your brand presence does not enter their daily lives.
- Participating – Engagement score of 5. These people have interacted with you at least once. Interacted may be defined as buying your main product, an ancillary product, or consumed materials produced by your company. They may have bought directly from you or borrowed from a friend.
- Connected – Engagement score of 6 or 7. These people have made more than one purchase. They may talk about your brand within their sphere of influence if prompted. Your brand is not integral to their daily lives and they can easily replace your company.
- Engaged – Engagement score of 8 or 9. These people are heavily involved in your brand. They have very strong feelings about you. They will proactively discuss your brand within their sphere of influence. Your brand is an important part of their daily lives and replacing you would be difficult.
- Loyal – Engagement score of 10. These people are highly focused on your brand. They find any opportunity they can to discuss your brand within their sphere of influence and are very vocal about your brand outside of their traditional sphere of influence. They have a lot of emotional energy tied to your brand and may derive a significant sense of who they are from their tie to your brand.
One thing to keep in mind when looking at the customer engagement continuum is that not all engagement is created equal.
You must consider the quality of the feelings associated with the engagement level. Generally these feelings can be categorized as positive (happiness, pleasure, delight, or joy) or negative (fear, anger, frustration, or shame).
Before deciding how to transition people from one stage to another, you must consider the general emotional state of your audience. Example: Loyal customers who purchased your company’s services but then learned that your company had a computer security breach may feel angry. It will require a different kind of approach than targeting loyal customers who have received consistently excellent service.
There are many approaches to moving people through the engagement continuum from advertising to providing amazing customer experiences.
One of the simplest, most powerful, and scalable ways to move people up the engagement continuum is through marketing automation.
Why Use Marketing Automation to Improve Engagement?
One key element to building customer engagement is to consistently deliver content to your audience that is highly personalized and highly relevant.
- Consistent – Relationships are formed when two parties consistently act in a way that is mutually agreed upon as appropriate. Companies do this by establishing a pattern of behavior and then sticking to it. An example of this is a news digest email sent out by a subscription news service on a daily basis. The reliability of this service establishes the credibility of your company in their customer’s minds.
- Relevant – Making a customer feel like more than just a cog in the system is key to helping them feel like the brand wants them to be engaged. It serves as an invitation to grow the relationship beyond merely systematic content delivery. Using the news digest email above as a simplified example, this can take the form of having the email address your customer by name or only delivering headlines for specific types of news.
- Personalized – Arguably one of the most challenging components of marketing automation. Personalization is more than just putting a name in the email address. It’s about making sure that each engagement path is so well defined and interlinked that the customer genuinely feels like your company knows them.
We observe, that despite the abundance of tools out there, many companies struggle when automating their engagement and as a result, they leave money on the table.
Marketing Automation Is Not Just Email Marketing
Sometimes, when we talk about automating engagement, people think we’re talking about email marketing. But that’s just a single slice in the larger pie.
Marketing automation describes the ecosystem of the customer life cycle as it is supported by software, processes, and content – all designed to build deeper, longer lasting relationships.
Customer Life Cycle’s Role in Marketing Automation
To capitalize on marketing automation, you must define their customer life cycle.
We focus on a simplified approach to customer life cycle – before, during, after, and lost.
- Before – Prior to actually completing a sale to the customer, this stage covers all of the activities designed to get them to make a purchase for the first time. This can include the sales process, advertising, marketing materials, social media interactions, and press information.
- During – Once the initial purchase has been made, the customer moves into the “during” stage of the customer life cycle. This stage includes points of interaction like the purchase communication, customer service, returns, service delivery issues, rebuying, upselling, referrals, and so on. The “during” stage is the biggest of the three, the most ripe with opportunities to build engagement, and where increasing engagement can provide the greatest return.
- After – At some point, your active engagement with your customer ends. They have made their purchase or used your services. They are ready to move on with their lives. The biggest risk your company faces in this stage is to be forgotten. Automated engagement is an excellent way to stay connected with your customers even after they have moved on. The after stage provides the best opportunity for requesting referrals, updating people on new services, or reminding them that they may need your services again.
- Lost – This is the most frustrating of the four because you rarely know if you’re in this position. Of course, some businesses have an easier time telling than others. If someone was paying you a monthly (or some other interval) fee and they stop doing so, odds are that they fall in the lost category. Set-up an automated customer feedback system and you’ll have an easier time knowing if you’ve lost someone. And if a customer takes the time to give you honest, solid feedback, be grateful. It’s a gift and an opportunity to improve. And who knows? If you address the problem they had, there may be an opportunity to invite them back.
