Maintaining customer relationships and engagement with technology

Strategies that can contribute to repeat business and better brand recognition

5 minute read


Key takeaways

  • Finding more effective ways to stay in touch with customers and create more impactful conversations is paramount in today’s economy
  • The right customer engagement tools can bring a more nuanced understanding of the customer, foster more rewarding conversations and enhance brand equity
  • Ultimately, stronger customer engagement can create a more reliable path to continued profitability


Depending on a company’s circumstances, remaining profitable in the current environment may require creative, tactical thinking. One of the most critical pursuits now, however, is finding more effective ways to stay in touch with customers and keep them engaged, whether that’s sharing news about new products or addressing complaints in a way that rebuilds their confidence.


As coronavirus has heightened the importance of digital technologies to optimize cash flow, it’s also shone a spotlight on how critical digital capabilities and cash management are for building connections with customers. “Organizations must now prepare for a future focused not just on digital transactions, but on digital engagement that accelerates the development of customer relationships,” the management consulting firm Accenture notes in a recent report.


But while many companies are already using digital marketing tools, they may not be doing so in a coherent way. Changing that starts with setting clearly defined goals, according to Michael Wall, Professor of Practice at Washington University in St. Louis Olin School of Business and Co-Director of the University’s Center for Analytics & Business Insights. “When you say you want to increase engagement, it’s important to be specific about what you mean,” says Wall. With that in mind, he suggests breaking customer engagement tools down into three buckets: those that help you gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the customer; those that create more impactful conversations; and tools that steward stronger brand equity. 


By The Numbers: The power of digital communication

  • Facebook is the #1 B2C and B2B social media marketing platform
  • 75% if B2B buyers use social media to make purchasing decisions
  • 79 % of B2B companies use LinkedIn in their campaigns and 70% use Twitter
  • The average B2B buyer’s journey involves consumption of 13 pieces of content
  • 40% of consumers expect brands to respond within the first hour of contacting them and 79% expect a response in the first 24 hours
  • B2C companies conduct social listening on Instagram (70%), YouTube (65%) and Reddit (27%)
  • For every $1 you spend on email marketing, you can expect an average return of $42

Sources: Clutch Report, 2020, DMA, Marketing Land 2020, Revive Social 2020; 2020 Sprout Social Index


Getting a Ph.D in the customer


Data and analytics tools — which provide greater understanding of what customers care about and who they are — can be used to allow a company to present itself and its products to its customers in a more relevant way, which is an important ingredient in raising engagement. “The information allows companies to market themselves in considerably more effective ways,” says Wall.


Many companies already use tools such as Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics and Smartlook, to name a few, to learn where their website visitors are from, as well as their ages, interests, and other demographic and psychographic information. This helps them tailor their communications to fit customers’ preferences and needs. To better understand their customers, though, companies should also use these analytics tools to determine which customer touchpoints are most critical and might demand greater investment. Some firms are surprised to discover that, for instance, the point at which customers return purchases can be an ideal time to learn more about them and build deeper engagement through stepped-up communication and follow-ups.


“Building real-time channel dashboards to continuously reevaluate and recalibrate channel investments can help companies keep ahead of demand and drive profitable growth,” notes Accenture’s report.


Because B2B companies typically have longer sales cycles, it is particularly important for these firms to use analytical tools to understand customer behavior and preferences, both to shorten the cycle and maintain those relationships going forward. For example, by doing an in-depth analysis of what web site content visitors are searching for, they can obtain more relevant and actionable insights into visitor intent, as well as whether existing content needs to be changed.


Perhaps more significantly, B2B companies can use analytical tools to learn more about their clients’ customers. By sharing that data with clients, they can strengthen their relationships and the perceived value they provide.


When you say you want to increase engagement, it’s important to be specific about what you mean.


Creating higher-impact interactions


Deeper engagement requires the ability to have more meaningful customer conversations. Current thinking about customer relationship management software (CRM) — which many companies already use to track contacts and keep in touch with customers — suggests you use it as part of a larger customer journey strategy. For example, a CRM system can be deployed to develop connections with potential customers who have visited the home page by sending relevant, timely messages to them. “That technology can be used to nurture these leads with material designed not to sell, but to provide useful information,” says Wall.


A company’s CRM software needs aren’t static, however. If, for example, a food or healthcare business is facing a surge in demand, it may need to upgrade to a system that allows for a larger customer database, more sophisticated data and analytic capabilities or other features.


Many companies are also introducing apps to boost customer engagement by fostering more convenient interactions; some are using apps to make it easier for customers to check in for appointments from outside of the building. 


B2B companies are also using apps to improve communication with customers, nurture leads, and stay top-of-mind. That includes anything from monitoring customer behavior and sending targeted offers and upgrades, to pushing out reminders about service renewals or scheduled maintenance.


It is particularly critical in today’s more mobile environment to interact with customers wherever they happen to be. For that reason, many companies are integrating their chat capabilities with popular conversation platforms like Google Assistant, Slack and Facebook Messenger. For instance, a B2B company that knows a client uses Slack internally can invite a team within the client firm into a private channel on the app to converse about a challenge that may take a few days or weeks to resolve. This is a method that may feel more customized than issuing support tickets.


Given the speed of change in many industries, some companies are creating their own apps using rapid application development tools. Known as low-code and no-code platforms, these technologies allow even non-technical employees to build software. That’s of urgent importance in light of today’s widespread shortage of engineers.


Stewarding stronger brand equity


In an environment where the trust companies build with customers matters more than ever, many companies are now focused on building brand equity — the social value of their brand.  “While we can’t control what customers think and feel about our brand, we can strengthen it through certain activities,” says Wall.


“Social listening” tools such as Awario and Mention let companies monitor what customers are saying about their products or services on social media sites. Thus, these tools can notify businesses if a customer makes a complaint, allowing the company to quickly respond. One quick-service restaurant supplier Wall advised used a social listening tool to find out why sales from one eatery it served had dipped. That helped the establishment boost sales through marketing messages addressing customer concerns about its food preparation that had surfaced on social media. “You can manage a lot of conversations in a powerful way,” says Wall.


In another instance, a financial forecasting technology company that serves CPAs decided to newly target venture capital firms. It used social listening tools to learn about challenges facing the new market and identify influential bloggers. By doing so, the company was able to find ways to connect with and deliver engaging content both during its initial outreach and afterwards, with already-established clients.


At a time of great uncertainty, when businesses seek a reliable path to continued profitability, building stronger customer relationships is of paramount importance. The right approach to leveraging useful technology tools can go a long way when working to achieve success.

  • Marketing strategy
  • Customer relationship management


Michael Wall | Professor of Practice at Washington University in St. Louis Olin School of Business

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