Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Engaging With Customers

So far we’ve talked about how to listen to our customers and how (and whether) to respond. The next step I suggested in an abbreviated strategy development process is to engage. This is hardly a new subject; I found some good case examples not long ago.

Since I believe it’s important to have a common understanding of what we’re talking about, I searched “definition of customer engagement.” I got 150,000 hits, pretty much what I was expecting. The Advertising Research Foundation’s 2006 definition is widely accepted; here is a good article with an elaboration of the definition. The common thread in the subset of the 150,000 definitions I read is that we want to encourage interaction with our customers—real give and take that adds value to the customer’s brand-related experience.

A recent publication from Alterian quotes some statistics. Note particularly the second one. Customer service experts have long known that resolving a problem for a customer can make that person more loyal than the person who has never experienced a problem. It also supports my hypothesis that the customer experience concept--if it did not grow out of what we know about customer service management--is at least a first cousin. Contemplate the steps recommended by the Opinion Research Corporation. They say the goal is a differentiated customer experience. The strategic questions are:

1. How well do our employees deliver on our brand promise?
2. What are our customer’s expectations of experiences with our organization?
3. What is the gap between our brand promise and the customer experience/customer
4. How consistent is the delivery of our brand promise across all channels of
customer interaction?
5. What are we doing to deliver a differentiated experience from that of our
competition, and/or in comparison to other non-competitive organizations?
6. How is all of this information utilized by our organization to close the gap between
the promise and the experience to ultimately enhance the overall customer experience?

The focus on brand promise is the unifying theme—the one marketers want to embed in all communications channels, at all customer touchpoints. While this makes sense to me, it’s more operations focused than interaction focused. Getting customers to interact with us seems to be the goal; it’s not enough that they just go away satisfied.

Let me give you two quick examples. I went shopping over the weekend. I had a few staples to pick up at Macy’s; of course that led to browsing other departments and, of course, that led to buying some stuff that I only needed marginally, if at all. But I was having fun. Sales associates were being nice to me; two of them stretched the definition of “red” to give me the discount for the “Go Red” AHA promotion (note more cause-related marketing here). One associate wrote her name on the register receipt and encouraged me to evaluate my experience. I got good service everywhere I went, so I did write a review when I got home. I thought that would be the end of it, but a couple of days later I got a thank-you email from Macy’s. It’s nice to be thanked and I was interested to see my review was being forwarded to the local store. Too bad they had to spoil it with a lame subject line! But overall good try.
The second is what’s becoming the ubiquitous video contest. This one does seem to tie in well with the brand promise. You probably know Flo, the terminally perky sales rep who sells insurance “packages” for Progressive on TV. Now, apparently, Flo needs help! You can send in a video in a contest for a live tryout, presumably for a lucrative ad contract. You can watch the “tryouts” but I don’t see that viewers get a vote. They certainly are encouraged to “share.” Progressive is clearly serious about it; there have been two days of tryouts in New York already and they are taking the road show to Miami next week. The program, of course, has a Facebook page and is being promoted by Tweets from the Progressive account. As I said, these contests are becoming ubiquitous, but when the campaign needs refreshing can you think of anything better???

Macy’s tried, and I did appreciate being thanked. However, there was no real encouragement to try to get me to interact further. I do expect to get more emails though! Progressive will probably come up with another cute spokesperson—is “young” part of the strategy, I wonder? And what will they do to ensure that all the contestants go away happy, if not richer? And will they use the entries to build any kind of relationship? Keep an eye out.

And if you ever believed in “build it and they will come” forget that now. It all takes persistent effort. That’s what builds a social media strategy!

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