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Beyond Customer Loyalty Meeting the Challenge of Customer Engagement

Companies today are facing a dilemma how to provide a high quality service at low cost. Customers are faced with more and more choices which enable them to make a variety of decisions, loyalty and relationships are playing less and less of a role for consumers.

It is no longer the case that a company can simply create a better product at an acceptable price, instead companies are now looking closely at the level of engagement, the degree to which a company succeeds in creating an intimate and long term relationship they have with their customers.

Engagement traditionally has been looked upon as customer satisfaction, loyalty or retention and marketing, companies are now having to re-focus as they realise the strategic impact of engagement and are looking more deeply into the connection, interaction and participation between the customer and the company and how that endures over time. It is no longer a fixed point that can be achieved and then forgotten instead it is something that evolves and develops over a period of time.
In an online world companies are now having to go beyond customer satisfaction surveys, relationship programs and instead have to develop and adopt new ways of engagement to ensure they are not only meeting the needs of their customers but are also anticipating and therefore fulfilling these needs more effectively.

The realisation that today’s customers, whether they are business to business or business to consumer, have increasingly higher expectations of the companies they deal with and how they expect them to interact with them. There has never been a greater time for companies to create a meaningful engagement strategy to focus on building long-term relationships with their customers to help them create a competitive advantage.

A recent report further highlights the need for a successful engagement strategy as it identified that over £1.4bn is being lost in the UK alone due to poor customer service and over 38% of consumers stated they would stop using a company as a result of poor customer service due to poor online engagement strategies.

As more and more people switch to the web, online retailers and service led companies are looking at how they can make the consumers online experience more tactile, they are asking themselves how can they replace the face to face, good customer service, consumers would experience and expect in a traditional retail environment.

As consumers are increasingly exposed to more choice than ever before, especially in an online world, the demands of these consumers, from a customer service prospective, is also increasing with a staggering 91% of online consumers saying customer service is key to conducting an online transaction. An even more alarming figure is that 94% of consumers would immediately switch or look for an alternative as a result of poor customer service.

Traditionally many of the major online and high street retailers such as Next, Argos, John Lewis, Boots, B & Q to name a few have focused mainly on providing traditional contact methods such as email, FAQ’s or via the telephone, however consumers are becoming increasingly more frustrated with the traditional customer contact approach a staggering 66% of consumers highlighted that being held in a telephone queue was a classic example of poor customer service, not to mention the poor and often untimely response of email.

A further frustration is not being able to find the relevant information they need quickly enough on a site a staggering 52% said they looked for an alternative if they couldn’t find the information quickly enough.

Companies realise that creating and implementing a successful customer engagement strategy is now a key strategic challenge, a successful engagement strategy should encompass a closer understanding of the customer and what they expect from a company to become more committed. It should also identify the role of technology and how it can help forge the strategy and help with the engagement process, this is essential for today’s online companies. It should also define what an engaged customer looks like and how they measure the success of such a strategy whether it be increased sales or other desired customer behaviour. By creating a defined engagement strategy companies will have a clear indication of how engagement can support a company’s overall objectives which will include increased revenue and profits and improved customer loyalty.

New information systems, technological advances and tools are making it easier for companies to create a successful engagement strategy, this however is also creating a reverse effect in that as technology is advancing the level of engagement customers demand is also increasing creating further competition for companies in particular those that are behind in the adoption and creation of an engagement strategy.

Companies that are embracing technologies and developing engagement strategies that enable them to understand and get to know their customers and can meet their demands more effectively both now and in the future are beginning to see results not only financially but also benefiting from improvements in efficiency and customer satisfaction. These companies realised early on that their customers will no longer just come to them instead they have to create a rewarding experience through improved engagement.

Parker Software are currently experiencing a high level of growth as more and more organisations are looking at improving their online engagement strategies and in particular the implementation of their live chat solution as a means of improving not only online engagement with website visitors which in turn is leading to improved customer care but also as a way of increasing online transactions by a minimum of 20% as a general rule.

Research is clearly identifying that the customer service landscape is changing. Online channels such as email, web self-service and live chats are quickly overtaking phone as the preferred contact method for UK consumers. This provides an opportunity for companies to deliver fast and effective online customer service, which can be a key differentiator and deliver huge benefits. By establishing these channels, businesses can reduce strain on the call centre, increase agent productivity, reduce costs and ensure consistency and accuracy of messages.

The younger, internet-savvy generation are very comfortable using new technologies such as live chat and demand rapid, accurate customer service. They are leading a new evolution of customer service, driving communication online, and providing companies with the opportunity to streamline their call centre operations and effectively meet the high levels of service their customers are demanding.

Some of the best practises for improved online engagement have been identified as follows:

  1. Offering a variety of communication channels to improve two way dialogues
    Companies have found that customers want access to many kinds of communications channels. Companies that support a variety of communication methods and that respond in real-time to customer requests, enquiries, and feedback are able to build more robust relationships with customers. For example, although e-mail and Web interactions are common, many customers still have to use the telephone to obtain information or raise a question as this is often the quickest way to gain the information they require. As an alternative more and more organisations are embedding live chat onto their websites as it forms an instantaneous two way communication between an advisor and a visitor to a site. Customers are demanding more and more channels for communication the more that are provided on a site the greater the improvements that are being received
  2. 24/7 Operations
    Most executives and customer care analysts agree that one key to engagement seems to be providing customers or clients with more ways to get the information and service they want, any time they want it. Whether this means providing live chat agents or maintaining a 24/7 call centre or responding immediately to customer e-mails no matter what time of day they are received, companies must do whatever it takes to be ‘open for business’ around the clock.
  3. Tailor Contact Methods
    Some customers are engaged by Technology, others by the human touch, high-end customers often require a personalised service, while others settle for a more cookie-cutter, gone are the days when a one solution fits all approach for a website applied you have to tailor your approach to the individual.
  4. Listen
    Research has shown that customers engage more deeply with companies that listen to their needs and respond by providing more targeted information or better value propositions.
  5. Improve Visitor Analysis
    Companies using electronic tools to enhance customer engagement report that they are identifying more opportunities a working example which again focuses on live chat is that organisations are now using chat transcripts to review and improve service which previously they have not been aware of which in turn has added more value to the customer engagement strategy.
  6. Deliver Personalised Responses
    Customers are unlikely to engage with companies that send a standard response to their most important requests or concerns. Responses that are personalised, consistent and quick stand the best chance of attracting and retaining customers’ attention. To achieve this, many companies are leveraging live chat, e-mail and personalised online record-keeping. The online tools provide more benefits than simply scale. The best use of technology is not necessarily as a lower-cost way to reach customers, but as a way to give customers information and service that is more closely attuned to their needs in real time.

Success with a customer engagement strategy will ultimately be down to choosing the best tools and selecting the best way to manage those tools. A successful strategy is one that understands your customer’s needs. E.M Forster advised “Only Connect,” While Forster was speaking about interpersonal relationships; today his counsel applies just as well to companies and their customers. As the business world evolves with ever-increasing reliance on the internet, and through changes in customers’ needs, formulating and preserving a solid connection with the customer is now of paramount importance to companies who operate in an online world.

Now more than ever the key is to keep the corporate agenda focused on an effective engagement strategy and setting benchmarks for measuring and monitoring the effectiveness such a strategy and the tools used to achieve it to strengthen the customer relationship, companies should be better positioned to help their customers today and anticipate how they will want to be helped tomorrow.

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