Customer engagement or customer con job?

When I was a lad my mother shopped locally and regularly, much as we do today in fact. The local butcher knew all about that modern buzzword; customer engagement.

Whenever we entered his store, he’d chat to my mum about things specific to us. He was a BIG DATA man and kept customer knowledge in his database – sorry, brain. He would also have a quick comment for we kids, accompanied by a smile. (remember when you got those regularly in retail stores?) And he’d throw a couple of extra sausages in the order, just for us.

Like a couple of snags kids?
Like a couple of snags kids?

The butcher was also a pioneer of social media – he would call my mother on that amazing technology that transmitted voice over data lines – known colloquially as the telephone. He’d say things like “Hi Pam, the new season lamb is in, would you like me to drop a leg in on the way home?” And true to his word he’d drop a package in on the way home. Bloody amazing stuff, given he didn’t have a computer.

My local butcher recently left our meat order in the supermarket next door to his shop, because my bride was late collecting it, and he was closing for the night. He told the supermarket owner it was for Maya and Hunter’s mum – he knew my kid’s names but forgot whatsername. But hey, the service was excellent, so were the chops.

Hello Pam...
Hello Pam…

In fact, I can think of nothing more engaging between a seller and a buyer than the personal moment when Josephine Shopper (buyer) is handing over her hard-earned cash to the butcher (seller) in return for a kilo of snags. Or when one is signing the credit card to pay for a meal and one is deciding how much to tip, for example?

So why is it that everywhere I go these days – seminars and online marketing places – all I hear is the constant mutterings about customer engagement. I mean, why is this suddenly important, just because of the interweb, or because punters are being forced to click lots to get things done? Why does this make a customer more engaged to a brand now, than in any other time in history?

To me ‘click and forget’ is the beauty of the interweb. You can reduce your engagement, let the computers worry about it.

I’ve asked two different speakers in seminars this week, “what do you mean by customer engagement?” (given they used the term more than any other). And you guessed it, neither could give me a specific answer, as apparently it means different things to different marketers.

Do you, like me, smell something whiffy here?

something smells a tad whiffy...
something smells a tad whiffy…

I went to Wikopinion, also known as Wikipedia – the font of all opinions – to see if I could learn more. All I discovered was this crock:

Customer engagement (CE) refers to the engagement of customers with one another, with a company or a brand. The initiative for engagement can be either consumer- or company-led and the medium of engagement can be on or offline.

Customer engagement marketing places conversions into a longer term, more strategic context and is premised on the understanding that a simple focus on maximising conversions can, in some circumstances, decrease the likelihood of repeat conversions. CE aims at long-term engagement, encouraging customer loyalty and advocacy through word-of-mouth.

Online customer engagement is qualitatively different from offline engagement as the nature of the customer’s interactions with a brand, company and other customers differ on the internet. Discussion forums or blogs, for example, are spaces where people can communicate and socialise in ways that cannot be replicated by any offline interactive medium. Customer Engagement marketing efforts that aim to create, stimulate or influence customer behaviour differ from the offline, one-way, marketing communications that marketers are familiar with. Although customer advocacy, for example, has always been a goal for marketers, the rise of online user generated content can take advocacy to another level.

Forgive me if I’m not getting it here, but claiming that online allows you to be more social than face-to-face conversations with groups of friends or colleagues?? And what does “offline interactive medium” mean? Is it a buzzword for your mouth?

Maybe online comments allow you to reach more people via a social site – but that assumes of course, all the people are waiting with baited breath for your post and they bother to read it.

Even worse are the results you get when you search images for “customer engagement”. Lots of flowcharts, but bugger-all customers. Here’s an example:

Customer engagement - WTF?
Customer engagement – WTF?

I believe that marketers use the ‘engagement’ term to mean customers are more emotionally connected, or have stronger feelings towards a brand as a result of some action involving the brand. It could be a TVC, an act of service, an easy to use website, the list is endless. And if you stretch the bow a long way it could possibly be a “Like” or a post on a social site, but it’s a long stretch.

I ran the Wikopinion CE paragraphs through the Flesch Reading ease score. The average number of words per sentence is 25. Reading Ease is 14.9 – you need a score north of 50 (out of 100) for it to be easily read. The Flesch-Kincade Grade Level was 16.9 – which means you need more than a PhD to begin to even comprehend it!

Go to to learn more about Flesch.

I think my mate Drayton Bird said it best – “if I want to be engaged I’ll get married”. And he did, 3 times.

Stop with the jargon, particularly if you don’t understand it yourself, or cannot explain it in an alleged online dictionary. Using manufactured buzzwords does not make you appear more intelligent, or get you into some secret brotherhood of mysterious marketers who know stuff that nobody else knows. You just look and sound like that word that rhymes with banker.

Am off to use the telephone – I have to engage my insurance brand. They’ve just increased my premium and despite telling me I don’t need to do anything, I’m going to call them anyway. Should be a very engaging conversation.

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