Whether I’m looking for a new couch for a move or a new coat for the fall, the first thing I do is crowdsource suggestions for companies that my friends and coworkers suggest. These recommendations from people I know are better than a Google search result because they’re already vetted, already trustworthy—and I’m not alone in thinking this way.
Crowdsourced recommendation requests…sometimes entertainingly specific.
That’s why keeping your customers engaged and encouraged to recommend your company is so important.
If you’re not focusing on customer engagement, now is the time to start. Here’s what we’re covering today:
What customer engagement is
Why customer engagement is important
Customer engagement strategies you need to try
Let’s get to it.
Customer engagement is the series of interactions between a brand and a customer that foster an ongoing relationship.
Ideally, these interactions happen across a variety of platforms: over email, on your website, through social media exchanges, during purchases, and more. That doesn’t mean your customers need a barrage of communications to be engaged—we all know that’s how marketing gets annoying.
Instead, fewer, more meaningful touchpoints can be better for building trust, which is key for maintaining long-term customer relationships. Those relationships are going to be great for producing revenue and, perhaps more important, word-of-mouth marketing.
We’ll get into the benefits of customer engagement, and why it’s important for your business to focus on this, in a minute. But first, let’s make sure we’re clear on what customer engagement is and what it isn’t.
Be careful not to mistake customer experience for customer engagement. Customer experience is your customer’s response to the process of purchasing from your brand. This is a part of customer engagement. You want to make sure your customers have a good experience during conversion—whether that’s Instagram checkout for your ecommerce brand or scheduling an appointment for a local service like plumbing or lawn care.
But customer engagement includes more than your customer’s responses to these actions. Instead, it encompasses the ongoing interactions across all platforms, including customer experience. It’s when you’ve nailed both customer engagement and customer experience that you get satisfied, loyal customers—and now let’s cover why those are crucial for your business.
Customer engagement is so important for three key reasons. It:
Encourages repeat purchases.
Inspires brand advocates.
Meets your customer’s expectations.
Customer engagement is important, firstly, for encouraging repeat purchases. The cost of acquiring a new customer is way higher than the cost of converting a returning customer. Like 5-25x more expensive, depending on your business. That’s a significant difference.
These repeat customers are more valuable to your business than just their purchases and upsells. When your satisfied customers are engaged with your brand, they’re more likely to refer your business to people in their network. These referrals are meaningful for your bottom line: Customers referred by friends are four times more likely to convert. And those referred customers? Their customer lifetime value is 16% higher than other customers.
Finally, you need to focus on engagement because your prospects—and even your current customers—expect it. Salesforce found that 62% of customers think a brand will change its communication or offer based on their behavior during interactions.
Plus, with less than half of customers reporting that they get this kind of service from companies, you can make your brand stand out with genuine, authentic customer engagement strategies.
Now that we’ve covered what customer engagement is and why it’s important, let’s talk about those non-annoying, non-generic strategies that you can use to improve your customer relationships now.
Here we go.
Now, this is the first strategy for a reason. Brand consistency is important for building relationships, and this is even more important as a foundation for your customer engagement.
Salesforce found that 76% of customers prefer different channels depending on the context of the message. That means you not only need to make sure your company offers messages on different channels, but you also have to ensure your brand is easily recognizable on each.
Your brand needs to have a strong, identifiable brand voice across social media, email, content, even your gifts and events. It also needs to have a set of visual designs, including a clean, standard logo and consistent imagery and photographs. (Learn how to brand your business here.)
Netflix has clear standards for its branding.
The best way to ensure that you’re offering a consistent, recognizable brand experience to your customers is to audit your materials. Make sure to set up your own brand style guide and share it with your team to keep everything consistent moving forward, too.
When your customers are engaged and impressed enough to recommend your brand to their friends, coworkers, or even their social following, you want to be able to reward them. Starting a loyalty program is the best way to do this.
The first step in setting up a loyalty program that increases customer engagement is to figure out what your customers would value most from you. Discounts or credits are expected, but you want to make sure that you’re offering these valued customers more benefits and a good experience. For instance, Shopify found that ecommerce customers want early access to sales promotions and new products as a part of their loyalty programs.
