In this age of business sophistication, companies need to devise and implement right types of customer engagement strategies in order to have competitive edge.
--BY PIYUSH AGRAWAL, HIMANSHU GOENKA AND DR VIBHUTI JHA
In marketing, companies aim to satisfy their customers in the best possible ways, and in the process of doing so, work on various customer-oriented strategies to satisfy and retain their customers, grab the customers of competitors and influence the vulnerable ones. Customer satisfaction is usually measured by yardsticks such as the customer satisfaction index to judge the effectiveness of such strategies in order to make necessary adjustments/modifications/corrections for future course. Many competing companies might have the same customer satisfaction ratings but their standing in the market varies in terms of profitability and growth. Though this seems to be strange, it is very true in marketing.
It is human nature to get attracted to new offers. Also, it has been observed in recent years that customers, even though they are satisfied with a brand, shift to other brands in search of something new or better. This makes us think that the 'satisfaction bond' is not enough to prevent the customers from switching to other brands. This situation in the market has necessitated the need for some “extraordinary bond” which will ensure that customers remain attached to you despite the availability of new alternatives. This extraordinary bond will also help in utilizing the existing customers for spreading the goodwill to attract new customers. This extraordinary bond is created when your customer relationship reaches a point beyond satisfaction and loyalty. This is better known as the customer engagement point, which has now emerged as a key factor for sustainable success in the market to face the cut-throat competition and market ups and downs.
Customer engagement will help companies to face global competition as very soon our companies will be encountering tough global challenges and it will be difficult for the domestic companies to retain their customers despite having the best product offerings. This strategy of customer engagement will prove to be the key element of facing the global challenges.
Basically, customer engagement is a combination of two factors - attitudinal loyalty and emotional attachment.
Obtaining customer association by better positioning through USPs or creating value proposition and then converting the association into loyalty through customer relationship tactics has been a known practice for companies. But creating emotional attachment through UEP (unique emotional proposition) and then converting it into engagement is, though difficult, needed for companies to achieve success as customer engagement has emerged as the key to sustainable success for any business in the changing market scenario of global challenges. Marketers now look at this “engaged customer” as a light house in the stormy ocean of ever changing market situations where the pressure of achieving and maintaining success is growing every moment and where the companies feel the fear of losing their customers to competitors. Nepali markets are no different and it is going to be even tougher in the coming years for local companies which do not show any inclination towards such strategy at present with the obvious belief that “it doesn’t apply to me or in Nepal we are safe from global competitors”. Everyone knows that Nepali businesses can’t avoid global challenges for very long and that very soon we will have to open gates for world economy and face the real blood of competitive businesses. Then it would be very difficult for Nepali companies to retain their customers under the pressure of the latter's high expectations due to their global exposure - something which is already being observed in few sectors.
In this era of information boom, Nepali customers too have become well informed about every detail related to any product, service, company and even competitors. This is making them more demanding for the fulfillment of their needs upto the state of delight. Customer expectations are also going higher towards value for money, efforts and time. Such customers also look for recognition as an individual identity with distinct kind of needs to lead the situation of customer association to flash points, in search of alternatives for better value with ever changing expectations in every business, making buying behaviours more unpredictable. Loyalty for a brand, product or company is being given a very limited format and meaning by the customers now, and it does not go beyond availing physical benefits viz. loyalty cards, loyalty discounts, loyalty gifts etc. No emotional attachment is often seen associated with the term “loyalty” and customers break that bond in no time.
This disaster of the term “customer loyalty” was observed prominently during the global economic meltdown of last decade when companies found that even their “most loyal customers” left them without assigning any reason of dissatisfaction. That scenario forced the marketers to think association “beyond loyalty” i.e. the state of engagement to keep their customers emotionally attached to support in any situation and to restrict customers from shifting to other brands in search of “better” offerings or “better satisfaction” against their “ever rising expectations”.
At the same time, companies need to take the help of engaged customers for further spreading the goodwill to attract new customers. This can be done by building customer attachment to the extent of engagement of stable nature and not just limited to generate sales and profits, fulfilling their apparent needs and following some customer relationship theories to make sure that the customers are satisfied. Bringing in emotionally loyal and engaged customers will prove to be the mantra for a long-term sustained success in the ever-changing market challenges as it is a holistic characterization of a consumer's behaviour, encompassing a host of sub-aspects of behaviours such as loyalty, satisfaction, involvement, word of mouth advocacy, supporting diffusion of new product offering, feedback and many more. It is the status of association of company and customer beyond loyalty like extraordinary emotional loyalty bond.
Customer engagement in marketing terms is the engagement of customers with each other or with a company/brand. The need for customer engagement has come up for the marketers in recent times by a combination of market developments and requirements such as:
- Ever-growing customer expectations and availability of alternatives
- Decreasing effectiveness of traditional market communication
- Decreasing brand loyalty
- Changing perception of customers
Worldwide, companies have learned through experiences of economic meltdowns and debacles that the only mantra of sustaining success can be engaging customers to the extent that “even in debacles they remain loyal to us”. Every marketer now needs to aim to achieve this state of engagement for unforeseen and foreseen situations of business. In business, any customer is considered as engaged by the companies, on the basis of various factors like:
- His overall satisfaction with product or brand, as measured or assessed
- His likelihood of repurchase and recommend the brand or product
- His views and statements relating to product or brand attributes in positive note
- His emotional attachment and loyalty to the product
- His role as broadcaster for the company or product
If we look into the basic structure of the customer engagement concept, we can identify four basic building blocks of customer engagement that result into the emotional loyalty of the customer to become a sustainability statement of the company.
Customers trust the people they like and are suspicious of those they do not like. Gain the customers’ confidence by providing them the feel that the company is trustworthy and keeps its promises. Companies must make sure that customers trust them. They trust businesses which are introduced to them by a friend, known person or opinion leader they trust. This is because of the unprecedented loss of faith on marketers due to the tendency of gaining short-term success prevailing in the market. Building trust is a highly complex process. Customers hate surprises and one must deliver what is promised, in a consistent manner. Avoid promises that you cannot keep; and make sure that your product works.
Customers must feel that a business treats them fairly. Most customers are reasonable in their expectations and they expect to be treated in a way that is commensurate with the terms of their relationship with the company. Make them understand the rationale for your pricing and other related aspects.
More than a snob appeal, customers must feel good about the product or service. Customers feel that products or services are often extensions of themselves as what they use reflects on them. Customers must be proud using products. They must feel that they are important to the company’s business, and that they have made a smart choice among competing products. To engage your customers, you must continue making them feel good about their decision to choose your products from among your competitors'. Give them the kind of attention that generates a feeling of pride, even long after the purchase.
Passion: Try to instill passion in the minds of customers to view the offered product as irreplaceable. This is the point when customers say that they “love” the product. Discovery is the key to instilling passion in customers. This creation of passion holds the key to engaging the customer. This passion for the product helps not only in getting repeat buying but also in creating maximum value for the customers and attract new customers through them.
Marketing’s cutting edge is being redefined every day. While there’s no definitive map showing how companies can successfully navigate this engagement aspect, the avenues/touch points customers use to interact with companies have continued to multiply in recent times and it is important for businesses to recognize the growing power of the customer, and to rethink their strategies to fully meet and even exceed customer expectations.
Surviving today’s ever-changing scenario, businesses need to provide personalized experiences that reach customers just as they need them. Whether it is a mobile push notification promoting a sale or an email confirming an order, customer engagements now take many forms. Although it may be tempting to ignore customers’ negative feedback, dissatisfied customers provide a means for process improvement and can become a company’s most loyal and vocal advocates. The following should be the basic line in marketing now:
“Better serve customers and increase operational performance and transparency by focusing attention on how customers can better engage with the company, rather than how company can engage with its customers”.
