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What Is the Future of Customer Engagement? 3 Steps You Can Take to Be Ready

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Recently, I ordered an outfit from a small online store, and the experience did not go well. They delivered the wrong item, and then it took the delivery team a couple of days to find the correct package.

I thought I’d never shop at that store again, but to my surprise, the mistake was corrected—and then some!

The CEO herself delivered the correct package, along with a personalized note from the product team, after I wrote to the customer service team about my experience. I also received an email with a discount code for my next purchase. The company’s photographer captured the moment, and it actually gained some popularity on their social media page the next day.

I became a fan and a loyal customer right then. I loved how the customer service, product, and marketing teams came together to improve the experience for me.

The above story is a great example of how a business took a bad customer experience and turned it around through personalization and collaboration across teams. Repeated instances of such successful customer experiences result in long term customer engagement.

Personalization and collaboration such as this will define the future of customer engagement. Gartner discusses this concept, calling it a “customer engagement hub,” in the 2016 Hype Cycle for CRM, Customer Service, and Customer Engagement*.

Here, we’ll take a look at the benefits of developing a customer engagement hub, and how you can take advantage of the latest customer service tech to implement this strategy at your small business.

*full content available to Gartner clients.

What is a customer engagement hub?

Gartner defines a customer engagement hub (CEH) as:

“A technology and process concept that ties multiple systems together to optimally engage the customer. A CEH includes proactive and reactive communication, and allows personalized, contextual engagement with customers across all interaction channels, and reaches/connects all departments. This allows for the synchronization of marketing, sales and customer service processes.”

In other words, a customer engagement hub is a strategy through which a business takes a more holistic approach to addressing and engaging customers by leveraging available technology and defining, or redefining, organizational processes.

While large enterprises may have more financial resources for choosing sophisticated software, small and midsize businesses (SMBs) have an edge when it comes to opportunities for collaboration and synchronization within teams.

With carefully chosen software, SMBs can also adapt to the emerging trends without burning a hole in their pocket. We’ll discuss some of the options in detail below.

What are the benefits of creating a customer engagement hub?

Let’s take a look at the ways having a CEH can really impact a business:

Gaining a competitive edge. As new technology and trends arise, customer expectations also shift. Swiftly adapting to new tech trends could mean meeting customer needs better and sooner than your competitors.

For example, online stores are likely already using social media to reach customers, but to get a competitive edge, you can go one step further and leverage this technology to create an improved customer experience. This might mean a collaboration between the customer service and marketing teams when devising a social media strategy, in order to increase the efficiency of response to customer queries and customer service issues over social media.

Retaining customers. More personalized communications at a customer’s potential touch points will leave them feeling well taken care of and more engaged. As a result, they’re more likely to become a repeat customer.

For example, that online clothing store held on to me as a customer by truly personalizing its efforts to correct its mistake. I was also given a good reason to come back in the form of a coupon for my next buy.

Acquiring new customers. If your existing customers are happy, the chances of them recommending your services or products to others are much higher. In addition, different departments can come together and analyze insights from existing customers through social media analytics, surveys, and more to recognize and reach out to the types of customers that are most likely to buy.

For example, since I am now a happy customer of that online clothing store, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to my friends and share my story. In turn, my friends are more likely to shop there, which means more new customers for the store.

The social media stint also helped the store create a positive brand image as a company that goes the extra mile to make a customer happy.

Identifying opportunities for improvement. By studying customer feedback through surveys, online forums, customer support interactions (e.g., chats and emails), website analytics and social analytics, a business can identify pain points in the customer journey such as delayed delivery, poor customer service, etc. that ultimately lead to customer dissatisfaction. Using these pain points as opportunities, you can improve on the overall service of your business.

For example, the eCommerce clothing store acknowledged my complaint and promised to work on the deficiency in its delivery process. If they do so, they’ll be improving the experience of their business as a whole, which benefits them in the long run, as they will have fewer dissatisfied customers.

Building brand loyalty. Brand loyalty is a sum total of many factors, such as efforts made by a business to acquire new customers and retain old ones, steps taken to improve business processes and products, active engagement and communication with the customers. By doing so, a business can build a loyal customer base and increase the chances of repeat business from your existing customers.

For example, once all the steps to create a customer engagement hub are taken, over time, as customers are retained, new customers acquired, etc., a brand name is established, along with loyalty from customers.

Benefits of a customer engagement hub

How can you start building your own customer engagement hub?

