Ten Things To Improve Your Engagement With Customers

ConversationHave you ever wondered what you could do to help improve your communication with your customers? Marketing is no longer all about selling and pitching your products and hoping that they’ll wise up and buy it. Rather, as you’ve probably heard over and over again, the customers have ALL the power. They are in a position to tell you whether your product will succeed or not. So you can’t just throw out programs there to see if they’ll stick. Enough with your spray and pray tactics to customers. When you’re doing marketing, you’re going to need to learn to speak their language. Better yet, you’re going to need to learn how to talk to them on their level…and it’s all about engagement.

So what does being engaged really mean? Well to define it loosely, it’s to listen and converse with your customers. Find out how they’re really feeling about the product and issues that they’re having and talk to them like they’re human beings – how’s that…a novel idea, right? It’s all about your company not being high on that pedestal and coming down and relating to your customers. Go to where they are and show them that you care.

Social media monitoring company, Biz360 recently published two articles on ten things you can do to improve your engagement. I present those important steps here along with my thoughts:

Listen First

This is definitely a good thing to do. First thing about engaging your customers is understand what their needs are. Instead of simply jumping down their throats telling them how cool your product is and what new features it has and how it will solve all their problems, maybe you should take it a bit slower. If you’re going to tell them that your product will solve their problems, have you even asked them WHAT their problems are? With the Internet, you’re now able to access freely billions of people in one gigantic focus group. Using your communication tools at your disposal, go out and listen to what your customers are saying. Go to their hiding places on Facebook, Twitter, forums, chat rooms, etc and just sit there and listen to what they have to say. Take notes and when they are comfortable, then you should talk. No longer are companies entitled to talk first. You’re the second class citizen now.

Prioritize Your Outreach

This is an interesting point by Maria Ogneva, the author of this Biz360 post. She states that while it can be a goal, you’re not going to be able to reach out to every single person online. It’s impossible, she says. I agree. The point that Ogneva makes is that it’s just way too time consuming to try and address what everyone is saying. I think the adage here “choose your battles wisely” holds true in this situation. You’re not supposed to bend over backwards to make sure people understand that you’re listening. It would take forever just to acknowledge everyone, but if you find ways to show that you’re listening, that definitely would buy you some goodwill. Don’t spend all your time (or probably ANY) on talking to Internet “trolls”, but look out for those people will real concern and issues and spend time making sure they feel appreciated.

Each Interaction Is Unique; Don’t Cut & Paste

A very excellent step. Make sure that you humanize your efforts. Remember traditional mail (aka “snail mail”)? When you might have applied for colleges and didn’t get in, or if you were applying for a job and got a rejection letter, did you really read it? It was probably a form letter. It’s equivalent to copying and pasting the response – they just didn’t want to take the time to act “human” to you. Now with the Internet Superhighway at your disposal, companies should really re-evaluate that stance. As a company, look at people not just as “just another avatar” or “just another twitterer”…these are real people and when they’re mad, they’re not going to post an editorial in their local newspaper condemning your product. They’re going to take it to the virtual airways and write negative reviews on twitter, blogs, social networks and many other areas.

Both Positive & Negative Mentions Are Important

If you’re going to respond or engage with your customers, then you’re going to take the good and the bad. With any decision, you’re always dealing with positive and negative criticism. It’s how you deal with it that people pay attention. Don’t assume that your product or company is flawless. You could be Zappos or Enron – you’re going to always get both types of feedback. Take a look at what people are saying and if someone is unhappy, then try and fix that. However, if someone is constantly unhappy and wants to pick fights with your representatives or company, then you might not want to put forward too much effort, but the fact that you did may go a bit of ways just to show that you’re not shying away from anything.

Understanding Loose Ties vs Strong Ties

This is something unique that I find interesting from Biz360’s post…the fact that you need to understand the difference between the types of people in your network. Ogneva calls this loose ties vs strong ties. Strong ties would be the real friends that you consider your “best friends”. As she said in her post: you really don’t have 1,000 best friends on Facebook, do you? Probably not.

Her concern in this point is that just because you amass a huge following on social networks, you shouldn’t expect them to constantly do you personal favors 24/7/365. This definitely goes with companies as well. If you’re using social networks to engage with customers, it’s alright to leverage your following once in a while, but the fact that they’re following you is a sign that they want you to listen to THEM.They like your product/company so make sure that you don’t exploit them. Pushing an ardent fan way too much can result in a revolt…this isn’t traditional marketing anymore. Time to go back to the first step in engagement – listening.

Build Relationships; Become Genuinely Interested In People

This is not a hooker you’re picking up. When people buy your product, they are investing money into this long-term relationship. They want to know that you’re going to be there to support their product needs for quite a few years. If you’re only in it for the proverbial “one-night stand”, then you’re not listening and you’re talking to your customers the wrong way. Look at them as if you’re going to be their friend for life. Are you truly telling them what THEY want to hear?

Obey The Golden Rule

Do unto others…that’s the rule. Are you going to snipe at a customer just because you don’t think their comment or criticism is unwarranted? Just because you’re not interested in hearing about their problems or don’t appreciate their feedback doesn’t mean that they have to take it lying down. On the contrary, they have their own soapbox…it’s called the Internet and it has caused a lot of companies some unneeded headaches. If you don’t want your company to be eviscerated online, then treat your customers (potential AND current) with the respect that they deserve. This all goes back to treating them as human beings.

New York Times Front Page

An interesting analogy by Biz360, but quite appropo. Remember that whatever you say, write, post or record online will forever stay online. While you’re responding or conversating with your customers online, keep in mind that it should be human, but with the understanding that this could potentially be featured on a big publication or blog in the future. This is good if you’re providing great service to your customers and they’re extremely happy, but on the reverse, your company could go belly-up or be lynched in the eyes of public opinion. It’s a double-edged sword.

Make Engagement A Corporate Culture

I think I like Zappos‘ example of customer service. This seems to have spread most recently to Best Buy’s Twelpforce. Are you advocating and empowering your employees to engage with the community? Is your marketing and public relations team active on social networks and scouring the web to find out what people are saying about your product? Everyone in your company should be focused on helping customers…whether it’s in real life or online. From your CEO to Bob the janitor that cleans up after everyone goes home – everyone should be shown that helping customers is NOT a bad thing.

Track, Measure, Repeat

Perhaps one of the most important things to remember…if you’re going to engage with your customers, one thing to understand is that you’re going to need to measure this somehow. In order to make sure that the way you’re engaging is having a positive or negative change on what people think about your product and/or company, you should integrate yourself with a social media monitoring tool like Biz360, Radian6, ScoutLabs, Sysomos or countless others. Benchmark and then gauge whether your efforts are making a difference. If not, then adjust. If so, find another way to improve and then measure again. Do not be complacent with this. Public sentiment can change in a moment’s notice. Your community support is fickle. Don’t screw this up.

You can read more about these ten things here on the Biz360 post by clicking here and here.

Another good resource for understanding engagement is the newly published book Engage written by Brian Solis. You can purchase this book by clicking here.

Photo credit: Seach Engine People Blog

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently Flipboard's Assistant Managing Editor, overseeing news curation in technology, science, gaming and health. In addition to his day job, Ken's the co-host of "The Created Economy" podcast, examining the Creator Economy. In a past life, he was a former reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding.