Digital Customer Engagement – the Science behind the Strategy

Posted by Megan Neale
Original article published in the November issue of Engage Customer 

How many meetings have you sat through where participants passionately advocate a social media strategy” or “the need to effect a ‘digital transformation’?  And how many times have you experienced first-hand, businesses making ‘knee jerk reactions through misplaced  investments in digital interaction tools, without really thinking about what customers need and want from them.

Just implementing web-chat, self-service, or mobile app solutions is not a guarantee that you’ve made things easier or simpler for the customer.  Adding more channels to increase choice without a clear understanding of why customers choose a particular channel is a  common service pitfall. So then, how do you go about designing am effective Digital Customer Engagement solution? I’d say, right from the start, using the following 3 steps as guidance:

STEP 1 – Decide the level of service you wish to provide and future proof it. 

This will be invariably linked to your customer profile, their expectations from your business, your brand image etc. There are 4 key categories to keep in mind and my diagram explains it better:
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STEP 2:  Get under the skin of your customers’ behaviour patterns.

A lot of this is common sense, as we all behave in reasonably similar ways. The cleverness comes from applying those typical behaviour patterns to your customer engagement model.
The tricky part here is that consumer behaviours are not linear or consistent. Almost every contact scenario presents a different set of criteria which influence how consumers choose to communicate with a brand, at that point in time. And not all those criteria are within the realm of control of the organisation. I have devised a method to assist our understanding of those controllable and uncontrollable contact scenarios.

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Firstly, identify the trigger. All customer contact starts with a trigger of some sort, 3 key ones being :

  • Trigger initiated by the business ( eg. marketing, promotion, change in service terms and conditions)
  • Trigger initiated by the business or the customer (eg. a break-down in the service or product due to failure or user error)
  • Trigger initiated by the customer (eg. change of mind or circumstances e.g. moving home, bank etc)

Once the trigger for service is defined, understand the key influencers which drive a consumer's decision about which channel they will choose to contact you on. The following could be key behaviour influencers:

Channel the trigger is received on – if the trigger is initiated by the organisation then this will influence in part the channel the customer uses to act. This is not a given though and the next 7 criteria are important to consider.

Nature of query – The inherent nature of query influences the way the customer chooses to contact the company. These could include the following considerations:

  • Is it sensitive to me personally or someone else? E.g. health related (I require the privacy afforded by the contact channel to discuss this with the company)
  • Is it personal?  (information that I would like protected)
  • Is it a general query?  (I would happily discuss this in an open environment

Location - The location of the customer at the time of the trigger is a significant influencing factor in determining the communication channel. Is the customer alone? With friends or business associates? Or in a public place? At home? At work? In a car? The organisation has limited control of the location of the customer but should consider this in light of the likely nature of the query.

Urgency – The time sensitivity of the query has a significant impact on how a customer behaves. If an issue needs to be dealt with immediately, the customer will choose the route they perceive to have the quickest resolution time. The business has absolute control over this, as it should be fully aware of the query types that require urgent attention and should promote the best channel for the customer to use.

Device Access – The customer’s course of action will also be determined by the device access they have available at the location (landline phone, smartphone, PC/tablet/laptop or even Smart TV)

Channels Available – The customer’s course of action will also be determined by the channels made available to them by the organisation and how well accessible they are.

Past Experience – Businesses should not underestimate the impact of past experience with a channel and its influence on future behaviour. A poor web chat experience can put a customer off web chat for a long time. Whilst you cannot control what other companies do, it is imperative that you don’t disincentives customers from using your preferred channels due to poor execution.

Personal Preference – And lastly, customers quite simply will choose to act based on what they like to do. It’s that simple. Whilst you can’t necessarily influence personal preference you can educate customers on alternatives methods of contact which in time may change personal preferences.

I hope you see from this that almost every customer contact situation and scenario could be different and the accessibility of new information sources and channels only increases the complexity. That leads us to Step 3.

Step 3: Control the controllable

Don’t worry about the aspects you will never control, but focus on the areas you can influence. Analyse those controllable aspects of the customer decision making process and start to build your digital strategy around those. Consequently you are designing solutions borne out of an understanding of customer behaviour and circumstances, offering a range of solutions which match those behaviours.

To sum up, the aim of any customer engagement strategy is to address the reasons why, when and how customers choose to contact you. This should be no different when considering a digital engagement strategy. The introduction of digital into the channel mix has simply meant that customers have more avenues to reach you. The significance of understanding what drives usage of these contact avenues is critical when designing your engagement tools.