Customer Engagement and the Long View

When we talk to people about our ideas on customer engagement and the customer journey we find that the break-through moment always comes down to understanding the importance of time. Time is the defining principle characteristic of customer engagement.

The thing that makes Customer Engagement so fundamentally different – and challenging – for current marketing and CRM practices that are based on short-term thinking – is the key role that time plays, and the fundamental importance of taking the long view. The long view is necessary, because it is over the long-term that value and trust – the foundation of a relationship between a brand and a customer – are built.

While the term ‘customer engagement’ is sometimes used loosely, there is a solid foundation of rigorous academic research based on work over the last seven years to develop a formal construct for customer engagement, and time is the secret sauce.

Our own definition of customer engagement, which is based on this foundation,  is: “an on-going, value-driven relationship between a customer and a business, which is consciously motivated according to the customer’s reasons and choices …. built through the ability of the customer and the business to derive value from the relationship over time … value creation over time builds trust, and the accumulation of trust, and mutual and shared knowledge, builds engagement.”

In essence what we are talking about here is the idea of the relationship between a brand and a customer being a cooperative source of mutual long term value. CRM influencer and thought-leader Paul Greenberg calls this a “commonwealth of self-interest”.

This represents a fundamental shift in the way brands must think about their customers – so much of the current practice in digital marketing and CRM is focused on short-term results, usually to the detriment of the customer relationship. Sometimes it is necessary to pass on potential short term gains in the interests of a longer and ultimately more valuable relationship.

In a recent Marketing Society article (“The shadow of the future”), Rory Sutherland takes a look at the same territory – short-term expediency versus long-term self-interest. With examples drawn from the business world and from nature, he looks at the way in which behavioural signals are used to indicate that we are acting on the basis of long-term self-interest. Interestingly, he cites the work of evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers, who finds that long-term self interest (unlike short-term expediency) often leads to behaviours which are indistinguishable from mutually beneficial cooperation. “What keeps the relationship honest, trusting and mutually beneficial”, says Rory, “is nothing other than the prospect of repetition.

This ‘prospect of repetition’ is at the heart of customer engagement, and drives trust and long-term mutual value that sustains the relationship.

As Rory says in closing “when a business focuses more narrowly on short-term profit maximisation, it will appear less and less trustworthy to its customers. I suspect that, to anyone who has been awake for the last thirty years, this possibility seems all too plausible.”

I couldn’t agree more.


ZDNet: Customer engagement and the commonwealth of self interest: Part one

The Marketing Society: Shadow of the Future