Welcome to a social media first world and more importantly the era of the entitled customer.
For many years a single bad customer experience didn’t really matter all that much. It might lose you a customer, or a handful of customers through word of mouth, but companies didn’t worry because they could drown out negative experiences with clever marketing spend.
But the advent of social media has changed all that: customer's voices, amplified by social media, now trump even the best marketing. Combine that with a massive surge towards subscription & freemium models, increasing saturation of digital marketing channels, and decreasing customer loyalty, and you have the recipe for an era where users, not brands, wield unprecedented power.
Going forward, customers will feel entitled to an amazing customer experience and woe to companies that don’t give it to them.
If you want to provide an amazing experience you really need to understand, and be in close contact with, your customers. You need to be engaged with your customers. Unfortunately, that’s not something companies are doing well. In fact, a recent IBM study found that only 35% of CxOs believe they understand their customers well today. Yikes.
82% of the CEOs said they were going to spend time changing their customer strategies. That’s good because they’ll need to if they’re going to solve this problem. To help nudge these changes onto the action plan, I have some insights and suggestions.
I believe a big part of the problem is that a lot of companies and even vendors are approaching customer engagement using one-off passive methods. How many customers are really choosing to spend 30 minutes to fill out your annual survey? How many customers are joining your community and posting things on the forums? How many customers are sharing your promoted Facebook post? The answer to all of these is, of course: not many.
That’s because a lot of what’s been pushed as customer engagement by companies is pretty unengaging. The value is all for the company. The entitled customer isn’t going to do you any favors, they’re going to say “what’s in it for me?” prizes and any extrinsic motivations are ultimately not sustainable and only get you in front of a small portion of your customers.
Companies need to be offering truly engaging interaction options that both company and customer derive value from.
The other problem is the scale of most customer engagement programs. What % of your customers get involved in focus groups or customer advisory panels? What % of them are clicking on that survey banner flying across your site? What % are navigating away from their core online experience to interact in your customer community? Again the answer is, you guessed it: not many.
In a social media world, the real opportunity is if companies can keep all their customers engaged and in the loop on how they’re actually improving customer experience with them.
So the challenge for all companies is to create a customer engagement program that users actually want to engage in (but that still generates useful data for making CX decisions), that garners double digit participation rates and that you can scale to the thousands or millions of customers.
It’s not easy, but also not impossible. To accomplish this, here are some key concepts you can use.
The first key insight is that if a company is going to achieve high participation rates it has to target engagement where the users already are.
For the purveyors of digital products (web and mobile apps) this means embedding everything that would have traditionally been off-site directly into the app.
Customer portals are great for power users but casual users, who make up the majority of any user base, simply aren’t going to click away from what they’re doing to go to another site. All engagement needs to be simple and built into the existing product or service experience. A single open ended text entry box (with smart routing and algorithms to get it to the right people) is the most a company should ask of a user if they want to keep participation rates high.
The second key insight is that customer support is the first form of customer engagement that you should offer.
It’s something users want to use (when they have an issue) and, if we’re smart about how it’s tracked, is a key data point for how to improve customer experience. Just even having high quality support in-app is often an improvement to the customer experience on its own. If you provide an easy way to get help directly where the problem happens (inside your product) then very few people take their issues to Twitter - the small claims court of bad support.
The final insight is that the way to customer engagement nirvana lies in user feedback.
People love being heard. They love giving feedback. What they don’t love is how most companies don’t seem to truly want their feedback (and burying “feedback” link in your footer doesn’t change that impression) nor do they do very good job of following up on feedback given.
When you give people a simple, accessible (in-experience) way to give feedback, they take you up on it (at UserVoice we’ve seen feedback rates as high as 30%+). Especially if you give them a direct line to getting updates on how their feedback affected change. Again, these aren’t flying banners asking you to a take a survey, they’re single question surveys that pop-up in-experience and can be answered with a single click.
When companies put all these learnings together the result is customer engagement data from support interactions to customer feedback (both qualitative and quantitative) to user analytics (activity rates, customer spend) all in the same database. This allows companies to make true data-driven customer experience decisions a reality.
And that, my friends, is the future of customer engagement: a recipe for creating amazing customer experiences.
But you better hurry because customer expectations are rising faster than ever before.
(Image attributed to Shutterstock)