Sometimes clarity trumps everything. I remember back in the days when we were defining what I called then CRM 2.0, later, thanks to Brent Leary's convincing discussions, Social CRM and, very soon, just CRM, the war over its definition was intense and sort of stupid ultimately because the customers came up with a definition of what they saw it as that we all have to bow to. But now there is relative comfort in the definitions of SCRM/CRM (my transition to just plain CRM) and that ship has sailed, even if someone is still looking to board it.
Now the term du jour is engagement. I have an idea of what I think it is as do many others and there are several valid ways of looking at it. I know, for my purposes, that it will mean simply "the ongoing interaction between company and customer" and that's how I'll treat it. I don't need a more complex definition - as you will see its not that far from the standard dictionary definition of the term. Its built around involvement.
But I asked a thought leader and friend of mine, Scott Rogers, a partner with Esteban Kolsky at ThinkJar, to put forward his thinking on the term. I asked him for a simple reason - I trust what he tells me and I know that you will trust what he tells you.
Scott has been a leading practitioner of CRM and a thought leader in the field for over a decade. I met him on the first stop of the first speaking tour I ever did. He was running customer engagement for David's Bridal, I was early on in my career as an independent. We chatted at Microsoft's Malvern PA HQ after the event and have been fast friends ever since. Scott, since that time, has become one of the smartest thinkers on what customers require, what value is, and how to measure all that in the industry. He is also a good man, a kind one, and a balanced thinker who is not out to prove a point or to take down someone or to foster an ideology. He provides clarity.
So, here's what he thinks about engagement. I'd read it carefully - well, wait, I read it carefully already - so you read it carefully. It is worth the time.
Take it away Scott
Engagement! A word I've heard countless times in my career, and, through its usage, conjured just numerous images of what it meant. The recent article by Alan Mitchell (who, in my mind, writes great thought provoking pieces) in BrandRepublic, The great brand engagement myth, got me to thinking about the word engagement. My next step was to turn to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) to refresh my memory about the definition of this word (before its common usage in business). As a noun, obviously, we are not talking about engagement in the context of marriage, war, or social arrangement (a dinner engagement), so the 3rd most common usage
- 3 [mass noun] the action of engaging or being engaged
seemed to fit, which took me to the definition of engage. Here again, disregarding references to marriage, war, employment contracts, and social obligations, I was left with the following:
- 1 [with object] occupy or attract (someone's interest or attention): he ploughed on, trying to outline his plans and engage Sutton's attention I told him I was otherwise engaged
- (engage someone in) involve someone in (a conversation or discussion): they attempted to engage Anthony in conversation
Looking at the origin of the word:
late Middle English (formerly also as ingage): from French engager, ultimately from the base of gage1. The word originally meant 'to pawn or pledge something', later 'pledge oneself (to do something'), hence 'enter into a contract' (mid 16th century), 'involve oneself in an activity', 'enter into combat' (mid 17th century), giving rise to the notion 'involve someone or something else'
So, originally the word meant a pledge or promise (consistent with the BusinessDictionary.com definition), and eventually, common usage evolved to attracting attention.
At this point, I thought, why not investigate a more business friendly definition. According to BusinessDictionary.com, engagement is defined as:
Certainly a dead-end there, as far as understanding the word in the context I had in mind. None of these seem to rise to the level of "turning on a mind" and "winning the hearts and minds" characterized in numerous references in the article (and, thus supporting Alan's premise).
This was an interesting exercise. Keeping these definitions in mind, I revisited friend and thought leader, Mitch Lieberman's recent post in Engagement, Intent Driven Involvement. Rereading the Wikipedia entries for Customer Engagement and Employee Engagement, I totally agree with Mitch that the entry for Employee Engagement conjures up a clearer picture of the activities and mind-sets involved in engagement. However, in the context of the definition of the term, the Wikipedia entry for Employee Engagement does seem to rise to the level of hearts and minds, invoking a sense of commitment on the part of employees that goes beyond involvement or engagement. In fact, in my opinion, although weak, the entry for Customer Engagement seems closer to holding true to the definitions of engagement. And strangely, although I still agree with Mitch that, on a continuum, engagement brings to mind something deeper than involvement, as far as the origins and most common usage of the word (outside of business, of course), these two are synonyms.
Next, I revisited long-time friend and thought leader, Paul Greenberg's post: CRM 2012 Forecast - The Era of Customer Engagement - Part I. Rereading this post through the lense of the definition of ‘engage/engagement" above, it was easy to see how Pauls' definitions (especially points 4 through 8) of what customer engagement are spot-on. In this context too, the 18 points about the era of customer engagement are a great prescription for companies to follow in engaging the customer, especially the social customer.
With that in mind, I would like to add to Paul's prescription, from the standpoint of the customer viewpoint though. To engage the customer, requires going back to the original definitions of CRM and Social CRM - as a philosophy and strategy...aimed at providing mutually beneficial value. By definition, to engage a customer involves capturing the customers attention first, which entails providing something of value to the customer that is worthy of their attention. It is human nature to be self-interested. My self-interest, as a company, is easy to understand - providing, you the customer, something of value - a product, service, information, experiences. etc. that will eventually facilitate an exchange of value - often monetary. My self-interest, as a customer, is to acquire the best solution (in my opinion, which can be influenced by you or friends or people like me that I trust), at the moment of decision-making, for the job to be done. The path I take, as a customer, is often circuitous, unconscious, irrational and emotional, but it is my path. Your job, as a company, is to understand my values, my wants, desires, likes, dislikes, to gain my attention and understand the value of your solution to my needs (and the impact of you have on me and my perception of you at every step along the journey).
I totally agree with Alan Mitchell that the word "engagement" is over-used, misunderstood, and often, mis-used, to the point of being a buzzword without teeth. Despite this, and short of throwing the baby out with the bath water, both Alan and Paul offered similar solutions for the use of this word:
Alan's "The only way to measure engagement effectively, however you define it, is to link cause and effect."
Paul's: 7. It does mean the provision of a measurable result when it comes to that engagement via direct or indirect impact on revenue or some other key performance indicators that show the value of the engagement to the company - and the customer. Though they are different values.
Is engagement a worthy endeavour? Yes! Certainly a multitude of worthwhile activities, we, as a company, "engage" in (no pun intended) fall under this umbrella. Alan mentions a few in his post (listed below), ranging from one-direction activities (communications, product and process improvements to enhance the experience, etc.) "occupy or attract (someone's interest or attention)" to two-way activities (social media, face-to-face, etc.) to "(engage someone in) involve someone in (a conversation or discussion)".
- Attention-grabbing and emotionally affecting advertising
- Winning employees' hearts and minds to deliver superior customer service
- Delighting customers through outstanding experiences of the product, a website or customer service
- Adding value across every touchpoint in a multichannel customer journey
- Involving customers via social media
The underlying assumption in each of these activities, and certainly, any activity that qualifies as "engagement", is that you, the company, are doing something that is of value to me, the customer - something worthy of capturing my attention or getting me involved. (And measure it!)