5 ways to truly engage with the customer

31st May 2016

The advent of digital has allowed companies to tap customer insight like never before. Platform Group is a company that recognises this, designing interactive and digital experiences to help brands improve their customers’ journeys. Earlier this year, in an interview for Customer Focus magazine, the company’s managing director, Jo Upward, shared her insight. Here are her top tips for effective customer engagement:

1. Get to know your customers

Brands often want to successfully engage customers in helping to define their products and services. If this co-creation is to be effective, a realistic sense of the customer’s experience – a journey map – is integral. 

Upward points to an initiative by global shipping company Maersk, whereby company executives go out to shadow their customers on site to understand what dealing with Maersk is like on a day-to-day basis. Having a comprehensive understanding of a customer’s experience, Upward says, in turn helps companies to improve it. “You can start to slim down your processes, getting rid of touch points that don’t really matter, don’t have intrinsic value or aren’t effective,” she says.

2. Have a conversation

“In a digital world, you need to firstly have a presence in the market, and that presence can’t be broadcasting,” says Upward. Instead, organisations need to ensure they’re using digital platforms to have a conversation with customers. “I think brands need to be genuinely interested in what the answers are. It’s no good having a veneer of co-creation or consultation if you’re not genuinely willing to listen to what your customers say.”

3. Be authentic

In all interactions with customers, whether in marketing, the deliverance of services or through social media, brands establish expectations. Consistently meeting those expectations – being authentic – will set a brand apart. Virgin does this well, Upward thinks. The business offers a diverse array of services and products – from mobile to healthcare to Virgin Galactic – but a single customer service thread, something she defines as ‘casual but caring’, runs through each of these different strands.

4. Use data in the right way 

While organisations now fully grasp the importance of digital, the online environment does pose challenges. There has been a backlash against companies ‘intrusively’ mining social media data for commercial gain, for example. But people don’t mind data being used, Upward says, as long as some gain for the customer is apparent. She points to Amazon’s recommendation tool, which highlights products a particular consumer might like based on previous purchases or searches.

5. Don’t fear social

Many brands are still struggling to harness the social sphere. “There is a lot of fear,” says Upward. “Brands think, we’ve got to be on Facebook, we’ve got to put something on Twitter. But you have to be consistent about what your brand promise is, and come back to all those principles.”

Social media helps companies to build a more connected relationship with customers, enabling what Upward calls “customer empathy”, or “developing a proper human understanding or relationship with your customer, and looking to staff to do that as well”. If used the right way, social media can offer insight into changing consumer habits, a platform for collaboration, and an opportunity for companies to develop a real connection with customers. 

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