If you’re worried how the offers, discounts, and free shipping involved in a loyalty program might impact your bottom line, be sure to take into account the positive impacts of setting this up, too. HubSpot found that more than half of people will spend more in order to maximize their loyalty benefits.
Customers increasingly want to work with companies whose values align with their own, and one genuine, meaningful way to increase your customer engagement is to share your company core values. This could be working your values into your mission or business model, or it could be taking a stance on a specific issue with an event, ad campaign, or even a product.
Nike’s Colin Kapernick ads are a great example of this. An athlete’s right to political expression is related to Nike’s brand, so it’s a natural way for the company to take a stance.
Ben & Jerry’s Pecan Resist ice cream flavor is another great example—and the cause has little to do with ice cream or the Vermont-based brand. The company launched this politically charged flavor in 2018 and shared an explanation so that there was no question about its message: to stand with people fighting for LGBTQ+ rights, climate change action, immigrant rights, and more against Trump.
No one likes negative feedback and complaints. It’s a bummer that your company’s service or product didn’t live up to expectations, whether it was shipping delays, setup frustrations, or a mistake. But responding to negative feedback (the right way) has great value.
The customers who take the time to reach out about their frustrations care enough to do so, which means they’re still invested. Even more importantly, you still have the chance to change their feelings about your brand. That’s what Jay Baer argues in his book Hug Your Haters, and he walks through how to increase customer engagement and retention with the right thoughtful responses to negative feedback.
And even if you miss your chance with this customer, your response isn’t wasted. 97% of customers who read reviews online also read responses from businesses.
Shouting out your customers is a great way to boost engagement and encourage your customers to keep sharing. Social media is a perfect channel for this. When your company is mentioned, make it a priority to engage with comments or reshare posts. Not only does this engage customers, but it’s a staple social media marketing strategy.
Great example from PWRFWD.
Keeping an eye on your tagged posts or even creating a brand hashtag could be useful for sourcing these stories from your engaged customers.
Highlighting customer stories also includes more traditional customer stories. SendGrid, for example, features customer success stories on its website, with logos on its “Why SendGrid?” page and case studies devoted to each company’s wins, too.
This is good for marketing messaging for SendGrid, but it’s also good for the customers—a link from a high-authority website, a shout-out of its email marketing success, and a nice signal of trust and authority (EAT!) to potential customers.
Every content marketing strategy is different, but most are focused on customer acquisition. Your goals are building brand awareness, growing brand loyalty, and even generating leads. But you’re creating for your customers, too, and to improve customer engagement, you need to prioritize content that’s exclusively for them.
A well-developed customer resource hub is one way to do this. Your plan for your resource center or knowledge base should include hierarchies of topics, cornerstone content, and a balance of quick and in-depth articles based on sharing information and solving problems—just like your prospect-facing content.
You can go above and beyond with personalized content offerings, depending on your business. Spotify also does this really well. The platform’s personalized playlists are exclusive to customers, and they’re created for each customer individually. Plus, the annual “Year in Review” playlists usually get tons of shares on social—an added perk and a point of proof that these customers are engaging with the content and the brand.
Admittedly, I’m not sure about the pet playlist that Spotify keeps trying to get me to listen to. I’ll stick to the playlists based on my music tastes, but I appreciate the effort.
The last non-annoying customer engagement strategy is to surprise your regular customers with meaningful gifts to let them know that you value your relationship and recognize its milestones. You could use a service like Nift to offer them a gift card, or you could make the gift relevant to your brand.
Take this example from Chewy, the ecommerce store with everything you need for your pets. Chewy has great customer service—I have two dogs and can personally attest to this—and it goes above and beyond to keep its loyal customers engaged. When a regular customer cancels and returns an order after their pet passed away, Chewy sends flowers.
Image via Jennifer Brookshire, understandably touched customer.
The examples above prove that customer engagement strategies don’t have to be annoying or generic—if you’re planning it right. Here’s what we suggest trying:
Check your brand consistency
Start a loyalty program
State your values
Respond to feedback
Highlight customer stories
Prioritize customer-exclusive content
Send your customers meaningful gifts
Now, try these strategies out, find the ones that work best for your customers, and start seeing the benefits for your own business!