Most of us will have heard of the term “The Age of the Customer”. This was coined by Forrester Research to reflect the shifting dynamic of how control was moving from brands to individuals. This is being driven by a host of factors and all of these have led to a position where not only is the customer more in control of the relationship, but more importantly, they have a far higher expectation in what they expect from that relationship.
This has resulted in significant press around the importance of customer service and also in the quality of the customer experience that must be delivered to be able to acquire and more importantly retain your customers. However, very little is mentioned specifically in what this means in terms of engagement.
“Markets are conversations.” Levine, Locke, Searls and Weinberger in The Cluetrain Manifesto
Fundamentally, for an individual to establish a relationship with a brand and vice versa there needs to be engagement. All relationships are reliant on a level of engagement that can create an emotional connection and affinity between both parties. Engagement sits at the heart of successful brands and it is imperative that engagement helps individuals feel connected, valued and cared for.
“The only successful marketing is when you elicit a response. If you are not able to establish a 2-way conversation, then you are not marketing.” David Newberry
So how has engagement been impacted by increased customer expectation? Here are the five key drivers that have transformed the nature of engagement.
MOBILE: The smart phone has provided everyone with a companion in their pocket. A companion that is always on and connected. This has changed how individuals think about engagement. Now they can engage when it is convenient to them. They don’t need to schedule anything, they can just act in the moment they want to, whether it be searching for information, browsing a possible purchase, having fun, sharing something or participating in a conversation.
INTUITIVE: One of the key influences of social media is the way it has changed how individuals expect to interact digitally. No one has ever been trained on how to use social media, it is completely intuitive and easy to use. In addition, it is highly interactive and users can define how they wish to engage. It is also incredibly rapid, as well as embedding a user interface that is fun to use. It also continually evolves. Now compare this to email, that has fundamentally remained the same for years, if not decades.
“Great Design Is All the Work You Don’t Ask People Who Use Your Product to Do.” Rebekah Cox
OPTIONS: Individuals have access to a range of options that they would never have believed possible before and these are only a click away. They can access products from overseas, they can find very small craft producers, they can hear about products shared by friends and colleagues. The ability to find new brands is unlimited. This means loyalty is tested continuously for existing brands and emotional connection becomes significantly more important than logical consideration, as promoted through discounting or offers.
CONTENT: It is no longer enough to use content that pushes out a message. Individuals expect to be able to interact with content; to like it, comment on it, share it, amend it etc. Content must be interactive and more importantly engaging with it must be fun and enjoyable and make the user feel good. Content is all about the experience (The How) rather than the message (The What).
VALUE: Individuals now value their time more and there is a far higher demand for their attention span. In addition, they understand that their data and their custom has a value to the brand. This means that if they are to invest anything of themselves into an engagement, then it has to be valuable in their eyes. This has changed the value equation, that has now tipped in favour of the individual. In fact, it has gone further than fair exchange, brands now need to invest and pay it forward in order to receive benefits from the relationship in the future.
Engagement sits at the heart of any business. If you are not able to engage and connect with your audience, then it is next to impossible to build a relationship where the individual is emotionally invested in your business.
“Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them.” Kevin Stirtz
So, in summary brands need to:
- Recognise the importance of mobile and become mobile-first.
- Invest in Experience Design and ensure that every engagement provides a fun experience that is very easy to respond to.
- Provide an engagement that talks to the interests, aspirations and values of the individual in a way that establishes empathy and emotional connection.
- Use content that requests and elicits to a response; content that requires interaction and that motivates ongoing engagement and that recognises and rewards their participation.
- Ensure that you deliver value to your customers, as perceived by them. This could be by providing an engagement that is fun, informative, offer related, easy to share, competitive, satisfies curiosity, humorous etc. Anything that makes their lives better and provides a feel-good factor.