Another important aspect is promoting relevant and consistent communication throughout the customer experience to make businesses have an opportunity to engage with like never before. As the social media is a new means to engage with customers, a shift to social media strategy will definitely help.
As the customer satisfaction itself is a very complex phenomenon, achieving engagement is further too difficult to achieve and maintain. It requires unique practices, careful execution and perfect adaptation to the ever-changing market requisites. Marketing practices that are needed to be included seriously for achieving customer engagement steps, under the present market scenario, can be summarized as:
Recognize the customers as individuals with distinct likings to gain their emotional belongingness with the brand. Explore their hidden needs informally through making them feel homely in informal communications.
Respect their suggestions/criticism for improvement in the dealings towards creating better value for customers, their satisfaction and delight. Implement the suggestions, make modifications, adjustments and rectifications in strategies to mark respect for their valuable suggestions.
Persuade target customers that the company's offering is worth their time, effort, money and commitment. Make them feel that they have chosen the best one. Make them come repeatedly with a state of delight and recognition. Follow them up in personal ways, not as a routine function which most loyalty tactics suggest to do.
Make their association with the brand stronger through every touch point. Make them realize that they are valuable and their suggestions are important. Give them feedback on the implementation of their suggestions. Create, stimulate and influence customer engagement emotionally to gain engaged behavior of customers (association beyond loyalty). Engage them directly or indirectly with your product by giving them the means to get associated.
Encourage customers to filter, categorize and rate the product with clear clues to help them perceive your product better than others', positive than competitors'. Encourage their likings, thinking, suggestions, advices and criticism and make them feel that their inputs are always valued.
Helping target customers develop their own communities, groups or create new ones with respect to your product, brand or company. Consumers do not only filter and rate companies and their offerings when required, but also give valuable tips to others too. Word of mouth must be encouraged at every juncture. Companies must reach their target customers at their favoured hangouts to not only listen but also participate in the dialogue.
Help them create/develop communication with other customers and staffers freely with transparency at every touch point, making customers interact directly on related issues/inputs. Give them contents they can use to engage with each other, refer to others, spread goodwill and extend positive opinion.
Communicate and Co-develop
Create involvement where product developers and customers can communicate directly and exchange views on requirements, improvements, product development, innovations etc. Customers must perceive the product as his “own” product which is perfect for him and has been developed with his suggestions.
UEP is the concept emerged in the market to extend emotional attachment with customers as part of engagement strategy, in recent years. This is further a step ahead to USP or value proposition where positioning of product is done carefully through unique practices of strategy crafted emotionally along with USP or value propositions. This emotional element which touches the customer's soul, pulls him beyond anything to get loyal and attached to the company which in turn will lead to engagement state of customers where they become like integral part of company and spread goodwill for the brand.
It is an old saying that “a satisfied customer brings another ten, and a dissatisfied one costs you another ten”. The new saying is - “A satisfied customer can also leave you without any reason but an engaged customer definitely brings you another ten.” It’s the new mantra for achieving and sustaining success in the ever-changing, unpredictable market conditions. Make the customers loyal to the point beyond loyalty. To succeed in an ever-changing market, one can no longer simply operate based on customer satisfaction. Instead, companies must find every means to keep customers engaged to them, and be with them. Engaged customer is the most valuable asset of any organization as he is emotionally attached to the company. Engaged customers assure a business of sustained and profitable growth. They are the ones who will continue to repurchase your products, and the recommend them to other people, spread goodwill for you. Customer satisfaction is “merely the entry point for achieving a deeper foundation that rests on total customer engagement. Customer engagement is the solution that marketers must devise to handle effectively social, technological and market developments. Customers need to be understood, recognized and engaged in order to support them and get their support. In the context of Nepal, the concept of measuring satisfaction through index and working on four core established drivers of the marketer-customer relationship - value creation, satisfaction, developing trust and retention - this new driver “customer engagement” is now a must to be included in strategic aspects towards getting prepared to face the upcoming global challenges in coming years.
Make an extraordinary bond with your existing customers to make them your goodwill spreader.