Customer Engagement – boost sales, conversions & brand loyalty today!
No doubt you would agree when I say:
Getting prospects to stick around and convert to paying customers is hard to do, as is persuading them to tell others how great your product or service is.
However, businesses who place a greater focus on customer engagement will generally see the following benefits:
- A positive customer experience.
- Increased sales conversions.
- Enhanced brand awareness.
- Organic word-of-mouth referrals.
- And much more…
According to a CEI Survey, 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. (Forbes)
But you’re probably wondering:
“What does it all mean and how can *I* use it to boost *my* business?”
All will be revealed below, so read on!
What is Customer Engagement?
First we should start with the customer engagement definition and Wikipedia has this to say in that regard:
Customer Engagement (CE) is the engagement of customers with one another, with a company or a brand. The initiative for engagement can be either consumer- or company-led and the medium of engagement can be on or offline.
So in other words it’s simply a matter of getting customers or clients to interact and communicate, one way or another. For a business the desired outcome of this interaction is generally to take actions which benefit the bottom line – better conversions, more word of mouth referrals, enhanced customer success and ultimately more sales…
There are clear overlaps between customer experience and customer engagement and an improved experience will naturally lead to more chance of engagement. Also a more engaged customer will generally feel like they have a better experience so the two go hand in hand and both these aspects of the customer journey should be tackled for maximum effect.
Why Engage Customers?
The short answer to that question is this:
Customers who are more engaged with a business or brand are more likely to buy from that company and also spread the word about how good their experience was when interacting with the company. The immense value of this positive experience just cannot be overstated.
Customers who are fully engaged represent an average 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth compared with the average customer. (Gallup State of the American Consumer 2014)
Customer engagement marketing is not just a buzzword, it is a killer method to increase sales and conversions!
How to Improve Customer Experience and Engagement
There are a great many customer engagement strategies which can and should be employed to provide a good experience and I will cover these here:
Keep in Touch
At a very basic level, customer engagement and happiness comes down to simply keeping in touch with your clients. This can be as simple as sending an email now and then to ask them how things are going and even just to remind them that you still exist and are here to help. On a small scale this can easily be done manually, using whatever email client you prefer such as GMail, Outlook or Thunderbird.
As your client base grows (and even while still small) you can manage this entire process much more efficiently and effectively using a marketing automation service. Such a system will automatically engage with your customers at the most suitable times, track their responsiveness and notify you when they are ready for a sale or some other activity or goal you define.
Feedback from your customers is like pure gold delivered to your door each day – it is extremely valuable if you take note of it and act accordingly! Customers need to be made aware that you welcome constructive feedback and even if they are angry, you will listen carefully and not make them regret getting in touch.
If you have failed them in some way then you should openly admit that failing on your part and make sure to act swiftly to correct the issue. By doing so you can quickly convert an angry client to a happy camper who will tell others how great your service is. Additionally, you are able to ensure future customers are not faced with the same issue – your customer just made your product or service better!
Make it Easy to Provide Feedback
Not every unhappy customer will ever bother to get in touch so you must respond positively to those who do. To increase the chances of them actually providing feedback of any kind, you should make the process as simple and pain free as possible. A live chat support widget could be installed, such as Zopim for example, which makes it extremely simple for customers and site visitors to engage with you.
45% of buyers require person-to- person contact in the buying process (ITSMA/CFO)
Of course also your support phone number and email address or contact form should be easy to find on your site or any promotional material you publish online or even offline.
Reward Customers Who Engage
Everybody likes to be rewarded for their actions now and then and that includes customers. You could easily create customer rewards program for your own business and it doesn’t have to be fancy – after all it’s the thought that counts! 😉
70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated. (McKinsey)
Automating the process of rewarding based on user activities is another task that can be achieved using activity triggers commonly found in marketing automation systems. Using this you can instantly issue rewards without any manual intervention on your part and instant gratification is a powerful motivator.
Convert Customers to Ambassadors
A happy customer is an engaged customer and that is someone who will talk about you in a positive light to everyone they meet, should the topic be relevant to the conversation they are having at the time. However it is more common for unhappy customers to talk about the products or companies that failed them in some way. Clearly for you it is better if the happy ones do the talking but they sometimes need a little bit of a nudge. This again involves making things easy for them to do what you want them to do.
