What’s the difference between customer engagement and user engagement?

Before we get into why customer engagement is so important to the success of your business, what’s the difference between “customer engagement” and “user engagement”? These terms are often used interchangeably, and the definition of “customer engagement” is essentially the same as “user engagement”, other than the distinction of who is a “customer” versus a “user.”

Some companies think of the customer as the one who made the purchase decision, whereas the user is the day-to-day user of the product, who likely reports to that buyer. The term “customer engagement” is also often used in businesses that have a more hands on, high touch relationship model. These businesses tend to have a smaller number of higher value customer contracts, which enables them to dedicate more resources to each customer. Customer interactions will tend to have more human to human contact. For example, customers may receive in-person or phone-based support, as opposed to a self-led, virtual support model. But whether you call it “customer engagement” or “user engagement”, it’s the engagement that’s key and the concept applies to both customers and users.


So why is Customer Engagement important?

There are more companies competing for customers’ budgets and attention than ever before. At the same time, attention spans are getting shorter. To succeed, you need to keep your customers happy and make them feel valued. The best way to do this is to engage your customers regularly, through a variety of different touchpoints.

While the definition of engagement will vary depending on the type of product that you have and the nature of its use, you can’t afford to ignore engagement. Customers that aren’t engaged are less likely to value your product and are more likely to churn (and become customers of your competitors). Conversely, engaged, happy customers will provide valuable feedback to help you improve your product, will advocate for your brand and will refer new customers to grow your customer base. So how do you make sure your customers are engaged and happy?


5 ways to increase Customer Engagement (and nail your product roadmap)

Announce new features

As you continuously improve your product, use product announcements to celebrate new feature releases. Educate your customers on the use of new features and other changes in the product. These announcements let your customers know that your product is rich, alive and constantly improving.


Use In-App Surveys

Surveys are a powerful tool for gaining actionable feedback to improve your product while engaging your customers. They also show your customers that their input is valued and help identify any customers who may be unhappy and in need of extra attention from your team. The most effective way to survey your customers is right in the app, at the moment when they’re experiencing the aspect of your product that you’re seeking feedback about.

Surveys presented to users in app are more likely to be completed than, for example, a survey delivered by email, which requires that the customer find and open your email and then recall exactly which feature or experience you’re asking about. Both the response rate and the quality of responses are higher if you survey your customers in app. This means that you’re driving even higher engagement with your customer base.

There are different ways to deliver in app surveys. You could invest your own product and development resources to create an in app survey capability, or you can opt for a purpose built in app survey tool.

Use customer feedback to validate your roadmap

In addition to in-app surveys, you can also empower your customers to make feature requests right in your product. This is another great way to engage your customers and show them that their opinions are valued. As customers submit more than one feature request, ask them to prioritize their requests. This approach gives you more insight into what features are most important to your customers (while also setting the expectation that they can’t have everything at once) and engages customers by making them feel ownership in the process.


Segment customer feedback (and follow up)

As you receive feedback from your customers, it’s important to understand which customer segments gave you which types of feedback. You can read more about how to think about different types of customers here, but the fundamental principle is that some customers are more valuable than others. 

You should prioritize feedback from your most valuable customers, and put extra effort into following up with those customers, particularly if the feedback suggests that they are dissatisfied. Customers who receive this direct follow up are more likely to feel valued and to believe that their concerns will be addressed, ultimately increasing engagement and reducing churn risk.

For other types of customers (e.g. new customers, users of free tools), it’s important to put the feedback into the context of what type of user submitted it. Feedback from a longtime user of your free product who has never upgraded to a paid plan should be weighed differently from a free user who just upgraded to paid. A conversation with the recent upgrader can help you understand why they converted. Whereas you might be wary of investing resources in feedback from that longtime free user without additional consistent signals from other users. Generally speaking, feedback associated with low dollar amounts requires more confirmation volume than feedback from high dollar customers.


Crowdsource feedback on shortlisted feature requests

As you start to see trends in the types of features that are requested, you can identify a set of candidate features for prioritization. You can then target appropriate customer cohorts to see which features are most important to those customers and thus should be prioritized. We don’t recommend letting customers vote on just any feature request, but once you’ve identified the features that may make sense for the roadmap, you can use customer feedback to prioritize them.


Use data to make informed decisions

As you receive feedback from your customers, it’s important that you trust what the data is telling you. Often product teams become attached to features that were the result of a lot of time and effort, but the ultimate goal is to build the best product that you can and the one that will deliver the most benefit to your customers. 

