Back in the day all you needed to be successful was to set up shop in a good part of town, have a firm handshake, and deliver reasonable service. As great as those days may have been, they were also very limiting and confined your sphere of influence to your town and even then, only those who physically walked into your shop.
The advent of the internet and its spread into the mobile space demanded a change in focus for many businesses in South Africa as you could now be based in Cape Town and with just a few keystrokes, sell your products across the country.
The downside of this expanded sales floor is the fact that it introduced competitors to your local market. Your Gauteng based competitor can now just as easily sell their product in Cape Town as they can at home. We would quickly learn that one of the top factors that would now set your business apart from your competitors is customer engagement.
The True Fans theory
In 2008 the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly, wrote an essay entitled 1000 True Fans in which he postulated that you don’t need to have millions of customers to be successful. All you needed was 1000 true fans.
The focal point of his theory is not the number “1000”, as that is a fluid and arbitrary number, but rather the need for True Fans. Creating a group of customers who share your business with anyone who will listen for long enough, a group that both promotes and defends your brand online, a group of people who support new product launches and who actively engage with you and your team online, that is the dream.
Customer engagement 101
To build and maintain that level of momentum you must have a strategy for keeping these fans engaged, entertained, and informed.
Here are 4 ways in which your business can connect with your customers where they are and begin to convert them from sales statistics to lifelong fans.
1. Invite feedback and take action
Any healthy sustainable relationship requires clear communication. Proving that you’ve truly heard someone takes action. Your customer knows better than you do what works and doesn’t work when it comes to your business.
Invite their feedback and suggestions but most importantly, take swift and clear action to resolve the issues raised. You can then use these updates as a form of validation by thanking them for their input and asking follow-up questions about the changes you implemented.
This takes what would normally have been a one-off poll and converts it into an ongoing conversation.
2. Speak to the person
The more online the world has become, the less personal it has begun to feel. Changing that is what great customer engagement is all about. A great way to have your customers invest in your business at a personal level is to speak to them as individuals.
Personalise your emails and outbound messaging, make suggestions based on their individual past purchasing behaviours, check in on them when they’ve been absent for a while, and poll them (directly) for their feedback and ideas.
Be sure to celebrate events and occasions such as birthdays, holidays, the day they first used your service and other personal milestones, as these are deeply personal. However, celebrate them properly – rote bare-bones text messages do more to remind someone that they’re a cog in a machine than make them feel appreciated.
3. Reward customer loyalty
Nothing has been proven to create ongoing sales and improved customer appreciation more than an intelligent and well-executed loyalty program. These programs can be as complex or as simple as you want them to be. The key, however, is that it needs to feel personalised.
Yuppie Chef is masterful at simple but effective customer engagement. All they do is slip a handwritten note in with your delivery that says, “Thank You” and on occasion offers a discount voucher on your next purchase. Simple, effective, and easy to manage.
Not all rewards are discount-driven. When brands such as Volvo, BMW, and Mercedes launch their latest vehicles, existing high-value customers are invited to an exclusive pre-launch showcase. This air of exclusivity and inclusion breeds brand loyalty and drives sales.
In both cases, you’ll notice that there is a strong focus on personal interaction and drawing the customer close with a clear drive to get them to make another purchase.
4. Be intentional on social media
Many businesses mistake being active without being effective when it comes to social media. To win at customer engagement you need to take the time to research what customers expect from certain platforms and then engage only on platforms that will connect you with your audience in a meaningful way.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and others want your business and therefore offer business accounts with analytics, report on trends, and dissect their user bases. Use this data to create your plan.
There are also specialists who have dedicated themselves to marketing solely on a single platform. These marketing specialists are a wealth of free knowledge on how to approach certain platforms, how to set up content calendars that work and they will often share not only their successes but also their failures to help you learn from their mistakes.
Being intentional will allow you to create content your customers want, streamline your internal processes, and effectively measure the returns you’re seeing from your social media activities.
Customer engagement is just one of the many factors that play an important role in a successful digital marketing strategy. Getting customers to your store is, of course, a vital step in the process too. Here’s a look at some timeless acquisition strategies that’ll ensure you have customers lining up for your products or services.