When you want a customer to become a brand ambassador you need to first of all make sure they have a great experience and secondly you need to provide the tools which they can use to spread the word for you and sometimes also you need to provide incentives in some form. Tools can include a referral system (“tell a friend”) or affiliate program which provides them with links to share and rewards them with either cash or account upgrades or various freebies.
Another way to boost their activity is to use your content marketing – embed simple ‘click to tweet’ (or like/share/whatever) buttons in your articles so they can effortlessly share catchy ‘soundbites’ with their followers.
Effortless sharing of snippets of your articles across multiple social networks by your users, as mentioned above, is a great way to get exposure and these days being social is essential for any business. You need to have an active presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or whichever other social sites are most relevant to your industry. Wherever your potential and actual customers can be found, you need to be active.
But it is important to not just use those platforms to push your message and your links constantly – you must provide value, not just spam! You can do this by sharing content published by other people, including your customers, and following relevant people and generally interacting with people on the social networks.
15% of companies surveyed say more than 25% of customer service inquiries are initiated over social channels. (Social Media Today: The Social Customer Engagement Index 2014)
So called content curation not only provides useful content to your followers, it also saves you time in your content creation efforts and saves your followers the time & effort required to find and read through endless articles in order to discover the nuggets of gold buried under the mass of junk published every day on the web.
Gamification in this context is the application of game elements and design techniques to business issues and is a winning method of boosting customer involvement. It combines motivational psychology and techniques for game design and if you want to learn more about it, there is a free course you can do at Coursera which should have you up to speed in no time.
Use the Data
Data is like “the force” in Star Wars – it’s all around us, you just need to use it. Every action your customers take, every interaction and engagement with your systems, products, services and staff should be logged in detail and analyzed, preferably automatically. There is immense power in this data and it can be used to facilitate future growth and customer satisfaction, to uncover hidden opportunities and of course to improve engagement.
Analytics for Customer Engagement
It’s easy to say “use the data” but you need to think how to measure customer experience and engagement, for example by using surveys or automated activity tracking. You need to log that data and analyze it and with such vast quantities of data being harvested these days, this can present some challenges. Customer analytics is however essential to make sense of all the noise and will help you to provide the ultimate customer experience.
Companies that put data at the center of their marketing and sales decisions improve their marketing return on investment by 15-20% (McKinsey 2013)
If you’re a developer you can look at Logstash to store all your log data from wherever you like and use Kibana (both from Elastic) to visualize that data so that you can easily see what’s going on at any point in time.
Another product worth looking at is Segment which is a “single hub to collect, translate and route your customer data” and save a lot of time and effort in the process!
Nobody really likes talking to a machine so don’t act like one in your business – be approachable, don’t be overly formal and corporate, don’t make your customers feel like a number to be processed and passed on. Even if you are using automation tools (and you should be), make sure your customers still feel like they are talking to a human, like they are being heard and that they are welcome. In fact a real live human should be ready to step in at the appropriate time to take over from the automation tool and should be available when a customer reaches out for support.
Create Content Based on Feedback
As I mentioned above, feedback is gold, it is really the gift that keeps on giving. You can use this valuable customer feedback, even negative feedback, to create top quality content for your blog and your social channels. Content which actually answers their questions and solves problems that your customers actually have, which really speaks to them.
Your clients are effectively telling you what content to create for them! Make sure you take notice…
User Generated Content (UGC)
These days everyone is creating content online in some form or other. That content can be in the form of blog comments or status updates or tweets or discussion forum posts. All this UGC adds up and can quickly take on a life of its own. It is essential that you provide an outlet for your customers to publicly engage and discuss your products or service.
Your company blog should allow commenting, a support forum is great once you have enough customers to ensure it doesn’t look like a ghost town, your social network profiles should be active, you may even consider allowing guest posts on your company blog from suitably qualified writers, whether they be customers or experts in the field.
Of course you should carefully monitor these UGC channels, engage with your customers there and moderate posts appropriately.
Community & Collaboration
When customers are engaged with you that is great of course, they have a better experience and you (hopefully!) make more money, but customers do not need to exist in isolation. Building an active community allows your customers to engage with each other as well as with you and can share their experience, help other customers solve any issues they may have and even contribute towards potential customers taking the plunge.
