Extract from my intro to the 2011 Annual Customer Engagement Report
Like last year, we have had a terrific response from individuals and companies on both client and agency side with over 1,000 participants and the survey continues to be the largest of its type anywhere in the world. It is also exciting that, similar to last year, the survey has gained an increased number of responses (now over 35%) from outside the UK, with participants from the Americas, Africa, and Asia-Pacific regions. Customer engagement is now a global phenomenon.
As always, there is a lot hidden away in the results of this year’s survey, but if I had to highlight three main things strike me as important this year it would be these; the maturation of mobile as a platform, the potential end of the destination as the central place for companies to do business as they increasingly move to third party platforms, and the continuing emergence of social technologies within the enterprise.
One of the most significant outcomes of this year’s results is the increase in mobile activity and its role in creating and maintaining relationships with customers. Only eighteen months ago, developing applications for mobile devices was viewed as a slightly eccentric indulgence, limited to the most brave and forward-thinking of brands. Now, it seems, everyone is developing iPhone and Android apps and it appears, they are not only seeing positive results from this, but also expect to build and consolidate on their early experiences and invest further in the future.
Why is this important? All the talk of ‘shopping from the palm of your hand’ aside (I myself quite like shops, and don’t see them going anywhere soon), I think what this shows is a significant move towards engaging with customers in their ‘native spaces’ (i.e. away from the retail site and the computer) and a growing appreciation that the path from discovery to purchase can be a convoluted and personal one for each individual. Location based services and augmented reality shows some strengthening too, and companies are beginning to move away from experimentation and novelty into some seriously useful applications. The key to making this work is simplicity: many apps are still rather one dimensional and do not focus enough on benefiting the end user. I don’t merely want a portable catalogue of your products, I want to know where they are in stock near me, what else people think about them, to see how they are being used in a context similar to mine.
Another development I have noticed since the last customer engagement report is the increasing trend for organisations towards being comfortable doing business on third party platforms. Facebook, Twitter, eBay and Amazon have become truly measurable and credible spaces for doing real business, and have adjusted their advertising and revenue models to capitalise upon this developing status. Many customers are now using Twitter, for example, as their key conduit for communication with suppliers of services and products, and the relationship is becoming increasingly balanced and mutually satisfying. This is tremendously empowering and levelling for smaller enterprises or those yet to establish a major online presence… You can get famous for being good again without the need for a massive media spend.
The past year has seen a dramatic increase in companies not only listening but now responding to the concerns of their audiences via channels only a few months ago were seen as a threat or at the very least uncontrollable. As these pioneers have discovered, there is no substitute for people. Social media has put people right back at the centre of things – just where they should be. Social proof and recommendations continue to establish themselves as increasingly important, with companies looking to their customers as brand advocates, content creators and critics. Of course engaging with customers via social media does have its risks (and certainly its governance issues, particularly within large and disparate companies), but the stories of satisfaction far outweigh those of disaster, and sometimes a bit of imperfection can actually warm an audience to your message. My advice? Look inside your organisation for the willingness to engage and take responsibility for the one to one customer interaction, plan properly, ask for help where you aren’t sure, and above all, trust your people.
Trusting and empowering your people leads me on to the final issue I want to raise: With the increasing focus of marketing and customer services now on the individual – individual communications, individual combinations of products and services, delivered by individuals – how is an enterprise expected to manage, empower and govern these interactions effectively?
Well, it seems a look outside the office gates is a good place to start… For a while now the most advanced social media has existed outside the organisation (Facebook, Twitter) and users are comfortable with technologies that only a few years ago were seen, even in fairly rudimentary forms, as being at the vanguard of social technology. Where the traditional technologies we all have lived with so long were often pioneered within wealthy, resource-rich enterprises, now we see the opposite phenomenon; millions of users living in a dynamic social space outside their places of work, and now expecting to realise some of the benefits this behaviour can bring when they arrive at work each day. The technologies are available for an organisation to effectively build its intellectual capital and knowledge management while empowering its front line staff. It may have been a slow start, but things are really beginning to change and forward thinking organisations are reporting real results – tangible improvements as a result of their staff taking responsibility and initiative within individual customer relationships empowered by social technologies and learning… and those customers are showing their gratitude through their continuing loyalty and positive feedback in what continue to be very challenging times.
A couple of years ago, a previous edition of this report proposed the ‘death of digital’ i.e. that digital as a discreet activity was dead. While seeming provocative back then, it appears that over the past couple of years this forecast has become realised with a significant shift towards integration within the traditional advertising and communications agency sector towards ‘full service’ where digital is viewed as one of an array of platforms (along with print, display and broadcast) at their fingertips. There has certainly been a maturing of the campaigns we have seen here at cScape; customer service, product launches, e-commerce and retail are now truly blended activities, seen by clients and agencies alike as key components of a successful campaign.
Over the past five years, as this report has evolved, so has the industry in which its participants operate, and I rather sense that customer engagement is at a crossroads… Clearly, those who are prepared to invest resources, time and – above all – allow for experimentation, mistakes and learning, are reaping tangible rewards as engagement becomes part of the fabric of day-to-day interactions with customers. This is , of course, really good news. However, I feel it is likely that recognising activities as being discretely ‘customer engagement’ driven is going to become more of a challenge in the future. In the same way ‘digital’ has died, and that ‘new media’ is now a quaintly out-dated term, we may see a similar evolution for customer engagement, and soon it will be unrecognisable from the activities of the most successful organisations. While that is likely to make our jobs as strategists, designers, researchers and planners more difficult, I welcome it with anticipation.
If you would like to see the full report, either contact me or register here.