customer engagement customer centricCustomer engagement can yield short-term or long-term rewards or penalties, depending on how customer-centric they are. Are you tracking all of these?

  • Short-term rewards: uptick once or for one period — engagement value exceeded underlying value
  • Long-term rewards: uptick that sticks or increases organically — engagement fit the customer’s expectations and circumstances
  • Short-term penalties: negative word-of-mouth — engagement was ill-timed or a hassle
  • Long-term penalties: decreased spending or churn — engagement didn’t live up to customer’s expectations

How can you maximize long-term rewards and minimize penalties? Make sure your marketing is centered on customers‘ well-being from their perspective.

“An unprecedented 100% of executives believe their customer engagement process is set up to successfully deliver. However, not all are doing what is necessary to be truly customer-centric. This rosy self-assessment may be due to a misunderstanding of the role that customer engagement should play — many of these companies could simply be viewing engagement through the wrong lens… Customer engagement is not a one-off endeavor, nor is there a single button to push or a box to check to ensure success. Meaningful customer engagement requires that companies remain diligent, predictive and proactive”, reports a Forbes Insights and Pegasystems 2017 survey.1

What is customer engagement? While customer experience is defined as customers’ realities in selecting, getting, and using a solution that enables a capability they want2customer engagement is an interaction that strengthens the emotional, psychological or physical investment a customer has in a brand.3

Customer engagement has many forms as one-to-one marketing (popularized by the 1994 book by Don Peppers & Martha Rogers by this name), customer relationship management, experiential marketing, customer touchpoint management, engagement marketing, customer lifecycle management, social media marketing, contextual marketing, real-time predictive analytics, micro-moment digital marketing, or customer-centric marketing.

What’s wrong with customer engagement today? In mainstream practice, customer engagement is often financially-centered rather than customer-centered: upselling, cross-selling, bundling, co-creating, remedying, enrolling as evangelists/promoters, PR-creating, wowing and dealing.

“Only 13% of marketers feel they are fully implementing customer revenue-producing strategies and engaging differently, including driving deeper relationships, collaborating across stakeholders and leveraging data to uncover new opportunities and options for engagement”, according to a 2018 CMO Council study.4

In best practice, customer engagement is all about strengthening the relationship between a brand and customers through mutual value, with the goal of maximizing customer lifetime value (cumulative profitability of a customer).

Why is customer-centric engagement so important? Customers have already paid fair market value for their transaction. They don’t owe you anything. They buy from numerous organizations in their combined business and personal dealings and there’s only so much mindshare to go around.

Delivering on a data-driven, customer-led, individualized, real-time experience is no longer a point of differentiation — it is the baseline of engagement that customers expect. And it is clear that many marketers believe that their organizations are struggling to meet this new foundational need. — CMO Council & RedPoint Global5

What does customer-centric mean?

  • Customers are at the center of your thinking and doing.
  • Customers’ well-being comes first in your decision-making criteria.
  • You have confidence that your objectives and needs will be met primarily by serving customers’ well-being.
  • You’re interested in nurturing a lasting relationship with each customer, over and above your other interests.
  • Customer-centric means you understand your customers’ world well enough that you can stand in their shoes to see the end-to-end customer experience from their viewpoint.
  • You minimize hassles and mismatches and constantly improve relevance and mutual value.

As discovered in the first article of this 6-part series, Customer-Centric Marketing: Step-Up Performance, less mature marketing and customer experience management “aims at the customer” to sell to them better, whereas more mature customer engagement “elevates the customer” by using their goals to serve them better. The latter emphasizes long-term interests of the customer and long-term relationship for sustained competitive advantage.

Instead of the traditional “push” model of marketing campaigns, engagement marketing pulls people in by telling stories, driving conversations, and addressing customer needs and interests. The goal is to involve customers in a deeper, more sustained relationship with a given product or brand. “The motto for engagement marketing is, ‘Ask not how you can sell, but how you can help.’” — Mohan Sawhney, Kellogg School6

What are customer engagement best practices? Leaders are differentiated more by their attitudes, motives, and connectivity internally and externally. Their tactics are deployed within this framework, elevating the impressions conveyed to customers, deepening the relationship, and yielding higher growth. Customer engagement leaders focus on helping customers meet their goals, and customers feel that their interests genuinely come first. Leaders listen intently to customers, trying to understand them in new ways, more holistically. Leaders manage customer engagement cross-functionally — they’re “silo-bridgers”, connecting channels, systems, data, metrics and interactions.

“Always be helping (ABH) is the new always be closing” was coined by Scott Albro, CEO of TOPO. I recommend that you take a look at how he elaborates on each of these 10 principles for applying “always be helping” to customer engagement:

  1. Understand how you can help your customers
  2. Deliver what your customers want
  3. Be authentic in your efforts to help
  4. Make it part of your sales and marketing culture
  5. Don’t ask for too much in return
  6. Focus on delivering information and expertise
  7. Decouple ABH from what you sell
  8. Create specific ABH programs and plays
  9. Provide employees with the training and tools they need to really help
  10. Tie your ABH efforts to business results

“Customer engagement leaders are 28% more likely to believe that organizational structure and workflows to support customer engagement make a difference, and have reorganized internally to get rid of silos and improve customer engagement” according to the Forbes Insights & Pegasystems study.1

“The majority (63%) of marketers plan to focus attention on applying knowledge about customers to reshape communications and engagements with customers. In addition, marketers plan to improve analytics capabilities in order to gain a more contextual understanding of the customer (55%), connect engagement systems across all touch-points — including those outside of marketing’s ownership (45%) — and will forge improved cross-functional partnerships to better align the strategy across all touch-points (35%). Leaders take a more long-term approach to measuring the business value of customer engagement, focusing more on overall retention or churn versus a one-time purchase.”1

Recommendations: Customers are providing our paychecks, budgets, and dividends. They’re the boss.

  • Let’s ensure we’re fully understanding their realities and expectations, and constantly creating value for them in our customer engagement efforts.
  • Let’s do it in ways that stick and increase organically.
  • Let’s vow to always be helping our customers achieve their goals.
  • Let’s empower them to help us meet our goals by being the stand-out company in our industry for ease-of-doing-business and seamless experience that strengthens the relationship.

The best customer engagement strategies build trust and mutual value. Ensure your marketing is centered on customers’ well-being from their perspective to maximize both immediate and long-term rewards.

1The New Rules of Customer Engagement: How Leading Companies are Connecting with Customers to Drive Greater Growth, Forbes Insights and Pegasystems, 2017.
2Customer Experience Definition, ClearAction Continuum.
3Wikipedia: Customer Engagement, quoting Richard Sedley, CEO of EY-Seren.
4Gaining Traction with Every Digital Interaction, CMO Council and SendWithUs, 2018.
5State of Engagement: Bridging the Customer Journey Across Every Last Mile, CMO Council and Redpoint Global, 2018.
65 Ways to Authentically Engage Your Customers, Kellogg Insight, April 4, 2016.

This article is third of a 6-part series as an exclusive CustomerThink Advisors column: How Customer-Centered Marketing Steps Up Your Performance & Influence.

1. Customer-Centric Marketing: Step-Up Performance

2. Customer-Centric Marketing: Align for Growth

3. Is Your Customer Engagement Really Customer-Centric?

4. Marketing’s Role in Employee & Customer Experience Journeys

4a. Customer Journey Insights Increase Marketing Impact

5. Acquisition Addiction’s Impact on Customer Experience ROI

6. 6 Digital Experience Mission-Critical Trends

Image licensed to ClearAction by Shutterstock.