SEMA Member News—March/April 2014
Engaging the Customer in a Media-Saturated World
By Wayne Williams
The term “engaging the customer” has
been diluted with attention, but it’s more than a buzzword or concept; it’s the most important activity in a business. The definition of engage is “to bind by a promise.” Real engagement is about commitments and obligations. Interesting that Webster’s Dictionary defines engagement as “an arrangement to go somewhere”—to go somewhere like a business, a service outlet or a place to buy products.
When you think of places where people actually engage, you might think of Disneyland, Starbucks or perhaps the Apple retail stores. These places are not accidentally engaging. They are purposely engaging to customers, and there is a wide variety of ways that they touch the customer. Their environments are inviting and comfortable. Their locations for the most part are convenient to access, and customers’ expectations are met on a consistent basis. The environment is an important tool of engagement.
Another important point of real engagement is the actual sales experience. Customers like to be treated as they feel they deserve. Studies have shown that companies delivering great buying experiences grow twice as fast as those that deliver average experiences. There are a variety of benefits to delivering excellent buying experiences besides faster sales growth: higher average tickets, more traffic, more customer referrals, higher conversion rates and shorter sales cycles as a result of more frequent visits.
The customer experiences the sales process differently than a merchant service provider does. The merchant’s opinion of how it is doing is almost worthless. Merchants need to survey actual customers to glean this information. They must understand the entire process as a customer moves through the purchasing steps.
Many of today’s consumers start with a digital experience and conclude with a personal brick-and-mortar experience. Retailers must understand the whole process to deliver a total experience. The types of items to be purchased determine the weight placed on each point in the process. For example, if the item is a windshield wiper, most of the decision process could be handled in the digital phase. Fortunately for the wheel and tire market, products are more complicated and require more personal engagement. This puts the process back into the hands and control of salespeople.
The complexity of the wheel and tire industry allows resellers the opportunity to engage the customer and deliver a great experience. Another buzz term is “customer-centricity”—putting the customer at the center of sales activities. This means that the buying process should be the foundation of the sales process. In other words, the customer comes first in process planning and process execution. It’s more important to engage the customer than to make it easy for the sales staff. The sales staff will return again and again, but customers may not if they aren’t given the right experience.
Every engagement should lead to another engagement. Remember, to engage is to bind—to fulfill promises, commitments and obligations. Apple delivers on its promises, and Starbucks does the same. This meaningful engagement sets the table for more of the same in the future.
A lot is said today about price and how the Internet can marginalize profits. The profit margins at Starbucks are huge, and Apple is currently the most profitable company in the world. Both companies deliver great experiences, and they sell their products at high prices compared with their competitors. This speaks volumes about their engagement and buying experience.
Finally, in the process of attracting new customers in our saturated digital world, it’s critical to choose an engaging message and deliver it in an engaging manner. The only relevant message is the seller’s message. Salespeople need to tell their story, tell it well and tell it sincerely in a language and voice that appeal to their desired audience. Retailers shouldn’t worry about the other guy’s message or the competitor’s price as much as delivering their own message. It can be delivered digitally, delivered in print or delivered in reality. Meaning that retailers must deliver on their promises and bind that customer to their location, to their business; make it the most engaging experience in their market area.
Promises matter, environment matters, the buying and selling process matters, and so does the quality of the products and services promised.
Engage, engage, engage and engage some more!