The 4 Pillars of Responsible Customer Engagement

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such as analysis of voice interactions in call centers.

But even well-known, trusted brands can falter. "Where companies fall down a lot is if they have a brand they think is well understood. Starbucks people think of [the company] as having a strong brand. But five years ago, they were growing so fast, the stores didn't have a sense of purpose. [Starbucks] had to shut them all down for an afternoon and retrain them on the brand," Temkin remembers. It was a bold move, but one that showed employees (and watchful customers) that it was serious about improving the customer experience.

Companies now have fewer chances to get it right before they lose credibility. "We're noticing that companies are realizing they have to change the underlying model. The sales and marketing funnel isn't as relevant anymore," observes Robert Wollan, global managing director of Accenture. "In the old days, you assume someone gets up one day, thinks, 'I'm going to get a new car,' and begins the path of discovery, evaluate, purchase, and use, and then it's see you again in three to five years." Today, Accenture sees consumer-product interactions as part of the "nonstop customer model," which moves in a figure eight. In one circle, consumers discover and evaluate products, or the company's ability to deliver on promises. In the other, they're purchasing the product and using it. The intersection point of the figure eight is the evaluation stage, where the person chooses to purchase or repurchase a product, or move to evaluating it as an outsider through other people's recommendations and social media experiences. With consumers constantly evaluating a company's ability to deliver on its promises, consistent interactions are critical to finding and keeping customers.


Good customer experiences are not about discounting or offers, but about developing long-term, loyal relationships with customers by giving them good value. "The underlying point is you have to move from being a transaction to being a partner," Wollan says. He explains that you see this in companies in the home improvement business, for example. "You're not here for a piece of wood, you're here for a treehouse, so let's help you by giving you ten examples of how to build a treehouse," he offers. Specialty food shops may have special cooking classes or guides for people with food allergies, for example. While the store may sell more food in the process, the method provides value to the customer and is more likely to build long-term loyalty than short-term gains.

Even things such as upsells and cross-sells, if relevant, provide value to consumer and company alike. "When you call to book an airline ticket, a lot of times, the agent will ask, 'Can I book a hotel or rental car for you?' That means more value to the customer, but it also means more revenue because of the partnerships between airlines and rental car agencies," Hollenbeck says.

Value is also about the give and take between a company and consumer. "Amazon takes a lot of your data, everything you've bought and looked at, and in exchange they deliver value. Customers are comfortable and happy with that. They get value and better recommendations," Tedesco explains.

Too often, companies focus more on acquiring customers than retaining them. In the age of big data, Tedesco firmly maintains that the data a company has about a customer should only be used to provide the customer with more value, not less. "When you have an extremely valuable customer, you shouldn't use the information you have against them because they're so loyal. There's nothing as offensive as someone transferring from another bank who will get a better rate than me. If I have my retirement savings, mortgage, [and] credit cards at one bank, and someone else can cherry pick rates, that's disrespectful and wrong."

It's clear that customers take into account nonmaterial value when they make purchases. Many customers (including Tedesco) pay more for Apple products because of the company's ability to deliver on its brand promise. "You can get a cheap PC for one-third the price of a MacBook Air, but Apple has the Genius Bar, an easy-to-use operating system, and that emotional connection. I am an Apple advocate, and I feel proud when I pull it out. I trust with Apple that if their product doesn't work, they will deal with it quickly and effectively," he says.

Value also comes into play in business-to-business interactions. "Large tech companies like Oracle want their customers to be references for them, but you can't ask every customer to be a reference. That's an important calculation to make: What's in it for them? Why would a customer want to be a reference?" Temkin says. Many companies answer that question by giving their customers privileged information or invites to conferences, for example, to help balance that inequity and reward their brand advocates.

Bringing the Four Pillars Together

So what does it look like when a company firmly grounds its four pillars and responsibly engages with consumers? Messages reach a customer how, when, and in the channel she wants. When she initiates a conversation with a company, a customer service agent can pick up where it left off in the other channel. Customers know they're with a brand that delivers on its promises. They feel the excitement of the staff delivering on a mission they believe in. Customers understand what information they're giving to companies, but know and trust those companies are being stewards of that information, using it to return equal, or more, value. In the process, satisfaction scores go up. Revenues soar, because fewer people leave and more people can get what they want out of the brand. This is the promise of responsible engagement.

Associate Editor Sarah Sluis can be reached at ssluis@infotoday.com.


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