Building a customer engagement hub requires a gradual transition in your business practices, including adjusting current workflows and updating or adding software tools.

In “Ten Steps for Planning Your Customer Engagement Hub” (full content available to clients), Gartner recommends ten strategic steps for building a customer engagement hub. We’ll discuss three of those steps that are most suitable for SMBs, along with some of the helpful software tools available.

1. Identify important customer touch points and areas for improvement

A customer interacts with a business at various touch points, including email, social media, website landing pages, product search results, checkout page, support section, blogs, and more.

What to do

By closely monitoring these interactions, you can identify shortcomings that are causing customer dissatisfaction. From there, you can determine future actions for improvement.

For example, perhaps social analytics or feedback through surveys shows a pattern of customer complaints about delayed delivery. The marketing team is on the front lines of social media and reviews sites, so they should notify the customer service and/or warehouse operations about these concerns.

Tools you can use

Since social media is such a popular platform among most customers, we’ll focus here on a couple of tools that make social media management more streamlined, as well as offering features that can help you understand your customer better.

Agorapulse

Agorapulse offers a “social inbox” system, which allows you to filter, review, and manage customer interactions in real time. Switch between different social media accounts with a centralized dashboard and publish across all the social media accounts from one place.

Find mentions about your brand on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to better understand customer expectations. You can also identify the best performing Facebook posts and tweets, and any other media that generates engagement and reach to improve on your content strategy and customer experience.

The tool lets you benchmark your brand against your competitors and provides a heat map to help you gauge your brand’s standing on social media at any point. This can help you analyze and improve your social media and communications strategy.

Agorapulse offers a free trial.

Monthly pricing:

  • Small: $49 (3 social profiles, 1 user)
  • Medium: $99 (10 social profiles, 3 users)
  • Large: $199 (25 social profiles, 6 users)
  • Enterprise: $299 (40 social profiles, 12 users)

Agorapulse’s dashboard gives a consolidated view of all the social media platforms. (Source: www.agorapulse.com.com)

Hootsuite

With Hootsuite, you can reach out to your customers with more personalized communication by targeting messages across channels. Get social analytics reports and intelligence by tracking mentions about your brand and industry. This helps you understand the customers’ mindset and their reactions about your brand, positive or negative, giving you an opportunity to improve.

Hootsuite offers a free trial.

Monthly pricing:

  • Professional: $19 (10 social profiles, 1 user)
  • Team: $99 (20 social profiles, 3 users)
  • Business: $499 (50 social profiles, 5 users)
  • Enterprise: Pricing on request (custom solutions)

Scheduling a post in Hootsuite (Source: hootsuite.com)

You can also use a tool such as Enalyzer to collect feedback from employees on ways to improve internal processes.

2. Find opportunities for cross-departmental collaboration

Redesigning the customer journey through collaboration across teams can lead to a more holistic customer experience. This can only be done by closing communication gaps, building cross-functional processes, and ultimately creating a culture of collaboration.

What to do

Different teams such as marketing, customer service, and product should meet regularly to discuss how they’re going to collectively solve issues that are repeatedly causing customer dissatisfaction. Since offline sync is not always feasible, project management tools prove to be very useful in collaborating work processes, ideas, and knowledge about customers and business.

Tools you can use

Following are some examples of tools that let you collaborate with your teams:

Glasscubes

Glasscubes is collaboration software that lets your teams manage tasks and projects. You can share, review, and approve work-related documents together, encouraging improved communication as a team.

Users can tag documents and notify teammates in real time. With Glasscubes, teammates can also send instant messages to co-workers. You can schedule, plan, and track multiple projects simultaneously as well.

Glasscubes offers a free trial and free demo.

Monthly pricing:

  • Team: $30 (includes 5 users, 1 GB storage per user, 6 workspaces)
  • Workgroup: $60 (includes 5 users, 1 GB storage per user, unlimited workspaces)
  • Enterprise: From $125 (user fees and storage as per plan, unlimited workspaces)

Notification feed in Glasscubes (Source: www.glasscubes.com)

Onehub

Onehub is another tool that makes it easier for your teams to work together. You can drag and drop files (Word documents, PDFs, etc.) to centralize information. You can also grant access and modify roles any time for better management. Post comments and messages within the shared workspace to coordinate within the team and offer feedback to one another.

Onehub offers a free trial.

