The Next Management Fad: Customer “Engagement”

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I have watched with interest the rise and fall in the latest management fad – customer engagement. Engagement is the latest big thing cooked-up by desperate advertisers to enable businesses to differentiate their humdrum products from those of their largely identical competitors.

So let me see now, engagement is the metric that will save modern marketing from a slow but inexorable slide into irrelevancy.

Looks familiar? It should do. We are treading on well-worn management territory.

In the 1980s business was just as infatuated with customer satisfaction. But customers, by and large, were not satisfied. In the 1990s it was relationships. But customers didn’t want to have them with the vast majority of companies. In the 2000s it was the turn of the customer experience. But the experience hasn’t really got any better for most customers. Now, the latest management fad is customer engagement.

Why oh why oh why can’t businesses just fix the basics that drives success; simple things like products that work first time every time, pricing that is fair and transparent, marketing that is authentic and honest, and service that adds to the ownership experience, to name just a few. Then they wouldn’t need to invent fads like engagement to lure unsuspecting customers into thinking that things have changed. In most companies they haven’t.

What do you think? Is engagement a load of advertising tosh? Or a valuable addition to the modern marketer’s armoury?

Post a comment and get the conversation going.

Graham Hill

5 COMMENTS

  1. I do think engagement is in danger of becoming yet another fad. Why? Not because I don’t think there is something important here but because the term gets used in very confounded ways. Is engagement at touch-point with customers? Is this type of engagement a good thing if the customer is trying to beat the vendor down in price or is indifferently buying a commodity? Is it about engaging customers? Is this about getting them to listen to a pitch or get delighted by entertainment? Or, is it about getting the customers emotionally or psychologically engaged in something (like an experience) that has meaning or value to them?

    I come down on the side of getting the customers engaged because it speaks to the ownership experience. In a world of abundance and change it is easy for customers to see products as undifferentiated entities. If all they are seeking is utility, a means-to-an-end, they will look for the best trade-off between price and convenience and will have no inherent loyalty. It is also easy and common for a vendor to define what they think is the customer experience and assume the customer will actually experience it. By getting customers emotionally or psychologically involved in the experience, indifference can be replaced with desire. John I. Todor, Ph.D., author of Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company.

  2. Wow. Difficult subject: will engagement be just another fad? My guess is that the urge to ask the question is the answer to the question. Platitude says: The more things change, the more they stay the same. I sense an opportunity here for marketers willing to pursue a line focused on sales ethics and integrity. It will remain to be seen whether such an approach can beat the heat to make the numbers at the end of the month in day-to-day practice.

  3. John, Joe

    Thanks you for your comments. They are much appreciated.

    My post was aimed squarely at the advertising & marketing industry that seems to be more concerned with inside-out marketing at customers rather than outside-in co-creation with customers.

    John. I agree with you 100%. There is so much discussion of engagement, or rather of the many different flavours of engagement. Like you, I believe engagement is first and foremost at the visceral level for the customer. That means they have to be emotionally engaged enough to want to repurchase and to tell others about the great product, service or experience they have had. That doesn’t mean flashy ads, nor does it mean entertainment, but it does mean having positive feelings about the product. As Tom Asacker says, the real brand is the sum of feelings, emotions and thoughts about a product that the customer has in their head. This is real engagement.

    Joe. You make a very insighful point about needing to make the numbers. The challenge I see is in building long-term success, but not at the expense of short-term results. Faced with difficult market conditions, too many marketers will opt for a flashy campaign or a deep promotion to get inventory moving. But they will have to do more of the same the following quarter just to keep standing still. And then more the following quarter again. Customer engagement comes from having superior products, services and experiences that emotionally engage customers. This can be done in a step-wise fashion through many small improvements so that we don’t have to wait until next year to harvest customer engagement results.

    Graham Hill

  4. I think that amongst all the comments and observations, the two key points are that however you “dress it up” really giving our customers what they want is focussing on the basics of providing the right product/ service at the right time at the right place, and whilst providing that product/service building an emotional relationship with the customer that is likely to develop into a customer for life.

    Geoff Langston http://www.arizion.co.uk

  5. Is it not a fad to demonise as fadish marketing concepts? Is it not a fad to claim that we need to go back to some universal, simple, everyday, commonsensical approach to marketing?

    Ok, i accept that a Greek taverna owner who knows when to pour some extra rakiouzo for free and sit on his customer’s table and engage in conversation is doing good Marketing.

    But that is not to say that concepts such as Satisfaction, Experience etc have not been helpful, or that when they recede in importance, it is not well justified. I believe it is a finding, an insight, a new idea, call it what you will, that REPEATED, SATISFACTORY INTERACTIONS with a company or brand do not necessarily lead to increased brand loyalty – that 60% to 80% of customers who defect to a competitor said they were satisfied or very satisfied on the survey just prior to their defection.

    This helps us better envisage what the goal for marketing should be – or, at least, why customer satisfaction qua measurable goal falls short.

    In addition i dont see customer engagement as a marketing fad, as i do not see it as being restricted to the field of marketing science. Customer Engagement for me is first and foremost not a marketing concept, but a social phenomenon enabled by the widespread social adoption of certain technologies. An objective, measurable social phenomenon that falls within the disciplines of marketing, sociology, social anthropology, social psychology, cultural studies, politics etc.
    See my wikipedia ‘Customer Engagement’ entry for more.

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