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Brent Leary's five steps to successful customer engagement

Times have changed. Customers have more than cash on their side -- armed with mobile phones and access to social media sites, they have a voice, and they could tear down a company's reputation as quickly as they build it up. To keep them happy -- and coming back -- companies need to first do some soul-searching, then aim at real change. Here are five tips that will help get them there.

1. Change the company culture to match customer expectations. Many companies believe all that is needed to solve problems is new technology -- particularly when it comes to

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customer engagement. But it takes more than flashy new tools to satisfy customers these days. Before using social media and mobile technologies to connect with customers, make sure your organization's strategy, philosophy and culture are aligned to meet customer expectations. One company that accomplished this is computer manufacturer Dell. After receiving complaints from Dell users, the company created a $25 million social media control center so it could more quickly engage customers on social channels. It's important to understand which social networks and communication channels your current and future customers use, and then listen to what they are saying, how they are saying it and to whom they are saying it.

2. Break away from HiPPO culture. With more information about customers available today than ever before, it's critical to create a data-driven culture where decisions are made based on solid information -- as opposed to basing them on the gut feelings of the highest-paid person in the organization, or HiPPO. Use social media monitoring and data aggregation tools to create detailed customer profiles that offer important insights about customer preferences.

For more on customer engagement

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Former DJ engages customers like a rock star

3. Remember there's no substitute for speed. When it comes to customer experiences, speed thrills and slowness kills. A company's ability to react and respond quickly goes a long way toward satisfying customers. It's critical to optimize every kind of interaction you have with customers to retain them over the long term. Tools that automate time-consuming lead generation and content creation processes -- Eloqua, Marketo, HubSpot or Lattice Engines -- can help organizations more efficiently identify, nurture and convert sales leads. Monitoring tools like Sprinklr and Sprout Social can help identify issues on social media channels. It may take time to fully resolve an issue, but let the customer know that the organization is on the case.

4. Continually review processes. Many customer-facing processes and systems have been in use for years. It's time to see which ones need to be changed or removed, and which new ones should be added. Getting the right people together to do this analysis is critical to building the right foundations for moving forward.

5. Offer subscriptions. The subscription business model used by services like Hulu, Netflix, Peapod and Zipcar is well aligned with customer buying patterns. Subscriptions put pressure on companies to keep things fresh and constantly provide value. But they also offer an ongoing connection to customers and provide opportunities to build brand loyalty. Cloud-based services from companies like Zuora, Aria Systems or Totango can help organizations implement subscriptions using these models.

About the author:
Brent Leary is a CRM industry analyst, adviser, author, speaker and award-winning blogger. He is co-founder and partner of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Clients include Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Intuit, SAP and other major technology companies. In 2009 he co-authored Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Business. Leary is in the process of writing his next book, The Amazon Effect: How a New Customer Culture is Creating Crazy New Business Opportunities and Killing Companies That Won't Adapt, due out in 2014.

Recognized by InsideCRM as one of the 25 most influential industry leaders, Leary also is a past recipient of CRM Magazine's Most Influential Leader Award. He serves on the national board of the CRM Association, on the advisory board of the University of Toronto's CRM Center of Excellence and on the editorial advisory board for The Atlanta Tribune magazine. Leary writes regularly for CRM Magazine, Inc.com and America Express OPEN, and serves on the advisory board for Social Media Today. He blogs at BrentLeary.com, and can be found on Twitter at @BrentLeary.

This was first published in November 2013

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