Four Practical Paths to Engagement
No question that expectations for customer engagement have changed. This is how the e-commerce platform provider, Magento, perceives this change in the retail space.
“Just a few short years ago, customer engagement meant attracting customers with the promise of great deals and moving them as quickly as possible to checkout. Now, with almost endless product choices, media channels, and new shopping experiences vying for customers’ attention, customer engagement is about cutting through the noise and creating emotional connections that drive word-of-mouth advertising and future sales.”
For both for-profit and non-profit realms, the days of declaring victory when you closed a sale, acquired a new member or certificate registrant are over. Engaging over a customer’s or member’s lifetime rather than selling is the new objective to remain competitive.
It is true that associations, like most other sectors, have been focusing on member engagement for years. Yet few of them are satisfied with the results of their efforts. No wonder. For most associations, engagement is still just a different term for sales. At an ASAE conference last year, I attended at least four panel discussions on engagement. When participants were asked about any new ideas for their engagement strategies they had come away with, they responded with new sales techniques:
- · Be more aggressive about letting members know of various products and benefits
- · Make sure you communicate the association’s value
- · Convince more members to take on volunteer positions
Persuading, informing and promoting are one-way actions from the association to its members. They reflect one dimensional roles of “we make/ you consume” and lead to one-dimensional, transactional relationships.
Engagement, however, is not about you. It is the result of a customer’s perception and experience of your value. The more you understand and make a difference to what most matters to your members and customers, the more you engage.
Below are 4 practical strategies, based on different assumptions of engagement, you could apply immediately.
1. Engage in two way relationships and at multiple points of connection.
Practical strategy: Use social media for constant connectivity. As the Magento white paper notes:
“Customer engagement is no longer characterized by one-way, merchant-initiated communication. It’s now a dynamic, multi-channel, two-way communication stream, with customers readily engaging with merchants and other customers via blogs, games, product reviews, customer service, community forums, and social media. And retailers are recognizing that, to compete effectively, customer engagement needs to reach across devices and channels and extend well beyond the transaction phase.”
2. Make a deeper and more detailed level of customer knowledge a priority
Practical strategy: Listen to how customers talk to and communicate with each other on social media platforms Example: “After listening to customer conversations online, like color preferences for laptops, Lenovo has taken the guesswork out of product development, and thus, its customers are receiving more useful and relevant products.”
3. Focus on what you do with the customer before and after the sale rather than the sale itself
“But today’s hyper-connected, highly-informed consumer has prompted retailers to shift their focus to retaining customers and maintaining ongoing relationships, with customer loyalty and repeat business becoming the goal. What this means is that customer engagement now arguably starts once conversion is complete… In fact, post-transaction engagement can become a company’s lifeblood. TripAdvisor, for an example, relies heavily on its more than 100 million user-generated reviews to convince customers to book hotels, restaurants, and travel services online.”
Practical strategy The thrust of most associations’ effort is to recruit rather than retain, sell rather than develop. Reverse your focus from recruitment to retention, and on how you develop, engage and retain members after they join.
A first step might be to peruse through your current informal or lesser known activities to identify your small successes in member development and engagement. There are unheralded, hidden, discounted engagement activities in most associations that could become their most potent means of engagement if they were identified, leveraged, developed and scaled, for example: chapter leaders creating meaningful communities for local members; front line staff developing personal and meaningful relationships with members, small, practical tools on the website members actually use to get concrete outcomes; small, forgotten regional outreach programs, such as scholarships, that are overshadowed by flagship programs or new board or association-conceived initiatives.
4. Focus on Embracing and Leveraging Customer Feedback rather than deflect and defend against it
The same Forbes article cites the case of Ellen Brasse who, in 2009, “launched coop@home, a grocery shopping app for Coop, a Switzerland-based grocer. After the app took off, Brasse actively began seeking feedback from customers to better meet their needs. Through consistent surveys, Brasse realized that the most loyal customers were those who had voiced a complaint and had their problem resolved, not those who had never had a problem with Coop’s services. Although it may be tempting to ignore customers’ negative feedback, this case study shows that dissatisfied customers provide a means for process improvement and can become a company’s most loyal and vocal advocates.”
Amazon reached the same conclusion about the value of negative product reviews from its customers. While the sales of specific products may have dropped, customers’ visits (and hence sales of other products) increased because the customer experience had improved. Customers were helped make better choices.
Practical strategy: Turn feedback into learning and innovating opportunities and couple them with action. Employees at The Veterinary Information Network or VIN (a virtual association) begin the day by reviewing what they learned from/about members the day before and what can be converting into action. Lessons learned often result in specific when appropriate, CEO Paul Pion, has invited a vocal member with a complaint to head up or participate in a team charged with finding creative solutions to that problem.
Engage members and staff in understanding negative feedback. Structure time and processes for leveraging feedback to design improvements and fuel innovation.