Reaping the Rewards of Customer Engagement
By Angela Altass
Customer engagement is more important than ever because today’s consumers have realized the benefits of tailored experiences, says Jen Threlkeld, senior product manager, North America, Dover Fueling Solutions (DFS).
“Customer engagement is the art of nurturing a relationship with your target audience before they ever step foot on your property and well after the transaction is complete,” says Threlkeld. “Successful customer engagement will drive loyalty and build mutual value between customers and retailers. Bringing customers to the forefront of their unique shopping experience is now an expectation and the way that manifests in everyday life is through personalized engagement.”
Data has shown that customers spend more because of targeted engagement, says Threlkeld, noting that as the c-store count continues to drop year-over-year, every dollar counts in retailers’ efforts to compete and lead the industry.
“Whether customers expect having a preferred payment method stored, suggested items to round out a basket, targeted coupons based on spend history, or a tailored greeting based on the weather outside, there are so many ways to connect with a customer that choosing not to is a missed opportunity,” says Threlkeld.
For fueling solutions, Threlkeld notes that future customer engagement lies in leveraging the internet of things (IoT) and site connectivity to make fueling a positive and unique experience for every customer.
“For decades, DFS has focused on engaging customers by bringing better technology and advertising opportunities to the forecourt,” says Threlkeld. “Personalized media at the dispenser strengthens customer loyalty through gamification, relevant promotions, dayparting, and so much more.”
Every customer is different and the best technologies will recognize and respond appropriately to them as individuals, says Threlkeld.
“A few primary tenets of engaging with customers are to communicate quickly with relevant messaging and in an entertaining way that feels natural,” states Threlkeld. “Leveraging historical sales data has been the first strategy to target customers. Looking ahead, we are seeing innovative products that integrate visual cues, such as age, sentiment, or gender to tailor content. The opportunities are almost limitless but it’s vital to balance customized communication with customer privacy. The best partners will provide solutions that enhance experiences without compromising the privacy of customers.”
Consumer engagement is a broad term, says Allan Dougall, vice president of strategy and client services, The Fish Agency, a brand design and creative agency that helps organizations build their brands and engage customers. The Fish Agency worked with Needs convenience stores in Atlantic Canada when they were expanding their fresh food offerings after being acquired by Sobey’s.
“Consumer engagement is all the things you are doing outside of the business itself,” says Dougall. “In a retail context, customer engagement is what you’re doing outside of visits to the store. How are you interacting with customers to get them to come back and perhaps get them to spend more when they do come back? What that is and what form that takes can be all kinds of things. The way a convenience store could start developing loyalty and drive up repeat customer traffic, and perhaps grow basket size for each visit, is establishing a basis of conversation with the customer between store visits involving some kind of value exchange.”
That conversation could involve offering deals on purchases or it could take the form of providing entertainment or education, says Dougall.
“Our in-boxes and our social media feeds are full so you will have to earn your way in,” notes Dougall. “From a consumer’s point of view, I will follow you on social media or read your email if you’re giving me something. It doesn’t cost anything to open a social media account. You can offer tips and life hacks on social media or entertain people with funny stories from the corner store. The reality though is that it will take time and it’s important not to forget the importance of your in-store experience first.”
Customers still need to have a great experience while they are in the store, notes Dougall.
“That’s still first and foremost the most important thing,” says Dougall. “Convenience has to be quick and product assortment, having in stock what people are coming in for, is critical.”
There is a broad toolkit that can be used to engage customers, notes Dougall.
“Fifteen years ago, customer engagement was email and if that’s all you are thinking about right now, you’re probably limiting yourself,” says Dougall. “A small independent convenience store that doesn’t have a lot of extra cash or capital to invest in customer engagement can do something very basic, such as the buy 10 get one free card, which is really an entry level loyalty program.”
Creating a customer engagement program starts with understanding your customers, says Dougall. “Who are you catering to? Who are the 20 per cent of customers who are driving 80 per cent of your profit?”
Getting attention that helps trigger behaviour to get more business is what customer engagement is all about, says Dougall.
“Customer engagement is your ability to influence behaviour and it is different from advertising,” says Dougall. “In advertising, you’re usually trying to reach people you’re not already talking to. Customer relationship management usually implies that you have some kind of relationship with them already. It’s more like talking to an acquaintance or friend as opposed to a stranger. You don’t see a lot of advertising in the convenience category because it’s expensive and I don’t think it’s useful because you are going to get the natural traffic of your location. The question is how to make them a little stickier with more frequent visits and increased basket size.”
A customer engagement tool that is being used more frequently is the quick response (QR) code, says Dougall, noting that the codes are much easier for people to use now by simply pointing the cameras on their smart phones at the QR codes.
Consumer engagement is an opportunity that shouldn’t be ignored if you want to expand the relationship with your customers. Whether outsourcing the work or doing it internally, there are various ways to make that connection with your customers that will ultimately increase store visits and the amount of dollars that they spend when they are there.