The Meaning Behind Customer Engagement
What do customer engagement and employee engagement have in common? And why does it matter? Hint: The relationship between these three things will help senior managers make a cognitive connection between “the soft stuff” or business intangibles, and hard tangible results like revenue and profits.
No matter what school of thought you subscribe to regarding high-performing organizations, the level of customer engagement is a part of the conversation. Stated simply, a high level of customer engagement is one of the most reliable predictors of high-performing organizations. The reasoning is simple, common sense and proven. Highly engaged customers produce higher levels of revenue, both absolutely and on a per customer basis. The 80/20 rule (the Pareto principle for those so-inclined) related to revenue applies more often than not.
In addition, highly engaged customers are marketing assets because they have a proven propensity to refer a product or service to colleagues (these are customers that drive a higher “net promoter” score). It is hard to get more marketing leverage than from the proverbial “word-of-mouth advertising” or “marketing buzz,” as we call it today.
Finally, highly engaged customers are easier to service, as they give an organization the benefit of the doubt when a product or service lapse takes place.
So it’s easy to see how successful organizations benefit by having more than their fair share of customers who are actively engaged, a competitive advantage that is hard to beat. Said another way, an organization with a strong, admired brand is an organization with a relatively high proportion of highly engaged customers.
What separates an actively engaged customer from an average customer? For starters a customer who is engaged is convinced, in a rationale sense, that the organization they do business with consistently delivers distinctive value. This perception is the platform for a satisfied customer or even a net promoter-type who demonstrates a certain predisposition to remain loyal.
Active customer engagement transcends the rationale and relative evaluation of “what I get”/ ”what I pay.” Highly engaged customers see beyond the product/price paradigm and admire the organization for its values and its culture. Admiring an organization’s culture not only provides the actively engaged customer the confidence the organization will consistently perform, but more importantly it is a source of self-identity. In essence an actively engaged customer believes it shares a set of higher ideals with the organization. This perceived alignment adds special meaning to the relationship, elevating it beyond a rational quid pro quo business arrangement.
High performing, admired organizations are supported by a passionate, aligned culture that is driven by an above average level of highly engaged employees. There are two ways to identify a highly engaged employee from other employees. The performance management method du jour is to ask them to self-report on their level of engagement based upon answering a battery of questions developed by the human resources consulting profession. The other way is to observe their behaviors and the resulting impact on a customer or key business strategies. In this context, highly engaged employees routinely and without prompting – go the extra mile at the right time.
For starters a highly engaged employee believes they are being treated fairly, appropriately compensated, recognized for their contributions and today, more than ever, perceive their work/life balance preferences are being met. Sustainable high levels of passion and engagement require a belief by employees that the organization’s values are powered by a vision for making a distinctive difference for customers. When an employee has a so-called “clear line of sight” of how they contribute to making a difference in this outstanding culture, the level of engagement transcends the average employee. Making this connection adds meaning to the actively engaged employee’s work and contributions. For the highly engaged employee this connection is a source of self-identity and fuels the above average performance, augmenting the definition of an engaged employee to one that – goes the extra mile, at the right time, for his or her own reasons!
One can draw a number of parallels between actively engaged customers and highly engaged employees. In both cases these special individuals have high standards for relationships. Their passion for a relationship is fueled by the perceived level of alignment of things that are very important to them. In addition it is important for them to find meaning in the relationship that transcends the functional nature of the arrangement. Actively engaged customers admire the type of people who are highly engaged in their work. On a more concrete level, actively engaged customers depend upon highly engaged employees to consistently deliver on their high expectations. Without the actions of highly engaged employees, actively engaged customers will soon lose faith in the higher meaning of the relationship they have with an organization. The relationship will be downgraded to commodity status and both parties will be disappointed.
With only 76 words left I need to get to the point. For almost each and every organization the level of customer engagement is a direct reflection of the level of employee engagement. Senior executives who want to harness the business performance leverage that comes from a portfolio of actively engaged customers must start with a focus on the tangibles and more importantly the intangibles that breed highly engaged employees. Truth be known, the most highly engaged employees are fueled by intangibles that appeal to their values and their heart. When an employee believes there is an authentic connection with an organization around the things that matter most to them they will find meaning in their work and become passionate about the difference they make for the customers they serve. When employees find meaning, customers will commit to a meaningful and engaging relationship with an organization – the kind of quid pro quo that is built on purpose.