Published September 14, 2022
Client engagement is one of the most important factors in the success of a modern business. Highly engaged clients provide [three times as much annual value] for a company, because of their greater loyalty and the likelihood that they’ll buy more from you. They have higher client retention, and can even become advocates pitching your products to other people.
Amid all the hype and hunting for attention, it’s easy to lose track of what this means. At its core, client engagement is a measure of how connected clients feel to a specific brand or organisation.
While there can be logical reasons for choosing a brand, that emotional connection is far more powerful, and to work it must be meaningful to the client on a personal level. A client making a logical choice to use your product may only be a one-time shopper, while a client who is emotionally engaged is likely to be a repeat client and evangelist. The key to client engagement is understanding what drives that jump from consumption to commitment.
Engagement is built out of all the interactions a company has with its clients. Emotional attachment increases the likelihood that a client will buy from you, but buying from you can also drive emotional engagement. Humans like to feel good about how they’ve spent their money. If you can give them a reason to see their purchase as something more meaningful then they’ll leap on the connection. Engagement is a feedback loop between feelings and actions; the challenge lies in getting clients started on that loop.
There are four key drivers that you can work with to build client engagement. In every case, the driver can come in a more or less tangible form.
Value is the most fundamental driver of client engagement, not enough in itself but a necessary foundation for the rest. Just as human beings need to be fed and clothed before they start seeking emotional fulfilment, a brand needs to prove that it has some value to clients before they will start engaging.
Value varies hugely depending upon the product, the brand, and its clients. For a fashion label, value comes in providing distinctive clothes that will make wearers look good to their peers, though “looking good” will vary depending on whether you’re marketing to City of London traders or Whitby weekender goths. For foods, value can lie in novelty and new sensations or in large volumes for low costs.
Apps and services show how value can come in less tangible forms. A meditation app, with its timers and talks, might not provide its user with anything they can’t get for free on YouTube, but it allows them to track what they’re doing, to feel a sense of achievement. Pokémon Go looks to outsiders like nothing more than a time sink, but it provides players with a sense of the fantastic in daily life, as well as a way to connect to other players.
Many businesses combine the tangible and the intangible. A local coffee shop can provide both tasty cakes and a chance to be part of a community, a double layer of value.
From a client engagement point of view, it’s not enough just to have value; you have to show it. Clients must see the value in what you are offering them, not just so that they know that they want it, but so that they know you understand them. By showing a concept of value that your clients share, you show that you’re on the same wavelength and give them a reason to keep coming back. Repeated purchases and shared values will lay the foundation for a stronger bond.
Next most substantial in the engagement hierarchy is quality. For engagement to happen, clients must believe that the products or services you offer are of high quality.
This might sound counter-intuitive, given the success of bargain clothing brands and pound shops, but there is more nuance to this. Some very specific brands work on a different business model. Supermarket saver lines aren’t bought by people with a deep attachment to white label baked beans, but to those with little choice, for whom purchasing decisions exist outside the ecosystem of bands and engagement. These in turn set a baseline above which other clients can mark relative levels of quality, with other products fitting some definition of quality for some specific audience.
Of course, quality is subjective; no high-brand lager is going to be good enough for a real ale aficionado. But quality within your niche is very important. 53% of consumers rank quality over price in deciding on a purchase, and the better your products compare with your direct competitors, the better your chances of fostering engagement.
It’s easier to establish quality in a physical product, such as a piece of jewellery, where expensive raw materials and fine crafting go into making something good. For a pizza, the quality of the cheese, texture of the base, flavouring of the sauce, and selection of toppings would all go into making a high-quality product.
But it’s also possible to build quality and client engagement in an intangible service, such as customer service. The knowledge and sensitivity of your staff, their success in resolving problems, and the avoidance of complaints could all prove to the company employing a service agency that they were getting good value. A psychiatrist’s listening skills and the usefulness of their life advice might prove their quality to a client, establishing client engagement in a very personal industry.
Quality is sometimes more difficult to demonstrate than value because it’s so subjective. Fortunately, social media has provided a solution to this. The social proof of personal endorsements and reviews, whether from friends, celebrities, or anonymous strangers, gives people a reason to try out your brand, and the results can then speak for themselves.
Clients must feel that they are being treated well by your organisation, and this is where the third element of client engagement comes in: service. How well do you treat your clients?
Good service was the obsession of companies long before engagement was a consideration, and with good reason. One survey of 1,351 organisations found that 92% of companies that improved their customer experience saw increased customer loyalty. Bad service will cause clients to leave in frustration, no matter how good your products are. Good service will encourage them to stick around, even if quality falls, because they trust you to fix it.
