A definitive guide to customer engagement in 2021
Master the art of customer engagement, and you've taken a huge step in sustaining long-term relationships with your customers.
Published March 31, 2020
Last updated June 17, 2021
You’re a perfectionist entrepreneur who, after years of research, finally crafted a product with all the right details for your target customer. Your business is set, right?
Not necessarily. Even if your offering is technically the best option on the market, it’s not enough to guarantee your customers will come back. To foster customer loyalty, you’ll need to build solid customer relationships. The strength of those relationships depends on how well you engage with your buyers.
Craft a sound customer engagement strategy, and you’ve taken a huge step in creating—and sustaining—lasting relationships with your customers. But if you’re not sure to begin, we’ve got you covered with our definitive guide to customer engagement. You’ll learn:
- What customer engagement is
- Why customer engagement is important
- How to measure customer engagement
- Tips for creating your customer engagement strategy
- Which customer engagement tools can help you improve your interactions
What is customer engagement?
Customer engagement refers to interactions between a brand and a buyer across various communication channels, such as social media, email, and community forums. It’s a two-way street—customer engagement doesn’t take place unless your buyers either respond or reach out to you.
Your customer engagement strategy must place your customers and their needs above everything else. “Customer engagement should be focused on value for the customer first and the business second,” says Nicole Saunders, Zendesk’s senior manager of communities. “Your customers should always be at the center of all your engagement efforts.”
Customer engagement should not be mistaken for customer experience. Although they are related concepts and influence one another, there is a difference between them: Customer engagement encompasses all communication between a brand and its buyers, while customer experience has more to do with buyers’ perception of every interaction they have with a brand. Essentially, in customer engagement, the buyer is seen as an active participant rather than a recipient of an experience.
“Your customers should always be at the center of all your engagement efforts.”Nicole Saunders, senior manager of communities at Zendesk
What is customer engagement marketing?
To attract customers and keep them coming back, marketers often rely on customer engagement marketing. This entails delivering highly relevant, personalized messages to customers in the channels they care about most.
Companies may deliver these messages based on a customer’s browsing or purchase history, geographical location, or social media connections to move them down the sales funnel. Brands can also prioritize less transactional engagements, like eliciting a social media comment, like, or share from a customer.
The best customer engagement marketing strategy starts with a holistic view of the consumer and connects the dots between departments and datasets. When done correctly, engagement marketing is an impactful and cost-effective way to increase sales, drive customer retention, and grow lifetime value.
Why is customer engagement important?
Businesses that consistently engage their customers are better able to build trust, which helps the brand grow and stay profitable. By having a customer engagement strategy in place, you can:
Increase customer loyalty and retention
When a brand consistently interacts with its customers—and those interactions are meaningful and provide value—they’re more likely to stick around and continue making purchases. In fact, businesses that successfully engage with customers are 63 percent less likely to lose them.
Leveraging data and personalization throughout the customer lifecycle can help you provide better interactions. For instance, you might send a customer an email to let them know that an item they liked on social media is now on sale or that a piece of clothing they previously purchased is now available in a new color. Customers who are looking for a great deal or who appreciate personalized experiences will likely want to buy from your brand again after this outreach, increasing your customer retention rate.
When you regularly interact with customers and learn about their pain points, you'll also see opportunities for upsells and cross-sells that meet their individual needs. According to Gallup, highly engaged customers represent “a 23 percent premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth over the average customer.”
Engaged customers don’t just bolster your business with their own purchases. They’re also more likely to share their love of your brand with family and friends, which will bring in new customers.
Customer engagement offers a unique chance for you to tailor your products or services to meet customer wants and needs. All you’ve got to do is listen to your buyers and collate information from your communication channels.
Whether you use a survey, social media post, or questionnaire to gather feedback, the insights you gain can help you improve your offerings and earn customer trust—especially if you act on the responses you receive. A Deloitte study found that nearly two out of three customers expect businesses to integrate their feedback into future products or services.
How do you measure customer engagement?
