The Culture of Immediacy: How to Shape Customer Engagement Strategies in the Digital Era
Modern customers want everything quick and tailored to their needs. This pushes companies to find the way outs through technology. Here’s a review of the most actionable engagement strategies.
- A Digitally Conscious Customer Is…
- Digital-First Customer Engagement Strategies
- Strategy #1. Create a Flexible IT Environment
- Strategy #2. Leverage Innovative Technologies
- Strategy #3. Provide Omnichannel Customer Experience
- Strategy #4. Balance Personalization and Data Security
- All Set to Engage Digitally Conscious Customers?
Modern consumers aka Millennials and Gen Z must be dreaming of the ultimate Genie-like algorithm that addresses their online needs the moment they come to their minds. Such aspirations breed a culture of immediacy and the digital consciousness that makes businesses nervously juggle high-tech tools. It’s not surprising, as their customers expect a challenging combo: getting what they want anytime and anywhere.
What’s more, these same customers view their entire journey (no matter how hectic it can be) as something wholesome. In other words, whatever channel they arrive through, they expect a personalized approach and consistent engagement.
Let’s see who these digitally conscious customers are, what they expect, and what to expect from them.
A Digitally Conscious Customer Is…
… a person (not persona) who is now in the driver’s seat of digital transformation. They shift brands’ focus from traditional offline strategies toward digital ones and dictate how to apply technologies to enhance their experience.
Such customer journeys, which are complex, nonlinear, and fragmented across multiple touchpoints, make companies uptight. For example, the lifecycle of a single transaction can cover a few channels, from an in-app chat to a purchase on a desktop website or in a brick-and-mortar store.
What’s more, customers’ need for connectivity challenges brands to act as a whole rather than comfortably exist in silos. Whatever the channel, customers expect the brand’s representatives to have the same information across the entire journey. It goes even further: connected experience is not enough—it should also be personalized.
As a result, with a nonstop access to mobile devices and apps, often equipped with AI algorithms, modern customers evaluate companies by their first digital encounters. This way, businesses should prioritize getting all the aspects of the digitally conscious customer right:
The digital-first concept makes companies reinvent how their major teams interact with customers:
- Sales teams: social selling vs cold calling
Sales reps don’t wait till customers contact them, they use social listening to reach out to both happy and displeased customers to solve their problems and build relationships. The ultimate goal here is to increase customer retention rates.
- Marketing teams: digital channels vs offline
Real-time engagement is the new black (as well as a headache) of marketing. Billboards and TV ads give way to highly targeted messages communicated via email marketing, personalized content, recommendations, and online ads.
- Customer service teams: proactive approach vs exclusively on-demand response
Today customers seek help via different channels. Support isn’t limited to taking calls and tickets. It also includes roaming about social media channels, review sites, and forums to understand the sentiment behind customers’ talk and act on it. To be proactive and make data-backed decisions, service teams need intelligence from sales and marketing departments.
In order to attract and keep customers in this digital-first world, you need to adopt new customer engagement strategies. Let’s review the major ones.
Digital-First Customer Engagement Strategies
Spoiler alert: all the strategies are inherently connected to data. Right now, data is not even king, it’s definitely joker, and you need to use it wisely. Having data up your sleeve opens many doors as well as sets traps. There are lots of conditions for data to become truly efficient.
One of the main tricks here is to have the right technology. Let’s look at how to leverage data wisely for each strategy, using the example of Salesforce—one of the market leaders among customer success platforms.
