Customers are inundated with choices when buying a product or service. Businesses face tough competition in convincing customers to choose them - and keep returning after that initial purchase. All it takes is a slip in service for a customer to become dissatisfied and start looking elsewhere.
Hence, customer satisfaction and retention are a top priority for many businesses today, particularly as acquiring new customers costs much more than nurturing existing ones. Relationship communication plays a vital part in this strategy - and all departments and teams must get on board if customer contact is to be cohesive and streamlined.
Investing in a customer engagement platform is the best way to navigate complex customer relationships. Read on to discover how it works, some fundamental elements such a system should have and how one could benefit your business.
What is a customer engagement platform?
A customer engagement platform (CEP) is a consolidated system that helps businesses and brands manage and optimize various types of customer communications, all in one place. It can help you deliver a flawless and personalized customer experience to increase the chances of repeat business - and positive word-of-mouth recommendations. The latter, of course, could lead to many new customers, not to mention a boost in brand visibility. Here are some other reasons your business could benefit from a CEP:
Consolidation of customer engagement channels and systems - so you can get a single view of all customer interactions, including those from social media.
Streamlining and automation of messaging - enabling you (and all teams) to respond quickly to common queries with consistent answers. No more mixed messages from different departments.
Convenient data gathering, reporting, and analytics - showing how and when customers engage with your business.
Proactive interaction with customers - enabling you to initiate conversations at the perfect time, such as when customers might need to reorder a product.
Better personalisation in day-to-day interactions - with a holistic view of all interactions, communication can be tailored effectively.
Faster and more organised responses - helping to win customer trust.
Customer engagement vs. CRM: a quick reference comparison
There is a significant overlap between customer engagement and customer relationship management. Both focus on the customer and making meaningful connections to encourage them to fall in love with your brand. Both bring together multiple communication channels, and work via data-driven processes. However, there are some slight differences, as this table demonstrates.
Customer Engagement Platform
Customer Relationship Management Platform
Aims to form deep emotional connections with customers and earn their trust and loyalty, even beyond the sales funnel.
Optimizes the sales journey from the first interaction to purchase to post-sales service.
Focuses on the personalization of all types of customer interactions.
Designed to improve and automate the sales and service processes.
Customer relationship strategy
Helps brands to manage current and immediate interactions while aiming to foster long-term relationships.
Used for long-term planning and careful action spread over a longer period, for better long-term results.
Utilises key information about customer-to-brand interactions. The tech can be executed to assess immediate impact as well as identify improvements in the long run.
Collects data about customers and interactions for advanced automation and improved subsequent decision-making.
Helps businesses take a more proactive, frontline approach to customer satisfaction and engagement.
Works behind the scenes to improve customer loyalty and retention.
Businesses will frequently employ both systems to work side-by-side due to their close interrelatedness. Because of this, the tech used may also have some overlapping features and functionality. Therefore, many users and service providers use the terms CEP and CRM interchangeably, along with CDP (which stands for customer data platform) and CXM (customer experience platform). Individually, though, the latter two can't offer as unified and extensive an offering as a CEP.
Types of data handled by customer engagement platforms
Customer engagement platforms can consolidate and manage a wide range of data to inform sales and marketing strategies. This includes:
SMS campaign data - such as message delivery, open, and response rates. By monitoring these metrics, you can understand which customers are actively engaging and which aren't, and see which special offers and promotions are the most popular.
Email marketing campaign data - with similar metrics to the above.
Customer profiles - like contact details, demographic information (age, location, language, income, gender identity, etc.), what device or platform the customer is using, purchasing patterns, online activity, interests, support request history and more.
Social media metrics - likes and comments on your content, shares, new follower details and click-through rates.
Website visitor data - by integrating tools like Google Search Console, Google Analytics, Microsoft Clarity and Hotjar, you can collect data that shows which channel a visitor comes from, how long they stay on your website, bounce rate and most-visited pages. You'll also see which content is visited less frequently and therefore, needs improvement, plus which pages offer the highest conversion rates.
Search performance data - how your website performs in search results.
Ad campaign performance data - how effective your online ads are.
Customer feedback - which might be in the form of survey responses, reviews or complaints.
Support requests - incoming customer enquiries that need resolution.
Plus data from any other touchpoints.
Key features of customer engagement tools
The features of CEPs vary depending on the system and provider, but you can expect to be able to use programmable messaging, integrate your social media channels, set up automated cross-channel workflows and get access to deep insights. Here are these important features broken down in more detail.
Most CEPs allow you to integrate multiple channels, such as email, in-app messaging and push notifications. You can even send and receive text messages within a CEP using an SMS API.