At this point, you may be wondering: “How will I be able to tell if my customer engagement strategy is working?” Here are the key customer engagement metrics that can gauge how well you’re connecting with your customers.
- Conversion rates help you determine the effectiveness of your marketing and sales efforts. Are customers buying your products? Are they clicking on ads? Are they signing up for a demo?
- Pages per session are an indication of how helpful or captivating your website content is to users. Are they clicking through to different pages? Or are they leaving immediately after looking at the first page they land on?
- Net Promoter Score measures customer loyalty and how likely your customers are to recommend your product or service to someone else. What do they love or hate about their experience with your brand?
- Session duration shows how long customers stay on a specific web page in a single visit. Are they reading your latest guide to the end? Or are they yawning at the first sentence and leaving your site?
7 tips for creating your customer engagement strategy
While every company’s engagement strategy will look and feel a little different, there are some key considerations that brands should take into account.
Develop a brand voice
Corporate-speak is a surefire way to turn off customers. Talk to them in a way that sounds natural. Develop a consistent style and tone that can be used across sales, marketing, social media, and support.
A great example of a company with a clear brand voice is Mailchimp. The brand’s style guide ensures its voice stays consistent across all external communications, creating a distinct personality that customers can identify.
Having a good brand voice is a powerful way to humanize a brand and help foster more emotional connections with customers.
Be where your customers are
We live in an omnichannel world. Companies that want to engage with customers need to offer different communication channels—including social media, phone, live chat, and messaging apps—and provide consistent, connected interactions across those channels.
Being on the channels customers use to communicate with their friends and family creates a sense of familiarity. And being able to move interactions seamlessly from one channel to another makes for better customer experiences.
Stanley Black and Decker implemented an omnichannel approach to customer service and reaped the benefits. The company was able to centralize data and provide quick, harmonious responses across all channels, increasing customer interactions by over 1,000 percent.
Create a content marketing strategy
People who are new to your brand need a reason to engage with your company. Provide them with value by creating helpful content throughout your site, from blog posts to knowledge base videos. Existing customers also need care and support as they use your products or services, so be sure to provide content that helps them succeed as well.
Form a content marketing strategy that leverages compelling content to attract and engage your target customer. Build clear buyer personas that outline their pain points, then brainstorm content that helps high-value leads resolve these problems. You may also want to consider including tactics for inspiring user-generated content that drives potential customers to explore your brand further.
Use data to proactively engage customers
According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, more than 80 percent of consumers will stop doing business with a company after a handful of bad interactions with customer support. How do you minimize these not-so-great moments? By proactively engaging with customers.
Anticipate your customers’ needs by using a variety of tools, such as chatbots and CRMs, to collect and analyze engagement data (we’ll explore these tools further in the next section). Customer data doesn’t just help you put out fires—it can also alert you to something customers might really like. Based on purchase history, for example, you might text or email a customer about a product suggestion that they end up loving.
More often than not, using customer engagement analytics to please customers leads to brand loyalty.
Personalized communication is at the center of impactful customer engagement marketing solutions. This can be as simple as sending a customer a special offer on their birthday. Or, it can be a complex recommendation algorithm that provides customers with smart, thoughtful suggestions for products and services they may enjoy.
Build a culture around customer empathy
Today’s consumers don’t want interactions with businesses to be purely transactional. They want to work with brands that truly understand their needs and that are committed to core issues they care about. Our Customer Experience Trends Report found that 63 percent of customers want to buy from socially responsible companies, while 49 percent want to talk to an empathetic customer service agent.
Empathy means truly feeling for what your customers are experiencing, and it is a key element of customer engagement. To build a culture around customer empathy, get every employee involved. Assign every team member—even your CEO—to a support shift every quarter. With these assignments, the customer experience will start to feel more tangible and relatable to employees across the organization.
Ask marketing, sales, and support teams to record customer interactions across different channels, too. These can include the type of ads customers are clicking on, the reasons customers are interested in a free demo, or the comments they’re leaving on social media. Tracking how customers talk with and about your brand will help you understand how they perceive your company and the pain points that drove them to your business.
