An inquiry into ‘customer engagement’ – making the abstract concrete


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Customer engagement is the new buzzword. Whenever a new buzzword shows up it suggests that either we have ‘old wine in a new bottle’ or that ‘new realms of possibility’ has shown up. If you fall for the ‘old wine in a new bottle’ you may end up looking and feeling like a fool. If on the other end the buzzword points to ‘new realms of possibility’ and you do not step into and make full use of this realms then you are likely to go out of business – sometimes it can take a little while. So lets take a closer look at ‘customer engagement’.

There is no such thing as ‘Customer Engagement’

The English language tempts us into errors by converting verbs into nouns. So we need to be mindful and remember that there is such thing as ‘customer engagement’. If you do believe it exists then please bring it to me and I will give you a$1m. Now if I offered you the same deal for bringing me a table then you would have no issue. To get to grips with ‘customer engagement’ lets examine the verb ‘to engage’:


  • Occupy, attract, or involve (someone’s interest or attention
  • Cause someone to become involved in (a conversation or discussion)
  • Pledge or enter into a contract to do something
  • Reserve (accommodations, a place, etc.) in advance
  • Participate or become involved in
  • Enter into conflict or combat with (an adversary)”

So we can say that when you engage a customer or a customer engages you then there is some action going on. Put differently, ‘customer engagement’ shows up as behaviour. A engaged customer will perform certain actions which a disengaged customer will not.

What engaged customers do

What engaged customers do largely depends on what you allow and what technology enables. Lets just list the kind of actions that engaged customers can perform with today’s technology:

  • They provide you with ideas and suggestions. Dell ( Dell Ideastorm) and Starbucks (MyStarbucks Idea) are two organisations that have set-up platforms to let their customers share their ideas
  • They ‘turn up’ to special events. Harley Davidson is a great example – Harley lay on events for their fans and the fans turn up in droves.
  • They do some of the work, they help out. GiffGaff (telecoms player) is a great example – the customers provide a lot of the customer service to each other.
  • They write and post reviews of your products and services. Amazon is a great example – customers review products and this gives other customers more confidence to purchase the right products.
  • They collaborate and co-create with you whether that is new advertising, new products or new services. In the early days of CRM Nokia and Siebel collaborated to build out the Siebel’s telecoms product. In the B2C market Threadless is a great example – customer can design T-shirts and get a cut of the sales revenue if these designs take off.
  • They complain when you fail to live up to your promise and their expectations. You might think this is odd yet research shows that the customers that are disengaged from you simply walk away – they cannot be bothered to take the time and make the effort to complain.
  • They buy from you – they walk into your retail stores, they use your website, they respond to your email and direct mail offers …….This is so obvious that most people take this for granted and don’t make the most of this yet Zane’s Cycles does.
  • They bring their family, friends and colleagues along to your stores and encourage them to buy from you. A small business that thrives on this is Preston Car Sales which is based in Preston, Lancashire. (Disclosure – I helped design and set-up this business. It is owned and managed by my brother).
  • They speak well of you to their friends, their social network and even the world through social media (blogs, social networks, tweets..). I am good example of this – two companies that I have recently recommended include Better World Books and HCML on this blog.
  • They do some of your marketing for you by creating new ads or remixing your content to create new ads and post them to the likes of YouTube. Amber Lee Ettinger (‘Obama Girl’) is a good example of the kind of impact such a engaged customer can make
  • They provide you with feedback when you ask for their feedback e.g. by taking part in customer surveys.

Incidentally, the possibilities that can be listed here are limited only by your imagination. In the future, if it has not already happened, I can imagine companies setting up prediction markets and inviting customers to take part in them.

What does it take to engage customers?

I wrote several posts a little while back which give a flavour of what it takes to engage customers:

My take on ‘customer engagement’

The internet, mobile and social technologies have created ‘new realms of possibility’ around how we can engage customers; how customers can engage with us – the organisation; how customers can engage with each other; and how customers can engage with world wide web. A few souls are stepping into these new realms of possibility and disrupting the way that things are done. The majority are simply putting old wine into new bottles and labelling it ‘customer engagement’.

The trick is to figure out the form of engagement that your customers are up for and which if acted upon will build mutually profitable and enjoyable relationship and help you build competitive advantage. Any as any good strategist will tell you there are no formula’s for that – it requires the artful synthesis of analytical and creative thinking along with some good fortune. And you have to accept that some things will work out well, some will flop and some will be simply ok.

Please remember that a customer that ticks a box that says he is willing to recommend you is very different to a customer that actually has recommended you. So focus on creating topic that mean something to your customers, build a platform that enables interaction then listen, learn and adapt.

If I have not spelled it out enough – your existing organisational mindset is the key barrier between you and your customers. You have not got engaged customers because fundamentally you do not want to engage with customers. Remember that engagement is a two process it requires a degree of openness and vulnerability which many organisations are simply not willing to step into.

Finally, I thank Peter for asking me to comment on ‘customer engagement’ and thus being the genesis of this blog post. Peter, I hope that this contributes to you.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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