Customer Experience

The 21st Century Definition of Customer Engagement

August 17, 2016

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Customer engagement is a connection you make with your customers to produce an effect or a reaction. It’s also the experience that customers have with other customers about a product, service, or brand.

That’s a nice textbook definition. But what does customer engagement really mean in the 21st century?

Customer Engagement in the 21st Century

To truly engage with customers today is to create a history of trust and emotional connection with them.

Here’s a secret: emotion is what customer engagement has always been about, at least since the early 20th century. According to Advertising the American Dream, advertisers have tested how their communication affects audiences more than other types of publishers, including novelists and newspaper editors.

Today, we have to engage with customers differently than we did in the 20th century because consumers have access to a much wider range of channels and can now voice their feedback about your business in seconds (thanks to sites like Yelp, Facebook, and TripAdvisor).  

Customers want to know where their food comes from, if their shoes will be comfortable for miles, what their shampoo is made of, if the hotel offers free breakfast and fast Wi-Fi. Customers need a better reason than “I need a place to stay for the weekend” to make and commit to a purchase decision.

They want to know how a product will make a difference in their lives, rather than just be something they pay for. They need to be inspired.

Offline and Online Customer Engagement

Online customer engagement platforms include online reviews, social media, mobile apps, online communities and forums, and brand websites.

Engagement can happen offline, too. Companies with the ability to create real-word experiences that strike an emotional chord with customers are the ones most successful at driving engagement.

Let’s look at a cupcake bakery called Molly’s Cupcakes. They sell cupcakes, sure, but they also invite you to sit down, eat your cupcake, and play a board game.

If you aren’t really into board games, there’s a sprinkle station where you can decorate your cupcake.

Molly’s takes an off-the-path approach to the bakery experience. They’re not just about making and baking fresh, high-quality, delicious cupcakes; they’re also about curating unique experiences that cater to the kid at the heart of every customer.  

Another great example is how Starbucks is taking on the creation of a new coffee experience. With the Roastery, the coffee company is offering a multi-sensory coffee experience in which customers can watch freshly roasted beans arrive, chat with baristas and coffee specialists, enjoy the unique beverage and food menu, and experience coffee brewed multiple ways.

What Can You Do to Engage With Your Customers?

Make an emotional connection. Develop meaningful, trust-based relationships with customers. Listen to what they’re saying. Show that you care about something more than providing transactional convenience.

If you’re a pizza restaurant, for example, don’t just make great pizza. Create an experience that customers will love and remember. Hire a live band to come and play once a week or have a glass window in the kitchen to show customers how you make the pizza.

Online, there are multiple ways to drive customer engagement. Here are some ideas:

  • Respond to online reviews and social media comments
  • Run a loyalty and rewards program
  • Publish fresh, quality content that offers value to readers (instead of just promotes your brand)
  • Have an effective live chat feature on your website for support and queries
  • Develop a dedicated mobile app for your users
  • Run an e-mail marketing campaign for subscribers
  • Invite your community to events and activities (e.g. webinars) and provide real-time benefits

Let’s say you’re managing a bike shop. Engaging with customers on an emotional level requires more than just a product page that shares bike specs and pricing information to shoppers. You can also post videos on YouTube showing people how to fix their bikes. You can write about DIY bike maintenance tips on your blog and share the piece on social media.

The rise of mobile technology and social media means that businesses have an opportunity to drive customer engagement in ways not previously possible. But while channels (online and offline) will continue to evolve over time, customer engagement will always be about making an emotional connection with your audience.


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