How to redefine your customer engagement strategy during global pandemic

By Chuck Leddy

Companies around the globe have been scrambling to keep up with dramatic shifts in the economy and in customer behavior since the outbreak of COVID-19. Online traffic has surged, while traditional marketing channels such as live events/conferences and bricks-and-mortar retail have been shuttered. If all that wasn’t challenging enough, company employees have been compelled to work from home. 

Customer engagement strategies developed before the pandemic, including both the messaging and the chosen marketing channels, are no longer viable today. Email blasts extolling your company’s latest offering might have been acceptable pre-COVID-19, but such tactics are viewed as tone-deaf and insensitive now. As Daniel Frohman, CMO of employee engagement firm Sendoso, explained in a recent webinar, The CMO Imperative: Adapting Your 2020 Strategy During the Pandemic: “we still need to educate and engage our customers, and we’re using various digital channels to do that. It’s still about driving ROI, but you have to be super-nimble and strategic about where to put those investments,” as customer behavior, messaging, and channels change.

B2B marketers have been redefining their messaging and their channels to accommodate the “new normal” that they and their customers are experiencing. New tools and tactics are necessary. As employees everywhere are disrupted and working from home, self-service tools (like conversational chatbots) can play an increasingly important role in customer engagement, as we’ll detail below. These self-service tools enable users/customers to access information and perform routine tasks at any time without the intervention of human agents. 

Marketing Operations: Agility is key…

Companies and marketing teams needing to pivot their customer engagement strategy amidst pandemic-driven change should be constantly asking themselves a few basic questions: “how are customers and prospects changing their behaviors, what are their needs right now, and how are we supporting them and providing value as we simultaneously ensure that we can operate through challenges?” Once those key questions are answered, next comes re-organizing and re-deploying your assets of people, technology, and process to drive these newly-defined marketing objectives. That “redefining process” starts with recognizing external change, and then organizing your marketing operations internally to accommodate your customers and their evolving circumstances. 

You’ll need maturity in data management to do the “listening” part as well as the pivoting part. Even as you pivot, your business will need to remain modular, flexible, and scalable in how you engage your customers throughout their journey. It doesn’t need to happen all at once, of course: the process is iterative and you can begin (1) where you are now and (2) when you’re ready. 

Pivoting effectively is a key capacity of your marketing operations, and offering more self-service tools makes more sense today than ever. Self-service options can not only drive customer satisfaction by resolving simple issues quickly, but can take the load away from your overburdened customer service/success teams. According to Salesforce, 7 out of 10 customers actually prefer to use self service tools before reaching out to a human agent.

Enhancing your digital maturity (and fast) with self-service

As channels and messaging change in today’s climate of uncertainty, smaller companies may actually have an advantage over larger enterprises because they can more easily pivot their customer engagement strategy, tools and tactics. Having to repurpose big, complicated legacy systems and martech stacks, as large companies are doing now, takes time and investment. Whatever the size and digital maturity of your marketing operations, adaptability matters. You’ll need to adapt not only your messaging, but also your marketing operations, your tech, your back end, and your people. That’s a big job that needs to get done quickly, because your customers won’t wait. 

Your marketing campaigns, for instance, may have to adjust to the emerging reality of remote working, virtual events, videoconferencing, and more customers buying more goods online, but you won’t need to change your overall goal of being where your customers are and delivering messaging that addresses their needs. Self-service tools are effective and popular with customers because they’re accessible, flexible, scalable, and always-on. They can pivot with you and your customers. Self-service tools also collect the data you need to understand your customers and personalize their experience.

Self-Service for 24/7, always-on customer engagement

Marketing is basically about going where your customers are (i.e., to their preferred channels) and delivering relevant messaging in order to create customer experiences that convert people into loyal, long-term customers. Companies that focus on customer experience (CX) as a competitive differentiator grow 5 times faster than others, meaning they drive higher, faster conversions rates and increased lifetime customer value. 

What then should a company consider when redefining its customer engagement strategy? That’s a complex question that each company must answer for itself, but will likely include: (1) clear messaging that connects with your brand’s values and those of your customers; (2) valuable, engaging content in multiple formats that addresses the most urgent concerns of customers and educates them on your offerings; (3) a strong customer and user experience across all your channels, especially digital; and (4) the capacity to access and leverage data in order to personalize the customer experience.

 Self-Service is crisis-ready to engage

Self-service is becoming an increasingly popular way for customers to conveniently interact with companies, especially since call centers are under strain due to increased customer demand plus fewer available agents. An amazingly-large 81% of customers try to self-serve before calling a contact center, while  35% of consumers want to see more companies using chatbots. Companies with best-in-class self-service drive vastly better results, including higher customer satisfaction scores, increased customer lifetime value (CLV), and twice the revenues.

Self-service can be offered by conversational chatbots, fueled by artificial intelligence, that can answer FAQs, give information about customer orders/accounts, and execute basic transactions. Complex interactions can be seamlessly escalated to human agents, as chatbots continue to follow the interaction and support both customers and agents by supplying relevant information.

No marketing or customer success team has enough members to engage all its customers all the time, but chatbots that integrate AI and machine learning can be used to automate customer engagement, allowing you to provide customers with faster and more targeted, personalized messaging that resolves their issues. Customers are typically agnostic about the how, but simply want their needs met. 

The takeaway

Self-service tools can help you scale up customer engagement during a crisis like today’s, when the demands on (and delivery of) your customer engagement strategy have never been more intense. As Marcus Lambert, CTO of Omobono (a digital agency), explained in another Sojourn blog post: ”It’s not so much about [chatbots and] AI as a technology, but about understanding how it can bring positive impacts on your specific business objectives.” This is a time to bring in more help as you adjust your customer engagement strategy to “the new normal” of COVID-19. 

Learn more about how we can help you better engage your customers – contact us today.