Strategy #1. Create a Flexible IT Environment
When it comes to winning customers today, smaller businesses with flexible cloud-based IT infrastructures can override those industry behemoths that are still attached to their legacy systems. Operating in the cloud, companies can:
- Integrate and sync databases to get a 360-degree view of the customer and deliver personalized experiences
- Unite different teams’ efforts to provide omnichannel customer experience
- Easily adapt their businesses to changing needs and scale
- Do all of that without an army of developers
Salesforce, a cloud-based platform with solutions for each major business function (marketing, sales, service, and commerce), can meet all these challenges. Flexibility is in Salesforce’s very nature—it’s been created to be tailored:
- You can connect any app via the AppExchange marketplace
- You can integrate any external data source via MuleSoft
- You can create your own apps using drag-and-drop tools
Though Salesforce customization is not a snap, you still can go without a dedicated team of developers. However, a Salesforce admin and professional Salesforce consulting are the expenditures to accommodate in the budget.
Strategy #2. Leverage Innovative Technologies
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is unfolding as we speak. The technologies that it has brought, such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things, changed customer expectations. Once customers got a taste for connected devices and smart technologies, they came to raise the bar of how brands should engage them.
AI gets ingrained into everyday life. The most obvious example is voice assistants (often paired with connected devices), like Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant, and chatbots that are getting smarter, up to the point when it’s hard to tell who talks to you, a robot or a real person.
The same is true for ubiquitous connected devices, from fitness trackers to smart thermostats. According to the Salesforce State of the Connected Customer report, more than three quarters of customers have at least one connected device. As a result, customers have come to rely on connected devices in different ways while pursuing one simple intent—to make their lives easier. In no time, all devices will be able to talk to each other, and we will be quite powerful controlling everything via our smartphones.
When companies adopt these innovative technologies in their daily workflows, they hit multiple goals at a time. They help employees be more productive, leverage precise analytics, serve customers holistically as well as make them happy by delivering on their expectations.
Salesforce has the built-in AI called Einstein that caters to the expectations of both employees and customers:
- It provides employees with valuable insights and opportunities by identifying patterns, trends, channels, and content that resonate best with customers.
- It eliminates guesswork by predicting outcomes, such as which leads and opportunities will convert, or which replies and resources can help to resolve service cases.
- It ensures that employees know the steps to take next by giving upsell and cross-sell suggestions as well as providing relevant recommendations based on customers’ interests and past behavior.
- It automates workflows by using AI chatbots and taking manual data entry out of the equation.
When on mobile, you can also talk to Salesforce using Einstein Voice Assistant. It’s in pilot phase for the time being, but it’s already smart enough to give you regular voice-activated briefings, capture notes, relate them to associated records (accounts, contacts, cases), open dashboards, and display necessary information.
Strategy #3. Provide Omnichannel Customer Experience
More devices and more channels than ever have elevated customer engagement and created new expectations:
According to the Salesforce report cited above, 40% of customers won’t go to a company if they can’t use a preferred channel. But what channels do they prefer? Millennials and Gen Z, being the most omnichannel generations, prefer mobile apps and use voice assistants twice as much as the Silent generation or Baby boomers. Email is still a favorite across generations.
When you take the customer’s side, it seems obvious that brands should know just enough about you to serve highly personalized experiences right when and where you require them (yes, also at night, on Easter, or weekends). However, if you are on the brand’s side, the whole customer journey mapping can drive you crazy.
In order to satisfy these challenging expectations, companies need to:
- Collect as much data on their customers as they can legitimately
- Tune up predictive forecasting with AI
- Give their teams access to data
To set the process in motion, you need to start with data, of course. Although it’s a challenge on its own to unify data and keep its quality high, data makes superior real-time customer experiences possible.
According to IDC, more than 5 billion customers interact with data every day. By 2025, that number will be 6 billion, and each connected person will have at least one data interaction every 18 seconds, or 4,900 times a day:
This will be possible due to billions of IoT devices connected through the globe, which will collectively create over 90 zettabytes (ZB) of data by 2025.
How big is 90ZB anyway?
It’s usually hard to embrace such large numbers, so our mind wanders without being awed.
One zettabyte equals a trillion gigabytes. If you could store 90ZB on DVDs, then your stack of DVDs would circle the Earth about 100 times. If you could download this amount of data at about 25 MB/s, then it would take about a billion years to do it.
