Like most parents, I’ve been looking for ways to enrich my children’s experiences during this past year—not only to keep them from becoming bored, but to instill in them a discipline of being open to new experiences and lifelong learning and engagement.
Our discussions have focused on the value of experiences—how trying new things can enrich one’s life by finding the activities they are good at and which they enjoy.
In my mind there are four different stages to develop a new habit, hobby or skill. First, there is the trial of a new experience. Second, there is a level of participation where we try the activity again, and enjoy improving and building proficiency. Third, we establish a habit or a hobby where we regularly engage in the activity. Finally, there is mastery of a skill where we can perform at a professional level, and even provide value to others.
Not all personal experiences span these four stages, but the more first experiences we have, the more likely we will develop various lifelong habits and skills that will enrich our lives.
These parenting discussions have helped me realize how a similar model can be applied to the art and science of customer engagement.
Like personal experiences, customer experiences also have distinct stages. The following framework may help organizations develop the appropriate customer engagement strategy for the different stages of customer relationship, differentiating their brands by meeting the customer’s most relevant needs in their current relationship stage.
The Four Stages of Customer Engagement
There are four stages of customer engagement, and each requires different tools, strategies and processes.
When a customer engages with a brand for the first time, that brand never has a second chance to make a first impression. Brands should do whatever it takes to make this experience unique and memorable. The goal is to leverage that first experience so the customer will progress to the next stage of engagement.
This is the stage where real-time work solutions are critical, empowering contact center agents with AI-powered real-time guidance. Waiting until after the interaction is over to correct the outcome is too late.
Real-time agent assist solutions can provide guidance to the agent in case that experience includes a complaint or escalation. The solution can ensure the agent listens to the customer, provides the right level of empathy, avoids interruption and long holds, and provides the best possible outcome.
Building the Relationship
The next stage is when a customer engages with a brand for the second or third time. At this stage, the relationship is becoming more meaningful as customers become more familiar with the brand. The organization’s goal is to learn more about the customer as the relationship continues to be nurtured.
This is a good time to leverage interaction insights powered by speech analytics, text analytics, and desktop and process analytics. A single phone interaction could include over a thousand words and rich insights that help organizations learn the unique needs of that customer and what services or products would be most appropriate for them. This inferred feedback can be complemented with direct customer feedback, being careful not to burden customers with lengthy or complex surveys.
When a customer reaches out to the contact center, the agent should know it is a customer’s second or third interaction. The agent should provide assistance while educating the customer on key product and service benefits to help that customer continue to grow their relationship with the brand.
During the third stage, a customer is now regularly engaging with the brand. Their level of familiarity with the organization is now well established, and the primary need is for easy self-serve channels that offer maximum convenience, and which value the customer’s time and effort.
According to James Clear in the book “Atomic Habits,” there are a few key elements that help humans build new habits. These include making the habit satisfying and rewarding, and reducing friction so the habit is easy to adopt.
Educating and encouraging customers to use digital self-service can help them reach habit-like loyalty with a brand. Effective digital self-service channels that include contextual knowledge, IVA, voice biometric authentication can provide easy and consistent 24/7 resources. Digital self-serve channels also reduce the organization’s cost and effort to serve after the heavy lifting and investment has been made earlier to onboard and solidify the customer relationship.
At the fourth stage, customers are extremely proficient in their dealings with the organization and can be elevated to brand advocacy status. They can be invited to be part of an esteemed customer advocacy group and share their knowledge and expertise via advisory boards, social media and customer communities. Organizations can also consider gamification that provide incentives and rewards for customers’ knowledge, experience and advocacy.
Differentiated Experiences for Each Stage
While every engagement stage is important, all require different customer treatment and solutions. It is vital to optimize each stage with the appropriate strategy in mind, and have the proper tools in place to provide the desired experience at the right time.
As organizations seek to achieve the right mix of human touch, self-service and automation, they can go astray if they disregard the specific needs across the customer engagement stage continuum.
As organizations seek to achieve the right mix of human touch, self-service and automation, they can go astray if they disregard the specific needs across the customer engagement stage continuum. For example, if an organization automates too much at the first stage when a customer is a first-time caller, they run the risk of having that customer feel alienated due to an impersonal experience. Companies may want to over-invest in early stage experiences, making them unique and personal to gain the downstream benefits of longer-term customer loyalty and advocacy.
Engagement channels and customer journeys have doubled and even tripled in the last decade, and organizations are challenged from a resource perspective to manage these growing and increasingly challenging customer interactions—what we at Verint refer to as the Engagement Capacity Gap.
Organizations require the data, solutions and strategy to identify the different relationship stages and engage appropriately, addressing the unique customer needs in each stage. By considering the four stages of customer engagement, brands can formulate a framework to support purpose-driven differentiation that balances the needs of exceptional ongoing customer engagement with operational efficiencies.