Conversations are key to customer engagement

Quality and frequency of conversations are key components of customer engagement

Conversations now play a key role at every step of the path to customer engagement, according to Affinion’s most recent research, presented in The Connected Customer. While the frequency and type of conversations vary depending on the customer journey, the need to maintain a timely and relevant dialogue remains constant.

New perspective on customer engagement

Affinion’s Customer Engagement Model, commissioned from Oxford Brookes University, takes a fresh look at factors driving engagement and provides an index that calculates how meaningful a company is to their customers.

Affinion's Customer Engagement Model

According to the model, customers start their journey by showing an interest in a provider’s offerings. Following this initial contact, they experience the service or product, and then evaluate how well it meets their expectations. If the result is positive, the customer is likely to become more engaged. The more intertwined a company becomes in their customers’ lives, the more loyal they ultimately become.

First impression matters
Initial conversations play a crucial role in getting customers on path to engagement

Imagine a consumer discovers your product and feels it’s a great price. It’s something they’ve been looking for that will save them a lot of time and effort, so they decide to buy it right away using your secure website. They have now taken that very important first step on the path to customer engagement. Once they get the product, they have a few questions and therefore use your online chat feature to ask for help. Unfortunately, instead of clarifications, they have to wait around to get unsatisfying answers. Do you think they’ll be as excited about the product as they were initially? Probably not.

Conversations between a consumer and a company at the start of the customer journey are crucial to converting interest into a positive experience, no matter what channel is used. According to a survey conducted by the PH Media Group in the US, almost 60% of respondents would never buy from a business if the first call to the customer service line wasn’t handled well.

Long lasting relationships are built on communication
Treat customers like friends and purchases will happen naturally

Ultimately, it’s the conversations between the provider and the customer that will establish trust and satisfaction, and deliver the long-lasting relationship companies are looking for.

A company like Apple can justify charging higher prices for its products in part because it goes to great length to offer its customers high quality interactions at every step of their relationship. Instead of being asked: “Can I help you?” when they step into an Apple store, consumers are greeted with a warm welcome; more like a friend than a customer. Right from the very beginning, and even before making a purchase, visitors are drawn into a conversation rather than a transaction.

The quality of the bond that is established during this phase will determine whether it leads to enjoyment, enthusiasm, attention, sharing, learning, absorption, and endorsement; the pillars of immersion. According to the research, a majority of customers (57%) who make it this far, say they “love their company.” Considering immersion is by far the most difficult milestone to achieve, according to the research, reaching this step is already a sign that a company has managed to become part of their customers’ everyday life.

After that, customers are a lot more likely to be loyal, the last step on the path to full engagement. At this stage, the research found that 62% of customers have become “friends” of sorts, and as a result are willing to buy more and recommend it to others. And just like in any other type of relationship, bonds of affection have been formed and must continue to be nurtured – this is where the frequency of interactions comes into play.

Multiplying interactions
On the path to engagement, quantity matters

One of the key findings of the research is that the number, type and frequency of interactions between a company and its customers has a significant impact on engagement. Results show a direct correlation between the number of products held by a customer and their level of engagement. Therefore, the more a company’s products and services help customers, the more willing the customer is to open the door to other areas of their lives in return.

The findings of the report also show that the frequency of interactions and the number of channels used have an impact on engagement scores. “When interactions increase from once a month to once a week, scores increase 17%,” for example, while customers “on three channels had scores 11% higher than customers using only one channel.”

However, the specifics vary depending on the sector:
Banking: those who interact the most with their provider also used more channels including the branch, website, phone, and app.
Telecommunications: telephone and website were the main sites of connection for most customers, with social media playing a larger role in conversations with frequent users.
Retail: frequent users communicated via a broad range of channels as opposed to less frequent ones who favoured the store and the website.

Ultimately, the glue that holds all the interactions between a company and its customers together is the attention placed on conversations, no matter what the product or channel used.

Conversations add to the depth of the connection, elevating it from a simple transaction to a more meaningful relationship.

Hitting the right note
Relevance, timeliness and context must also frame conversations

While the number, type, and frequency of contacts between a company and its customers is a key component of engagement, other factors, such as relevance, timeliness and appropriateness also need to be considered. “Although communication with your customers is an ongoing dialogue,” says GetSatisfaction CEO Wendy Lea, “you need not be chatting just for the sake of it.”

Affinion’s research clearly indicates the most successful driver of customer engagement, is the ability of a company to become closely embedded in a customer’s life. In order to do this, however, providers must walk a fine line between multiplying interactions and making sure these points of contact don’t become intrusive and more of a nuisance than a benefit, which could have the reverse effect.

“The new customer engagement strategy should feel less like a marketing and sales campaign, contest, or tool, and more like a well-developed friendship founded on the basis of interdependent needs and mutual respect,” explains Lea. Just like you wouldn’t call a friend 10 times a day about a topic that means nothing to them, companies need to frame their conversations with customers appropriately.

Long gone are the days of one-sided customer experiences, or at least they should be. This is one of the important lessons of The Connected Customer. Conversations, no matter what form they take or what channel they use, are crucial to take a customer from interest in a company’s products or services to loyalty on the path to engagement. It’s clear that engaging conversations must be frequent, two-sided and benefit both parties. Understanding the key role conversations play in engagement can help a company build true and long-lasting connections with its customers.