“Fully engaged customers are emotionally attached and rationally loyal.” – Gallup
You may wonder as to what is better than customer loyalty. Taking off from the quote it is clear that customer engagement is that ‘secret ingredient’ that leads a company to success. Every organization has to deal with the fact that customer needs and wants change rapidly and this probably never going to change and in order to become and remain successful they would need to keep pace. The customer of today is a dichotomy – on the one hand they are extremely picky and selective about which company / brand they would want to be associated with and do not shy away from making comparisons before deciding. These same customers however, would also want the humane touch and made to feel important irrespective of the length of association and or the number of transactions. Companies on the other hand need customers to be with them for a long time for the association to become profitable and must do everything possible to move from customer loyalty to customer engagement. So why is customer engagement so important? Customer engagement has to do with customers consistently and repeatedly choosing a company to do business and be happy to encourage others to use the company and its offerings. Customer engagement is like any other crucial business imperative and will not be achievable without the whole company working together. It requires a commitment, investment and the willingness to make some significant changes.
There is no doubt that moving from loyalty to customer engagement would have its challenges that would be difficult, daunting and overcoming them in the short term may not be possible. Companies would need to ‘think on their feet’, develop agility, develop and consolidate its internal operations and methods of communicating and broadening their outlook towards the actual meaning of customer engagement. Customer engagement, to put it simply, is possibly a more reliable measure of the ‘rational loyalty’ of customers. They feel and display a deep connection with a company, its brand and service and are regular and willing brand advocates, not failing to use every opportunity to promote your company and its offerings. Customer engagement happens when a company sincerely diverts its attention and resources in building and cementing a robust relationship with its customers. We know that it is hugely expensive and a massive effort to attract new customers – however, through customer engagement a company gains more customers through the referrals and testimonials of its existing customers. Engaged customers buy more, spend on a range of products and it is nearly impossible for another company to gain their business – serious ‘heartburn’ for a company’s competitors!
Building and sustaining customer engagement is obviously a part of customer service and hence would be the responsibility of each person within the organization. It should be part of the culture and to do so, must have a written and accurate mission statement that would let everyone know exactly what the company must do for its customers to encourage engagement. It is crucial for a company to understand clearly its strengths and weaknesses in the realm of customer service in order to put together resources and activities that will allow it to eliminate factors that restrict it. Again, doing away with all the shortcomings will not happen overnight, so it would be prudent to ‘tackle’ those that could be removed immediately. It is like a detailed and long ‘to-do list’, where one focuses on ticking off as many tasks as possible, leaving the ones that require more time and focused energy such that a proper plan can be put together to address them. It certainly is not easy but the tangible benefits from gaining customer engagement are many. Without focus and a meticulous plan, companies could end up diverting their energy and resources to areas that may not truly benefit the customers and hence no customer engagement.
The plan must include clear communication – uniformly and consistently. This communication must first be internal, ensuring that each person within the organization is clear about is required in order to gain, successfully, customer engagement. In addition, a company must ensure that lines of communication between their target audience and itself are open and transparent. A company must not miss any opportunity to help their customers, respond swiftly to their queries, refresh and update it’s on line ‘presence’ and keep itself abreast of any developments in the market and within the domain that their customers operate in. Customer engagement should be a dialogue that a company has with its customers – it happens from being ‘present and available’ for customers through every means possible. The drive to achieve customer engagement must be ubiquitous within the organization – top management lead by example, customer feedback given precedence, employees should receive training and coaching and other such actions that would instil the criticality of gaining customer engagement.
Companies can succeed in gaining customer engagement – there is no doubt about that. However, it will happen only when companies learn to leverage on their strengths, put in place accurate strategies and effectively put those strategies into practice, in order to gain the customer engagement advantage. Research indicates that at least 86% of customers that were highly engaged emphasized that they would always use a certain brand and another 88% indicated that they were passionate about a brand. Highly engaged customers also believe that they get a lot more value from a brand for the price they pay. Such ‘feelings’ when stoked by the company’s efforts would most certainly result in high sales and huge profits.
It would seem that customer engagement goes beyond loyalty – research indicates that engaged customers are 40% more likely to believe that their ‘favourite’ brand consistently exceeds their expectations and completely understands what they need and want. Engaged customers are also 35% more likely (as compared to simply loyal customers) to state and believe that the brand they are ‘engaged’ with, delivers highly useful, informative and interesting communication. The common trait of customers considered loyal is that they would repeatedly buy the product and or service they have been using and hence familiar with. Engaged customers on the other hand, are willing to trust enough to ‘venture’ towards buying and using a new product or service from the brand of their choice. In addition, they show more flexibility in communicating through many different channels, which works well for a company – it does not need to remember the preferred channel of the customer. The indication of customer engagement, it would seem, is the customer’s willingness to be more flexible and work in coordination with the company / brand such that both gain success.
Customer engagement leads to customers being more responsive towards a company and its brand – almost seven times more. They are more likely to find value in a company’s endeavours and are themselves a company’s most ‘valuable’ customers. A company must have a clear vision of what it would do and be willing to do in order to ensure that its customers are happy, their lives made easier and their business thrives. Customer engagement is not a factor of simply saying that your company would like to have it – it happens when your company is able to deliver consistently on every promise it makes to customers. It cannot be emphasized enough that achieving customer engagement is not a one-off task but a company must work towards it relentlessly until it becomes something that customers choose with relation to it.