This is the first of a three-part series on digital customer engagement:

In the Age of the Consumer and the Experience Economy, everyone and everything is connected.

Consumer expectations have shifted. The customer expects a personal relationship that offers value wherever and whenever they are ready to engage. As a result, marketers must shift away from singular campaigns and a “bottom-line first” mindset in order to stay relevant and competitive. As the number of communication channels and devices increases, so does the challenge of engaging consumers effectively and delivering consistent, contextual and personalized interactions across each of them.

So, what’s the solution to this ever-increasing challenge? An effective digital customer engagement strategy.

What is Customer Engagement?

From customer service reps to marketers, the definition of “customer engagement” seems to be determined by the situation in which it’s used. In many cases, this has led to the phrase being used interchangeably with “customer experience.” While the two are definitely related, it is important to draw a distinction to understand how they act as major growth levers that drive value for both brands and their customers.

The relationship between brands and their customers develops over time based on interactions and the perceptions and behaviors that follow.

Brands interact with customers in order to:

  • Make them aware of their product or service
  • Get them to purchase their product or service
  • Get them to repurchase their product or service and have them recommend it to their friends

Customers interact with brands throughout their buyer journey. The following is an example of the basic, overarching process that customers go through when purchasing something.

Customer experience is the perception or impression of those interactions.

Customer engagement is the interaction/behavior by the brand or customer and the means by which their relationship is created.

Customer engagement goes beyond managing the experience at touchpoints; it includes all the ways companies motivate customers to invest in an ongoing relationship with their brand. This relationship doesn’t start and stop at the purchase point, but spans the lifetime of the customer, from the time they became aware of the brand to after they’ve purchased the product/service and more.

In the past, brands controlled these interactions. They were able to dictate when an interaction took place, what message they wanted to communicate and, most of the time, the outcome. But that’s no longer the case.

Customer Engagement in the Digital Age

In 1998, there were only 147 million people online. People waited half an hour to download a song and and over a month to download a movie. It was in the early 2000s that the world changed forever with the release of the iPhone, the smartphone for the everyday person, the release of instant messaging services like AIM, and when social media came on the scene with platforms like Myspace.

In 2018, the number of smartphone users worldwide is projected to reach 2.52 billion, with 61.2% of the world population accessing the web from their mobile devices. – Statistica

In an age defined by disruptive technologies, the relationship between brands and their customers has shifted. We fast forward through TV commercials, we unsubscribe from annoying emails, we don’t open direct mail and we put ourselves on do-not-call lists (like that works).

We have information in the palm of our hands or at the edge of our tongues. We expect to be able to connect instantaneously and conveniently with whomever we want when we want. We operate in short micro-moments across multiple devices and channels, and we expect it to be seamless and quick.

As consumers, our interactions with brands are no different. We don’t just simply buy something. We develop a relationship with the brands of our choosing, and we expect value during each interaction. We want to feel heard and like we helped create the value we received.

This has led to a rapid shift for marketers to move from brand-centric interruption marketing to customer-centric attraction marketing.

“Consumers have changed. We are in the midst of a major social change in the way consumers listen and engage with brands. The landscape has changed from campaign management to customer engagement.” – Alterian Brands at-risk study

In fact, Forrester Research stated that customer relationships are now the only competitive differentiator.

As a consumer, we build a mesh of digital devices around us to get things done. Customer engagement must be able to seamlessly span these devices and channels to build on the relationship between the brand and the consumer through each interaction.

“The ‘digital mesh’ is the collection of devices (including things), information, apps, services, businesses and other people that exist around the individual. As the digital mesh evolves, all devices, computer and information resources, businesses and individuals will be interconnected. The interconnections will be dynamic and flexible, changing throughout the day.” – Gartner, Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2016: Mesh App and Service Architecture

Our devices, our methods of consuming information and the way we make decisions are constantly changing, and they’re only going to continue to evolve as technologies advance.

The only thing that is consistent throughout this evolution is the individual behind the screen. We as consumers don’t form perceptions based on a single interaction, but rather on the full experience we have with the brand across all our touchpoints. How those micro-moments connect builds the relationship. This means that brands must develop or update their customer engagement for the Digital Age.

For businesses, this means that to improve customer engagement, they must embrace technology and data to speak their customers’ language in the context the conversation is taking place.

You will need to create ongoing conversations with each individual, conversations that combine their lives and their experiences in the physical and digital world. Your marketing approach shifts from acquisition-oriented campaigns to management of customer interactions and experiences that span the buyer’s journey in a seamless way. This isn’t a one-way conversation dictated by the brand, as it was in the past, but instead a two-way conversation where brands must listen for and understand the needs of their customers.

It’s time to update your engagement strategy for the digital consumer. Are you ready?

Stick around for our next blog post in this series, where I’ll introduce the  11 behaviors that ensure your success with digital customer engagement.