Almost every company in retail wants to have a sincere relationship with its customers. A relationship that allows them to really see into their customers’ hearts and minds, and let them feel that their customer will always be loyal to them.The way most brands think they can achieve this is through engagement. Constant, continuous engagement. Whether it’s via email, social media, text, snail mail, or with geo-targeted ads...these companies love to communicate. And whilst they might think they always have something relevant to say, if you’re a customer you’ll know this isn’t the case. How many of us have felt overwhelmed and bombarded with daily emails, marketing letters or cold calls after beginning a relationship with a company? How many times have we followed a brand we liked on social media, only to have our news feed flooded with their updates? It’s an all-too-common occurrence, and is proof that persistent and frequent engagement isn’t always such a great idea. So how should brands go about engaging with customers; that is, the customers that don’t like to engage? Get Out of My Face, Please Most companies believe that the key to a relationship with customers is engagement - it’s not. Research by the Harvard Business Review says that 77% of customers actually don’t want a brand relationship at all. Even when something goes wrong and a customer needs urgent service, many will choose the self-service route, with only one third of people choosing to use the telephone compared with two thirds 3-5 years ago. And that number is shrinking fast. If people are becoming less likely to want a relationship with a company even during a transaction, what makes brands think their customers will want one at any other time? Companies in the process of rolling out geo-targeted mobile ads, including Tesco Mobile and Starbucks, may be surprised to learn that 60% of customers claimed to feel unhappy or indifferent about the prospect according to 2013 research by the Internet Advertising Bureau. It’s important that brands are realistic about their expectations so they can engage and behave accordingly. How to Know Who Doesn’t Want to Know You Secret tip: it’s pretty much everyone. You don’t ever need to worry about a customer leaving because they didn’t receive enough marketing emails. The only thing you need to worry about is failing to respond to communication from the customer, which is obviously crucial if you want to maintain their trust. But in this case they’d be instigating the engagement, and not the other way around. Be open to this. Let your customers lead. Secondly, it’s important to identify just what type of communication your customers expect and even desire from you. Transactional communications, like receipt and shipping notifications, are expected. Many customers will also look for engagement when they need to solve a problem, or ask questions about a product before they buy it. What they often don’t want is unsolicited offers sent to their phone; surprise direct messages on social media and a bunch of marketing emails blasted to their inbox every day. This, unfortunately, seems to be what so many brand-customer ‘relationships’ are made of. How to Lose Customers and Annoy People It’s not hard for customers to list the ways that so many companies get it wrong. But just in case, here are a few... 1. Permission All ticked boxes aside, if you’re sending your customers something they’re not expecting, the chances are they’ll reject it. Be transparent about what your communications will entail and don’t try to cover it up in the small print. Let customers need to know what they’re agreeing to. 2. Relevance Not all customers are the same; that much should be obvious. So why don’t more brands tailor their engagements to suit? One of the most common reasons that customers opt out of communication is because they’re bombarded with stuff they don’t care about. 3. Frequency Another top reason why customers jump ship. Nobody wants to hear from the same brand day in day out, with little variation in information. Customers can and do suffer from information overload. More is not better. Other reasons include bland, boring information; poorly designed emails or mail-outs and a failure to make use of existing information about the customer. And many companies also fail to pay attention to social media stats, email campaign results and other ROI measurements, meaning they have no idea how their attempts to communicate might be working. Engage Smart, Engage Right Rather than trying to find ways they can engage more with customers, brands should be looking at how they can engage smart instead. Greg Ciotti at HelpScout.net points out that whilst many companies believe direct engagement is the key, research has shown that it is actually shared values that help build brand loyalty. Customers will be more likely to stick with brands that fight for a cause that they believe in, and hold attitudes and beliefs close to their own heart. “What companies stand for doesn’t have to be lofty or grandiose,” says Greg..”... You just have to plant your flag somewhere that matters.” Establishing strong brand values that resonate is probably one of the most effective things a brand can do to boost customer loyalty. But they will do well to combine those with the following: 1. Give Choices Let customers choose how and when they will be contacted, and for what purpose. And be respectful of these preferences. Also when it comes to opting out, let them do so in the fewest actions possible. 2. Exercise Restraint Watch the frequency of one’s updates, whether it be social media or email. You don’t want to dominate a news feed. 3. Engage with a cause In line with your brand values, spend time engaging directly with the cause or ideology you defend. This will stimulate engagement from your customers, without you approaching them directly. 4. Be consistent Continue to demonstrate brand values across all of your channels and platforms, keeping an expected level of consistency across them. You don’t need to wave your mantra in front of customers’ faces; eventually it will become a natural association they make with your brand. 5. Eliminate obstacles Make it as easy as possible (the least number of moves) for customers to complete a call to action, or opt out of engagement altogether.
Many mistakes made by companies in their attempts to engage are grown from a deep-rooted fear...fear that their customers will go elsewhere, or that their employees won’t do the right thing. It’s time for more brands to dismiss these fears and let go of their hold on communication channels. By simply being there for your customers, there’s no immediate reason they should be tempted to go elsewhere. And you may just get the customer relationship you wanted.