The customer feedback data is probably a better representation of what’s valuable to your customers than your own hunches. Don’t overvalue a single source of information (e.g. one user’s feedback, one NPS survey or one graph in your analytics platform), as these are just inputs into a complex equation. If the feedback is leading to a conclusion that’s counter to your preconceived notion, trust it. Your team will rarely have better ideas for what your users want and need than those users will have themselves.


Customer engagement best practices

Beyond the specific best practices outlined above for using customer feedback, there are some broader principles that you should follow to ensure you’re doing everything that you can to keep your customers engaged and happy.


Understand the entire customer journey

Think about your customers’ experience with your company wholistically, from start to finish. Beginning with marketing, through the sales process, to onboarding, the product itself, ongoing support and even billing. These are all important touchpoints with your customers that will form their opinion of your company and your product. If you invest in making sure that each of these touchpoints puts the customer first, they’ll reward you with their loyalty, buying into higher tier offerings and helping build you brand and generate referrals


Make a strong first impression

When your customers first experience your product, what impression will it leave? Because product and engineering teams spend so much time working closely on building the product, they can lose sight of what the experience feels like to a first time user. Remember that your users may not have seen every marketing page and support page, and may not have received any training. Make sure that your product is designed to make it easy for customers to get started, guides them to engage from their first day of use and support them.

Consider using a tool such as FullStory to watch your users go through the first day experience to understand where they may be getting stuck. See which steps in onboarding take the most time, because more time is an indication of frustration and confusion, increasing the risk that your users may drop off during the process. These may seem like micro optimizations, but in the aggregate, the impact is much greater. That initial experience makes your customers feel better that your product is worth their investment of time and money.

Make sure that you’re collecting feedback on the registration and onboarding experience so that you understand what’s working well and what needs to be improved.


Personalize your communications

Your communications with your customers, from marketing, to onboarding to billing and support, are a chance to strengthen the relationship. Personalize your communications, address customers by name and keep the tone friendly and engaging, rather than robotic and cold. You can further personalize by using key event triggers to send your communications. For example, if a customer has just completed onboarding, you could send a “Nice job, Liz!” email to celebrate that first milestone.

Consider also assigning someone on your team to each customer, so that more often than not the customer hears from the same person. This will make customers more likely to view your support team as a real relationship, rather than a group of faceless people.


Respond to each customer interaction

Depending on the nature of your business, you may not be able to have a human respond to every interaction. But don’t let your customers feel like their communications and feedback are ever going into a black hole. Some interactions will justify a personalized response from a human on your team. Others, such as an in app feature request, might be fine with a simple thank you. Even better, for those high value customers, you can ask them if they’d like a response.

But whatever makes sense for your business, make sure that your customers understand what’s next. If they’ve just submitted a support request, let them know that they’ll be hearing back in a certain amount of time and direct them to some FAQs in the meantime. A customer should never be left hanging without an understanding of when an issue will be resolved or an interim resolution that they can pursue on their own.


Make customers feel like you’re accessible across channels

Different customers will want to interact with you through different channels, so you should make sure to listen and respond across multiple channels. Providing easily accessible and searchable support content will often allow your customers to find the information that they need on their own, but they should know that they have a way to reach a human when they need to.

Whether through email, in app chat, or social, make sure that your customers feel they can easily reach you. You may have built a robust support flow in a certain channel, but you should listen on these other channels so that you can shepard users into that appropriate flow.


(Actually) Act on customer feedback

Your customers’ feedback is one of the most valuable resources for building a great product and business, but only if you act on it. As outlined above, use feedback data such as priority of request, customer cohorts requesting a feature and crowdsourcing more detailed input to build your product roadmap. Then actually go build your product based on that feedback. Finally, be sure to announce new features and thank the customers who submitted the feedback or feature requests.

Proving to users that you take their opinions and perceptions seriously is one of the greatest drivers of anti churn. The transition costs of transitioning from one solution to another are high. So even if your product doesn’t have all the critical features that users think they need today, if they’re confident that you’ll evolve the product, they’ll stick around. You’re creating credibility that your solution is a living, constantly improving piece of software. 


Don’t overvalue one specific user segment

For example, some customers place too much emphasis on converting free users into paying customers, while others overlook those paying customers at the expense of free users or prospects. To really build a great business, you need to consider the full customer lifecycle.


Go forth and engage!

Hopefully we convinced you that engaged customers are happier customers. They’re more likely to continue to give you their business, buy into your higher priced offerings, build your brand reputation and send you referrals. Beyond that, your engaged customers will help you build a better product, creating a virtuous cycle of happy customers leading to even more happy customers. What other strategies do you use to keep your customers engaged? Let us know in the comments.