Technology / The expert view: true customer engagement

The expert view: true customer engagement

True customer engagement is not possible if you don’t understand the signals that customers are sending you, said Tom Huxtable, of Thunderhead, introducing a Business Reporter breakfast briefing at the St Martin’s Lane Hotel in London. He said that businesses now have more opportunity than ever to understand customers but too often they fail.

The senior executives attending the briefing had differing opinions on how customer engagement and experience fit together. For some, they are entirely separate areas, with engagement being far easier to measure than experience. Engagement, said one attendee, from the insurance industry, is more about building the business, while experience is more about building the brand.

For others, there was a much closer relationship, with the two being virtually impossible to disentangle. Engagement, said an executive from the recruitment sector, is getting someone to the point of a transaction and experience is how the transaction turns out.


Regardless of the precise definitions, businesses in all sectors face similar challenges around customer engagement and experience. The first is simply understanding why customers stay or go. Most companies can see very clearly what the customer is doing but they have a limited understanding of why. This is a challenge when it comes to focusing on customer retention, rather than acquisition.

In a multi-channel world, the picture is even more complicated. Companies struggle to identify the same customer in different contexts, for example, when they are visiting a physical store and later viewing the website on mobile. Furthermore, it can be very difficult to ensure a consistent experience across channels. Is the service that a client gets from a lawyer matched by the treatment they receive when they call the office or visit reception, for example?

Businesses have learned that some customers just want to be left alone once they have completed their transaction. However, the company still needs to encourage that customer to remain loyal, so how can they communicate with them and not annoy them so much that they go elsewhere? Even customers who don’t mind receiving communications might find that some companies send too much. Knowing how much to send takes trial and error.

Finally, companies must avoid being seduced by the hot new communications channel. One attendee, from the tobacco industry, said that her marketing team were hugely excited by the possibilities of social media as a marketing channel. The fact that most of their customers were not significant social media users and marketing activity on those channels was mostly unsuccessful did not deter them. It’s never a good idea to choose marketing channels based on the needs of the marketing team, rather than the needs of customers.


Attendees at the breakfast were very aware that it is not easy to solve every problem entirely, but all had plans underway to improve the situation. One simple tactic, an attendee said, was to ensure that marketing objectives are clearly tied to business objectives – particularly sales. That makes it harder to waste energy on unproductive channels or to produce an overwhelming amount of content. Any activity that isn’t affecting the bottom line, is a wasted activity.

One way to improve visibility of customers who switch between channels is to ensure that staff fill out contact forms after an interaction with a customer. Many employees, especially senior ones, can be reluctant to do this, fearing that if they say too much about their relationship with a client then they will make themselves expendable. Instead, they jealously guard their contacts. The key to changing that, said an attendee from the world of private banking, is to change the company culture so that they feel secure in sharing their expertise.

Some of those present said they had invested in trying to use data more intelligently. This makes it easier to spot patterns of behaviour and make reasonable predictions about how customers will behave in future. It also makes it easier to treat customers as individuals – drilling down into the data to find out more about their interests can often allow you to create niche audience segments who can become incredibly loyal with the right encouragement.

An attendee from the legal sector said that his company had set down a good foundation for using data but the exercise had shown just how many gaps there were in the company’s knowledge. Though frustrating, he said that this had provided them with a good baseline from which they could measure progress.

There are few quick fixes on the path to true customer engagement. In fact, it’s a journey that might never be complete: there will always be new ideas and concepts that emerge, however close to the ‘end’ you might think you are. The important thing, as with any journey, is to make a start.

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