Case Studies in Smart Customer Engagement

It is becoming ever more clear that companies are interested in improving the customer experience. However, there is some finesse required to engage with customers in this era of full inboxes and time-starved days.  True engagement requires a dialogue between customer and company.  Customers must trust that companies won’t misuse their data, and companies must provide true value in the exchange.

Several companies are getting it right when it comes to engaging with customers.  Here are a few case studies:

Start with the brand promise

Do you have a clear brand promise that you are communicating consistently? Telling the brand story is a way to help define your brand and bring it alive for your target audience. This is the very beginning of the effort to engage with customers and create an emotional connection. A compelling brand story requires that employees as well as management all live the brand promise with everything they do.

A great example of a brand that is living their promise is The North Face. They don’t try to sell you new things when they can repair what you already have. They offer you a guarantee for life and encourage you to recycle, reuse or donate your used items so they don’t end up in landfills.  This is a company that has built trust into its story so thoroughly that customers are not only willing to engage and share their data, but they include the company as part of their identity.

Create compelling content

Brands that develop compelling content and focus on how to make the lives of their customers better also earn the right to collect customer information for better engagement. If you are educating, informing and entertaining your customers on a regular basis they will look forward to your communications. Great content needs to be immersive, impactful, memorable and novel to drive engagement.  It also needs to be easy for customers to co-create and even take over the whole show.

A good example of a brand that does this well is Coca Cola. Last Christmas they created a virtual reality sleigh ride. Thousands of people all over Poland were immersed in this virtual world and were Santa Claus for a day. It is like a roller coaster ride but you become Santa Claus flying over the country and into different villages.  Coca Cola used virtual reality to enable their customers to go on a journey with them, bringing the brand and its products to life in an authentic and thrilling way.

Personalize your communications

Consumers expect companies to use their data wisely to create intelligent communications based on their transactional behavior and demonstrated needs. Consumers show a willingness to provide data but only if it is used to benefit them. Gone are the days of collecting data and then doing the same push communications over and over. With the advent of mobile, consumers expect you to know where they are, what they are doing and what they want. They expect a connected experience across devices. They expect you to create relevant offers and encourage loyalty based on who they are –not some generic plan that treats everyone the same.

Amazon is a classic example of collecting and using personal information to improve customer engagement.  Customers contribute to relevant personalization each time they rate a product.  Amazon’s book review site,, allows readers to create profiles, rate the books they have read, share reviews with friends and store lists of books they want to read in the future.  All of this contributes to Amazon’s ability to make truly personalized and informed recommendations, thus creating a virtuous circle of engagement that doesn’t feel at all like a burden on the customer.  Furthermore, by connecting customers straight to their mobile devices, where they can actually do their reading, the circle expands to infuse the customer’s lifestyle.

Do not collect data for data’s sake

Collecting data is nice but expecting whatever data you collect will be important and relevant in the future is naïve. Yes, we all want relevant, actionable customer data, but sometimes we need to step away from the data and engage with actual customers to understand how their worlds are changing and what they want. The best way to do this is by conducting customer journey mapping and ethnographic research programs, where you can understand and empathize with the customer’s frustrations and problems and use design thinking to solve them. This effort isn’t about asking how you can sell more of your product. It’s about understanding the lives of your customers, and figuring out what they need and how to provide it.

The consummate example of understanding fundamentally what customers want and translating that into a successful service comes from Airbnb.  Airbnb didn’t ask the question, “How do we improve the hotel room experience?” They asked the questions, “What do people want when they travel?  How can they belong anywhere in the world?” Understanding how to tap into a customer need presented an entirely new business model based on trust, good will and a sense of adventure.  Their global success has sent the hospitality industry spinning – either competitors are doing everything they can to combat Airbnb or they are doing everything they can to pivot and be more like them.  All of this benefits the customer in the end, as innovation is absolutely required in order to keep travelers engaged.

Conclusion: It comes down to trust

Customers know that companies they trust will do more than simply deliver on minimum expectations, and and will consistently do whatever possible to exceed them. Engagement will feel easy and inevitable, not contentious. People are loathe to participate in the give and get back and forth of modern marketing because so few companies do it well.  If you follow the lead of these case study companies, you will provide your customers with a better experience, and they will reward you with loyalty and referrals.

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