Customers

Enabling customer engagement

Longform
(Image: Stockfresh)

11 November 2015

One challenge facing companies grappling with improving their customer engagement is knowing which of the many different routes to engagement they should cover. Five years ago, most companies used the phone, the Web and email to communicate with customers but today Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Whatsapp and more are all potential routes to engagement.

Customer journey
It would take a lot of employee power to handle all these and more but according to Rhiannon Prothero, marketing director, UK and Ireland of SAP, it is important to cover all of them, at least at the beginning.

“It depends on your customers. If you have a deep and thorough knowledge of your customers and the segments they group themselves into, and you know the channels they choose to use, then obviously you’d be wasting your time covering the channels they don’t. But you must remember that the customer journey is largely customer driven.”

Rhiannon Prothero_SAP_web

In defining a customer engagement strategy, you need to think about the number of access points and channels you’ll need and also the flexibility with which that journey can take place. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can define a linear process and then impose it on people who are free to take their business elsewhere, to someone who will make the effort to meet them where and when they want to meet, Rhiannon Prothero, SAP

“Irrespective of what preferred methods you’d like them to engage with you through, in the end it’s entirely up to them. They will choose the way they contact you to gain information from you that works for them. The challenge is that there are so many ways for companies to do that now. There are so many devices and access points,” she said.

“In defining a customer engagement strategy, you need to think about the number of access points and channels you’ll need and also the flexibility with which that journey can take place. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can define a linear process and then impose it on people who are free to take their business elsewhere, to someone who will make the effort to meet them where and when they want to meet.”

Facilitating flexibility
From a marketing point of view, facilitating this kind of flexibility is quite a challenge. If a customer decides they want to ask a company a question on Twitter, the fact that the information they are looking for is on the company’s web site does not guarantee the company a sale.

“That particular customer is choosing to interact with you via Twitter. Even if you’ve planned out a smart journey that expects potential customers to see a banner advert and then click through to the web site, ultimately the customer just does whatever is easiest for them. Consumers and businesses do this in slightly different ways, but they’re becoming more and more similar all the time. Soon there’ll be no difference.”

The question of where to start with a customer engagement strategy is both precise and infuriatingly vague, because there can be multiple possible start positions and multiple correct end positions.

Start positions
“Companies need to look at their processes and the journeys their customers go on.  We’re looking to create a frictionless customer experience, so if you want to take customer service as an example, we’ve all had the experience of hanging on a telephone on hold or trying to get through to someone only to be told you need to produce bill and account information and because you don’t have it to hand you’re bounced out of the system,” said Dempsey of Salesforce.

“It’s really frustrating but we’ve all been that person. So a lot of what we try to do with our customer success platform around service is about creating automated technology that customers can just get through to the right agents, at the right time and have the right information in front of them.”

Beyond service, every company needs to look at go what does a journey look like for one of their customers, he continued.

“What touchpoints do they have and where is the friction in that? And you’ll find there are dozens of places where companies need to basically iron those out. That’s where you start.”

This can be a real challenge, particularly for companies that, until relatively recently, had very tightly controlled customer engagement paths. Notably financial services companies have struggled to create accessible and friendly customer service systems that don’t alienate clients.

“In particular insurance companies and banks that, a couple of years ago, had very formal and old fashioned relationships with customers are now being forced to engage with the channels that their customers are using to communicate. They’ve been forced to think about this and work with a customer view that’s quite different and difficult for them because they have an awful lot of information on customers,” said Jason Burns, client architect for analytics, information management and security with IBM.

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