Customer Engagement and Customer Insight Are Inextricably Linked

“Our mission is to help small businesses do business,” Audrey Hendley, SVP, new customer acquisition and prospect engagement for American Express, stated bluntly. “Small business success is our success.”

To be successful, Hendley said during her keynote at Customer Engagement World 2014, she and her team need to know who the global services company’s small business customers are, where they spend their time, what they care about, and who their influencers are. Not surprisingly, Hendley’s team uses data to gain that understanding and then act accordingly. They use modeling and machine learning, for example, to know the best time to call prospects; they use an assortment of customer data to predict triggers and take proactive action rather than react to triggers once they’ve occurred. “What’s really impactful to use are behavioral triggers,” she said.

Most important, Hendley said, is to use data to treat customers as one person across channels; not as a different person in each channel. This helps American Express stay true to its brand values and honor what customers are looking for, she said.

Hendley isn’t alone in her view of harnessing customer data to engage customers. “In general there’s a wholesale shift in how companies are trying to and realizing they need to engage with customers,” Marketo CMO Sanjay Dholakia said to me when we were speaking about personalization and the customer experience. “The term customer engagement is being tossed around because it’s so noisy out there; customers tune out. It requires a new model of customer engagement around conversations, not campaigns.”

Similarly, when speaking with SDL CMO Paige O’Neill, she told me, “Customer expectations are at an all-time high; 90% expect a consistent customer experience across channels, according to our research.” The challenge, she added, is that most companies are at the beginning of journey to true omnichannel marketing and customer experience. “Very few companies feel like they have it nailed,” she added. “But it’s normal that customer expectations will lead initiatives and progress.”

Indeed, marketers are following customers’ cues, Dholakia said. “Marketers want to and know they have to engage with customers in a new way,” he said. “It’s about communication over time and building relationships. It’s a paradigm shift; a different mind-set than pushing offers. It has to be about personalization.”

That personalization leads to engagement—and trust. “Customer engagement can only be achieved by treating every customer as if they are the most important customer you’ll ever have,” George Wright, SVP and GM ofThunderhead.com, told me during a recent interview. “It’s not just about upselling and cross-selling; it’s educating customers. That’s what engagement is about—creating trust over time through consistent, relevant, contextual conversations.”

Data, data everywhere

In terms of getting more personal with customers, American Express’s Hendley recommended gathering customer input and insight from as many sources as are available through a comprehensive voice-of-the-customer program. Sources should go far beyond surveys (but use them!) to include such information as behavioral data and social interactions. By tracking social conversations, for instance, Hendley’s team learned that customers’ reaction to the rejection experience when denied a credit card is just as impactful as to their acceptance experience when awarded one. This changed how the team approached interactions with rejected customers, knowing that they may well be offered a card at a future date when they would be accepted.

She also suggested being where customers and prospects are. “Customers won’t always find you; you need to be where they are,” Hendley said. This means driving your message online, for example, far beyond your website to social and partner sites; but also owning where and when it shows up to the extent that’s manageable. Recently, for example, American Express partnered with such merchants as Dunkin’ Donuts to send real-time geo-targeted SMS offers to American Express customers. By sending the texts itself, American Express controlled the messaging to its customers.

Dholakia pointed out that personalization like this is one reason Amazon is so popular. “They talk to me, not a segment like me, but to me based on my behavior,” he said. “I get an email that says, ‘Hey those boots you viewed are on sale, by the way.’ Then I go buy the boots—even though I hadn’t intended to spend that money—and I say thank you. Everyone wants to market like that. And now the technology exists to do one-to-one. We can all market this way now.”

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