Taking a Deep Dive into Digital Customer Engagement

How to better engage the connected customer with mobile-first experiences, personalization, and more.
Customer Experience

Customer engagement is no longer a series of one-off conversations; in this digital age, it's an ongoing dialogue spanning myriad channels and devices and requiring specific skillsets to enable seamless interactions.

Consequently, isolated, impersonal customer experiences are quickly becoming a liability. Customers expect companies to know who they are across channels and show very little patience for irrelevant messaging and ads. As such, companies are under immense pressure to leverage data to deliver personalized messages and customer experiences.

Driving deeper and personalized customer engagement across sites and channels is important since each one has its limitations, notes Nazgul Kemelbek, senior product marketing manager at Bitly."Despite a lot of content being delivered on mobile devices, studies predict the consumption [of mobile content] will eventually slow down," she says. "One of the reasons is because there are limitations to what you can do on each platform or device and so companies need to think of how they'll keep their users engaged."

Here, we'll look at some of the key strategies for connecting disparate data sets and engaging customers in a seamless manner in the digital realm.

Wine Enthusiast Drinks in the Contextual Data
Customers today are driven by three things: intent, context, and immediacy, observes Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter Group, a Prophet company. "The digital-first customer has very little brand loyalty; if your solution meets his needs at that moment in time, he'll choose you," he says. "That's why contextual data and insights have become very important for businesses."

Glenn Edelman, vice president of e-commerce at Wine Enthusiast, agrees that contextual data is critical. At Wine Enthusiast, which "sells everything but the wine" the company strives to ensure that it's providing its increasingly digital-first customers with personalized and timely information, he says.

"Our typical customer will engage with our website before speaking with one of our consultants," Edelman notes. "And since email is a major channel for us, we also have to make sure we're making our emails as engaging and relevant as possible."

Last year, Wine Enthusiast set out to tie its customers' online behaviors more closely with its email campaigns. The company selected Bluecore, an email marketing automation vendor, to help it build a behavioral real-time email program. The email program was designed to identify meaningful customer touchpoints, provide up-sell and cross-sell functionalities, and ensure customers didn't get too many emails.

Within a week, Wine Enthusiast was able to deliver personalized messages to email subscribers with the Bluecore Window Shopping solution. The program generates a line of code that the company places on each of its web pages to keep track of customers' click-through behavior, as well as inventory and pricing details. The program then identifies the customer's points of contact across each page to find the most pertinent product recommendations to highlight in the email.

Therefore, if customers return to a certain page more than once or abandon their shopping cart, they'll receive an email reminding them of those products. All the triggered emails are prioritized in real-time and frequency-capped to ensure that customers received relevant emails and not simply more of them.

The program's success, which includes a 16 percent lift in Wine Enthusiast's email channel revenue, demonstrates the importance of delivering personalized messages across channels, Edelman notes. "We're constantly looking at our customers' behaviors to identify patterns and trends so that we can better serve them," he says.

Staying in communication with customers is also important for setting realistic expectations. As consumers become accustomed to receiving online orders within a day or sooner from sites like Amazon, "we need to help our customers understand we're doing everything we can to get their orders to them as quickly as possible but it's not the same as ordering from Amazon," Edelman adds. When a customer orders a wine cellar, for example, a representative will call the customer to review the size of the cellar and ensure it's the right size. Customers will also receive emails updating them on the product's delivery status.

Practices like this are necessary at a time when companies are competing with the customer experiences of other companies that may not even be in the same industry, Solis observes. "Companies that compete intentionally, sincerely, and transparently can still succeed but they would have to recognize where expectations aren't met to find ways in which they can compete effectively," he says.

Rue La La Stitches Together Customer Data
The growing number of connected channels and devices also means advertisers face steep competition when it comes to attracting consumers' attention, notes Kathy Menis, senior vice president of marketing at Signal, a cross-channel marketing technology firm. "The average person uses three or more devices and some studies show they use up to 7," Menis says. "The problem is traditional advertising approaches aren't able to recognize the cross-device consumer, which leads to disconnected experiences."

Signal's solution is what the company refers to as "people-based marketing"-leveraging a brand's first-party data to persistently recognize customers across channels and databases. As an example, Menis points to the flash-sale fashion retailer Rue La La.

Two years ago, Rue La La wanted to re-engage dormant customers using information from the brand's CRM system on an ongoing basis as people moved in and out of the dormant category. And because it's difficult to keep flash sales customers coming back over a long period of time, Rue La La needed a way to integrate real-time Web data with the CRM record to feed back to its retargeting vendor.

But while the CRM system knew which customers were dormant and should be targeted in an ad campaign, Rue La La's retargeting partner didn't have the same insight. Without the necessary CRM attribute connected to the identity they were serving ads to, the retargeting partner struggled to deliver the right ads to customers.

With the help of Signal's data onboarding technology, Rue La La created customer profiles and resolved customer identities between its CRM system and retargeting vendor. Using the customer profiles, Rue La La can now optimize targeting criteria in real time and focus its ad spend on individual known dormant customers, instead of retargeting every person visiting its website.

With this solution, Rue La La saw a 10 percent lift in conversion rate. "Connecting customer data across a CRM system and a company's retargeting partner is just one example of how to deliver more relevant ads to consumers," Menis says. "More and more companies are realizing they need to connect their disparate data sets if they're going to take the guesswork out of marketing."

Furthermore, companies are getting smarter about driving consumers to specific channels and optimizing the overall customer experience. Consider deep linking, a link thatlets users skip the home page of a site or app and sends them directly to certain content. Deep linking has become a hot topic in mobile as businesses look for more ways to increase engagement across their properties and beyond.

Perhaps a travel site wants to send users to a certain hotel on its app. The company can use deep-linking technology to direct people from its mobile website to a specific hotel listing inside its app or an app store if they haven't already downloaded the app.

Bitly, a pioneer in shortening links, is one such firm that developed a deep linking solution and has partnered with deep linking startups like URX to further enhance each other's offerings. Apple, Google, and Facebook have also added deep linking functionalities within their respective platforms.

Regardless of whether a company adopts an approach of deep linking, behavioral targeting, or something else, the result should be the same: Create a frictionless experience for customers who (hopefully) become repeat customers.