Asking the Right Customer Engagement Questions

Destination: effortless engagement and happier customers. How to get there? Start by asking the right questions to take your first steps in the right direction.

There are some almost overwhelmingly big queasy-making questions being asked out there, such as “This is the age of the customer – are you ready?” and “Are you prepared for the Moment of Relevance?” They’re the kind of questions which are so huge they remind us of Douglas Adams’s ‘Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy’ (HHGTTG).

For those not familiar, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide told about hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who built a computer named ‘Deep Thought’ to calculate the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. When the answer was revealed to be 42, ‘Deep Thought’ explained that the answer was incomprehensible because the beings didn’t know what they were asking. It went on to predict that another computer, more powerful than itself would be made and designed by it to calculate the question for the answer. The computer, often mistaken for a planet, was the Earth.

Marketers today might feel the need for something as big and complex to answer the Big Deep Thought questions being asked. Well, the fact is, we don’t need a computer as big or complex as Earth. Or anything like it. There is an easier way to effortless engagement and happier customers.

To make what might seem the hyper-complex more simple we need to break things down. Step one, let’s start with the facts. “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is” (HHGTTG). Like Douglas Adam’s unarguable description of space, there are some irrefutable facts you need to consider when thinking about your customers:

  • Customers today are empowered, and expecting consistent and high-value experiences.
  • Technology and economic forces have put customers in control of their interactions with businesses.
  • All-Change – businesses used to be in control so it was easy to understand and analyse the failure or success of how the business controls customer interactions. Well, not any more.

To summarise, we agree with Judy Sarno from Forrester, who said: “The Age of the Customer requires a more intelligent enterprise…There is no time for business as usual.” So, where there is only business unusual, where do you start?

Our Hitch-hikers Guide to Customer Managed Journeys starts by helping you to ask the right questions, the kind of questions which will lead you to something more useful than ‘42’ as an answer.

The Right Questions

  1. “What does ‘a customer should be in control’ actually mean?”

To answer this, first we need to define what customer engagement means. At Thunderhead our definition of customer engagement 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.” For the customer, this means:

  • Every interaction should allow the customer to progress on their journey to obtain value.
  • Individual interactions should also deliver sufficient value to ensure customers will re-engage to ensure the relationship is on-going.
  • The combination of interactions should deliver ultimate value to the customer.
  • Primary motivation is value to the customer and not necessary immediate value to the business.
  • Allow customer to have choices. Choice relating to where, when and with whatever device they choose to interact with.

For a business to be successful in the ‘Age of The Customer’ they need to assess if customers feel they can manage their own journey. Brands need to enable actionable customer managed journeys, which encompasses all of the above elements. This means asking different questions to access those insights.

So what other questions should an intelligent enterprise ask?

  1. Your customers will see their journeys in a different light to how you see them. For instance: “There is an art, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” (HHGTTG) So, what journey or journeys are your customers on? How do customers perceive them and their control over them?
  2. Where are the ‘moments of truth’, are they different based on audience type or are they changing over time?
  3. One thing that’s certain about customer behavior is it’s unpredictable. Douglas Adams joked in Hitch-hikers Guide “We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”(HHGTTG) The question is, how is customer behaviour changing, and how can you watch and listen to understand that?
  4. When do you intervene to help customers along the journey?
  5. Where are customers’ experiencing pain points? How do your customers define them? How would they prevent pain? How would they tackle the problem?
  6. In the Hitch-hikers Guide to The Galaxy “The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards-somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, but in fact the message was this: So long and thanks for all the fish.” (HHGTTG) So the question is, how can you really listen to customers properly?
  7. Do you know how the buying experience influences post-purchase behaviour?
  8. It took Douglas Adams’ computer Deep Think seven and a half million years to come up with “The Answer is 42.” (HHGTTG) Your brand probably doesn’t have that long, so how can you have timely real-time journey insights to track every customer interaction in the context of the customer journey and have timely insights into customer behaviour and find value and be able to respond appropriately in the shortest time possible?
  9. How can you understand which journeys have issues, customers who have those issues, where and when they’re happening?
  10. How can you appropriately personalise customer interactions in such a way that they will be helped along their journey rather than be pushed through them?


In the words of Douglas Adams: “DON’T PANIC!” (HHGTTG) To help you find the answers to these questions and become an “intelligent enterprise” you’ll need a combination of technologies and techniques. “It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.” (HHGTTG) The five key ingredients for effortless engagement and happier customers are:

  1. Journey-driven approach. Traditional marketing campaigns and funnels effectively reject people who don’t act the way the business expects them or force people through the business’s pre-defined process. In essence they take control away from the customer. However, people are unique and each customer has their own preferences for how quick they want value. That is why in a journey-driven world the focus is on how people behave and learn from that rather than forcing people through the journey.
  2. Real-time journey insights. Tracking every customer interaction and the ability to put them in the context of customer journeys to provide insights as to where and how customers behave to find the appropriate value.
  3. Expectation mapping. Use journey insights to determine which journeys have issues, which customers have those issues and where those issues occur, and then use those insights as the drivers to co-create empathy maps with those customers.
  4. Self-learning. Customer behaviour continually changes and it would be impossible to use manual methods to track those changes and respond appropriately in the shortest time possible. Machine learning is required to continually elevate customer journey behaviour and apply the appropriate modelling techniques to predict potential future behaviour.
  5. Personalisation. Use insights derived from journeys and empathy maps along with self-learning to appropriately personalise customer interactions in such a way that they will be helped along their journey rather than be pushed along like marketing campaigns generally try to do.

We wish you happy travels on your journey towards effortless engagement and happier customers.


(1) Forrester “Leading The Customer-Obsessed Transformation” – “Empowered customers are shaping business strategy. Simply put, customers expect consistent and high-value in-person and digital experiences. They don’t care if building these experiences is hard or requires a complex, multifunction approach from across your business. They want immediate value and will go elsewhere if you can’t provide it.”

(2) Jim Blasingame “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance” and It’s The Age Of The Customer – Are You Ready?

(3) Forrester Accenture Report “Digital transformation in the Age of the customer” – The past five years have marked the beginning of the “Age of the Customer,” in which technology and economic forces have put customers in control of their interactions with businesses. These businesses, hoping to understand and serve customers in a global and digital economy, are almost universally undergoing digital transformation, which involves realigning and investing in new technology and business models with a specific focus on the customer experience.