Service is the point at which the client’s attention, and so their attachment, shifts from your products onto you as a company, so it’s a critical component in creating client engagement.
Good client service is less likely than value or quality to come in a physical form, though it can be. When an insurance company provides you with a hire car while yours is in the shop, and that hire car is a good fit for your needs, that’s good service. When a restaurant gives you a free starter so that you’re not starving while you wait for your meal, that’s good service. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture to drive engagement.
More often though, service appears in an intangible form. It’s the support call for a client who’s stuck with your software, patiently explaining the steps they need to follow. It’s your staff taking the time to greet clients with a smile and to talk them through the options. It can even come in the form of complaint handling, turning a failure into a victory as you show your ability to listen.
Service is often about addressing pain points for the client. When navigating your products and services is easy, they won’t need your help, and may not even interact with your staff. But when you can help them through uncertainty or a difficult moment, you prove that you don’t just have good products, you have a good organisation made up of good people. When done well, these moments of direct, immediate engagement drive deeper client engagement in the long term.
Because this is often about overcoming difficulties, quick responses are important. This might be taking an order as soon as the client is ready or resolving a major problem in a matter of days. Impersonal as they are, online chatbots can be helpful, covering for when team members aren’t immediately available and channelling queries to the right person. When employees are available, it’s better to provide a human touch.
Listening is vital to good service. If you can listen more than talk, then you’ll learn more about the client, and be better able to show the right sort of value and quality for them. But even without that, listening is important. Most people enjoy talking, particularly about their problems, their tastes, and their needs. If your team take the time to listen when clients talk, then those clients will become more engaged regardless of what product you provide at the end.
That said, the end product is important to driving client engagement. If you don’t deliver on what you promise, then you’re failing at the fundamentals of client service. Realistically setting client expectations, awkward as it can be, will set you up for better engagement in the long term. If those expectations put off some clients, then they may not have been suitable clients for you in the first place.
To take the relationship past buying goods and to clinch the benefits of engagement, clients must feel a connection to your brand. This is where things go beyond providing goods and services and into an emotional link, one that will turn a client into an advocate and keep them coming back for more.
Connection is the moment when a client forms an emotional bond with your brand and products, when engaging with you becomes a satisfying way of expressing their personality. At this point, you’re not just providing something they want or need: you are the something that they want to have present in their life.
To make a connection, you need to show the human side of your brand. This is the most intangible of the four drivers of client engagement, but it can still be grounded in a physical product, such as a piece of clothing carrying a slogan that strikes a chord with people you’re trying to reach. This is particularly prominent for hobby brands, such as climbing shoes, wargaming miniatures, or crafting materials, where your provision of the product inherently implies that you share a niche interest with your clients.
More typically, the connection comes from the intangibles of interacting with your company and its staff, particularly on social media. The conversations that show a shared interest, the memes that match a client’s sense of humour, the resharing of people they admire. Even adverts, though less central to this than they once were, can show a like-minded view of life and support client engagement.
Ideally, the connection shouldn’t just be to your company, but to the other people around it. A feeling of community and human connection can be invaluable in binding someone to your brand. This is why conversations on social media shouldn’t just be about you responding to your clients, but about encouraging them to talk to one another. Social media can also be great for user-generated content, where clients respond to prompts and competitions with text, images, or even videos about your company and products. Other people’s positive responses to their entries make participants feel validated and appreciated, feelings they will link to your brand.
Of course, connections exist away from social media platforms and people online who spend their days talking with brands. In your regular interactions with clients, you can foster a connection through personalising products and communications. Personalised emails are 25% more likely to be opened and 51% more likely to lead to click-through, because the recipient feels like you’re reaching out to them as an individual, not as part of some undifferentiated mass.
Inviting feedback is a great way to drive client engagement through a stronger connection. Though the feedback won’t always be positive, the positive feelings that exist will be reinforced by the process of writing them down. Clients who go to the effort of responding will deepen their connection to you through the time they’ve committed to telling you what they think. Brains are slippery things, and our attitudes as often follow our actions as the other way around. You can ask for action in order to strengthen a connection, and so deepen engagement with your clients.
In case it’s not clear already, these four factors don’t exist in isolation, or in a clear-cut hierarchy that you can work through one step at a time. Clients will usually experience your value and quality together. Service is often part of the quality you provide, as well as being a way to foster connections. Keep all four in mind, look for opportunities to build one out of another, and you’ll drive better client engagement across your brand.