Connecting with a brand is a lot like initiating a conversation with a stranger. Encountering an individual whose body language is stiff with tepid eye contact that lasts but a mere second or two is not a recipe for engagement. On the contrary, an individual who holds eye contact, smiles genuinely, and willfully initiates a conversation is much more likely to increase engagement. There is a colossal difference in the welcoming perception that is given.
Brands behave in the same way. Are brands fostering an environment that encourages customers to feel eager, willing, and readily able to engage? Customers communicate with brands in the same way they would communicate with other people, and it’s up to the brand to open the door for engagement and create the type of environment that not only welcomes it but encourages it.
There are a number of reasons why customer engagement is critical to the bottom line and long-term success, and perhaps the most significant is that customers today simply have high demands. They’ve evolved, and as they’ve evolved their expectations of customer service have substantially increased. According to a report published by Nielsen, one out of three customers prefer to contact a brand through an alternative means of communication than traditional phone support. More and more customers are expecting brands to provide these alternative methods of contact, i.e. via social media. Bain & Co. found that when companies engage and respond to customer service requests over social media, customers end up spending 20 percent to 40 percent more with the company. Multiple platforms on which to engage customers, however, arises the issue of response time. In fact, Forrester (News - Alert) reports that 45 percent of U.S. consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly. Study after study have provided similar data sets – trends are evolving to include multiple digital touch points and driving the evolution of customer care.
This evolution is being defined by the likes of social media, live chat, texting, and rapid e-mail response. This is the future of customer care.
The brands that are embracing this evolution are the brands coming out on top. What was once a one-way conversation with businesses broadcasting information to their customers is now a two-way conversation with the same businesses. Today’s consumers demand interactions that involve brands that talk with their customers, solicit their thoughts, opinions, and feelings, and respond accordingly. Customers reward those brands that provide such experiences and personalize their brand.
The reward is perhaps the greatest gift of all – brand loyalty. Engagement has the fascinating ability to turn what might otherwise be a one-time purchase into a long-term customer and brand ambassador. The March 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review showed that Facebook (News - Alert) pages can increase customer loyalty by 36 percent, and customers that engage a brand via their Facebook page had an increase in emotional and psychological loyalty to that brand.
Real world examples of this are prevalent with 21st century customer engagement centers.
Take Raphael, for example. Raphael originally messaged a company through its Facebook page. He was extremely upset, but unbeknownst to him, he was mistaking one company for another. The company he messaged through Facebook had no account with him whatsoever, but was happy to help him however it could. Its customer care team, acting through social media, advised him of the best methods to find the correct company and offered him additional advice on his particular issue. It wished him luck and invited him to contact the company again if he ever needed help in the future. That same evening, Raphael placed an order with the company he mistakenly messaged. He then posted his thanks for outstanding customer service to its Facebook wall.
Still leery from a poor experience with a similar company, he messaged again the very next day asking for reassurance on the product’s effectiveness and a couple further questions pertaining to dosage instructions so he could be sure he would achieve optimal results. The company engaged. For the next eight months to present day, Raphael would occasionally post to the company’s Facebook wall, message them with questions, e-mail and call its customer service support line. Raphael is a real person, but his story is replicated again and again with other customers.
It is important to create an environment that allows these experiences to manifest with thousands of customers: It’s 21st century customer engagement. Responding 100 percent of the time in an interested, professional manner with a humanistic voice increases engagement rate and sets the tone for future customer engagement.
Humanizing a brand to create that open perception will invite customers to engage. The future of customer service utilizes alternative methods of customer care, instead of appearing as a dry, traditional business that seems so far disconnected and distant. Brands should instead be current, active, and show customers that they are interested in them and care about their experience. It creates an ongoing connection with the consumer, and that connection is the very process that cultivates brand loyalty.
Jason Levesque is the founder and CEO of Argo Marketing Group (www.argomarketinggroup.com).
Edited by Stefania Viscusi