The rules of customer engagement

Today, talk about ‘customer engagement’ or ‘customer experience’ comes from a variety of likely and not-so-likely, parties. CRM system vendors claim to own it. So do suppliers of analytics, email marketing and traditional web content management systems.

In reality, however, while many of these players may own one or two parts of the customer engagement process they are usually very single channel minded i.e. their true business is email marketing.

Others claim to be multichannel, just because they are able to present content on a mobile device. This is just the beginning though; scratching the surface and ignoring all the hard bits. It’s like watching con artists at work; promising the world and delivering nothing.

Many of the afore mentioned ’solutions’ require many other systems before they actually can fulfill the promise of managing the full customer experience. With 45% of marketers claiming they are held back by disparate systems, one can’t help but wonder how single-track systems such as CMS, CRM, analytics, search and navigation, etc. really solve that problem? All they do is fragment the management process even further.

A brick, although important, doesn’t make a house alone, does it? It has been made with one purpose only. It takes an architect with a vision, builders with passion and mortar to hold it all together to transform the brick into something really spectacular. Many of these single-track systems are just bricks.

Today’s customers drive the customer engagement first and foremost. Modern enterprises must be responsive to customers whenever and wherever they demand to do so. Thus, focusing customer experience management on just a few customer touch points will fall short as a strategy.

True customer engagement is about:

  • enabling contact
  • understanding a customer’s context
  • providing rich and relevant content
  • providing convenience, and, last but not least
  • communication with the customer, online and offline across all customer touch points

In the next few paragraphs I’ll discuss what benefits the five pillars of customer engagement offer to customers but also how enterprises can profit from this shift too. It goes without saying that efforts in these areas have to be measurable. However, for the purpose of clarity I’ll leave out the role of analytics; discussing tools and how systems can help, support or even automate decision-making in a later blog.

You might think customers have all the power today. The good news is they still want to spend their money with you, so try to meet them half way.

Contact

The customer perspective

How many gadgets can we possibly own? Our TV is connected to the Internet, so are weight scales and coffee machines. At work printers have LCD screens with built-in order supplies functionality. The machine that runs low on stock of a much needed supply just orders it automatically from the supplier, who in turn delivers it directly to wherever the machine is actually located. If you still think of laptops and PCs when you think of the Internet, think again. The Internet is just like electricity; it comes in many disguises.

The enterprise perspective

It’s all about putting you out there at as many places as you can think of. The number of customer touch points is exploding. The obvious once are the web and mobile. But what about in-store? Or touch points you never thought of before, i.e. screens in cars, TVs with Internet connection, machinery with LCD screen and internet connection, ready to order supplies right there and then? In a world where the Internet has woven itself into the fabric of our lives, where the Internet of things is reality, the number of touch points is endless (including the obvious once such as email, web and mobile).

Hiring more and more resources for every emerging touch point to provide content and context is not a sustainable business model. Waiting for IT to provide integration for a new touch point some time in the future is far from being nimble and agile. Supporting new touch points must be as simple and easy as writing a word document. So, quick time to market takes a whole different meaning.

When you think about it, it’s still like in the old days of being concerned about your reach per thousand when placing an advert in a newspaper or magazine. Now, thanks to technology we have many more touch points and greater reach in much shorter cycles than we ever had with newspapers and magazines. Increasing your company’s exposure to as many potential customers or leads as possible remains as important as ever. The way you’ll do it, however, has just fundamentally changed and you’ll need tools to support you with that.

Context

The customer perspective

Context matters. Context influences our actions and our intentions. Whilst being on the run using our mobile phone we have a different intention then whilst sitting in armchair browsing the same offering. Some of us are bargain hunters, whilst others are value shoppers. A contractor on a construction site doesn’t want to shop around for an item he needs urgently. He wants to get there on his mobile swiftly, and then get it delivered ASAP, and credited to his business account.

When we are in a shop we have completely different expectation of presentation and offering. The last thing we need is to wait in line at the supermarket when we need to get home after work. Other people (well some at least) can sense the context we are in and they will adapt their behaviour accordingly. If they do it right we will feel more comfortable, we may even think of them as one of us. Being part of the same peer group, in turn, gives us the confidence to buy.

The enterprise perspective

Making feel people comfortable, recognising the context or the frame of mind a prospect is in, remains a challenge for enterprises. That’s why it’s so important to deliver the right message at the right time in the right way and at the right location. Great salespeople do that intuitively. That’s what sets them apart from the average salesperson.

The caveat though is only a few of them exist in the world. That model doesn’t scale. Today’s enterprises will also find that the world they are operating in has become increasingly more complex. Everything is connected with everything and sometimes it becomes really hard to tell things apart. Thus context has become even more important. Context is not just which device a prospect uses, or where he or she is, it’s also behavior and many other factors. Context, however, can provide a very good clue on what someone’s intention is.

