In this blog post we bring together the core learnings from the findings in the DMA Customer Engagement 2016 report and distil them into overarching themes to help define the key routes to creating positive customer engagement.
What brand engagement responses will resonate most strongly with consumers, and how can brands innovate to meet these in the near future?
Customer Engagement Best Practices
We outline four key customer engagement best practices drawn from the findings and their implications for brands:
1. Relevancy over personal
Access to customer data is undoubtedly recalibrating the parameters of what is possible in terms of individualised marketing. But it is crucial that brands apply personalisation strategies in ways that truly deliver relevancy for each and every shopper.
Whether it is relevancy through optimising recommendations to be shown at the precise moment needed, tweaking loyalty rewards to deliver benefits that are useful at an individual level (discounts for products they actually buy, offers for places they will actually visit, discounts during times they are actually shopping, etc.) or through taking into account wider context of people’s needs, brands that prioritise usefulness over closeness will have a better chance of engaging consumers positively.
Messages that take into account a customer’s name, details and basic preference may help to create more friendly communications, but it is the brand who can deliver a heightened personalisation experience – a useful discount at the moment the customer most needs it; a reminder of the perfect gift to buy for a friend; an offer that chimes with one’s current mood – that will create a warmer and stronger level of engagement.
Earlier data in the report detailed how consumers were more interested in receiving tailored offers.
Further we see significant interest in ever more precise communications from brands:
- 40% surveyed are interested in a service that reminded them about a friend or family member’s upcoming birthday and gave relevant suggestions on what to buy them as a gift; this rises to two thirds of 25-34s.
- Half of consumers surveyed agree that they would like it if recommendations they receive from brands/ shops or sites they use were better tailored to what they like or are interested in.
- 54% of Gen Y (28% of the total sample) are interested in a service that detected how they were feeling and sent them surprise offers/deals based on their mood/state (e.g. an offer/deal for a massage after doing a lot of exercise).
2. Incentivising data sharing
Despite clear consumer interest in engaging with brands in a more personal way, achieving the right balance between overly personal and extremely relevant is a fine one; brands will need to work carefully to optimise individualised communications while remaining sensitive to consumers’ cautiousness when it comes to sharing their personal data.
When consumers were asked what personal information they would share with companies for certain benefits, it was clear that people were more likely to be willing to share more basic information types.
However, data reveals that consumers are most willing to share their data when there is a clear benefit to be gained – such as lower prices, tailored deals or special offers.
Further lower levels of willingness to share data do not correspond to the higher levels of agreement and interest in tailored communications and offers that we have seen elsewhere in the research and earlier in the report, which ultimately rely on consumers’ actually sharing their data with the retailers they use.
Implicit in the contrasting data, is that there remains a gap in consumers’ understanding of how customer data can be used to tailor and heightened personalisation, and what personalisation they desire from brands.
Example of incentivising data sharing:
Let’s take one example; loyalty rewards are something consumers highly desire, and yet loyalty rewards rely on brands’ collecting data on customers’ purchase history. This potentially shows a lack of comprehension among consumers of how websites store their past purchasing history.
It is evident that brands need to focus on clearly reassuring consumers of the direct benefits of data sharing, as well as building up consumers’ awareness of how brands use customer data.
Data sharing needs to be both clearly incentivised and easily understood to encourage customers to take part. This understanding is a clear trust issue and the industry needs to continue to seek ways to show the value consumers can receive directly resulting from use of data – using a copywriter to craft clear permissions copy in transparent language is one way to work towards achieving this.
When consumers are confident of the gains they can make concerns over how brands are using their data will likely soften.
3. Build a reciprocal relationship
Consumers are seeking more of a dialogue with brands they like and expect more feedback from brands they engage with.
The data shows that many consumers are open to giving brand reviews and feedback; 3 in 10 have given their favourite brand feedback on their service, 29% have written a review of products from them; 3 in 10 are interested in sending them suggestions of how they can improve.
It is also noteworthy that 4 in 10 consumers are willing to be rated by brands themselves – as a customer.
Alongside the willingness to proactively communicate with their favourite brands, it is evident that many consumers expect brands to reward customers for their engagement – half believe consumers should be rewarded if they recommend products to friends and family; just under half believe brands should respond to comments people make about them on social networks.
With consumers ready to receive rewards for engagement and loyalty, how can retailers benefit from the consumer appetite for feedback on their custom?
We already have seen two-way rating systems forming the business model of commercial sharing platforms such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. Customers and suppliers are rated, with customers directly benefiting from getting a good review – via rewards such as cheaper rates, better acceptance rate for future use of service, even special deals.
It is possible that established retail brands can begin to form a more reciprocal relationship with their customers to foster the kind of engagement that encourages customers to act in their favour i.e. to stay loyal, stay engaged, and promote brands outwardly.
Reciprocity is welcomed, it is a function of transparency in the modern, data-driven world and will be further encouraged and sought as consumers begin to see the impact of their involvement – better service, more control over brands, better deals – all things we know consumers highly value.
By opening up a dialogue with customers and incentivising them to build connections through ratings and rewards, brands can create compelling reasons for consumers to engage with them.
4. Humanise digital engagement
Convenience and good service are top reasons why consumers favour certain retailers, but how are brands responding to the fast-changing parameters of these consumer demands?
While speed and efficiency are highly valued by consumers especially when shopping online, overly functional and mechanised interactions risk creating purely functional connections with consumers, bereft of the service benefits created by human empathy and intuition.
Enter digital technologies that are humanising digital engagement, helping to create more intuitive service on online platforms and presenting brands with new ways to interact with customers:
- Virtual personal assistants that can be asked questions or advice – such as Siri, Facebook’s M or Cortana, can potentially begin to build a rapport with customers and take recommendations into a more relevant space – at the point of browsing/buying.
- Chat messenger platforms through which these assistants can operate encourage a casual, personal form of engagement to naturally blossom between chat-bot/A.I. assistant and customer.
Elsewhere virtual technology can bring products alive in one’s home, and provide another digitally humanised way for customers to engage with brands outside of a retail environment.
Understandably being a generation of digital natives younger consumers show keener appetite for more emerging service interfaces such as A.I. assistants, and are more open to using chat interfaces to connect with brands. This said, 52% of consumers are interested in at least 1 of 4 virtual reality customer service innovations presented in the survey; there is clearly a latent interest here.
While still in their infancy we posit that virtual innovation platforms are potentially going to transform how brands can individually connect with customers at scale in the digital space while also improving core customer needs such as convenience, efficiency and service.
While the algorithms that power A.I. assistants currently will have limitations in how accurately they can respond to individual requests, a combination of chat-bot powered assistants and human customer service still indicates a much more individualised digital service experience is on the horizon.
Seamlessly connected digital touchpoints
In this context, brands must follow these customer engagement best practices to ensure new digital touchpoints are seamlessly connected to all other potential touchpoints both online and offline to enable a consistent experience for the customer.