6 steps to develop an effective customer engagement strategy
Engaged customers are more likely to buy from you again, write positive reviews, recommend you to friends and family, give you testimonials, and share valuable feedback on your product or service. That’s why it’s critical to develop a solid customer engagement strategy and to optimize it continuously.
Why you need a customer engagement strategy
Establishing and maintaining a value-based relationship with your customers is critical. A customer engagement marketing strategy is a plan of action designed to build those relationships and turn your customers into proactive co-creators of brand value.
As one of the pillars of a successful marketing strategy, your performance, sales, and competitiveness are directly related to customer engagement.
It ensures that you:
- Understand your customers
- Meet their needs and expectations
- Project the right brand image to your audience
- Build long-term relationships with your customers
What that means is that your connection to your customers transcends the level of a transactional relationship. When that happens, your customers will enhance your product or service by interacting with your brand, other customers, and potential customers.
These interactions are instances of value co-creation. Some other examples of how customers co-create value include:
- Helping other customers solve problems with a company’s product in an online community.
- Writing an online review for a company’s service.
- Writing a blog post about a new way to use a product.
How to develop a customer engagement strategy
The customer engagement matrix illustrates four levels of engagement based on the customer’s level of satisfaction and emotional connectedness with a company.
Disengaged customers aren’t delighted with your company, and they don’t have a high level of positive emotions towards it. At the other end of the spectrum, fully engaged customers are delighted and have a positive attitude towards your company.
A good customer engagement strategy will begin turning indifferent customers who only buy from you to fill a need into customers that love your company and actively seek ways to engage with your brand.
Ultimately, you may choose to use a customer engagement platform to implement this strategy. But first, you need to decide how to approach customer engagement so you’ll know what to look for in a software solution.
Here are the six steps needed to do that:
1. Assess key elements of your existing strategy
The first step is to review four vital strategic elements of your company to determine whether they are sufficient to maximize customer engagement. These elements are:
- Value proposition: the reason a customer should choose your company over the competition.
- Brand: the identity of your company.
- Culture: the beliefs and values that drive your organization.
- Customer experience: the physical and psychological elements that customers experience in their interactions with your company
To fully engage your customers, these factors must be in alignment. You should uniquely tailor your value proposition to your target market.
That value should be core to your brand, and your branding efforts should make that value clear to customers. Then, your organizational culture should ensure the delivery of that value by influencing and empowering your employees to deliver a customer experience that is consistent with your value proposition.
2. Map out the customer journey
Next, you need to map out all significant touchpoints and bottlenecks that exist throughout the customer journey. There are three phases:
The Pre-purchase Phase comprises everything that happens before the purchase. There are at least two subphases within this phase. Generally, marketers start with the interactions that occur once the customer is aware of the problem or goal that their company can solve. In that case, the subphases are:
- Awareness: The interactions that occur when the customer recognizes they have a need.
- Consideration: The interactions that occur when the customer begins to look for solutions.
But, a comprehensive customer journey map might also include touchpoints before the customer recognizes that they have a problem. This map adds an Unaware subphase that covers the touchpoints before the customer begins investigating the issue.
The Purchase Phase includes all interactions that occur during the purchase. For example, when purchasing a product online, the customer chooses a product, enters their payment information, selects a shipping option, submits payment, and receives a confirmation email.
The Post-Purchase Phase varies from company to company. It may include interactions like onboarding, implementation, support requests, using the product or service, and interacting with other customers in a branded community.
An example of a customer journey
Here’s an example of how a customer journey for a company that sells aftermarket parts to automotive enthusiasts with performance cars:
Unaware: The customer engages in typical automotive enthusiast activities.
- Engages in conversations on BoostAddict, a performance car forum
- Goes in for maintenance at a high performance auto shop
- Reads Motor Trend magazine
- Watches Top Gear
- Sees an ad from your brand awareness campaign on Jalopnik
Awareness: The customer is unhappy with their car’s cornering performance.
- Asks about the problem on BoostAddict
- Uses a search engine to understand the problem
- Sees your search ad
- Sees your display ad
Consideration: The customer begins to look for ways to improve their car’s cornering performance.
- Uses a search engine to identify possible solutions
- Asks about different performance tires on BoostAddict
- Sees a search ad
- Sees a display ad
- Checks online reviews
Purchase: The customer decides to buy a set of sport performance tires from the company.
- Chooses tires online
- Calls the store to schedule installation
- Goes to the store to pay and have tires installed
Post-Purchase: The customer loves the tires.
- Shares a picture of their car with the tires on BoostAddict
- Tells friends about the tires
Once you’ve mapped out the customer journey, go through it and look for potential bottlenecks. What could happen at each touchpoint to cause a customer to continue or end the journey?
