Analysis: The many ways of tackling customer engagement

Hot off the feels of the final presentation at the Customer360 Symposium, CMO reflects on the many approaches to customer engagement and centricity being displayed by brands and organisations and why there's still a long way to go

Customer engagement is top of mind for increasing numbers of organisations, but it was apparent at the Customer360 Symposium that brands are finding it difficult to demonstrate and justify the value of these efforts in a way that resonates with executive leadership.

A diverse range of sessions during the two-day conference looked to present the latest thinking and initiatives around customer experience and engagement not only from local and international brands, but also cultural anthropologists, consultancies, research companies, technology platform providers, design thinkers and even magicians.

What was clear from their presentations is just how many ways you can point a stick at it. Speakers traversed storytelling to segmentation, customer engagement and satisfaction to customer loyalty programs, engagement marketing to retention strategy, data analytics to internal engagement surveys, and contact centre support and social media command centres to building a customer-centric culture.

Higher up the spectrum, Huddle Design’s Dr Melis Senova had something to say around “profound and philosophical thought on customer experience”, while corporate anthropologist, Michael Henderson’s advice on embracing the tribal nature sitting at the core of all business cultures raised a few eyebrows – and in a good way.

Measurements were another bone of contention. Net Promoter Score (NPS) has had a resurgence within business in recent years as a core metric for understanding customer experience for brands, and was certainly discussed at length during the event.

But is it really an adequate measurement for understanding your customers?

Expedia’s director of customer experience, Justin Lee, quite rightly asked attendees: Are you using NPS as a score, or as a system? It’s one thing to generate the number, and quite another to build an organisational structure, process and culture that makes sense of that in the day-to-day engagements your organisation is having with customers.

Lee also claimed too many organisations are not effectively actioning customer insights from the plethora surveys and data sets available to them.

This is something Expedia is tapping into thanks to the help of new technology and reviews, and there were plenty of other examples to be found among the attendees at the inaugural event.

Lee wasn’t the only one discussing actions; NIB’s CMO, Rhod McKensey, spoke on the challenges of actioning insights delivered through its contact centre and social media, and Dell’s global director of customer quality, Billy Butler, also spent time explaining how the PC giant is moving from product pusher to solutions provider and using customer feedback to do it.

The good news is the conference gave attendees the chance to debate the pros and cons of their approach, and glean insights from the trials and tribulations of others in the name of the customer.

In a roundtable panel, for example, on the commercial pressures of customer experience, several brand leaders agreed getting leadership and management to actively work in the contact centre and deal hands-on with customers was a massive step forward in driving customer thinking into the heart of the business.

There was also consensus on several of the key attributes needed to enable customer centricity. Authenticity as a brand and organisation was one; technology platforms were another; and empathy was widely acknowledged as vital as the basis for engagement.

More important than all of the buzzwords, however, are people and purpose. Without either of these, getting the whole company behind a customer-driven approach simply can’t happen.

Of course, one of the biggest questions broached but not resolved at the conference is who is responsible for directing customer experience.

Jostled between dynamic marketing and humble operations, and positioned as a mindset shift from sales towards value, customer experience isn’t something that can be simply delivered by one team. It has to be believed in, owned, be both immersive and a continuous engagement.

As an indication of just how widespread customer ownership is today, the Customer360 Symposium attracted dedicated customer experience officers, contact centre managers, data analysts, chief marketing officers, digital marketers and COOs, to name a few.

Whoever is in charge, this showcase of job titles arguably reflects just how many people need to be involved in building customer centricity to make it a reality.

But what also shone through from the presentations was the fact that many brand presentations are still seeing customer centricity as something that’s directly reflected in sales, revenue generation and product-specific offerings.

Many of the customer engagement stories told over the two days were aligned to the needs of the brand and business, and while many come from values perceived at the customer level, co-creation is still sitting in the far distance.

Disconnect between what is considered customer satisfaction and what is customer centricity also abounds. Many staff don’t realise their role in delivering or influencing superior customer engagement, or aren’t being rewarded appropriately for their efforts.

Dr Senova described modern businesses as operating in the remnants of the industrial revolution, and called for organisations and their leaders to get behind the emerging human revolution. But to do this, we all must undergo a massive transformation in how we perceive customer value, and how we embrace this value as organisations.

As she pointed out, many of the exchanges we have today as human beings aren’t based on a monetary exchange, yet it is these that have been in the limelight for business. They might be ‘fluffy’, and hard to measure, but they’re important.

We’ve started the discussions and the momentum; now it’s up to all of us to make customer centricity happen.

More from Customer360 Symposium

- Nadia Cameron travelled to Customer360 Symposium as a guest of Ashton Media.

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