Posted by: rolfsky | December 1, 2007

understanding customer engagement

[UPDATE: You can click through my slide presentation on this topic here: Understanding and Exploring Customer Engagement ]

I was tempted to title this post, “it’s all about engagement,” but that would be breaking my it’s all about rule.

In preparation for a talk I’m giving at the Adobe sales and marketing conference I was given a link to Adobe’s microsite around customer engagement. (There are some PDF’s there worth reading.)

During our conversation about “what I would be talking about”, the arranger told me that it would be great if I could present something that was actionable. It seems like everybody loves a conference but returns to their normal work asking “now what?”

Frankly, the whole idea of “customer engagement” struck me as a little odd and I was at a bit of a loss as to what to fill my two 90-minute sessions with. Even the content they provided on their microsite gave the impression that it was a worthy problem, but there were no silver bullets:

Solving the problem

What does all of this imply?

First, that it’s easier to identify the problem than to solve it—although problem identification is clearly step one. Significant organizational commitment and investment are warranted (as well as needed) if companies want to address the opportunity and the risk represented by customer disengagement.

Can this be done? Yes, but not by simply adding another Web site, increasing ad spending or launching yet another “top-down” corporate initiative aimed at speeding up the checkout line or getting the clerks to smile more often. It implies a coordinated and fully integrated ongoing program of relevant measurement and meaningful intervention that reaches deeply throughout the organization, wherever customers are “touched.” Simple? Hardly. Important? Assuredly.

After reviewing everything that had already been said on the microsite, I decided that if I couldn’t add to the information as presented, perhaps I could make it more digestible. Hopefully I could act as the catalyst allowing my audience to act on what they already knew.

Tangentially inspired by Tara Hunt’s post on a company being the sum of its employees, I looked into the idea of a what a corporation actually is. It seems as though the word “corporation” actually comes from the Latin root corp- meaning “body”. This makes sense as the process of incorporation creates a new “body” (or , technically, juristic person) in which the members of the corporation are merely actors or supporters. In modern economies, this new body is a legal entity having all the rights and responsibilities of a natural-born citizen.

What strikes me as interesting about this is the way that we as humans relate to corporations. In an evolutionary sense, the modern corporation is an exceedingly new phenomenon. Being products of our environment, humans did not “grow up” learning how to treat corporations as a separate thing. Without special tools, skills or knowledge, we revert back to the basic skills we’ve honed in the rest of our lives.

In essence, we treat this new entity, the corporation, as a unique and rational individual. We make friends, build trust, become loyal, or are betrayed in the same ways we would with any other person. Our relationship is based on our experience.

Take for a second to imagine your business as a person. What would they look like? How would they act at a party and what would they drink? Are they flashy car salesmen with loops of bling around their neck or are they nerdy scientists drawing up formulas?

In this sense, brand image and customer engagement becomes much more than just your sales or marketing team, it becomes the words and actions of every member of your firm. Are software deadlines made as promises, then broken? Is there something fishy going on you’re not mentioning? Or is it simply the wrong guy to the party?

As humans, we know how to deal with “that guy” who lies, cheats or steals: we talk about him, we warn our friends.

Unsurprisingly enough, we carry these same actions over into our consumer world.

And where does this leave us? What is the silver bullet? Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the silver bullet to kill the werewolves or vampires of “perfect” customer engagement.

However, the first step is recognizing that everything counts and it takes strong leadership with consistent messaging and clear expectations.

I’ll leave you with a video that’s been making the rounds. Perhaps this explains why it’s about more than coupons.

EDIT: I was going to embed this, but I couldn’t figure out how to make WP recognize it.



  1. A couple of links i thought you might be interested in:

    The corporation: Canadian documentary film about the modern-day corporation, considering it as a class of person and evaluating its behaviour.

    Images of organisation
    This book examines the different ways in which organisations can be viewed and analysed: as a machine, culture, brain, political system etc

    and finally, my very own links and writing on customer engagement:

    Hope you do find them interesting.

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