Business is about bridging gaps. It’s the work of finding a market need and plugging it with a product, the search that happens to fill a talent hole on the team, or the sale that converts a lead into a customer.
But one of the most critical gaps — from the customer’s perspective, at least — is that of engagement. When Gallup studied the subject, it found only 25% of millennials are “fully engaged” customers. Among traditionalists, the most engaged generation, that figure rises to just 38%.
Why does customer engagement seem to be falling? Gallup pinned blame primarily on digital experience gaps, but digital marketers need more than a better website and speedier email responses to boost engagement. The bigger issue is how brands bridge two critical periods: the time between the customer-brand meeting and the first purchase and the space between that first purchase and the customer’s return.
The post-meeting and post-purchase periods are notorious for customer disengagement. So, how should you fill in those two journey gaps?
1. Give before you ask
It’s already a best practice in the world of web design: By providing information or another nominally valuable asset for free, the giver encourages the recipient to share something in return. Popularized by business psychologist Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” the reciprocity principle describes the indebtedness human beings feel to those they perceive have been generous with them.
How, exactly, can you scale reciprocity? Corporate innovation accelerator Cie Digital Labs did it for Nitto Tire by launching a brand publishing initiative. After other automotive enthusiast publications had pulled back coverage of the space, Nitto Tire’s Driving Line stepped in to fill the void with engaging content. By providing the magazine for free through multiple distribution channels, Nitto Tire creates goodwill with partners, customers, and the broader industry.
2. Build one-of-a-kind brand experiences
If Gartner’s prediction holds true, the customer experience will be a bigger differentiator than either price or product within a year. Instead of racing to the bottom on price or wasting time with gimmicky features, spend time setting up experiences that attendees won’t soon forget.
That line of thinking is exactly what led Southwest Airlines to host a mid-air Imagine Dragons concert. For the promotion, the band chose a flight from Las Vegas to Atlanta, which fans will recognize as the frontman’s and the drummer’s home cities, respectively. Although space on the flight was understandably limited, Southwest broadened the event’s reach by deciding the winner through a sweepstakes. The site it set up for the sweepstakes received more than 73,000 entries, while the event itself generated at least a billion impressions, earning Southwest Airlines a spot in Chief Marketer’s “Best Buzz” category of its Pro Awards.
3. Create friendly competition
In a time when trends are fleeting, Niantic’s augmented reality game “Pokémon Go” has managed not just to stay relevant since its launch in July 2016, but to actually grow in users. Despite claims that gamification is dead, Niantic has kept its AR hit relevant into the new year with player-versus-player battles. That social component, the game maker claims, has boosted its daily active user base by 35% since May.
What if your product doesn’t clearly lend itself to social use? Encourage users to compete against themselves. A fitness app might offer trophies to users who hit their step goals every day of the week. A business CRM system, meanwhile, could automatically set weekly growth benchmarks based on past performance. What about prospects? Give a prize for brand awareness-related actions. E-commerce company Rakuten gave consumers cash simply for saying its name correctly.
4. Do what the data says
Much as marketers might like there to be, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to supercharge customer engagement. There is, however, one place they can look for company-specific advice: their CRM system. Increasingly, customer relationship management tools don’t just store customer data; they help marketers actually act on it.
Ontraport, a growing CRM player, includes what it calls a “predictive intelligence” tool to explore “what if” scenarios. What impact would adding a white paper touchpoint, for instance, have on customer engagement? Are in-person events associated with a lift in sales? Through a color-coded visual interface, Ontraport spots opportunities to shore up weak points in a brand’s customer journey and maximize strong ones.
Disengaged customers won’t wait around while your company thinks up ways to re-engage them. Pay attention to those two critical points, providing value and unexpected experiences whenever possible. Scale your efforts by getting customers to engage themselves — or one another. Then, turn to the data: Only it can tell you what last gaps customers want you to close.
Learn how to “Go Further with Customer Experience Optimization” by using testing and personalization to craft the best experience possible.
Serenity Gibbons is a former assistant editor at the Wall Street Journal and a New York University alumna living in California. She is the local unit lead for NAACP in Northern California with a mission is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination. She enjoys writing and interviewing people who are making a difference in the world.