Customer Engagement or Customer Entrapment?


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Just before the pandemic hit, I was invited to speak – and to moderate a fireside chat – at a major global event. Sadly, the event was canceled, but I had spent a bit of time with the event organizer and the panelists, wading through topics and questions for the fireside chat. One of the questions I was going to ask the panelists was something along the lines of:

In order to truly engage with customers, brands need to build trust. What are brands doing to build that trust? Consider each of the following scenarios.”

I had come up with eight different scenarios, one of which had to do with hyper-personalization, and specifically, is hyper-personalization engagement or entrapment? Given the title of this article, you now know that I’m not going to write about hyper-personalization but about engagement and entrapment. But I’ll still offer it up as a consideration for one or both of these categories.

Let’s start with definitions, as I often like to do.

What is customer engagement? I like HubSpot’s definition because what I’m referring to right now is the act of engaging with customers (the marketing actions), not necessarily the emotional connection as a result of a trusted relationship and alignment with the brand (similar to employee engagement). These actions can help or harm.

HubSpot defines it as:

“…the process of interacting with customers through a variety of channels and strengthening your relationship with them. For many businesses, this process begins with the first interaction and extends beyond the point of purchase. Companies can engage with customers via social media, email, websites, community forums, or any other space where they’re communicating or consuming content.”

Make sense? I’m talking about the means that then lead to outcome. Sadly, that creates confusion because we use the same word in two ways. But, ultimately, if the (engaging) interactions are done right, the trusted emotional connection will lead to customer engagement, the outcome.

What is customer entrapment? Any way you look at this word, it’s not a good thing. So let’s go with a modified version of the dictionary definition:

the action of luring or enticing an individual to do something; to catch, as if in a trap.”

Let’s use that as a jumping off point to consider some questions about these two concepts – and I may have more questions than answers.

  • What are most brands doing? Are they engaging or entrapping their customers?
  • Remember that engaging is about the work you do to build the relationship. Are the tactics and actions they are taking really building and strengthening the relationship, especially a trust relationship?
  • Are brands engaging with customers purely for acquisition and growth purposes – or are they doing it for retention? My sense is that it’s mainly for the former.
  • Do they recognize or care about the difference between engaging and entrapping their customers?
  • Do they know that most marketing gimmicks, er, acquisition tactics – like discounts, promotions, freebies, and the like – are simply entrapment tactics?
  • Do they realize that the outcomes of engagement and retention are not built on tactics but on long-term customer experience strategies rooted in customer-centric cultures? Case in point, take a look at this article from MarketingCharts about tactics used to retain customers in subscription model businesses. They’ve noted that retention is a higher priority than acquisition, but their tactics don’t speak to retention.
  • What about so-called loyalty programs? Are they meant to engage or entrap? Or better yet, are they meant to engage, but ultimately they entrap? They suck you in with promises of great rewards but then punish you for not being loyal, e.g., you lose your points if you don’t use the points or if you don’t travel/buy/stay again by a certain date. In the end, the customer might just be loyal to the loyalty program because she feels trapped and doesn’t want to lose her points.
  • And let’s tackle hyper-personalization for a second. It’s a fantastic marketing tool and meets the customer expectation of personalization. But is it just a marketing tool? And as such, is it engaging or entrapping? Need some hyper-personalization examples that are questionable in terms of whether they engage or entrap? Or perhaps they are just purely clever acquisition tactics? Here are a couple from Burger King: Burger King Detour and Traffic Jam Whopper.

Lots to think about here. If you truly want to engage customers (outcome, not means), you’ve got to design a customer-centric culture, understand customers, and design and deliver a great experience that meets your customers needs, expectations, and jobs to be done. Anything short of that is a gimmick… or entrapment.

Today’s quote says it all…

Any enterprise which wishes to endure over a long period of time and to remain in a healthy and growing state would certainly want a non-manipulative, trusting relationship with its customers rather than the relationship of the quick fleecing, never to see them again. -Abraham Maslow

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).


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