by Jeff Breunsbach
If you really want to craft a winning experience for your customers, you need to build a strong customer engagement strategy.
Companies can’t separate satisfaction, retention, and loyalty from customer engagement anymore. By focusing your company’s efforts on driving customer engagement, you can accomplish these three things:
- Build a strong foundation for retaining current customers: The more you engage your customers in the way they want to be engaged, the better those relationships and the stronger your company. Customer engagement is tied up with retention.
- Nurture your brand advocates and create new ones: As people get more engaged, they will develop a closer and closer relationship with your brand. But you also have to focus on creating those deeper connections between customers, not just between you and them. Those relationships will create valuable connections that will benefit you and your customers. We like to call this Higher Love.
- Gain valuable insights that drive product development, marketing content, and sales programs: The customer data that you gain access to, especially when you incorporate a branded online community into your engagement strategy, is vast and informs all areas of your business so that you can make smarter decisions that impact the future of your company.
ALIGN YOUR COMPANY AROUND THE CUSTOMER
Before you get into building your strategy, you need to start here.
A strong customer engagement strategy starts with alignment across the company around the importance of the customer. Customers should be the beating heart across everything your organization does and across each and every department.
To encourage a customer-centric mentality, company KPIs should be centered around customers and include customer engagement goals. All departments have to come together as one unified front that will appeal to customers with a clear vision and consistent voice.
And the effort this takes all comes back to business goals: You want to retain satisfied and happy customers year after year. Consider these mindset shifts as you work to become more customer-centric:
- Customers vs. Products. Your customers are complex and have multiple problems they need you to solve.
- Outcomes vs. Adoption. It’s not about using the product, it’s about achieving a business outcome.
- Prescriptive vs. Custom. Your customers want to be led and engaged with a set of peers.
- Proactive vs. Reactive. Becoming a business partner is about pushing to be one step ahead.
- Relationships vs. Transactions. Recurring revenue makes you think about lifetime value – and engagement is a key part of building a successful relationship.
“Customer engagement is one of the most important metrics businesses need to pay attention to, regardless of their growth stage or maturity level. Customer retention and engagement directly affects the bottom line of your business, increasing your profitability since it allows you to grow without depending too much on your customer acquisition costs. Customer engagement is not a marketing strategy – it’s a mindset. Your entire company must have a sense of customer obsession that will inspire the product team to build better products, your support team to serve customers better, and the marketing team to generate useful content for existing and potential customers.”
– Raul Galera, Partner Manager, CandyBar
Now that you know the ground rules for a great customer engagement strategy, let’s dive into the 3 most important elements of your plan.
3 KEY COMPONENTS OF YOUR CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT STRATEGY
What makes up a great customer engagement strategy? It’s hybrid, centralized, and personalized.
You have your 1:1 approach to customer engagement (meetings with customer success managers), your 1:many (high tech, low touch – think marketing newsletters and campaigns) approach, but do you have a many:many approach? A robust customer engagement strategy requires all three, along with good customer engagement software.
What’s a many:many approach, you ask? Many successful organizations use online communities to effectively engage their customers at scale. We like to call it a many:many approach because a community allows your customers to connect with each other and with you, 24/7, in a space your organization owns.
Online customer communities are a great place to centralize all your engagement content so that your customers can easily find the resources they want and need when they want and need them. Plus, you create a way for your customers to engage in open and collaborative dialogue with each other, giving advice, sharing best practices, and making new connections. And communities are also a good way to scale your customer engagement program.
“The community isn’t another engagement tool for your customers, it is the engagement hub for all activity. It’s not just a place to deflect support tickets, it’s the hub for your academy, your onboarding, your networking, your advocacy. It’s the central operating plan for your entire customer experience to revolve around. There has to be a reason for your customers to come back, to engage, to be inspired.”
– Ari Hoffman, Director of Customer Advocacy, Coveo
By layering an online community into your customer engagement approach, you’ll also gain access to rich insights about your customers, their needs, and what gaps you can fill. Plus, if you’re missing critical information about your customers, you have a quick and easy way to get answers – just ask!
The bottom line is that a great customer engagement strategy will involve all three aspects of engagement for customers: A personal touch from staff, broad communication from your company, and connection with other customers.
If you’re like most companies, you have multiple teams trying to talk to your customer at the same time. Your customer engagement efforts need to be centralized – and this advice extends to centralizing your customer data, your customer communication calendar, and each customer-facing department.
Creating one way to manage customer communication and engagement initiatives helps you avoid communication overlap and overload for your customers.
We covered this topic in a webinar with four customer marketing experts, available on-demand.
Typically, your customer engagement leader will sit in the CX team and be the gatekeeper of customer communication. This person (or team of people if you decide to manage with a working group from across departments) will be responsible for developing guidelines and rules of engagement, leading the customer engagement strategy, setting the tone of voice, as well as training and coordinating across departments like product, marketing, and support to ensure that the voice of the customer is heard and catered to throughout the organization.
When it comes time to start engaging, you need the right engagement approaches for each customer tier.
Your customers won’t all be at the same level of familiarity with your brand and products, nor will everyone have the same revenue potential. Some might be new users, some ambivalent about your products, and others complete brand advocates. You can’t approach each of these segments in the same way. Your strategy should encompass personalizing and adjusting messaging and touchpoints across your customer segments.
This means that depending on the segment or tier your customer falls into, your engagement response will change. For example, if they are in a high revenue tier, and you see they’re not engaging in the community, you might have a customer success manager may go give them a personal presentation about why they should get involved. If they are in the lowest revenue tier, you might instead set up a lower-effort email campaign about why they should get involved in the community.
If they’re an advocate, you might set up special lunch and learn or feedback sessions with leaders from your company. If they’re a new user, you might set up a series of automation rule emails to get them more engaged in your online community.
Alicja Olko, Outreach Specialist at ReferralCandy, explains how they engage the largest companies in their customer base:
“Our product, ReferralCandy, works almost exactly same for both startup companies as it does for multimillion-dollar businesses. The product serves the same purpose: it helps brands leverage the power of word-of-mouth by allowing them to automate their customer referral program. However, we understand that bigger businesses have different needs, so we adjust the way we communicate with clients accordingly. For enterprise clients, we typically have an account manager that serves as the main point of contact with us, helping them not only during the setup process but making sure that their account is running smoothly. This gives clients peace of mind knowing that the product is running the referral program on auto-pilot but also knowing that there’s someone at ReferralCandy making sure that their program is achieving its full potential.”
Your goal as you segment, personalize, and engage is to find ways to nudge your customers into the next phase of their lifecycle. Each level up in the lifecycle tends to provide more recurring revenue, more brand loyalty, and a higher customer lifetime value. Think of it as climbing a ladder where each step up is a higher level of engagement, and you want to help your customers get to the top of the ladder.