The Five Levels of Customer Engagement

Customers. Love them or hate them, they're the reason for our existence.

In the past, our customer relationships were pretty non-existent. A customer walks into a store, browses around, picks up a can of Coke, pays, and leaves. Or perhaps a customer could be having her hair done at a salon, and the stylist would banter with her while trimming her tresses.

Often, our relationships were superficial. We only spend as much time or energy as we need to during the transaction. After sales service was either unwanted or unnecessary from the business or customer points of view.

In the social age, however, successful customer relationships take on a different dimension. We no longer just "sell" a product or service to a customer. Rather, we try to convince and convert him or her to embrace our brand and what it stands for. Once that initial barrier is crossed, we find ways to deepen our engagement with our customer, finding ways to bring our relationship to a deeper and more fruitful level.

The tiers of customer engagement can be represented by a pyramid (see diagram above).

At the lowest level, we have evangelism. This is the process of moving our potential customer from ignorance/apathy to belief. Most companies pay a lot of attention to this initial process of customer acquisition, investing millions in catchy advertisements, snazzy point of sale materials, slick sales forces, and savvy publicists. The trick here is to capture our audience's attention, interest him in what we have to offer, and win him over.

Once he is won over, we start to educate him in what we do. Here, the emphasis should be on emotive and enlightening storytelling. It may include stuff like the heritage and values of our company, what we're passionate about, and how our production or service processes leads to greater customer value and better customer experiences.

The next level in the customer pyramid is engagement. Those whom we can move to this stage are often regulars whom we may know by their name, likes/dislikes, and backgrounds. Often, engaged customers have a relationship with the businesses which they choose to frequent, and friendships begin to form. They are also more likely to recommend their family and friends to patronise the business.

The penultimate tier is all about customer empowerment. At this stage, the relationship shifts away from mere buyer-seller to owner-advocate. Customers here take pride in being associated with your brand, and proudly display their allegiance to your firm. They are vocal in expressing what they like (or dislike) about your brand, always with the intention of making it better. With the right tools to equip them with, they are also willing to openly share why they love your brand and what it stands for.

Finally, the nirvana of customer relationships is what I call enlistment. Customers who progressed to this stage behave like your staff (the passionate and ardent ones, that is). They are your brand fanatics, ambassadors and evangelists, willing to share your "gospel" to their networks at the drop of a hat, often with a glint in their eyes. Some of these customers may also become volunteers, assisting you with customer research or becoming an extended unpaid "sales force". They eat, live and breathe your brand.

With so many ways to grow and develop customer relationships beyond the cash register, the question you have to ask yourself is this: Are you spending enough time with your most valuable customers? Have you started initiating quality interactions with customer "enlistees"? Or your just spending your time and money chasing new customer dollars?

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