Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Customer Engagement Online

Posted by Becky Carroll on September 26, 2007

conversation.jpg I have talked with many companies who tell me they aren’t sure if they want to start an online conversation with their customers.  Cord Silverstein asks this question in his post Engage customers or die. He says,

Is it a good thing for companies to try to engage their customers online? Does the good outweigh the possible repercussions that could come from it? And finally what are some of your ideas on how companies can engage online with their customers?

Cord’s post and comments start a great discussion on this topic!  I think part of the concern companies have about engaging their customers in conversation online is that they have not already been engaging in ANY conversations with customers.  Rather, marketing and PR have often created one-way communication vehicles (advertisements, press releases, articles/white papers).  Ongoing, two-way interaction with customers is how we build customer relationships.  The online channel, ideally, is just one more channel by which to reach out and build relationships with customers.  It is a great channel to use because it enables immediate, two-way conversation!  Therefore, if your customers are interacting online, you need to be out there talking with them and learning from them in the online space.

With or Without You

Customers are having conversations about companies, with or without the company’s involvement with those discussions.  Someone in Cord’s comments suggested the way to engage with customers online is to have your PR department be new media-savvy and do the correspondence.  Having the PR person be the one to respond concerns me, as I believe customers are looking for authentic responses, not carefully crafted company statements. 

Creating a place on your own site, such as a blog, is a great way to keep the conversation in your backyard – as long as you allow comments and take the time to respond.  Southwest Airlines has done a good job of engaging with customers online, and they use their blog as a feedback channel for ideas, concerns, and questions.  Everyone at SWA takes the time to write and respond, including pilots and the CEO.  For example, their recent business decision on whether or not to assign seats was put to their customers in a few different blog posts; the most recent one elicited over 360 comments!

Check out Toby Bloomberg’s Diva Marketing blog or Mack Collier’s The Viral Garden for more on corporate blogging tips and best practices.

Conversation is Key to Customer Relationships

Think about it.  Can you get to know a new person you meet without having some kind of conversation?  Whether it be in person, over email, or on a Facebook wall, there has to be some type of interaction in order to progress the relationship.

Customer relationships are no different!  It is important to go where your customers are (be that online, at a retail store, in their own place of business), get to know them, find out their needs, and start doing something different based on what you learn.  Customer trust and relationships will build, and the best ones will lead to more customers as they tell others about you.

Start the conversation!

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5 Responses to “Customer Engagement Online”

  1. Scott said

    Well said. It seems we should see online engaement no different than engaging a customer in their place of business as we conduct sales calls the old-fashioned way. If that’s the case, then we should actively pursue conversations with customers, face-to-face or computer to computer. I would have thought it better to have someone dedicated to responding to the online conversation, but if Southwest Airlines is letting their employees write blogs and respond to blog posts, then this is a tactic I would have to reconsider.

  2. Thanks, Scott. This is just how I view it. Online is a fabulous channel for customer engagement, as it provides quick turnaround and fast feedback. My mantra here at Customers Rock! is always that we should interact with our customers, wherever they may be.

    On the topic of blogs, there are many corporate blogs that have employees as part of the writing team. It is a good practice for many reasons, but the main one being a real voice that will prompt customers to want to respond.

  3. [...] Customer Engagement Online [...]

  4. Toby said

    Becky – Great post. When you talk to people in an honest and sincere you have another opportunity to earn their respect. If there is disagreement, that’s okay .. it leads to greater understanding and stronger relationships.

    The next step that I’d like to see happen is corporate “people” joining in on more conversations outside of their comfort zone e.g., their own blogs.

    By the way, thanks for the shout out.

  5. Toby, you are welcome! You are one of the places I always refer people who want to learn more about corporate blogging. I think corporate blogging is slowly moving forward, and it should continue as long as there are good examples of how and why to do it.

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