What’s the difference between an interaction and an engagement? What does it take to move to continuous customer engagement? And most importantly, does the payoff justify the required level of effort?
Online dating seems to be all the rage these days – even earning its own show on Bravo (or so my wife tells me). And while we’ve all seen the eHarmony commercials touting success, it’s still hard not to question the practicality of this approach. You select a few attributes that describe you, receive a recommendation based on someone having a few of your few attributes, and voila – it’s time for your first date! But what’s the chance of turning that first date – which is solely based on a narrow set of attributes and perhaps some assumptions – into a second date and eventually, a long-term relationship?
Luckily for me, I’m a happily married man of nineteen years so I haven’t had to dabble in the online dating scene. Yes, the days of traditional dating required some ‘strategic planning’, but the chance of finding your perfect match was far greater than today’s age of ‘stranger dating’. Engaging in discussion, learning likes and dislikes, observing behavior, and socializing in the context of a circle of mutual friends – it was all about knowing someone well enough to determine if there was real potential for something long-lasting. And that’s when you took a major step…asking her on the first date.
Interaction or engagement?
Unfortunately, many marketers have fallen into the online dating mentality when it comes to establishing relationships with their customers. There’s a tendency to make a decision at a point in time based on an assumption or best guess (she looks athletic so she’ll like sports bars) versus actually learning more about someone and then determining the long term game plan and the steps for getting there.
This is where the difference between interaction and engagement come into play. In short, an interaction occurs between the customer and the marketer in the moment, while an engagement occurs between the customer and the marketer over time.
Ironically (but not unexpected), the rise in mobile marketing has brought about an increase in point-in-time interactions – even though the mobile customer is the most dynamic to date. Think about it – a mobile customer’s behaviors and expectations are always changing – based on where they are, what they’re doing, who they’re with, etc. Yet many marketers deliver one-off interactions (which can be quite annoying to the consumer) without even incorporating context. Or they interact with customers based on a single element of context…LBS anyone? And while this piece meal approach may generate some response (typically because there’s an offer tied to it), it’s rarely attributed to building long-term customers who seek to strengthen the relationship, whether it be through increased spend, loyalty, or advocacy.
Moving to an approach of continuous engagement
The shift in focus from customer interaction to customer engagement requires a change in mindset and technologies – to move from discrete events or campaigns to an ongoing continuous process. Rather than acting on data in reactionary mode – “We know you’re here so you must want this offer now” – an engagement approach involves gathering data to understand, analyze and make predictions (for those who are marketing techies, this goes beyond predictive modeling to state-space modeling which is more timely and more precise for executing against). Next it involves monitoring, then finally acting, and from there refining – all as part of a continuous cycle that spans over the lifetime of each customer.
The key for marketers is being able to decide where they want customers to be relative to where they are today, whether it’s in regard to usage, spend, tenure, activity, product mix, etc. Next it requires being able to influence customers in ways that take him/her from a current state to the desired one, and proactively executing a plan via marketing activity even as their behaviors change.
For example, a certain device model does not equal likelihood to accept a data bundle; there are steps to get there. A continuous engagement approach requires that marketers nurture customers. In doing so, they must monitor and analyze behavior and then act accordingly with the right communication – which in some cases may be an offer or incentive but in others may be informational or educational. To move a customer toward a desired behavior, marketers must determine the right offer, right parameters, right contexts, right messaging, and right channel for engagement at the right time. It’s important to realize that those ‘rights’ will continually change – so keeping an ongoing test/learn/optimize mentality and having the tools to automate it are integral to engaging in a way that is relevant and personalized ongoing.
What’s in it for me and my customers?
That’s the big ticket – relevance and personalization. The more you know about a customer, the better you understand their needs, wants, preferences, etc., as well as your ability to act on that understanding. In short, continuous customer engagement allows companies to bridge the gap between consumer expectations and their own marketing objectives.
This shift may require some marketers to work on their patience – as engagement is about executing a long-term strategy versus achieving a short-term result – but the outcome in doing so is well worth the wait and effort. Instead of reporting click through and offer acceptance rates to your counterparts, you’ll be reporting the impact your marketing efforts are having on strategic KPIs, such as revenues and retention.
Oh, and just to prove my point about online versus traditional dating – of all the U.S. marriages in the past year, only 17% of them resulted from a couple who met online. But maybe that’s because the same study showed that men lie most about their age, height and income and women lie most about their weight, physical build and age?!