Each stage offers unique opportunities for you to engage them.
Software to Support Marketing Automation
When it comes to delivering truly fantastic automated engagement, the software used to support your activities needs to be capable of some truly heavy lifting in order to flawlessly deliver.
The right software for automating engagement needs to be able to handle complex logic flows, be able to manage adding information directly to customer records, and to engage multiple systems.
- Complex logic flows – It’s easy for the web of interactions between your company and your customer to become massively complex. Here’s a small example of how this might look – If customer purchases service A AND calls for customer support AND scores their representative a satisfaction score of Y or higher THEN send them email #12AR-QA114.2. If your system cannot document multiple touch points and manage rules governing which activities occur when, it will fail to perform.
- Manage customer records – The biggest challenge is being able to annotate or tag a customer record with significant pieces of information that help the system to know what it should do next as it relates to a customer account. Example – If the customer buys a product and calls for service and scores that service above a certain threshold, the system needs to be able to accurately document that. We only recommend systems with built-in functionality that can manage the adding and removal of customer record tags in a systematic fashion.
- Engage multiple systems – Simply put, the software has to play well with others. Odds are that you’ll have numerous systems in place to support your customers. And while a good automation platform may be able to replace some of these systems, it won’t replace everything. Your automation platform must be able to talk to the other systems you use, get the right information from them within a timely fashion and have it integrate into the platform.
There are a LOT of systems out there that pretend to do these things. Which system to choose largely depends on the size of your business, the amount of technical competency to which you have access, and the way in which you operate.
Content to Support Marketing Automation
Good content is hard to create. And when you have to create a lot of it, it’s tempting to take the easy road and be very superficial.
The truth is that if you’re planning to automate engagement, you will need to create a LOT of content and it will need to be of exceptionally high quality.
That’s because your content, regardless of the medium, is serving as your brand ambassador. The goal of the concept is to get people to feel even better about your company than they already do and to incorporate more of it into their lives.
If your approach to content is superficial their audience will notice. And if they notice, this will result in a decrease in engagement.
In order to be successful, engaging content must speak to feelings described earlier in the article – trust, pride, affiliation, and aspiration.
Knowing which feelings to target when building automation strategies requires a deeply honest assessment of your company’s brand. Which of the four influential feelings best fit why people become engaged in your brand?
We often recommend to clients that they conduct a survey of their best customers and find out how they feel about their company, not just what they think of them. Sometimes this can feel like a strange experiment but the value is tremendous.
Knowing the targeted influential feeling allows your company to focus the content used in the marketing automation process to deliver powerful messages that deliver results.
Processes to Support Marketing Automation
In tandem with identifying the software to support automation, you must build the processes designed to feed it.
To successfully deliver on high customer engagement, we believe that processes must be put in place to support the activities of your systems and your people.
Let’s take an example of an online clothing distributor who conducts systematic surveys of customers after they speak with a phone representative. Their system requires that a follow-up call be made by a manager to any customer who provides a satisfaction score lower than 5. This is good and can positively impact customer engagement if handled correctly. However, this leads to several questions. Are there processes in place to manage this? How is the manager alerted? What information is provided to the manager? What questions are they to ask? What are they empowered to do to save the relationship with the customer? How will you know if this is successful?
This is a very narrow slice into one form of customer marketing automation but it reveals a great deal of nuance. These questions must be considered prior to adding this into the customer marketing automation workflow.
Otherwise you may well turn a well-intentioned effort to help a customer, into a significant point of failure if the manager isn’t prepared.
Bringing It All Together
It’s clear that automating customer engagement is a monumental task.
Yes, it can be done in pieces over time, but we believe that it requires more than getting work done. It requires a fundamental mind shift on the part of your company’s leadership.
If you’re considering marketing automation, you should ask yourself these questions:
- Is increased customer engagement important to my company?
- Do I care how my customers feel about my company?
- Am I willing to challenge the status quo for how my company runs today?
- Am I willing to invest the time, money, and energy to transform my company’s results?
If you answered “yes” to each of these questions, then it’s time to begin pursuing customer marketing automation.
Just think. What would a 23% increase in revenue mean for your business?