Identify any roadblocks your customers could face so that you can put together a plan to remove them or reduce their negative impact.
3. Look for opportunities to increase engagement
The next step is to examine each phase and touchpoint of the customer journey to identify opportunities to engage your customers. Two important ways to do that are:
- Promoting value co-creation
- Developing additional points of interaction
Promoting value co-creation
Instead of viewing customers as mere buyers, thoroughly engaging customers requires companies to create opportunities to co-create value.
Co-created value is the value customers create through direct or indirect collaboration with the company. It benefits companies by increasing efficiency, effectiveness, and customer satisfaction.
The primary way companies empower their customers to co-create value is by establishing two-way lines of communication between the company and its customers. That allows customers to participate in the product or service design process by sharing their needs, feedback, and suggestions.
Some companies, like BMW, Adidas, Ducati, Procter & Gamble, and 3M, do this by creating places for their customers to share their ideas. Some software companies, like Linux and Apache, have gone further by open sourcing their code so that customers can create additional value on top of their software.
Another example is the fashion company Threadless, which allows customers to submit and vote on designs to decide what products it produces.
Companies that develop initiatives like this to empower their customers see a higher degree of value co-creation than those that don’t.
Developing additional points of interaction
As you review your customer journey map, look for areas where you could add an opportunity for customers to interact with your team or other customers. For example, fashion company Suitsupply used co-browsing and video chat to enable its team members to browse their website with customers to give the online experience an in-store feel.
Another example is HubSpot Community, where users of the CRM can ask and answer questions about the platform.
4. Prioritize communication
To increase the number of opportunities your customers have to engage with your brand and other companies, you’ll need to take an omnichannel approach. Different customers will prefer different channels, and the same customer might choose different channels for different types of interactions.
Create a seamless experience across all channels with branding and messaging consistent with your unique value proposition.
By engaging with customers on the platforms they use regularly, you’ll show them that you’re invested in the relationship. Delivering timely, relevant, and authentic communication with your customers through their preferred channels demonstrates that investment.
Here are five best practices to keep in mind as you establish your presence on new channels:
- Define your brand voice and use it consistently across channels
- Make your website easy to navigate by providing a great UX experience
- Not everyone will use the same platform, so make you’re sending the right messages to the right people on the right platforms
- Maintain a social media presence that is in line with your values, overall messaging, and style.
And don’t forget to engage with your quiet customers too. Chances are, these customers have things to say. Be proactive about soliciting feedback and be available for customers on different channels.
They’ll probably appreciate the attention, especially if you communicate with them authentically and honestly with an understanding of their unique experience with your brand.
5. Integrate customer feedback into product development
Customer feedback will help you align your product with your market, so it’s crucial to integrate it into your product development process. For example, if you’re developing software, getting clarity into your customers’ current and future needs will help you build a product that actively adapts to their expectations with each new version.
This form of value co-creation:
- Increases speed to market
- Lowers costs
- Reduces risks
- Increases willingness to pay
6. Build a brand community
The final step in developing a customer engagement strategy is to build a brand community to facilitate customer-to-business and customer-to-customer interactions. A brand community is a “specialized, non-geographically bound community based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand.”
Engaged customers enjoy supporting other customers, providing feedback to the company, and staying informed about the brand. A brand community helps foster these opportunities for value co-creation.
Brand communities often form naturally around niche or luxury brands like Harley Davidson or Gucci. Still, research suggests that these aren’t the only types of brands that can successfully build a community. Even hazelnut spread Nutella enjoyed a thriving brand community created by customers until its manufacturer made the questionable move of shutting it down.
The risks of an unmoderated brand community are high. The Hell’s Angels, for example, was created by Harley-Davidson owners, and this brand community was not aligned with the company’s goals. So building an outlet for avid fans should be an early marketing priority for companies.
The logistics of developing a brand community aren’t complicated. You can do it through hashtags, Facebook groups, workshops, online or offline events, or a forum hosted on your website. But research indicates that offline events are the most effective approach.
The challenging part is establishing the conditions necessary to attract customers to your community. Brand trust and brand satisfaction are critical. It’s also essential that customers have a strong relationship with the brand and other customers.
Relationship marketing and relationship selling are effective ways to improve brand trust and satisfaction. And you can encourage the development of customer-to-customer relationships through compatibility management. Compatibility management is the process of controlling the environment to create more positive encounters between customers.
For example, a car dealership might host a car seat safety clinic to appeal to parents or a military appreciation event to appeal to veterans and active service members. That way, most of the customers will share something in common.
Optimize your customer engagement strategy to drive sales
An effective customer engagement strategy leads to more satisfied customers that are loyal to your brand. These customers will contribute to your company’s success in many ways. They will make a direct contribution by making purchases and indirect contributions like supporting other customers and providing feedback to your team.