SugarCRM CEO talks customer engagement, selling, and the empowered digital consumer

A marketer's guide to developing strong, interactive customer relationships in a digital world. Important advice for every executive, manager, and sales person.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

The phrase "customer engagement" expresses the value and importance of interacting with buyers.

We all want prospects and customers to interact positively with our brand and products. While unhappy customers often share their stories online, converting customers into fans, or even brand advocates, is another story altogether.

On one level, it's simple. If customers love your product or service, they will naturally tweet about you, "like" you on Facebook, and tell their friends how great you are.

All that is obvious.

Larry Augustin, CEO, SugarCRM
Larry Augustin, CEO, SugarCRM (Image courtesy cxotalk.com)
The real meaning of customer engagement is assembling the mindset, processes, and technology required to delight customers so they will engage consistently and positively.

Recently, I received excellent service from the Twitter-based @ComcastCares customer service team at Comcast, a company acknowledged as offering lousy service. Their responsiveness prompted me to engage by sending an unsolicited, positive tweet:

Thank you @comcastcares for highly responsive support. If this is the "new @comcast" then I like it!

-- Michael Krigsman (@mkrigsman) August 8, 2015

To make that positive engagement happen, Comcast had to create a new customer service paradigm for itself:

  • Organize a team of customer service folks and develop their expertise with Twitter
  • Empower that team to troubleshoot, analyze, and solve customer problems
  • Create political and operational support so the team could coordinate resources outside its group, including technicians and supervisors

Active and positive customer engagement arises when a company rises above the noise and buyers take notice.

With that context in mind, I asked Larry Augustin, CEO of SugarCRM, to be a guest on CXOTalk. Larry is a serial entrepreneur focused today on customer relationship management as the top executive at SugarCRM.

One of the most interesting segments of this episode occurs toward the end, where Larry discusses the relationship between customer engagement and the so-called empowered consumer.

If you are a marketer, I suggest watching this video and carefully reading Larry's remarks below.

Here is a transcript of Larry Augustin's comments on customer engagement and the empowered digital consumer, edited for length and clarity:

I think of customer engagement as the degree to which have mind share with the customer, in any degree, when they are interacting and operating with you. So are they engaged with you, are they talking to you, are they explaining their business problems to you. Are they interacting with you? Twitter is an example of that. Are they a supporter of you on Twitter, and are they interacting with you on Twitter? Likewise, on other forums, to what degree are they working with you.

I think of engagement as a measure of satisfaction. So if they're asking you questions, if they are helping other people understand your business, they're engaged. If they're silent, if they're quiet, they're not responding to surveys - well, they're not thinking about you and they don't care enough. Those are not engaged customers and you have to understand why they're not engaged.

Are they dissatisfied or are you not serving their needs? Have you not made your solution an important part of what they need to do for their lives? You have to figure that out.

That is a piece of overall customer satisfaction and the customer experience that would be CRM as the bigger component. But engagement and enabling engagement are key parts of customer satisfaction. The level of engagement is a key measure of customer satisfaction.

Typically, today, when a buyer shows up, they've done much research. They understand the product and the business space of a lot more. That means you as a company must spend more time in the education phase, providing information to consumers early on in the process before they start talking to a seller

As a seller, you want understand what information the buyer has already had access to. In the context of CRM, what white papers has this person read, what webinars have they attended. What have they done to educate themselves? That's going to tell the seller a lot about what the buyer cares about and knows. A good seller will build on that as opposed to repeating it.

Create the right experience for the buyer, by being a smarter seller. The buyer doesn't want to listen to a lot of stuff they already know, or a lot of things that are not relevant. actually helps the seller a lot so the sales cycle can be shorter. They are making their time highly effective, as opposed to wasting it discovering things that they already should know because the buyer has engaged with the business before.

It's that digital and human connection that becomes critical for CRM. A lot of people talk about the digital component today because most businesses need to get there. They need to make the information available digitally and enable the buyer to come in.

But they forget it must connect to the human because all the surveys show that the most effective part of the cycle is still people. It isn't that we want no human interaction. We want human interaction that's relevant, and we don't want the irrelevant part of the human interaction in the buying process.

Connecting the digital to the human becomes critical in the CRM system.

CXOTalk brings together the world's top executives, authors, and analysts to discuss leadership, technology, and innovation. Join me and Vala Afshar for new episodes of CXOTalk every week.

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