The rules of real engagement
Most marketing and sales professionals believe customer experience (CX) consists of the discrete transactions customers have with a company. But it is the quality and degree of customer engagement throughout the customer’s journey with the company that is the predictor of customer retention. And that’s based on your customer’s assessment (not yours), done across a continuum.
So how can you second-guess that assessment? The data we came up with suggests monitoring four cyclical phases that feed into each other – from personas, to journeys, to relationships, to dialog, with dialog feeding back into personas again. Let’s look at the rule of each of these factors.
Rule 1: Build buyer personas
Buyer personas are humanized maps of your customers that tell you who they are, what they want – and maybe aren’t getting – from life and work (and hence, how your company can fill that gap), and how they behave.
How do you develop buyer personas? Read James Heaton’s tips,  which are an easy-to-read primer on how to get started, and a HubSpot article,  which offers some free resources to take you deeper.
Building buyer personas lets you target your offerings more precisely because it helps you understand your customers better. For this, shoring up personas through market surveys and research is ideal. Still, a good place to begin is by pulling in your sales frontliners and getting their inputs on your customers’ profiles. The exercise can actually be fun, especially if you’re working as a team.
Rule 2: Focus on customer journeys
Once you have your buyer personas in place, you have a handle on transforming CX. The key that will unlock this for you, says a March 2016 McKinsey article by Harald Fanderl, Kevin Neher, and Alfonso Pulido , is in taking a journey-centric view of CX, rather than focusing on CX touchpoints.
Fanderl et al observe that many businesses are confused about which customer metrics are true indicators of CX. These businesses therefore struggle instead with gathering, sorting, and using customer feedback. They become enmeshed in the resulting undergrowth of data and end up being “tone-deaf” to what the customer is really trying to say. That’s why the authors urge you to look at the customer’s overall journey with your company – rather than at specific metrics – and address those stages in that journey which are a sticking point. According to them, gaining customer feedback about customer journeys – for the overall purchase journey as against a single point of sale, for example – is the foundation of this method.
Erin Verbeck’s blog post  is a detailed, powerful, and down-to-earth illustration of how buyer personas and customer journeys intersect. Although Verbeck was writing for the small business owner, medium to large businesses, too, can scale the techniques to their size by deploying CX measurement automation software – what Fander, Neher, and Pulido call a “hardwired backbone.” (Indeed, our consulting offering at Regalix includes developing such digital platforms,  and we’d love to chat with you about that sometime.)
Rule 3: “Romance” the customer
So now you’ve pegged your customer’s persona and are all set to take her on a journey with your company. What’s the low-down on this?
Two points in an article  by RGIS, a Michigan-based retail stock counting service, are especially relevant here:
- Your customer is a real human being who needs a truly personal approach
- Nothing works like transparency in communicating with your customer
With those guiding principles, go ahead and – as Josh Linkner puts it  – “romance” your customer by being thoughtful, authentic, and caring. (Ross Beard  cites some great examples of companies doing this.)
(What if the customer is actually wrong? Trackur CEO Andy Beal’s half-humorous, half-serious first-hand account, written from both sides of the table, takes an enjoyable shot at that. )
Rule 4: Engage in dialog
To lead your customers to their success, engage in dialog – two-way customer conversations. Get Satisfaction CEO Wendy Lea, writing in Inc.com,  explains that the essence of customer engagement is meaningful, continuous contact that drives revenue. Lea breaks down that kind of contact into four principles:
- Listening to customers’ and prospects’ conversations about you and brands in your space
- Identifying the underlying questions, problems, and perceptions embedded in the views they were expressing
- Following up swiftly by responding positively to improve their experience
- Communicating to them that they are contributing to your business
The moral: When customers feel heard and appreciated for their involvement, they contribute real value to your business and move beyond loyalty to advocacy.
Fact is, listening to the voice of the customer gets easier with a change in attitude – by taking a step back from trying to sell your product or service, to creating a vibrant community around your offering.
Concluding article: “Injecting the Analytics Advantage”
 “Are You Really Listening to What Your Customers are Saying?” by Harald Fanderl, Kevin Neher, and Alfonso Pulido, McKinsey & Co, 2016