The rise of the social Web has led to a fundamental shift in the way businesses of all sizes engage with their customers. Rather than focusing on "touch points" during the marketing and sales process, they're using social technologies to form meaningful, ongoing relationships that involve frequent online interactions, oftentimes through social channels.
It is paying off: Companies that engage with their customers via social media have more loyal customers. Better yet, customers who engage with a brands online report spending 20% to 40% more on that brand, or on that company's products.
How can your business see this sort of boost? First off, you need to expand your concept of "customer service." It's no longer an isolated section of your business model but part of a larger, customer engagement strategy. That's because responsibilities that traditionally fell to the marketing and product teams now fall into the realm of customer service. Now, your bottom line is riding on your ability to deliver excellent service while you are meaningfully engaging customers. In order to build loyal relationships that extend and last, you need to understand the basic principles of the new definition of customer engagement and put them into action.
Customer engagement is no longer a series of one-off experiences—it's an ongoing dialogue. Companies need to be good listeners in the digital age, and that requires a new set of skills. It means listening to customers who are already having conversations about brands –yours and others—in traditional online channels as well as over the social Web. So jump into those conversations in a genuine and human way. Foster trust and form relationships through open, honest interactions over time—interactions that create positive experiences and outcomes for your customers. Positive outcomes include answering questions, solving problems, hearing ideas and supporting them (when possible), and also amplifying praise.
Another aspect of this spectrum is the relationships that your customers form with each other. The peer-to-peer relationships are core to the social Web. Because of course, your customers won't just be interacting with you, they'll talk amongst themselves, sharing their perspectives across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even YouTube. Your job isn't just to sell your product, it's also to facilitate an active, passionate online community around your product.
Although communication with your customers is an ongoing dialogue, you need not be chatting just for the sake of it. When you engage your customers, have a goal in mind, whether it's improving your product or nurturing loyalty and increasing sales. While traditionally the product team manages product and marketing is responsible for increasing brand awareness and driving sales, the lines are blurred now. Nurturing an ongoing and genuine relationship with your customers will naturally make a major impact in both these arenas.
Naturally, how you engage with your customers impacts how customers view your brand. 70% of Americans are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies who they feel provide above-par customer service. That means that all your customer engagement efforts should lead clearly in the direction of resolution. Know what the outcome should be, and provide your customers with clear tools that make it easy and efficient for them to get what they need.
In the past, company-customer interaction happened in siloed, closed-off settings. Customers had to make a phone call or write an email. But now, we're living in an "always-on"world ruled by the mobile experience. In 2011, customers were using mobile apps 10 times a day and a growing number of customers have used an app to buy a product. But here's the big news: an astounding 78% used mobile apps for customer service purposes. In other words, if you're not engaging your customers on-the-go—in the context of their daily lives—you're essentially neglecting them, or are at least missing an opportunity to nurture the relationship through an open, honest interaction.
You want to be able to interact with your customers in the context of their daily lives. Not only are you able to provide them with better, more immediate service, but you also gain loyalty and stay in the forefront of their minds. When the time comes to make a purchase, they'll choose the product they've come to trust through a series of positive experiences.
The new customer engagement strategy should feel less like a marketing and sales campaign, contest, or tool, and more like a well-developed friendship founded on the basis of interdependent needs and mutual respect. The feedback you get from your customers isn't just important for you, it's important for them, as well. If you can listen to what your customers are saying and improve the product and their experience, everybody wins. You get more loyal customers; they get what they really need and want.
The relationship you build is a two-way street. On one hand, your customers feel heard, and they can see the ways they're actually contributing to your company. At the same time, you get free feedback, and have the opportunity to improve your business, thereby by attracting more customers.
Remember the days when cold-calling part of your marketing strategy? Now, imagine the opposite of a cold call, because that's how customer engagement works today. Your customers decide if and when to communicate. Your job is simply to give them the tools that make the interaction and communication easy and natural. Not only should these tools be easily accessible and highly visible, but they should also offer options for different types of conversation. Do they have a question? Do they want to post a rave review? Are they experiencing a technical difficulty? Present your customers with an intuitive tool for communicating with you, and let them initiate.
When you put control in their hands, you're more likely to be able to meet their needs, but you also win their trust, and ultimately, you build the loyal customer base you need to grow and succeed.
How do you approach engaging with your customers?