We live in an always-on world, and customers expect brands to anticipate and meet their needs in real time. For marketers, this means that the membrane between customer service and marketing is getting thinner and thinner. The customer experience is about so much more than just the sales journey — it’s about feeling heard, getting answers to questions, having problems fixed, and feeling a connection to the brand. In addition to marketing and customer service, brands need to be thinking in terms of customer engagement.
What is Customer Engagement?
Customer engagement is about encouraging your customers to interact and share in the experiences you create for them as a business and a brand. When executed well, a strong customer engagement strategy will foster brand growth and loyalty.
Businesses that focus on customer engagement are focused on value creation, not revenue extraction. They give people something meaningful beyond a sales pitch: a brilliant end-to-end customer experience, great content, or interactive, real-time customer support.
Here are seven customer engagement strategies that can build a loyal customer following:
1. Customer Experience Is Priority #1
As Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon will tell you, obsessing over your customers is key. It starts with your company culture and ensuring your customer support team, the frontline of your business, is empowered by and shares your focus on providing an amazing customer experience. For example, Zappos, the leading online shoe retailer renowned for their customer service, doesn’t enforce call time tracking because they believe their reps should spend that little extra time with customers rather than be focused on getting through each call.
The customer experience you provide is important because it gives marketers and business owners a way to increase satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. A study by White House Office of Consumer Affairs found that 80% of U.S. consumers would pay more for a product or service to ensure a superior customer experience.
Think about your business model and how you can best serve your customers. When do your customers need you? What hours do you need to be available to them? Seamless, the online food ordering service and one of my favorite companies (not least because I love to eat at all hours!), services customers in different time zones across the US. Not only are they fantastic at providing customer service around the clock but they’re stellar at timely, relevant offers like snow day discounts and engaging you with fun food facts across their Twitter and email channels.
It’s about looking at all of your customers and delivering the exceptional service no matter if they are worth $1 or $1M to your business. Remember, in the long run, your customers will determine your revenue.
2. Humanize your brand
At the heart of everything, it’s important to understand that every customer wants to feel you understand their needs and that they can relate to your brand. This is easier for fun consumer brands like Red Bull or Nike than for more conservative brands like banks or B2B companies. But even these businesses can be humanized without trying to squeeze themselves into a contrived persona that won’t resonate with their audience.
For example, find a personality within in your organization who is passionate about your brand and a natural communicator. Grow that person into a thought leader and give them a voice to humanize your brand and engage your audience. Create opportunities for them to build their presence and promote your brand – they can regularly blog on your own site and guest blog on others, be used in video content, engage in speaking opportunities, present webinars and publish white papers and ebooks – all ways to establish your brand’s voice with a trusted face.
3. Get Sassy on Social…
Social media is a great place to let your brand off the leash a little. Voicey personas are common on Twitter, and it’s a great way to get interest, interaction, and even viral traction for your brand. For example, Wendy’s has gained a lot of attention for their hilarious tweet roasts of other burger chains:
This has gotten them a ton of attention, with Twitter users begging Wendy’s to make fun of them. But it went even farther when a nugget-loving young man tweeted this:
The nuggs tweet has gone so mega-viral, @carterjwm, aka Carter Wilkerson, ended up on an episode of Ellen as he threatened to break her retweet record. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. Literally, you can’t.
4. …But Understand Where the Line Is
Sassy is good, but offensive is very, very bad. I’m sure every social media manager has the brand social fails that haunt them in their dreams, from pre-scheduled posts that appear right after a tragedy to misjudged jokes to accidentally tweeting a link to x-rated material from the US Airways corporate account.
Here’s an attempt at a jokey tweet that crossed the line last year:
Razer was attempting to tease Apple about the lack of SD drive on the 2016 MacBook Pro, but instead offended a lot of people. What’s the opposite of customer engagement? It probably looks something like this:
5. Personalize Customer Communications
70% of US retailers are making customer personalization a priority in 2017 [Emarketer]. Personalization can take many forms, from the auto-generated happy birthday email to a sophisticated algorithm that recommends products based on browsing history.
Amazon and Netflix are out in front when it comes to recommendation engines, but there are simpler solutions.
True&Co, an online lingerie company, uses a quiz to personalize recommendations for potential customers. This is a brilliant way to help people find a perfect fit online, and to make what can be stressful — trying to find a flattering bra — that much easier. In an interview with Emarketer, CEO Michelle Lam explained, “We demonstrate that it’s a conversation between us and our customers. For everything they tell us, we give them a response, whether it’s a recommendation from their personal shop, a fitting tip or a tailored marketing message.
We avoid spamming customers with the wrong types of bras.”
Personalization should be about making the user feel welcomed and known without feeling like you’re strip-mining their data.
6. Create Useful Content
Using content to educate customers was a previously underused customer engagement strategy but it’s now becoming increasingly common to enhance the customer experience and increases satisfaction.
According to this Google study, 48% of smartphone users are are more likely to buy from companies whose mobile sites provide instructional video content.
Home Depot saw that their customers were going to YouTube to find instructional videos for DIY projects, so they decided to create their own. Their “how to” collection now has over 43 million views.
[DIY Garden Bed Video]
7. Really Listen to What People Are Telling You
The flip side of using social media as a way to differentiate your brand is using it to listen to customer complaints and really respond. That can be customer service-oriented, like this snapshot of a random day of JetBlue’s twitter responses:
Every few minutes they are responding to customer needs, giving stressed-out flyers quick responses to their concerns and complaints. Whether or not social listening informs your long-term goals, it helps people to feel heard by your brand, and it’s a great way to get negative feedback.
While it can be hard to hear sometimes, honest negative customer feedback can be one of the most important drivers for change in an organization.
Ultimately whatever customer experience strategies you employ, be consistent – think about the brand messaging you employ, your customers’ end-to-end experience from their very first interaction and the various departments these customers will move through.
Give them a consistent (and exceptional) experience and you’ll be rewarded with their trust and loyalty.