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Approach customer engagement by first asking good questions

Organizations need to align their customer strategy with their technology and know how to gather and use the right customer data when integrating all the components.

A growing number of technology vendors are positioning their software as a key element for helping customers manage customer engagement -- those digital touchpoints where an organization and its customers interact.

However, enterprise executives should be circumspect about such claims. That's according to Constellation Research principal analyst Nicole France, who said this wide range of products encompass everything from core customer relationship management (CRM) software to point solutions targeting specific tasks.

The broadness of the market, France said, means that vendors and enterprise executives often have different ideas and expectations about what the terms customer engagement, customer relationship and customer experience embody and which products address the needs that organizational leaders are seeking to fulfill.

Additionally, France said she resists using the term customer engagement for a separate and distinct class of technology -- even though some vendors use it -- because all software that handles customer transactions and interactions supports an organization's engagement with the customer.

"It's something that companies are trying to achieve; it's a strategy, an approach around building good customer relationships," not a single type of technology, she added.

Strategy guides choices

Given the state of the market, experts said organizations should establish clear objectives before implementing new technology.

"The solutions should not be driving. We're putting too much faith in the technology, and we're seeing the results: business disasters and societal disasters, where companies are misusing technology," said Bill Lee, founder of the Center for Customer Engagement, a strategic consulting and research firm.

Established objectives then can drive technology choices, of which there are many, France and Lee confirmed. In addition to CRM software, which offers a range of engagement capabilities, vendors sell products that handle more discreet tasks, such as tracking social media activities or reengaging former customers.

Examples include Khoros, which enables social media management, online communities and messaging, and SurveyMonkey's TechValidate, which captures customer feedback and turns it into case studies, testimonials and reviews. Meanwhile, France said AI technologies -- such as digital assistants for customer service representatives and chatbots to help with customer calls -- are also effective engagement technologies. An example of one smart technology is Outreach Amplify, which uses machine learning to help sales teams optimize the way they engage buyers.

the multiple points at which customers engage with companies where data collection is possible.

France said she considers all those customer engagement technologies "but the question is which ones that you [as an organization] should invest in, which depends on your priority and your own needs. The ideal scenario, the best practical outcome," she added, "is when there is a starting point, when the organization knows what good looks like. Then the execution challenge becomes, 'How do we make that happen and what are the challenges to implement that?'"

Most organizations, however, aren't that mature, France said. "I don't think enough [executives] are asking those question broadly enough," she added, noting that organizations need to understand how to align customer strategy with their technology and also know how to gather and use the right customer data and integrate all the components. And they must bring all the right people together -- the CEO, marketing and service sales executives as well as the CIO -- to get on the right path.

And while marketing generally owns the customer relationship function, France said the technology team should play a critical role here "as IT is best positioned to pull the technology together and play that critical governance role."

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