4 things we can learn about customer engagement from digital pioneers


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When it comes to customer engagement, it’s tempting to keep rushing forward and only ever focus on the future – what’s the next big thing? Where should I go next? Where’s the best ROI?

This is no surprise when there’s so much at state. According to research from NewVoiceMedia, U.S businesses lose an estimated $62 billion every year from bad customer experiences, and much of this is doubtless down to weak customer engagement strategies.

But sometimes it’s worth stopping to look backwards, and see what you can learn. Many highly successful brands, both B2B and B2C, have a long history of using digital for customer engagement in ways that have gone on to help them cement their place in the market. Here are four things we can learn from these digital pioneers today.

Get in their first – and be open

Digital pioneers never stand still. They are constantly on the lookout for new innovations to exploit and ways to engage their customers. This compulsion stems largely from the early days of the internet where if you relaxed for a second, a new fresh face would appear and steal all your customers. Today there is less pressure on these pioneers due to their huge market share, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to be the first when it comes to anything digital.

eBay is a fine example of this constant movement and innovation. eBay was one of the first large-scale online businesses to see the customer-engagement benefits of allowing open API access to allow traders to customise their eBay businesses. Launched in 2000, the eBay Developers Program was an instant success and today third-party software applications account for more than 25% of eBay.com listings.

eBay are also focused on making it easier for their buyers. Notably in 2016, they scored a huge first by opening a virtual reality shopping experience. Like all great digital pioneers, eBay was prepared to take a chance on technology that has not yet reached its peak in order to be the first. This compulsion to test new technologies to increase customer engagement and give customers new experiences is a great lesson. Never let anyone say that something can’t be done or shouldn’t be done. If you know your target audience, then it’s worth the risk.

Think ahead and believe in your ideas

When it comes to digital engagement, it’s often the big B2C pioneer brands that jump out, companies like Nike and Whole Foods who have taken customer engagement very seriously online. But the vast majority of businesses globally are in B2B sectors; selling their goods and services to other companies in markets that are not so exciting.

These are the brands that you can learn the most from because they do not have the natural advantages for a fashion or lifestyle brand when it comes to customer engagement.

For example, Alibaba, the large business-to-business marketplace founded by Jack Ma in China has managed to muscle into the wholesale space by putting their customers front and centre. One of the ways it has grown as a company is supporting local and regional businesses tap into its huge audience – but at the same time the company has understood that not all businesses can navigate its interface and processes quickly.

So, rather than leave customers on their own to work it out, Alibaba has started to scale up its presence in local markets – providing business customers with direct supportive guidance on using its platform.

John O’Loghlen, director of business development, Australia and New Zealand for Alibaba Group, recently told CMO: “One of the reasons we have a presence in Australia and New Zealand is to work with local businesses to help them understand and guide them through the evolving regulatory landscape in e-commerce to ensure they are best positioned for success.”

But it’s not just tech business-to-business companies that are leading this focus on customer experience. For example, Nisbets, a UK-based catering supplies company founded by Andrew Nisbet, managed to steal a lead on its many of its competitors by focusing on what its customers wanted: in this instance being one of the first to offer same-day delivery online. Again, identify what the customer wants – and give it to them.

Disrupt, evolve and target your customers’ needs directly

As we all know, customer engagement is not just about getting your customers to interact with you, or become brand ambassadors, change behaviours or just buy more from you. It’s also about disrupting, evolving and fulfilling their needs. In fact, figures suggest that 80% of consumers are more likely to do business with a company if it offers a personalised experience. Many businesses have failed on this front over the last five years and many more will fall prey to new disruptive competitors focused on learning from their customer engagement.

This is especially true in slow-moving, traditional industries such as insurance. New insurtech players have recently entered the market with digital-only products that are set to move the goal posts. New upstart insurers such as Parasol, Wagel and Gryphon will disrupt the sector. The only thing stopping them now is approval from the UK Financial Conduct Authority.

One US startup that shows what can happen when you focus on disrupting the status quo by targeting customers’ needs is Metromile. The company has responded to customers and developed a car insurance product that allows drivers to pay based on the number of hours they are on the road.

Metromile is a fascinating example because it is a company with products As continually shaped through customer engagement and they recently raised $90m in funding. CEO Dan Preston says: “When we started Metromile we quickly learned that customers want more than just a good claims experience. They want value through digital engagement… We wanted to create a different experience for customers, one that was different to the traditional experience, with much less friction for customers.”

Get social and be authentic

According to Twitter, customer service interactions on the platform have increased more than 250% over the last two years, but when it launched in July 2006, few people realised the customer engagement opportunities Twitter presented. It didn’t take long for some brands though. By the end of 2008, some forward-thinking companies had already created Twitter accounts that have done more for their customer engagement over the years than any amount of advertising spend.

Innocent Drinks is a great example of a company that saw the potential that Twitter gave brands to be authentic and real. They joined Twitter in March 2008 and although they had run their first TV ad in 2006, they still hadn’t reached critical mass. Twitter changed everything because people could see that the brand talked back to them, and had personality. Innocent is now one of the UK’s most well-respected and engaging brands. And they do it by being authentic, likeable – and fun!

As Innocent Communities Manager Helena Langdon says: “We want to tell people about us in the most engaging way we can. It’s our goal to make our pages a place on social media where people want to visit and enjoy seeing in their timelines, then people won’t mind when we try to sell them drinks every now and again.” Great advice!

Sharon FIshburne
I'm a freelance marketing consultant who specialises in helping SMEs take their businesses to the next level. An expert at marketing strategy, I previously worked at number of the biggest global consultancies, including PwC, advising multinationals on their expansion strategy. I saw the value that smaller local businesses could take from the process too.


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