To do that, you need to sign up with an SMS service provider and integrate the API into your CEP (something a developer can do in half a day, or if you use Messente, you can do this yourself using Zapier). Once installed, you can set up text message templates, schedule messages and utilise automated texting to answer FAQS - a huge time save for customer service teams.
An SMS API lets you offer personalization for each campaign and tweak variables depending on the customer data held in your CEP. This enables you to run highly targeted and effective SMS marketing campaigns. Similarly, you can leverage all available customer data to create and send personalized email responses, in-app messages and push notifications to customers who prefer communication via those channels.
Social media integrations
Any brand worth its salt is on social media nowadays. And it can be tricky to manage interactions across all social platforms when doing this individually. With a CEP, you can connect all your social media accounts and get access to live feeds within a single dashboard.
In addition, you'll be able to monitor and manage all your social media inboxes, comments and mentions with ease. And post or schedule content your followers will love - when they're most active online. You can also conduct social listening to pick up mentions of not just your brand but also your competitors', plus any keywords related to your offering.
Being able to set up cross-channel workflows can drastically improve your engagement strategy. Nowadays, customers use many touchpoints, including SMS, email, direct mail and social media. A CEP can help you identify which customers prefer certain channels.
Once you understand this, you can map out the customer journey and set up sequenced campaigns based on behavioural triggers, which are designed to make customers take action. Then, you can meet customers on the channels they like to hang out with personalized automated messages.
Here's an example of a cross-channel marketing workflow. Let's say you send a widescale email campaign promoting a flash sale. Some customers might open the email and take action right away. Others may open your campaign but not engage with it - or may ignore it completely. In which case, you could send them a particularly tempting offer on another channel you know they like to use, such as SMS or WhatsApp.
Another example where cross-channel workflows come in handy is for payment collection. For customers who don't respond to a payment request sent by email, you can also trigger an SMS reminder (often more effective in this scenario) and manage queries from a central inbox, irrespective of the channel used.
Engaging customers according to their preferred channel and behaviours can massively increase your chances of conversions. Better still, many cross-channel campaigns can be automated with a CEP. Once campaigns have been set up and scheduled, they will effectively work in the background to hopefully bring in more revenue and increase customer satisfaction, while you focus on other operational tasks.
Most CEPs support A/B testing to allow you to experiment with cross-channel workflows and see which engagement strategies work best with particular groups of customers.
For example, you can run two email and SMS campaigns alongside each other, tweaking just one variable, such as the call to action or introductory sentence, and see which one performs better.
Data consolidation for audience segmentation
A customer engagement platform collects and centralises user engagement data from every point of the customer's journey. This data could come from various sources (ideally after being organised by a customer data platform).
Using a CEP, you can access all data from one place and make it work hard for your business by identifying patterns and notable customer interactions, and mapping out user journeys. Armed with a comprehensive data bank, you can then segment your audience according to shared characteristics, e.g., location, demographic, buying stage, VIP status, etc. Finally, you can push out timely and relevant messages according to those groups' needs or where customers are in their journey.
Analytics and reporting tools
Customer engagement platforms have useful analytics to give you better insights into the data you collect. You'll get real-time visibility into critical performance metrics and be able to track them over time to analyse the effectiveness of your customer engagement efforts.
As well as generating standard reports, you should also be able to create bespoke reports to analyse specific metrics important to your business. These will help you identify any current problems or risks (for example, a rise in customer complaints or a delay in response times), so you can act quickly and get solutions in place. Ultimately, having access to complex reports will help you and your team make key business decisions - in both the short and long term.
12 leading customer engagement software solutions
Other than the above key features, there are several more considerations when choosing the right CEP for your business. If you have a large customer base, ensure your preferred system can handle large datasets. It should also be easy to set up and integrate third-party apps (so you can leverage as much data as possible). Check its flexibility - can it grow with your business and be customisable according to your needs? Finally, you'll want to ensure the platform supports multiple users so it can be used across all departments - with access control and the ability to set user permissions at different levels.
To guide you in your research, here are twelve of the most popular customer engagement solutions around right now:
Make meaningful connections with customers
A customer engagement platform (CEP) is similar to a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, but there are some minor differences in terms of its purpose, focus, technical capabilities and overall approach.
A CEP is focused on customer experience management - helping you proactively manage current interactions across the entire customer journey and identify improvements to foster relationships in the long term.
By consolidating all customer communication channels and engagements, you can streamline messaging and respond to queries faster. And by collecting, analysing and organising data from customer interactions, you can plan effective marketing automation strategies - and deliver them through the platform itself. A robust system, like many of those mentioned above, will support API integration so you can contact customers via SMS, email, messaging apps and more.
Next, discover our recent guide on commercial text marketing and how it could benefit your business.