Customer engagement is a common term these days and really key to building a loyal following to your business.According to Forbes it "... is everything in business."(1), so we thought we take some time to understand in more detail what that means for small businesses.
What is customer engagement?
A quick search on the internet will find plenty of definitions for customer engagement. In its simplest form I understand it as the ability of a business to build a successful relationship with a customer, or potential customer, whether it's a social media post that I find amusing enough to like or share or whether it's an interaction I've had in a store with a member of staff or a direct mailing I've been sent.
Other definitions I've found:
Customer engagement is the means by which a company creates a relationship with its customer base to foster brand loyalty and awareness. (2)
Customer engagement is a business communication connection between an external stakeholder (consumer) and an organization (company or brand) through various channels of correspondence. (3)
"Repeated interactions that strengthen the emotional, psychological or physical investment a customer has in a brand". (4)
My favourite definition is from Paul Greenberg at Hubspot which defines customer engagement as "the ongoing interactions between company and customer, offered by the company, chosen by the customer."(5).
I think this is a rather nice definition and aptly describes how it's about customer choice which I think is key. Customers wanting to interact with your business rather than having to. With so much competition in business, you want to be the chosen one, over your competitor.
Why do you need customer engagement?
In order to stand out from your competitors, you need to differentiate and customer engagement is one area you can really do this. It's so important that as a small business you build real and meaningful relationships with prospects so that when it comes to the purchasing decision time it's you they pick.
Forbes put an awful lot of weight on the topic by stating "Customer engagement is the direct route to every important business objective. It’s the pathway to everything good that a business could want:
- Customer loyalty
- Customer purchases
- Customer-based profits
- Customer ambassadorship for your brand" (6)
A Gallop survey talks figures - engaged customers "... represent a 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth over the average customer."(7)
Customers that are fully engaged with your business won't just buy from you, they'll act as advocates for you, helping you engage with an even wider audience.
Customer engagement is the reason I pick a (more expensive smoothie) Innocent Smoothie over a shop made one - I like their colourful and quirky style as well as the taste and they've established my trust that they really are good for me.
So, the why is simple, it brings more revenue and retains existing customers.
How do you engage with your customers?
But how, as a small business, can you engage with your customers as these big brands do?
First off, you really need to know who your customers are, what appeals to them and where to find them. Understanding your target audience is a great step towards identifying your customers but to get into the nitty-gritty and really start adding value you will most likely need to define some buyer personas.
Buyer personas are really detailed definitions of individuals within your target audience - defined to the extent of often giving them a name, an avatar and importantly understanding what their goals and challenges are. With this information, you can make sure your engagement is really targeted. To get this information look at your current customer base and identify some trends; use your own industry knowledge to work up some profiles and make sure you have these in mind when thinking of all the ways to engage. (We'll be creating some posts in the near future about how to create really great buyer personas so subscribe to our newsletter so you don't miss out.)
Next, understand who you are, as a business. Be authentic, trustworthy, reliable and provide a great service. Customers are savvy to what goes on behind closed doors and social media makes sure we all know who's on zero hours contracts, so really be the business your customers want and show ".. a sincere focus on empathy, clarity, and simplicity in your dealings with customers" (8) then you've got a good grounding to work on.
Having established the fundamentals, you can then begin to provide added value. Start by using all your digital channels to create personalised communications and content for your customers based on what you know they are interested in.
Create a blog post that relates to an experience they have had or may have in the future (for us, we created a blog post about things to consider when planning a new website) and share across all your social media channels. If you don't have a blog, use what you do have, for example, create a LinkedIn post and share that. If you do have a blog, offer email subscription to new articles so you can continue to engage.
Offer a solution for a common problem in a Facebook post (we did a series of FAQs on our blog which we shared on Facebook) or do a Facebook Live session to answer common questions. Create an infographic to illustrate some interesting facts (Canva is a brilliant free resource for creating great visual content) or send an email with some detailed industry insight. Engage on a one to one basis with existing customers asking them to add reviews and feedback; make sure you respond to their efforts. Ensure even when you're offline that you're still engaging by updating your Facebook Messenger settings to allow automatic replies (see how here).
If you've got the time to put to it, create a community to bring your customers together. A Facebook or LinkedIn Group is a great place to provide more granular content as well as have and encourage direct conversations. Share offers or discounts, free trials or a cup of tea with every visit (we do that and Waitrose too!).
All of these are some of the simplest ways of giving something extra to your customers and potential customers, but you don't even have to create your own content. Find other posts and articles that fit what you want to say and share those too you'll be seen as a great resource that people want to engage with.
Do make sure what you are sharing is relevant, make sure your conversations are helpful and be entertaining - inject some fun if it fits, but avoid the direct hard sell.
And once your added value content is out there, use analytics to see what channels, types and topics get the most interaction and do more on those that are getting traction.
Don't neglect your offline engagement, whether that be your store experience or purchasing process, may sure you follow the same principles of providing added value and the easier you will find it to engage your customers.
How well are you doing it?
So, be honest, how well are you doing it? It can be a time-consuming business but creating a strategy and approach will not just help you organise your engagement methods but also identify returns on the time invested.
Whilst lots of businesses use social media, it's important for you to do it well to be engaging sot take the time to ensure customer engagement is part of our digital marketing strategy and you will be on to a winner..
Customer engagement really is key in standing out from your competitors and attracting and retaining customers. It's not hard to do if you do it right but the fundamentals are:
- Know who they are
- Be genuine, honest and trustworthy
- Think like them
- Have a strategy
- Create content to amuse & solve their problems