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Article -> Connecting with Your Customer

Date Added: March 2006

Engagement is the difference between an ever-changing relationship and an intense connection. It's when customers will purchase a $400 Callaway Big Bertha Fusion FT-3 Driver despite the fact their salary is better suited for a $50 Driver. They are engaged with the Callaway brand and product, thus willing to invest more. In the business world, we refer to this as customer engagement -- the identification, recommendation, experience, aspiration and anticipation with customers.

A recent study found that understanding customers and what they value is the biggest priority organizations are facing.1 When customers look at your products they need to identify with them. In doing so, they are more likely to form a strong bond and promote your brand. Identification is what makes people invest more. The power of identification is the most powerful reason American Idol is one of the most successful TV shows.2

Word-of-mouth is one of the most effective means of marketing. Engaged customers are apt to be more vocal with word-of-mouth. The best way to get more word-of-mouth for your product or service is to create customer evangelists from your engaged customers.

A main difference between a customer and a customer evangelist is that customer evangelists recommend a brand to others. One key question to ask customers is: Would you recommend our product/service to others? A benefit to companies with strong customer evangelists is loyalty. Evangelists are ultra-loyal customers and will invest in a product/service to strengthen their relationship with the company. However, customer evangelists make up only 20-25 percent of customers.3 Your goal as companies is to increase this number.

Customer Evangelists can be gained by:

  1. Gathering feedback on a continuous basis. Where is improvement needed?
  2. Sharing knowledge frequently. The more knowledge you share with employees and customers the more people it will reach.
  3. Giving evangelists "sneak" product previews to make them feel special.
  4. Thinking of customers as a community rather than a transaction.
  5. Giving customers smaller product offerings or "pilots." Provide a sample of what you offer.
  6. Creating a cause they can relate to. How are you trying to make the world better?
Experiences with your products/services help increase customer recommendations. Organizations want their customers to have positive experiences. Consistent experiences are the core to brand loyalty. Positive experiences are the main objective and can be very powerful. Most people base their purchase decisions on past experiences, and if those experiences are delightful, customers will spread the word (word-of-mouth). This is called evangelists theory.

The difference between brand indifference and customer engagement is aspiration. Customers have aspirations with a product/service that promises an experience, improving a sense of self. Customers need to feel connected to the product/service and then they will feel they are "better" by using them.

Organizations that understand their customers' needs are able to personalize products and services to customers. Anticipation is a personalized experience. It is the excitement of customers that can't wait to use your products/services.

Many companies with well known brands consider themselves to be focused on their customers. In actuality, a company's brand is its promise, and the engagement is fulfilling that promise. Companies need to understand and relate to their customers' needs to fulfill that promise. In return, they will generate more customer evangelists.

1 Gaffney, John. "Superbrand, Advocacy and Obsession." 1to1 Magazine. October 01, 2005.
2 Donath, Bob. "Customer knowledge takes priority in study." Marketing News. December 15, 2005.
3 Anfuso, Dawn. "Creating Customer Evangelists." October 20, 2005.

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