Why Is Consumer Engagement So Hard?

Companies Better Know Whom They're Talking to When They Reach Out to a Customer, or It Could Spell Disaster

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We know that consumers are empowered. They are not static targets to be blasted by the same messaging. Yet companies continue to treat consumers as a mass of eyes, ears and wallets -– forgetting each consumer's unique experience with their brand. With the proliferation of channels and devices, customers may actually touch brands hundreds of times between purchases. And any of those touches could cause the consumer to become frustrated and disengaged.

Consider this example of failure in what would otherwise be a positive brand experience: I recently switched from cable to satellite for my home. The entire experience with the new company -- from price through installation and quality of service -- has been top notch. Recently, though, I had to call customer service to help me resolve an issue. Bottom line: customer service was great, and everything was back on track by the end of the first call.

The next morning, I received an e-mail from the satellite company that was clearly triggered by that call. I quickly realized its entire purpose was to push me away from the call-center channel (expensive), and back to the online channel ("free"). Which is fine, and an issue that I understand, but the e-mail was fraught with ugly and avoidable mistakes that underscore how unsynchronized this company is .

Allow me to summarize the unspoken email conversation that "The Brand" had with me "The Consumer":

Brand: Did you know that you can access your account 24 hours a day by logging in at Brandtv.com?

Me: Yes moron, if you would check, you would see that I was logged in when I called you!

Brand: When you register your account online you will be able to . . .

Me: Umm . . . You really don't know that I have a registered account?

Brand:. . . Pay your bill online or enroll in Autopay.

Me: Really? I enrolled in AutoPay when I first ordered the service. Should I un-enroll and go all bad debt on you?

Brand: . . . Order movies and pay-per-view events.

Me: I have already ordered the movies and even programmed my DVR from my Android phone! $#@&!

To make matters worse, the right-hand column of this email contained a call to action to sign up for emails to receive breaking news and other events.

C'mon people, it's 2012. This email is a mistake I would expect the first caveman email marketer to make, as he autoreplies with SMTP to a response to his latest post, "Advanced hair pulling techniques for the modern man." Yet companies are doing this all of the time today.

Why is it so hard?

First, non-marketers are allowed and encouraged to contact consumers. Clearly, this email has been designed by someone in customer service as they are focused on things like average call time and first-call resolution. Getting consumers to "go the website" is a natural response to maximize their own compensation plans. Further, we know that front-line responders to customers, be it in call centers or at point of sale, tend to be low-paid, high-turnover, often seasonal employees. This makes it difficult to ensure the quality of each interaction with consumers. Companies are racing to implement technologies to allow their employees to interact directly with consumers. This tends to make me just slightly afraid.

Second, our marketing databases have become glorified list engines. As consumer-facing technologies proliferate, more silos of customer data are being created. We have to evolve the marketing database to make it the real-time system of record for all customer data. Just as Facebook or Google allow anyone real-time access to their massive data stores through standard APIs, marketing databases can be designed with similar constructs. At any point, any consumer-facing entity (person or technology) should know my email address, login history, web browsing history, and the fact that I recently DVR'd "Nights in Rodanthe" because sometimes even we marketers need a good cry.

Third, marketers still think in terms of campaigns and not customer journeys. We must map how our customers interact with our brands, and decide the critical points where you cannot make mistakes, then invest in the right content and communications at those points. A post-customer service follow up email is exactly one of those critical points.

While no explicit technologies exist to automate the solution, frameworks for consumer engagement mapping are rapidly emerging. This is good because this problem is only going to worsen with rapid advances in technologies and consumer devices. I mean, the iPad was introduced just 22 months ago and look at how it has changed so many aspects of our daily lives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Fetter is senior vice president at Pluris Marketing.
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