Why do brands spend so much time, money, and effort recruiting new customers -- all the while neglecting to maximize the value of the ones they already have?

Existing customers provide the most consistent long-term revenue streams to companies that know how to keep them engaged. According to Gallup, fully engaged customers provide a 23% boost to profitability compared to average ones.

Despite the obvious benefits, more than half of all companies in a recent Convero survey didn't have any formal engagement programs, while 60% didn't even know their customer attrition rate from the past year.

With so many brands competing for limited customer attention (and dollars), the companies that unlock the secrets of engagement have a powerful advantage.

Fortunately, the secret to customer engagement isn't all that secret. With a bit of outreach and authentic conversation, companies can develop stronger relationships that drive revenue and increase the average customer lifetime value.

How Engagement Translates to Success

Companies are always seeking creative ways to reduce costs while increasing revenue. Focusing on engagement with existing customers is one of the fastest ways to do both.

The window of opportunity to become an engagement leader is quickly closing, though. According to Walker's Customers 2020: A Progress Report, customer experience will overtake price and even product as the key brand differentiator by 2020.

Brands that fail to create a strong experience before that time will find themselves struggling to compete in a market with competitors who saw the writing on the wall and developed better engagement practices.

No matter the industry, engagement consistently delivers results. One recent report from Gallup found that engagement drives double-digit percentage jumps in revenue in consumer electronics, banking, restaurants, travel, insurance, and more.

Whether customers are seeking fast-food experiences or lifelong mortgage relationships, engagement keeps them happy while boosting the bottom line of the brand.

With Econsultancy reporting that only 22% of businesses are pleased with their conversion rates -- and with HubSpot showing 40% of leaders struggling to prove the ROI of their marketing -- shifting focus to existing customers is a no-brainer.

These people are familiar with the brand, like the product, and want to pay for it. Why not dedicate more time and resources to the ones who have demonstrated their preference with their wallets?

What Engagement Means for Brands

Engagement is more than a buzzword -- it's the top lifestyle choice of the most successful brands.

Personalized experiences boost engagement like no other strategy. Experiential marketing gimmicks have their place, but when 62% of companies are beginning to view their call centers as a competitive differentiator, handling the boring parts is the quickest path to stronger engagement.

That said, customer service is now evolving beyond call centers. Today, customers are always plugged in via smartphone, meaning they expect a seamless experience across every channel.

Aberdeen Group discovered that companies with the strongest omnichannel engagement strategies retain, on average, 89% of their customers.

Couple that with figures showing that 89% of customers feel frustrated when they have to repeat their problems to multiple reps, and it's easy to see why stronger engagement hinges on consistent, personalized service.

Winning Strategies to Boost Engagement

Customers don't ask for much. They simply want consistent, authentic experiences when they interact with a brand, whether on Facebook, over the phone, or in person. Every company can get a head start on Walker's 2020 engagement deadline by following these strategies.

1. Create a Seamless Experience

Customers don't see the back end, where social media teams and call center teams are separate entities. They see only the brand, and they expect every interaction to be consistent with the last.

Prioritize dependable customer service by empowering frontline representatives and leveraging data to do as much of the work for the customer as possible.

Partner with an end-to-end customer engagement service like TeleTech to meet customers where they are -- on social media, via email, or over the phone -- to create consistent engagement that keeps customers coming back.

2. Develop a Community Bond

When customers find common ground over their affiliation with the brand, their engagement rates skyrocket. Invest in an active social media presence across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other relevant sites to provide customers with the platform -- and the content -- they need to engage.

Invite customer interaction through posts by building campaigns that ask for their feedback. Over the past few years, Nike has shifted away from traditional advertising in favor of thought leadership and community involvement.

The brand now gives customers workout advice and sponsors fitness-themed communities, positioning the brand as the leader of the conversation while encouraging customers to participate with one another.

3. Reward Repeat Business

Customers constantly receive promotional offers and discounts from brands trying to earn their business but few such offers from brands trying to retain their loyalty.

Rather than send coupons to new customers, who might take advantage of a sale and never return, spend that budget on rewarding customers who have proven their desire to spend on the brand.

This is important in an era when 40% of a company's business is driven by 8 percent of visitors: those who are returning customers. Those return customers are the aim of companies like Ambassador, which is built around a relationship marketing platform that looks to increase referrals by leveraging the power of word of mouth.

Its platform restructures the referral process by helping companies enroll, track, and incentivize the customers, affiliates, and partners driving the most business.

Rewards and incentives don't always have to come in the form of hard discounts. Offer existing newsletter subscribers exclusive access to new content before it hits the main page.

Provide early purchase access to new products. Post to social media pages with exclusive deals for followers. The more customers feel rewarded for interacting with the brand, the more often they will do so.

4. Forge a Connection

Chances are high that customers have multiple options when purchasing a product. When services and quality are similar, customers go with the choices they feel resonate with their personal values.

Provide customers that personal connection by taking a stand on relevant issues. That doesn't mean picking sides in an election -- advocating for a cause relevant to the core of the business is enough.

For example, a restaurant might publicize its cooperation with the local food bank, while a clothing brand could encourage customers to help provide winter coats to people in need.

When customers feel personally empowered through a connection with the brand, they're more likely to make repeat purchases.

New customers aren't everything. Although increasing conversion rates feels great, engaging current customers is the most cost-effective way to build long-term success. Follow these tips to boost engagement and become an industry leader in customer experience.

Published on: Dec 6, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.