Customer engagement is a common phrase these days. Used by lots of people in many contexts, it is in danger of becoming one of those phrases that can mean just about anything! Like strategy. Or love!
So, here is my take on what it is, why it’s important and how you do it.
In short, if you know what your customers (users, funders, commissioners, stakeholders, etc.) think about you, your product or service and your future ideas, you will be more successful. It really is as simple as that. This is not reactive, it is not about abdicating responsibility for having ideas, but checking that you are trying to solve a problem that does actually exist, and in a way that the people who might use it think is sensible.
And engaging allows you to do this.
Engaging is not telling, not broadcasting, and not advertising. It is a conversation or discussion which aims at understanding the views of your audience. Using open questions and easy access platforms, you can gain insight into people’s views about what you do.
So start by working out who the people are and how to get to them! Easier said than done, but make sure that you are targeting the influencers as much as possible, the people whose views will have resonance with others. And remember to communicate in a way they want to be communicated with, not in the way that you feel comfortable with. Social media is vital, but only if your audience use it. I was working with a client recently and talking about all the whizzy modern ways we could send out information to her staff. Then she reminded me that her home helps did not have offices, computers or any real social media knowledge. So in this case a newsletter sent out with the payslips was the best plan.
Then give good content. Talk about what you are doing, and be frank about what you do not know. Much as it pains me to say it, people can see through PR. If you tell them your plans and ask for their help, most people are happy to give it.
Respecting individuals means incentivising. Why should people give you their time and opinions? One consultation I am involved in at present pays people a small amount in recognition of their efforts. Sometimes a free offer, or sample might work. At the very least, make sure they realise that you are grateful, and crucially that you WILL act on what they told you. There is nothing worse than giving your opinion and having it ignored.
Questionnaires, one to one interviews, formal market research, focus groups, insight interviews, open forums online…there are many options.
The key thing is to do it. Try, fail, learn and try again. And getting expert help is crucial.
Engagement works, and the only real failure is not doing it at all.