Software tools that understand context can use this information to deliver relevant, and optimised content. The great thing about this is that it will not just do it for the few items your sales force can focus on, it will do so constantly across all of your products and services. Even those you can’t focus on. Relevance builds rapport with your customers, increases confidence and helps to improve a prospect’s confidence about the buying decision to be made. This allows you to leave more items out of your manual work cycle, whilst still increasing sales, with fewer resources, which will lift up your bottom line significantly.

Content

The customer perspective

Inconsistent content is a roadblock. It confuses all of us. Subconsciously it makes us doubt. And doubt keeps us from making decisions. We want to be informed and educated about what we are going to buy or the consequences of the decision we are going to make. Mixed messages, however, leave us confused and lead us to look for reassurance elsewhere… most likely from a different source or in the corporate world from one of your competitors.

The enterprise perspective

A few years back it was hard for customers to spot inconsistent content. Usually they only other information source outside of a physical store they had were printouts. Knowing that printed documents outdated easily, customers rarely got fed up when, what was on the paper did not match what they may found in store.

Those days are gone. Today, customers stand with mobile phones in front of a product in a store. And it’s not just about comparing prices. That’s only one aspect; in fact many times an over exaggerated one. Research has shown that customers are happy to pay a higher price if they are feeling well informed. Thus the mobile is actually being used to reassure decision-making. When organisations fail to deliver this reassurance the likelihood of customers wandering of to the competition increases significantly.

Creating content that’s reusable across touch points is another challenge enterprises. And as we’ve already learned, the number of touch points with demand for tailored, optimised content is on the rise. Content creation and management has to become more efficient with the same workforce.

Enterprises need to look out for tools that help them to shift content management from a linear, hierarchal process to a matrix driven approach, enabling everyone in the organisation to contribute content, spreading labour across more heads without actually hiring more people. Reusable content will also help with a quicker time to market at new, emerging customer touch points.

Convenience

The customer perspective

As a customer I want to mix and match my delivery options. Sometimes I prefer to order online and get it delivered to my home. Sometimes I want to pick it up from the store as I’m in that neck of the woods anyway. When I walk into a store and an item is not in stock I’d like to see a sales person that offers me shipping to my home from another store or the central warehouse. A large item I might like to get delivered to my home, even though I buy it in store.

Convenience is king. The less hassle I have the more I’m likely to buy from that company. Sending me away because an item is not in stock is certainly not a great way to make me want to come back any time soon. And by the way, I, the customer, do not care how a brand is organised internally. It’s your name on both the online and the offline offering, isn’t it?

The enterprise perspective

For enterprises this is probably the most straightforward calculation. Every item that is in stock somewhere in the enterprise universe is bound capital that reduces an enterprise’s profit margin. Any optimisation that can be done here as a great and immediate impact on the bottom line. So the more convenient an enterprise makes delivery to a customer, the more money it will actually earn, due to the following factors:

  • More items can be sold at a higher margin, before they have to be marked down
  • Never ever lose a sale; sending away a customer because an item wasn’t in stock in the branch he/she walked in
  • An always deliver on a promise. This helps influencing customers buying decision positively
  • Profit margin = business margin / capital bound by in-stock items. The less item in stock the higher the profit margin. It’s actually that simple.
  • Distributed order management systems will help you to leverage this potential.

Communication

The customer perspective

I find you! When I have found you, I’m expecting you to be ready to communicate with me regardless of the touch point or communication channel I chose. I communicate with you the way I like, not the way you want me to like.

The enterprise perspective

Being ready to communicate whenever customers are deciding they like to communicate is today’s enterprise challenges. And communication happens in many different ways. On the phone, online, over Twitter, Facebook, in-store, via phone and so on.

However technology isn’t just a challenge, it’s actually an opportunity too. Early engagement with customers can help to shape and develop new products or services. Listening to customers’ complaints on Twitter for instance can help to extinguish a little spark before it becomes a large bush fire. An early engagement in a conversation can help shape an opinion someone has about your products or company.

An open communication will shape and form the customer engagement more then anything else you will do. Just think about it – with whom are you more likely to stay in touch, the good natured, well-spoken friend or the grumpy, always disapproving fella from the other side of the street. Enterprises have become humanised in a way by social media. Though being seen as being human (which has to be your top priority in customer engagement) will improve confidence and the relationship you have with your customers.

Software packages will not just allow you to push out the occasional marketing message to your Twitter or Facebook followers, it will provide you with tools that help your internal sales or customer relation personnel to listen and engage with what’s goes on out there as well as providing tools to integrate with various social networks, leveraging the power of them.

In his over 10 years at hybris Stefan Schmidt has consulted for leading companies including Toys'R'Us, Virgin Megastores, Reebok, Waterstones/HMV, H&M and Rexel UK on their E-Commerce Strategy and Implementation. He has worked with many Retailers, Wholesalers, Manufacturers and Solution Providers from different markets during this time. In his current position he is responsible for the strategy of hybris' multichannel product stack, feeding back lessons learned in the field.