As a greater number of devices with greater levels of intelligence get connected to more networks, businesses find the cloud a matchless option to provide fast and ubiquitous access to data and serve customers in real time.
Salesforce, which is based in the cloud, creates an omnichannel environment where it’s possible to address most data-associated challenges in the following ways:
- Data is integrated from internal and external sources
- Data is unified and stored in a way that makes analytics and next-level intelligence possible, providing a holistic view of each customer
- Data becomes accessible to all business divisions due to favorable conditions for eliminating corporate silos
While Salesforce has already matured when it comes to providing omnichannel experience, the company constantly expands the capabilities of its flagship product.
Earlier this year, Salesforce announced the launch of its Customer Data Platform with the tools to design roadmaps for the 360-degree customer strategy as well as to bridge various Salesforce Clouds.
The new platform will have two key functions:
- Customer engagement across multiple touchpoints (digital, messages, ads, devices, and offline)
- Customer segmentation, personalization, and analytics via Salesforce Einstein AI
Strategy #4. Balance Personalization and Data Security
The proliferation of customer engagement personalization creates a paradox. While customers take personalization for granted, they are also highly concerned about security of their data. They realize that the data-driven world around them is never switched off; it’s tracking, watching, and listening non-stop, and they can’t control it. While most customers accept this state of things in exchange for relevant content, some get panicky and demand to delete everything companies have on them.
For this reason, companies get more mindful about the balance of personalization and data security than they were a few years ago. And it makes sense, as customers need to know that their data is not only safe but also used legitimately. According to the Salesforce State of Marketing report, while most marketing teams try to follow privacy regulations (such as the EU’s GDPR), one-third of them admit it’s quite hard to meet them.
While security is already a standard requirement for customer-brand relationships, ethics is soon to follow. More often than not, customers take into account brands’ ethical principles (toward climate change, charity, or equality) when making their purchasing decisions. Stats say that two-thirds of customers won’t buy from companies with poor ethics.
However, ethical limitations can be blurred due to different companies’ stances toward sensitive issues. Their stances may vary depending on the places of residence, allies, political views, target audiences, etc. The approach to data security and transparency, though, should be universal.
Centralized storage is one of the most essential conditions for data security. It’s hard to control customer data when it’s distributed across various sources, such as legacy systems, clouds, or third-party systems. In order to create a single point of truth, you need a platform that integrates all this disparate data.
Whether you opt for an in-house data system or a cloud solution, you will still run certain security risks. However, out of the two options, cloud services are deemed safer. When data is stored in the cloud, it won’t be damaged or lost forever due to flood or fire, or physically stolen in an office break-in.
Plus, the risk of cyber attacks is lower. Most cyber attacks are run by insiders or happen because of employees’ skill gaps in data security. Cloud service providers monitor access to data so that nobody would take away their clients’ secrets on their flash drive. They also put in much more resources into cyber security, both in terms of the staff and technologies, as their business is built on clients’ trust.
Salesforce positions itself as a secure cloud, and it incorporates a number of security tools into each product it provides. Salesforce also runs Salesforce Trust where users have access to the security status of every Salesforce product in terms of service availability, privacy, and compliance.
Salesforce also has tools for more granular monitoring and complex identity verification for those businesses that are subject to legislative regulations.
The issue of cyber attacks is tackled with Transport Layer Security that provides the most up-to-date data encryption. There are also instruments to control any security gaps induced by employees when it comes to passwords, network configurations, and session settings.
All Set to Engage Digitally Conscious Customers?
Digitally savvy customers are already knocking at your doors. In order to know which doors they are behind and how to give them a warm welcome, you need to develop successful engagement and retention strategies.
The central, most holistic strategy is to move your business to the cloud where you can build a flexible IT environment, apply innovation such as AI and IoT, and provide consistent, personalized, and increasingly secure customer experience across all channels.
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