Health warning: Are you 'engaging' in 20th century style 'customer engagement'?

PRISM Consulting (UK) Ltd
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We hear a lot about Customer Engagement nowadays: everyone seems to know about it, many say they are 'doing it'. I would challenge the happy practitioners and the self-proclaimed gurus to come up with a consensus definition, though. What is Customer Engagement?

Is it about engaging the customer attention so that they are more receptive to your messages? Is it about engaging in a dialogue in the hope that a sense of closeness will develop, a bond that would translate into loyalty? Is it about getting greater mindshare of the customers? Like, e.g., getting them to play your cool, funky, addictive 'viral' game? Or giving them another reason (like, e.g. a forum) to visit your website, thus making your site more sticky?

I see a lot of evidence that this is exactly what many are doing. It is packaged and sold by agencies and consultants as 'customer engagement', and many marketers and business leaders are convinced that this is 'it'. But this is precisely what it is not! It is so last-century! Craving for attention and conditioning the masses for your own more effective communication and manipulation - we had been doing this for decades before the 'social revolution' started!

Unless you engage customers in essential business functions and processes, engagement will remain a meaningless fad that will change little from tired and increasingly ineffective past approaches. This means having the consistent, planned and disciplined practice to engage specific customers  directly in one or more of the following:

  • product development and improvement (focus groups don't count; we're talking continuous direct involvement)
  • value proposition formulation and evolution
  • marketing communications ('engaging' as recipient doesn't count :) - only as channel or even message originator)
  • campaign design and execution
  • channel development and direct sales
  • after-sales support, customer service, customer experience management
  • process improvement and process governance
  • strategy development (this takes a leap of faith but is not impossible) ...

Customers can be invaluable in investor relations management, too - but also in internal and 'back office' functions like HR, IT and Finance...

Are you doing any of these? Try at least some - only then we can talk seriously about Customer Engagement - the proper, 21st century way.

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