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The customer engagement lifecycle: Is this the map to customer understanding?

22nd Apr 2010
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What is the customer engagement lifecycle, and how can an understanding of this cycle help you extend your brand further out into your customer base? John Merritt explains.

Last year I was approached by a prospect who asked about how customer engagement and social media differed in approach. Somewhat stunned about the question, I wondered "has everybody considered social media as its own self exclusive bucket that operates in its own vacuum?"  I immediately replied with a response that got my prospecting client and myself thinking along the same lines.
We discussed at length of why confusion was easy to see and how it could impact the overall approach of a company’s presence in virtually any type of marketing channel. I was looking to find the switch to help this prospect light the way through their journey to finding a holistic answer. I searched several acclaimed blogs, research reports and much more and found that they all touched on the fringes of the concept, but fell short of actually laying the law of the land.
Flipping and sparking the fuse to the light
I found the switch and sparked a surge of perspective and interest that lit the way into the abyss of uncertainty for my fellow prospect. Immediately, I thought "does it not make sense to light the way for several people so they too can find the way?"
After pondering some more, I thought it made perfect sense to lay out at a high level of what impacts what along the lines in customer engagement. Below is an image that shows how the bucketed groups of the marketing channels impact the customer sphere with in customer engagement.
The diagram is meant as more of a high level consideration that speaks to the varying ways a customer is engaged. The phases are meant as an indication of what each specific medium within the high level buckets needs to go through and also the phases where customer engagement may also need to start.
For instance, before a product or service is developed or marketed, a brand may want to see if the product or service really meets the expectations of a customer and might want to engage a customer at each step of development. Also, this may provide greater insight on how and what kinds of channels are best for that customer. Below is a further breakdown of what the most common types of mediums per each bucket.

With all these channels, the kinds of services and product than a brand offers and much more, customer engagement is becoming increasingly important. A customer of a particular brand, can virtually have every avenue along this cycle to hear all sorts of things about the offering.
This, is just one small sliver of what factors into the "right combination" for engaging customers. Additionally, engaging the customer early on will provide better results for the offering that is presented to a selected customer.
Lighting more bulbs in other rooms
The concept that I showed above was similar to the approach I used to provide perspective on how social media was just a smaller popular and hot silo in the grand scheme of customer engagement. It really provided an insight that my prospective client considered to be quite intriguing and somewhat daunting. This individual had mentioned things were too simple to be true in social media and that things needed to be more connected and robust. This individual also suggested that it was difficult to see the connections between all the actors in their marketing operation.
More switches and bulbs in different places
So why does this matter? It matters because your customers - whether they are B2B, B2C or something else - are whole people or entities. One simple channel does not carry the breadth and depth of what a customer needs to know.
There are several channels across multiple types of media classifications (traditional, digital and emerging) that affect the whole perspective of what your customer thinks of you and while social media gets hotter and hotter, there still is something supporting the social media infrastructures as well as engaging customers above and beyond the digital or emerging space.
So the big idea here is to keep a very holistic perspective in what you want to do for your customer so you do not pigeon-hole your approach and possibly set yourself up for failure.
The new buzz phrase
It seems that the term customer engagement has caught on as a buzz phrase in the marketing community. I have heard quite a few things about what the cycle should be and how many are comparing customer engagement to customer loyalty and variable other types of previously known customer programs, systems and campaigns previously put in place at many brands.
Let me tell you, if you believe that it is a loyalty program, kind of campaign and or an as needed approach, you’re absolutely wrong. Customer engagement is much more and guess what, it has a lot less to do with your brand and more to do with the customer.
So you are not fooled by the usage of customer engagement, I’ve created a high-level diagram depicting what the customer engagement lifecycle looks like and the things to expect from this lifecycle shown below:
So what is this customer engagement cycle?
Let me start by stating the following about what customer engagement is not to provide some context in today’s era, the era of the empowered customer. Customer engagement is not:
  • A program that comes and goes as campaigns are created.
  • A loyalty program
  • Implemented partly or on an "as needed" basis
  • Purely data driven
  • Successful with brands unless customers are seen as extensions of the brand
Customer engagement goes much deeper than any other previously created and utilized method of marketing, sales, programs and more. Customer engagement is:
  • A new kind of operation for brands
  • The evolved version of yesterday’s marketing
  • An intricate part of the brand with a customer voice and perspective
  • Relationship driven with an open perspective from both sides (brands and customers)
  • An ongoing loop of collaboration and growth between engaged parties
  • More listening and less selling or pushing messaging
In plain English, customer engagement is a cyclical process of relationship building from being completely unknown to extending your brand further out into your customer base that supports, purchases and promotes the great things about your product.

