Customer Engagement Online
Posted by Becky Carroll on September 26, 2007
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!
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!