Two years ago, a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) revealed that four out of five executives believed that companies were losing sales every year because of a failure to engage customers. Furthermore, 80 percent suggested that increased customer engagement would translate into improved customer loyalty, and 75 percent said it would translate into increased revenue and profits. So how do you engage a customer? Conventional methods of customer engagement include asking for their feedback on surveys, training your employees to provide good customer service, and holding a customer appreciation event. Those activities are great gestures, and customers certainly enjoy being listened to, treated well, and appreciated; however, they are not enough to sustain a customer relationship. With today’s sophisticated customers, those customer satisfaction and feedback processes are almost implied. It is customer engagement that drives loyalty and return on investment (ROI): 68 percent of the time, an engaged customer leads to increased sales; 67 percent of the time, an engaged customer will recommend a product to someone else.¹
Engaging a customer creates relationships. Engagement is the deep connection a company or brand creates with a customer, a connection that drives purchase decisions, interaction, and participation over time.² Studies also indicate that customer engagement results in higher employer satisfaction and increased competitive differentiation. How do you create a company focused on engaging the customer?
To engage a customer, how about you trust them? I don’t want to be “engaged” to anyone that I don’t trust. The same rule applies to engaging consumers. Most companies have policy after policy that protects them from the “evils” of customers. Some of those policies – but not all – are necessary safety nets. Policies sometimes get developed because management does not want to fix what the underlying problems are. Years ago when I worked at a Dayton Hudson department store, a customer could return anything, without a receipt, within 90 days of purchase, even if it had been worn or returned in an open package. Mr. Dayton believed that most people are trustworthy, and he would not punish all customers because of the 10 percent or less that abused the policy. Mr. Dayton gave trust to customers. He was also able to prove on the books that the loss he took on the 10 percent that abused his policy was far less than the gains he earned on the 90 percent who were much more loyal because of his liberal return policy. If you want a customer to engage with you, trust them.
Recently I was in Chicago at a World Future Society conference. When my buddy Mike and I got out of the taxi to register, we were overwhelmed by hundreds of people in the hotel lobby wearing Chicago Blackhawks jerseys. There was a Blackhawks convention that same weekend in our hotel. I have to admit: I didn’t know what a “Blackhawks convention” was. What would fans of hockey players do at a convention? It seemed peculiar to me. What seemed even more peculiar was the amount of excitement, chatter, commitment, and loyalty these people radiated. Matter of fact, fans were riding up and down the elevator with the hopes of talking to a player. After a weekend of elevator conversations, it was very clear that it was more than just about being a sports fan; it was about being a part of a community. Hats off to the Blackhawks team for creating such engaged, committed fans. It wasn’t a user conference. They were not trying to sell anything. They were merely engaging in dialogue with people who have a common passion and interest. If a hockey team can do this, surely a business can! Wouldn’t you just love it if your consumers were so excited that they rode the elevators to just talk to you, your leaders, or one of your employees?
Ever want to be around someone or something just because they are so excited about what they are doing? Recently I attended a summer play and had the chance to talk to some of the young cast members (14 and 15 years old). They were so excited about having spent their summer studying drama and theatre; they almost had me convinced to audition for a play. Passion breeds passion, and people want in. Genuine passion is impossible to fake. Does your company have an excitement about your product, customers, and employees that is contagious? Are you having some fun with your product and services? The play’s director spoke at intermission. I thought he would give us the traditional “thank you for coming, thank you for your money, and thank you to the people who helped put this on.” Yawn. He didn’t do that. Instead he talked about the love for the theatre, the love for the kids, the purpose of comedy in society, and why the world just could not live without the theatre. By the end of his genuine, passionate speech, I was on the edge of my seat with my pocketbook open. You may be thinking, “but how does this apply to business?” According to Betsy Sanders, author of “Fabled Service”, the number one broad reason why customers “defect” from a business is “perceived indifference.” Isn’t a part of perceived indifference the lack of passion? Creating a contagiously passionate environment is a way to engage your customers.
There is nothing more frustrating to me than when a company asks me to engage with them, and then they make it almost impossible. A few years ago, a cell phone company asked me to pay my cell phone bill online. I thought, “okay…bill paying online is so main stream… I better get on board.” During this process, I had to fill out six forms, create two passwords, and sell them my firstborn child (okay, that last one was an exaggeration). However, the process for paying online was so broken that it took six months for them to resolve my password problem, another three months to erase previous inaccurate information, and another six months to win me over again to pay my bill online. I think you get my point. How in the world can you think about engaging a customer when some of the “processes” you have created may be alienating them? These processes are usually sacred cows that have become taboo to talk about. As Jim Collins states in “Good to Great”, “surface current reality fast, and listen to the brutal facts.” If you want to do a process review, invite four unhappy customers into your office and ask them to tell their story. Your part is to listen without providing excuses or platitudes. If that doesn’t work, try doing business with yourself and see what it is like. I most recently became a “mock student” at the university where I work. I tell you, it was a lot different registering for classes as a student than it was the few times I took classes as a faculty member. Engaging customers is more than just being nice or listening to them. It is about designing a company that works for the customer. It’s about reviewing all your processes to see if they are customer-friendly or customer-alienating. Broken processes often lead to broken promises. Who wants to engage in a community that breaks their promises?
I realize there are many more ways to engage a customer. You can engage them on Facebook, have a user conference, interact with them on Wikis , schedule customer advisory board meetings, and ask them for their opinion; however, I believe that if you do not have trust, passion, community, and customer-friendly processes, the other activities are good gestures with little ROI. An engaged customer is worth the money, and an engaged community is almost indestructible. Would your customers ride the elevator up and down in awe of your community?
To learn more about what you can do to engage your customers, contact Pam McGee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
¹ (Neil Davey, A Customer Experience, 2008)
² (Forrester Consulting Study, 2008)