What do you mean by extension of brand?

Customer engagement is all about relationship building and growing that level of WOM Agents or as Chris Brogan refers to as “Trust Agents” in his recent book titled “Trust Agents”which I highly recommend reading. It’s about the logical extension of your corporate culture, brand, entity, and much more to be conveyed and shared with your customers across the board. This means, a customer essentially becomes part of your brand family and as a brand family member, is an active contributor to the success and growth of the brand itself.

Does it really drive everything?

I previously mentioned that customer engagement literally drives everything and called out the three specific types of media that it impacts. What I fell short of mentioning is that it impacts much more than marketing. The cycle itself spans across the entire brand which means virtually every department across the enterprise.
From product/service development to legal, procurement, marketing and much more, customer engagement is the internal framework of growing customer base with trust, respect and open lines of consistent communications. Consider this a means of providing the context needed to understand such a deep and robust way of building incredibly successful brands.
More information about this diagram can be provided in greater detail upon request. Feel free to send requests to [email protected].
John Merritt is a digital strategist and blogger. His blog – EngageThis! – explores all the varying facets of customer engagement. You can contact him at

Replies (2)

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By rjbarkeruk
26th Apr 2010 21:33


Hi John, had to comment as on your piece as its so our area of focus of course. The piece makes for really interesting reading and I agree that social media is just one of the aspects in the greater scheme of customer engagement. People/businesses assume that once you use social media as a marketing or branding tool, you are automatically engaging with your customers. Yes, it is true that technology has turned consumers from passive observers into active participants, who are shaping the future of brands. However, businesses should not forget the three basic rules of customer engagement: -          Listen first before you engage.  You can’t engage your audience until you have listened to what they are saying about you. There is increasing cynicism of customers who don’t trust brands and believe that they are just being sold to. -          Be engaging. If you are, consumers will do anything for you. Customers will give you permission to sell to them, they will help you reduce your costs by buying and interacting online, they will even participate in how you can improve, serve them better, and what to sell them. -          Engage each individual. The more you know about an individual, the better you can engage with them. To engage the individual you have to look at the strengths of direct marketing and expand them – understand the individual at an address level, household level, examine digital channels, and make the digital channels individual channels. Keep up the good work and the great diagrams, Bob

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17th May 2010 20:20

Hi John

 Your headline states that you want "an understanding of this cycle"

I quote:

1. "Below is an image that shows how the bucketed groups of the marketing channels impact the customer sphere with in customer engagement."

2. "The diagram is meant as more of a high level consideration that speaks to the varying ways a customer is engaged. The phases are meant as an indication of what each specific medium within the high level buckets needs to go through and also the phases where customer engagement may also need to start." If you want understanding why are you speaking gobbledegook?Marketing is  a communication strategy. Communication is wholly dependent on understanding.What on earth is a "high level consideration" apart from not being a low level one? Can I suggest if you want customer engagement you apply the basic rule of seeking to be understood. That means writing in a way that conveys your message, not one which is designed to display the extent of your vocabulary or your abiliy to invent and espouse multi syllabic jargon. Drawing a diagramme that looks like the flight path of the Tardis is not going to clarify anything, which is surely the purpose of any diagramme? Bill Sanderson

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