Only 1% of customers feel that vendors consistently meet their expectations. (Forbes)
Community building does take effort though as there’s nothing worse than having a ghost town which makes visitors think your business is dead or nobody cares about it. There are many channels through which community can be developed, from private forums to public social networks online and even offline meetups, but you must make sure to devote the necessary time and resources to maintain it while it grows, otherwise you will never reap the benefits.
Having an active community is not just a place where customers can hang out and chat, it also facilitates deeper levels of engagement in the form of collaboration. You can for example have a core of dedicated customers who will be your private beta testers for each new version, before unleashing on the world, and who will relish the opportunity to try out new features. You can also create workshops and webinars for customers to learn more and become more effective users of your product or service. New feature requests and discussions are another common method to engage customers and for you to learn from them exactly what they need.
A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10% (Leading on the Edge of Chaos, Emmet Murphy and Mark Murphy)
An educated customer who really understands your product is far more likely to be engaged and both actively using and talking about it positively. A customer who doesn’t fully understand it is likely to become frustrated and will take that frustration public, potentially harming your brand and negatively impacting sales.
Clearly education is critical and is commonly also part of the community & collaboration efforts previously mentioned. An active community can help educate new users, even without your direct involvement and ongoing collaborations, workshops and webinars go a long way to ensuring your customers know what’s what.
Educational content for your blog is also an essential component and should included in your ongoing content marketing efforts.
Education is also key to new user on-boarding and so you should not leave it until afterwards as the user will be much less likely to successfully complete your on-boarding process if any part of it is not made clear soon enough – from the “how?” to the “why?”.
Monitor Your Brand/Product
These days news travels fast and bad news tends to travel faster and further than ever before. While building an active community which you control is important, you can never prevent people talking about you somewhere else… unless nobody cares about your product at all and that is perhaps even worse! To stay on top of the conversation, whether it be good or bad, you need to monitor all the major social networks and discussion forums and any others which are relevant to your specific niche.
Fortunately it is a simple matter to monitor large parts of the web today by using a service such as Google Alerts. For monitoring social networks there are a number of tools you could employ such as Hootsuite.
60% of organizations see that customer service will be the top source of competitive differentiation in the next three years. (The Service Council’s (TSC) Service Transformation: The Business Case)
With suitable monitoring configured you can be active everywhere your brand or niche is mentioned, wherever your customers (current, former or future) are talking, and you can quickly jump in to engage them, support them and help convert them or bring them back into the fold.
Monitor the Competition
Needless to say, you’re not restricted to monitoring your own name and in fact can glean essential data by monitoring your discussions about your competitors. You can quickly see where they are failing and you can then make sure you don’t fail the same way!
You cannot afford to neglect mobile today as pretty much everyone has a smartphone of some description and a very significant proportion of online activity and engagement is today done on mobile devices. You must ensure your site is fully functional on mobile devices (or even provide purpose built mobile apps) otherwise you risk losing a large segment of your potential customer base.
Additionally, Google is placing increasing importance on the mobile experience and if your site is not “responsive” or mobile optimized, you could see your precious search engine ranking rapidly sink, while better optimized (SEO) competitors take your place.
Be Aware of New Channels
Strange though it may seem today, there was a time before iPhone/Android, before Twitter and before even Facebook (anyone remember Myspace? How about Friendster?) and those perhaps were dark days for us all. One thing which should be clear to everyone is that nothing stays the same and the internet changes fast – a social platform at the top of the hill today could be dead tomorrow while all the cool kids have moved on to some new shiny thing, such as Instagram or “Slack Chats“, soon to be followed by their less cutting edge grandmothers.
66% of customers are willing to spend more with companies who provide superior customer service. (SAP, Customer Service is the Heart of Marketing)
All this means you need to keep your eye on the horizon and be ready to engage customers in new exciting ways on whatever fancy new channel comes along. A new channel is an opportunity for you to leap ahead and dominate before the competition wakes up and it shows your customers that you’re on the ball and ready to serve them better in the ways and places they prefer – be there or be square!
Creating a superior experience and service for your users naturally contributes to enhanced engagement, however you should not rely on just one customer engagement strategy or model, you need to weave it in to the fabric of your company at every level, in every way and make a solid customer engagement plan so that you never miss an opportunity to engage and convert a customer.