Connecting better: using customer insights to define customer engagement

Table of Contents

Key takeaways

    • We live in an age of communication mitigation, in which what is said doesn’t always reflect what is felt. For effective engagement strategies, discover what your audience feels.

    • Don’t only read the data. Decipher it, learn from it. Correlate sentiments to action, and look out for disparities.

    • Action tells the best story, but it doesn’t tell the only story. Combine data points to understand more about customers, their reasons why, and whether these reasons align with what they say about your brand or product.

Customer insights fuel communication strategies. On the surface, they’re simple: how customers act helps to determine how they will act. Data points and feedback form pieces of a larger puzzle; with enough information, a clear picture is assembled, and a strategy subsequently produced. But while we know to use customer insights – and of their importance – few know how or why, or, more critically, are able to recognise the challenge of interpretation.

Fully engaged customers represent a 23% higher share in profitability, revenue, and relationship growth. Lasting engagement is the beginning of loyalty, which, nurtured, grows into advocacy; your audience will represent and promote your brand to new audiences. It’s no wonder, then, that the formula to engagement is continually dissected, driven by the belief that how an audience behaves yesterday will tell us how they’ll behave tomorrow.

We have more tools than ever to quantify and qualify customer behaviour, with more channels and mediums to oversee and better means of analysis (including machine learning and artificial intelligence). The problem we still face, however, is the assumption of cause and effect: that a customer will do or say one thing because they’re happy, and do or say another because they are not.

The answer? Do what works more, and do what doesn’t work less. Yet the reality is not so simple. Humans are too complicated, and their motives too inscrutable for straightforward analysis.


Connecting better is about more than data; it’s about the story behind the data.

Intention-action (and action-intention) dissonance

Humans are capricious by nature. Tastes are ever-changing, and trends come and go. But more than this: we don’t necessarily say or act in accordance with how we feel, and marketers relying on that information to judge future outcomes is, at the least, problematic.

We live in a paradoxical world. Our limitless web of connection weaves interpersonal and communal disconnection. When most communication can be traced and collated, examined, and studied, the gap between what we say and what we believe grows. In many cases, we side with the innocuous and complimentary; rather than speaking a critical truth, we say nothing or speak disingenuously. We defer our opinion for the safety of the crowd. This isn’t always intentional, either. A history of US polls shows the gap between professed intention and in-the-moment action. When push comes to shove, how we feel triumphs over how we’d like to see ourselves. 


Identity construction and mitigation in communication

We’re all engaged in a process of identity construction. What we say reflects the people we intend or desire to be; what we do reflects who we actually are. In a hyper-connected world, say and do are more intertwined, however, and the boundary between them harder to exact. As digital communications, we have to assume a degree of trust in what our audience tells us, but be vigilant enough to realise that what’s told to us is only part of the equation. The relationship between cause and effect, or intention and action, is rarely clear cut. In an online culture saturated with negativity, the reaction is often extreme positivity and the desire to say nice things.

Feedback must be combined with analysis of action, and in turn correlated to an analysis of behavior: whether a customer returns speaks more to their engagement than their feedback. How a customer behaves is half the story. Without the other half – how they feel – we’re forced to assume the effect of their action, not only on what they gained from it, but the experience of carrying it out. This is what will determine their engagement, and whether they’re likely to return, repeat, or become a loyal advocate.

For established brands, such as Apple, this is easier; the brand knows the feeling it creates in its audience, and this feeling – the desire to feel and be creative – is a fundamental human desire. For others, however, it’s necessary to look at customer insights as more than just numbers. It requires empathy. Instinct. Digital marketers have to look at the feelings behind the action, and the action behind the words. Nothing should be ignored, positive or negative, but neither should the correlation be considered straightforward. Positive feedback has to be examined against action. If a customer professes to have had a great experience but doesn’t repeat it, what does that say about the experience – or about the product? Nothing necessarily negative, but neither necessarily positive. These are the lines that should be read between – an attempt to infer more from the data, using the analysis to examine both short-term and long-term behaviors. 


What can be done

There are always new ways to interact with customers. New touchpoints. Data streams. The challenge is collating this information – combining silos into a single database – and understanding what today tells you about tomorrow. Effective engagement strategies are necessarily dynamic, to respond to the audience’s dynamic tastes, trends, and behaviors.

  • Engage in direct correspondence. This is a process of peeling back the words, and addressing the customer’s sentiments directly. Ask them to be explicit: what they like, what they don’t like, or areas they believe can be improved.

  • Watch for the dissonance between intention and action, and action and intention. It isn’t deliberate. It’s natural, and we all do it. Begin asking: how honest is my data? No customer insights should be discarded, but to maximise value, insight, and ultimately create an effective engagement strategy, patterns must be identified and assumptions questioned. The job of a communicator is to hear both what is said and not said.

  • Become proactive over-reactive. When we’re proactive, we’re looking for patterns, not waiting for them to appear. We assume a lack of knowledge. We have insights, but these insights require analysis, consideration, and inference. They’re insights that require a proactive approach to inform an effective engagement strategy.

  • Humanise and personalise. There’s nothing more personal than direct correspondence, a shoutout, or direct reply. The more you talk with your audience – through survey groups, for example – the better and more honest your connection will become, and the more reliable the data.


For more information about deriving true insight from your customer data and the keys to driving customer engagement, contact us today.

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