Recession is a word dreaded by consumers and businesses alike. Even though periodic downturns are a normal part of the economic cycle, people still fear what slow growth can do to their finances.
For business owners, keeping customers engaged is the key to maintaining a steady income and better opportunities once the economy gains stronger footing. This article explores what customer engagement involves and how you can use it to continue driving sales – even during times when shoppers have less money to spend.
What is customer engagement?
In its simplest form, engagement involves starting a dialogue with customers as you learn about their needs and desires – and they learn about how your products and services can help them. Historically, this conversation used to take place almost exclusively through television, radio, and print media – with the occasional focus group or survey.
Thanks to the rise of Internet and smartphone technology, however, businesses are no longer dependent on mass media to connect with their audiences. It’s now possible to position your brand to consumers no matter where they live or work. With the benefit of social media, those customers can provide feedback with unprecedented ease and speed.
While this shift in communication provides a lot more opportunity to share your brand, keeping customers engaged requires figuring out what they need or want, and ensuring they know they can rely on you to get it.
How businesses engage with customers
Successful customer engagement begins with developing “personas” for your ideal target market. The more demographic, geographic, and socioeconomic detail you can add to these personas, the easier it becomes to reach those who are most likely to convert. This is because different audiences respond to different messages and channels.
For example, younger consumers are notoriously reliant on smart devices, making social media an obvious channel worth exploring. By contrast, direct mail, print media, and email marketing might resonate better with those approaching retirement age.
There is no universal formula that will work for every business (or customer). You may need to mix and match when refining your engagement strategy. Below are some of the most popular approaches companies use to connect with their audiences:
- Publishing valuable content that solves common problems
- Using polls, surveys, and contests to solicit feedback
- Rewarding loyalty with discounts or promotions
- Launching social media campaigns to raise awareness
- Offering referral bonuses for word-of-mouth marketing
Many businesses cut back on these areas during economic downturns. Smaller budgets often translate to less overall marketing and outreach. When done correctly, engagement can help increase the ROI of your customer retention efforts. While competitors scale back their marketing, your brand is more likely to stand out in the crowd. That’s precisely what you want during an economic recession.
How does engagement lead to customer retention?
Customer engagement is so much more than a sales transaction; it encompasses your brand, products, and services. It determines whether customers come to your business or to a competitor. If you have a solid pattern of positive engagement that adds value to consumers’ lives – inside and outside the sales funnel – they will be more likely to return the next time they need the kind of product, service, or support that you provide.
Better still, this goodwill can expand into the broader community as engaged customers share the benefits of your brand with friends and family. Thanks to social media, word-of-mouth marketing can go viral – allowing your message to spread at considerable speed and scale.
Does engagement always have to involve sales or marketing?
Customer engagement is a relationship; sales and marketing are a part of that relationship, but they do not exclusively define it. It is tempting to focus on “making the sale,” but this can backfire. Few people want to stick around for a one-sided conversation. Instead, the emphasis should be on two-way communication as you learn more about customers’ pain points and frustrations.
In fact, the most successful engagement strategies often involve just listening and sharing – not selling. This is why social media experts recommend leveraging the 80/20 rule when connecting with audiences:
- 80% of the content you publish should be creative, fun, valuable, and helpful
- The remaining 20% of social media content can focus on promoting your business, products and/or services
Listening and sharing allow you to better understand the issues your target demographic is likely to encounter. This is particularly important if customers are facing acute economic insecurity, which is often the case during recessions. Once these problems have been identified, you can improve offerings accordingly. For example:
- Moving to subscription-based pricing can help make your services more affordable for customers on a tight budget
- Publishing how-to videos can make your products easier to use (while reducing call center costs)
- Partnering with related businesses can add value to your products and services. This is why airline booking sites often feature discounts for car rentals and hotels
Remember, you’re not necessarily limited to online customer engagement. Many companies volunteer with local charities – donating time, money, or material resources in support of worthy causes. Doing so not only benefits the community, but it also positions these businesses as responsible corporate stakeholders. The more positive feelings people associate with your brand, the easier it becomes to continue the dialogue. This, in turn, can help drive future sales – even during an economic downturn.
When a recession comes, everyone becomes a little more selective about their spending. Focusing on customer engagement can keep your brand on people’s minds so that your business will be right there when they need you most.
Written by Mihir Korke.