Creating business value starts with customer engagement1, which is driven by the need to acquire (more) customers via different channels. Apparently, the Internet of Things (IoT) and information technology, which are becoming the driving force in today’s global economy, have both changed the course of acquiring customers and keeping them highly engaged. To have a better understanding of how well your engagement is with your target customers, it is important to know what the different levels are in terms of customer acquisition.
It all starts from a CONNECTION. Where can you find your clients and how do you present yourself to them? How do you get them to listen to you and win their undivided attention? Of course, there are many ways to establish connections, including networking, cold calling, emails, social media channels, online forums, word-of-mouth/ referrals, and also volunteering, among many others. Though this can still come in handy for many business starters and aspiring entrepreneurs, beware of the traps of rejections. Rejections are normal and they shouldn’t be a reason to give up nor doubt one’s self worth. Establishing connections is a great way to test your business ideas and concept out there. To survive this stage, you have to keep a strong sense of self-esteem, courage and your authentic self.
You’re through to the next level, INTERACTION, if your initial contact leads you to your first meeting (be it online or in person) or even just a simple, positive reply of interest via email. When this happens, take this opportunity to get to know your customers better. Instead of diving straight into your sales talk (which many customers find irritating), first listen to what your target customers are looking for, what their needs are and how you can best help them through your product or service offerings. And yes, it’s possible that after your first consultation or talk, you figured out that what you’re offering is not what they’re looking for at the moment. In this case, don’t feel that your time and efforts are wasted because such genuine interaction (showing that you truly care) also leads to referrals. But the best case scenario at this stage is, of course, sealing a deal.
After sealing a deal, SATISFACTION is key to surviving this next level of customer engagement. To avoid customer dissatisfaction, don’t over promise. Always give an allowance for yourself when you set expectations and timelines. For instance, if you know you can finish a job in a week, inform your customer that expected delivery date is in 2 weeks. In that case, if you happen to deliver earlier, that’s plus points for you! And just because you’re gaining more customers doesn’t mean you have to lower the quality of your offerings. In every next step, the question should always be, ‘how can I make this product or service better for my customers?’
So you’ve won some customers at this point. The challenge this time is RETENTION. How do you keep repeat clients? How can you turn your buyers into loyal customers and eventually your ambassadors? Best practices include having incentives like bonuses for loyal customers, VIP treatment, or being an ambassador of them as well (especially if you’re a B2B company). The key point at this level is to create and maintain highly positive emotions with customers so you can keep them talking about you with friends (referrals) or wanting for more (repeat clients).
The next level in customer engagement cycle is COMMITMENT, which according to Sashi has 2 major dimensions. One is calculative commitment, which means having that long-term relationships with customers and maintaining highly positive emotions as a result from a lack of choice or switching costs, further resulting to customer loyalty. The other dimension is affective commitment or the highly positive emotions that leads to a higher level of customer loyalty and enduring relationships with sellers, resulting to customer delight.
If delighted and/or loyal customers interact with others in their social network and share their positive experiences with your product, brand or company, then you’ve reached the next level called ADVOCACY. As a product or service provider, you can also reciprocate your customers’ advocacy by acting in the customer’s best interest as well as you can see in many communication channels (e.g. slogans like ‘customer care’).
As your targeted customers become your advocates and you to them, the relationship is much deeper that you can actually get them involved in the value adding process. This is the level of ENGAGEMENT. You make them co-creators of value by asking them their thoughts, inputs, suggestions or recommendations with regards to your business in general, your brand, and the products or services that you provide. It’s like the activity that takes place on the first level but this time the connection is stronger.
The more knowledgeable you are of the entire lifecycle of customer engagement, the more you can make strategic steps in terms of achieving your targets and desired results!
- Stockdale, R., Ahmed, A., and Scheepers, H. (2012). Identifying Business Value From the Use of Social Media: An SME Perspective.
- Sashi, C.M., (2012). Customer engagement, buyer-seller relationships, and social media. ResearchGate.