Congrats — you have a product or service that people appreciate enough to pay for. But your offering, even if it’s the very best, is not enough to guarantee that your customers are going to keep on being your customers.

In order to cultivate customer loyalty, an essential component of your success, you have to also cultivate solid relationships with your customers. A huge part of any relationship, of course, is communication. That’s what you say, how you say it, and how easy it is for your customers to communicate with you. It’s also the degree to which you not only understand their needs but also anticipate them.

Master the art of customer engagement and you have taken a huge step in sustaining long-term relationships with your customers.

Read on for best practices on customer engagement.

A great customer experience is a conversation

Your customers want to communicate with you in the same ways they communicate with their friends and family. Chat, email, phone, text — that will vary from customer to customer. Moreover, they want fast and efficient responses. So it’s crucial for everything to be rooted in a single thread of communication, so customers feel like they are having one continuous conversation. Especially key: that they don’t have to re-explain who they are and what their issue is. Your customers hate repeating themselves.

Anticipate needs in the customer journey

One way to ensure return customers is to anticipate their needs. This can be tricky, though. In the past, small groups decided what trends were trends — executives and editors and designers. It was their job to decide what consumers might want in the coming months. But consumers now have a huge influence on what hits the market and how companies engage with them, sometimes literally in user groups, but more and more often represented through data.

Remember this phrase: managing and interpreting data. This is a true key for understanding customers and proactively identifying opportunities to better serve them. Let’s underscore the term proactively—you’re trying to anticipate the need or wish of the customer in advance. In a crisis, you’re ideally reaching out in advance to communicate clearly how you are responding in a crisis. Another example: Because you are managing and interpreting data effectively, you can predict, with satisfying accuracy, something that your customers might really enjoy. If you text or email them with a product suggestion and they love it, this is great. The danger is making suggestions that are way off the mark, or worse—then you risk alienating your customers or even losing them.

There’s a flood of customer data coming in channels, systems, and applications. Companies manage 3x as much data as they did 5 years ago, according to The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020. And it’s great, provided your business can properly handle it. But customer data tends to be fragmented and separated across systems and software.

This is why the old CRM systems are not so great anymore; you want a CRM platform that is open and flexible and can manage and connect the data dots across many sources. Your goal is to deliver contextually relevant experiences that take into account customer preferences and past interactions. Once a business is able to engage across channels, it becomes easier to build in the cutting-edge, next generation conversational messaging services customers want, creating a single conversation thread that is ultimately channel-agnostic.

Create customer satisfaction with true empathy

Empathy—truly feeling for what your customers are experiencing—is critical. Yes, it is good for your business, beyond all doubt. And you cannot fake it. Ideally, empathy is a value that suffuses your company from the top down, so that it naturally comes through in how your staff and your agents treat each other and then in how they engage with your customers. It’s a key element of what is customer engagement.

  • Monitor your customers’ experience. Awareness is the most powerful way to know what your customers are experiencing. In whatever way possible, observe your customer interactions. This can include an interaction playback tool, usability studies, or by co-browsing with your customers as they use your product.
  • Everyone should do support sometimes. Even your CEO. When everyone in the company handles tickets now and then, it’s almost impossible for the customer experience to remain abstract — or, for that matter, the agent experience.
  • Empathy through AI. We often think of AI as a key tool for simpler tasks or frequent needs that can free up your agents for more complex projects. But it’s also a part of how you empathize. You can put AI to work to gauge your product for errors and difficult interactions (think: rage clicks), then proactively reach out to the customer to offer solutions before they come looking for them.

Establish brand loyalty in your response to customer anger

Angry customers are one of the most difficult things to deal with in customer service. But mastering this skill is essential to your customer experience strategy. “You might ask, If it’s so easy to eliminate anger through empathy, why do people get so damn mad at each other every day? The answer is that empathy is difficult to acquire…” says David D. Burns M.D. “Getting inside the other person’s skull requires hard work, and most people don’t even know how to do this.” It’s hard to help someone who is furious, calling you names, threatening to badmouth you on social—whether face to face or online or over email. You mean, you have to help this person? We… empathize. Because even after you have, these exchanges can knock you off kilter, making it hard to help the next person, who may be perfectly nice.

Your instinct might be to respond similarly or do the equivalent of hanging up on the customer. But, in most cases, you can’t really do that without consequence.

  • Imagine yourself facing an angry customer. They’re giving you their worst. Expensive, movie-grade computer graphic lasers, missiles, and flames are shooting out of them, right at you, surrounding you, burning you. It’s no fun, and if you want to survive, you’re going to need to become fireproof—at the risk of losing your empathy. So that’s not what you do.
  • Instead, step over and stand right next to that customer, shoulder to shoulder. Face what they’re facing. Now all those impressive and scary special effects—which, again, are not about you to begin with—are aimed out into space, away from you. You’re by your customer’s side, able to see what’s happening, but out of harm’s way.