What's Most Important in the Customer Engagement Equation?
NATIONAL REPORT — Thanks to technology, connecting with customers is easier than ever before, whether it’s through loyalty programs, text messaging, social media, geofencing or in-app notifications. The flip side of this, though, is that consumers are getting inundated with messages from retailers and other brands vying for their attention, and it’s easy to get lost in the mix or lose a customer’s attention — especially if the messages are not relevant to them.
“If I never drink coffee, why would you send me an offer for a free coffee,” said Jeff Hoover, data insights strategist for convenience store brands at Paytronix, a loyalty program provider based in Newton, Mass. “However, if I bought an energy drink two months ago but have not purchased it again, sending a message about that might drive me back into the store.”
While email has been a popular way for retailers and marketers to engage customers, this area is so saturated that most people don’t open emails anymore, noted Hoover. In fact, a 20- to 25- percent open rate is on the high end, meaning 75 percent of customers are not opening and seeing the messages. As a result, many retailers are moving to mobile and in-app messaging; customers today are more open to this form of communication than in the past.
No matter which method a c-store retailer chooses, the most important thing to engage customers and keep them interacting with your brand is to offer value.
Whether the goal is to get them to opt-in to a loyalty program, receive text messages or receive in-app notifications, offering customers something in return for their opt-in will help drive adoption. The same goes for keeping them engaged — there must be value provided in exchange, according to Hoover.
“The value has to be there and you can usually see a correlation between participation and the value provided,” he said. “Customers want immediate value and ongoing value, and when it comes to loyalty programs, the first step is getting people to join. Offering a registration reward or a reward for downloading the app creates stickiness right away.”
Providing value should also be the goal when engaging customers via social media. While promoting specials and offers for a brand is part of all social media marketing, posts of this type should be limited, cautioned Brad Plowman, spokesperson at FUEL Marketing, an advertising agency based in Salt Lake City.
“Customer engagement can be tricky,” Plowman said. “We apply the 80/20 rule on social media engagement with customers, with 80 percent of the content being informative, entertaining, funny or personality driven, while 20 percent should be promotional. If the consumer has chosen to follow or like a company’s social media page, the best engagement comes from providing content that makes them want to return.”
Make It Personal
If c-store retailers want to keep customers engaged with their content and communications, then focusing on offers relevant to them and their buying habits is crucial. Customers want to receive meaningful offers and value from interacting with a brand. Thanks to today’s loyalty programs and other engagement platforms, data is helping retailers to deliver just that.
“In order for our new program to work, we want to focus on unique offers based on what we know they are buying. We also don’t want to offer what other c-stores are offering,” said Vicki Goss, director of marketing for convenience store chain Double Quick, which recently launched new loyalty program and mobile app. The Indianola, Miss.-based retailer operates 48 stores.
Engagement and the level of personalization continues to evolve as well, allowing retailers to drill down to the individual customer level. What started as sending everyone the same offer then evolved into segmenting customers into five or six buckets and today, data can be segmented down to each individual customer, noted Hoover.
“We can now look down to the personal level and find the right offer for the right individual,” he said. “If a customer comes into the store more frequently than they purchase gas, then sending them an offer to spend $25 in-store and get 10 cents off gas might not be as meaningful.”
In addition to purchase behavior history, a customer’s visit frequency is another way to set parameters. C-store retailers can create “visit challenges,” Hoover suggested. For example, if a customer visits a store less than four times each month, the challenge would be to send them offers and get them up to five or more visits the next month. If someone comes in three times a month, the goal would be to get them to four times — and this would be done by sending them relevant offers, he explained.
C-store operators, however, must be aware of the frequency at which they reach out to customers, and it should depend on the level of interaction that customer already has with the brand. For example, create one segment for customers who visit two or three times a month and another segment for those who visit two or three times a week.
“Customers visiting daily would be more open to messaging once or week or even more, whereas those who visit once a month might get overwhelmed and opt-out,” Hoover warned. “It’s important to talk to your frequent customers more often and the less frequent customers less often, but make the communication relevant.”
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