Monthly pricing:

  • Team: $29.95 (3 users, 1 TB of storage, unlimited workspaces)
  • Business: $99.95 (5 users, unlimited storage, unlimited workspaces)
  • Enterprise: Pricing on request (unlimited users, unlimited storage, unlimited workspaces)

Files uploaded to centralize data in Onehub (Source: itunes.apple.com)

3. Choose software that offers multiple integrations for future scalability

A customer engagement hub, as we said above, is a system made up of systems. One of the most valuable things you can do now to be prepared to adapt to the changing technical landscape is to choose solutions that will help you scale through integrations.

What to do

Customer relationship management (CRM) software will likely be central to your customer engagement hub, as it allows you to store and view customer data in one place. You can also use it strategically to gain insights into customer behavior.

Choose a CRM that offers integration with marketing automation tools, customer service tools, social media channels, analytics software, etc. to help you communicate and better understand your customer across channels.

Tools you can use

Here, we’ll discuss some CRM options that offer a wide variety of integrations.

Zoho CRM

Zoho CRM aims to help you save time by automating daily tasks and activities. You can extend the software’s functionality by integrating it with popular applications, including Zoho productivity apps such as Zoho Survey, customer service software such as HelpOnClick Live Chat, email marketing software such as ConstantConnect, and more.

Zoho CRM offers a free trial, as well as a free version for up to ten users.

Monthly pricing:

  • Standard: $12 (per user)
  • Professional: $20 (per user)
  • Enterprise: $35 (per user)
  • Ultimate: $100 (per user)

Integrations in Zoho CRM (Source: zoho.com)

Nutshell CRM

Nutshell CRM offers team collaboration, sales automation, contact management, and reporting functionalities. It integrates with social media platforms such as Twitter, customer service software such as Zendesk, marketing automation software such as MailChimp, and more.

Nutshell offers a free trial.

Monthly Pricing

  • Starter: From $19 (per user)
  • Pro: From $35 (per user)
  • Pro+: From $69 (per user)

Integrations in Nutshell CRM (Source: help.pandadoc.com)

Additional advice for creating a customer engagement hub

In addition to the steps above, you should also consider the following:

Any change is gradual. Gartner recommends a taking a two-tiered approach to minimize risk as you try to bring about change. On one hand, you can focus on ways to improve current processes. Simultaneously, you can focus on driving your ongoing projects. This means gradually preparing your teams and clients for the changes through meetings, white papers, and discussions about the impact of the change, while also focusing on completion of the ongoing projects.

Appoint a project manager to oversee changes. Having a central point of contact gives you a better chance of staying on time and within budget. Without a centralized plan of action and complete accountability for the changes, the implementation of a customer engagement hub, like any other project that lacks oversight, has a better risk of failure.

Have metrics and benchmarks. Monitor and review the overall impact on productivity and the customer experience. For instance, getting X% or X number of users engaged on a social media platform in X number of weeks.

Summary and key takeaways

Here’s a quick summary of what to do next:

1. Review your company’s current customer engagement strategy

2. Identify communication gaps and evaluate opportunities to work across various departments

3. Implement a strategy to connect and integrate various departments strategically

4. Look for possible software integrations with your current tools

Let’s go back to the example of the clothing store that I discussed in the beginning and take a look at how it used these strategies to create a better customer experience for me:

The situation: The online clothing store made a mistake that could have caused it to lose a customer.

How it was fixed:

  • The company identified a crucial hole in its delivery system and worked to close that gap and retain a customer.
  • The product and customer service teams collaborated to deliver a better customer experience. The marketing team highlighted the corrective measure on social media. As a result, it was able to build a positive image as a brand that cares about the customer experience and is willing to go the extra mile.
  • The next step for that company might involve finding software integrations that map its customer journeys well and help it measure its customer experience and engagement for continued improvements.

You can check out our customer experience software directory to read customer reviews and discover tools that offer the integrations you need.

You can also check out our customer experience blog for further reading on tools, integrations, and customer engagement before you start building your own CEH:

Looking for Customer Service software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Service software solutions.

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Comments

Well written article Ankita. I just have one observation and that is when the customer asks for advice on certain items or services and does not get an appropriate and satisfying answer per the knowledge of the company staff, it is still an area of concern for customer and company which actually gets missed in between the transaction and communication. It is the personal touch that is required, technology can help but is not sufficient. Take the case of Uber, Ola Paytm and such who only corresponds over a form and email. I do have a case myself with Paytm, I use the app but never got my issue resolved. It is I think a good topic and time for discussion within the company. Cheers.

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