Tame your response to customer anger
Unhappy customers are among the most difficult things to deal with in customer service. Knowing how to de-escalate angry customers is essential to your customer engagement strategy and to your brand.
It’s hard to help someone who is furious, calling you names, threatening to badmouth you on social media—whether face-to-face, online, or over email. Your instinct might be to respond in kind. But you must resist that urge. Instead, do this simple exercise to train yourself on how to handle disgruntled customers.Imagine yourself facing an angry customer. Instead of lashing back at them, step over and stand right next to that customer, shoulder to shoulder. You’re by your customer’s side and able to see what’s happening and what they’re facing, but out of harm’s way.
It’s all about putting yourself in their shoes and understanding where they’re coming from. While it isn’t always easy, being able to diffuse tension and resolve thorny situations can help build trust and lead to loyal customers.
5 customer engagement tools you need
Customer engagement tools or platforms help you personalize interactions, connect with customers on their preferred channels, and get the data you need to improve your support.
1. Customer relationship management (CRM) software
CRMs help you nurture and deepen customer relationships. With the ability to track and measure interactions across all your communication channels, CRMs act as customer engagement solutions by keeping you in the loop and giving you context for conversations with customers.
A good CRM should:
- Automate repetitive tasks, like entering data or logging customer interactions
- Seamlessly integrate with third-party applications
- Provide data insights into the sales pipelines, marketing campaigns, and customer reports
- Track interactions between your customers and your brand
- Help you monitor and nurture leads until they convert
Zendesk offers an easy-to-use CRM to help you stay on top of all your customer relationships.
2. Help desk software
When customers reach out to you, they expect fast and helpful responses. With help desk tools, teams can receive, manage, and resolve customer issues more efficiently.
The best help desk software provides:
- Integration with third-party apps
- Self-service options for customers
- Multichannel support
- Tracking and analysis for customer responses and interactions
- Organized and structured management for customer inquiries and questions
Zendesk has a help desk solution with omnichannel support and improved ticket resolution.
Support agents aren’t always available to answer customer questions. AI-powered chatbots can allow your business to provide support 24/7. They use predefined conversation flows, natural language processing, and/or machine learning to interpret customer requests and respond quickly.
Bots are best used for low-priority tickets and repetitive tasks. They can be deployed in minutes and free up space for your team to respond to more complex issues.
A good chatbot should:
- Integrate with your CRM
- Be able to converse with customers without sounding like...well, a robot
- Work across multiple channels
- Be able to gauge a customer’s mood and adapt their responses accordingly
Zendesk’s Answer Bot works alongside your support team to assist customers. It can answer common questions, point customers to the right self-service option, and identify when to bring an issue to an agent. Aside from being available around-the-clock, Answer Bot also helps to eliminate long wait times and leaves you with happier, satisfied customers.
4. Customer feedback platform
Customer feedback platforms collect information from customers via surveys, questionnaires, and forms. The tools then relay that information so you have an idea of what your customers think about your brand, products, or services.
Look for a tool that can:
- Conduct customer surveys
- Provide social media listening
- Generate customer experience reports and analytics
You can hear from your customers and find out what to improve on (or what you're doing well) with a customer engagement solution like SurveyMonkey.
5. Customer engagement platform
This type of software helps companies manage, analyze, and optimize the customer journey. It does this by automatically sending personalized messages to customers across multiple devices and platforms. For instance, a customer engagement platform can send a customized welcome letter after customers create an account or send push notifications for important events.
A customer engagement platform should:
- Be easy to set up
- Integrate with your existing software
- Enable personalized experiences
- Provide a 360-degree customer view
- Be customizable and agile
Successful customer engagement is good for business
There have never been more ways for a business to connect and engage with customers. Companies with customer engagement marketing strategies are better able to leverage these opportunities to create profitable, long-term relationships with customers and increase customer loyalty and satisfaction. With a little foresight and the right tools, implementing customer engagement strategies is achievable for companies of all shapes and sizes.