Customer Engagement: The Agency/Client Perception Gap

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cScape recently released the results of its second annual Customer Engagement (CE) survey. They gave me an opportunity to see the data from the study, and I’d like to comment on something I don’t believe the report they published touched on: The gap in perceptions between agency and client-side respondents. These differences in perception show up in questions about:

  • The importance of customer engagement. Only 35% of agency respondents said that online customer engagement is essential to their clients, in contrast to half of client-side respondents. Both groups were aligned, though, in their perception of increasing importance of the concept: About 75% of both groups said that customer engagement had increased in importance to clients over the past 12 months.
  • The impact of customer engagement initiatives. Compared to client-side respondents, agency respondents were more likely to say that CE initiatives improved their clients’ customer loyalty and increased revenue. In fact, twice as many agency respondents said that CE initiatives increased profits than client-side respondents did.
  • What clients use to increase online customer engagement. Forty-one percent of agency respondents think that their clients use blogging sites to increase engagement, but just 19% of clients said that they use these sites. This discrepancy carried over to the use of social networks, video-sharing sites, and image-sharing sites (e.g., Flickr).
  • The future role of the mobile channel. Almost one-third of the agency respondents said that the mobile channel will be essential for customer engagement in the next three years. Just 20% of client-side respondents shared that view, though.
  • The description of an engaged customer. Both groups agree that an engaged customer recommends the product, service, or brand. But the two groups differ in their view to the extent that an engaged customer purchases regularly. Clients were more likely to believe this than agency respondents.
  • How customer engagement is measured. Nearly one-half (49% to be exact) of client-side respondents said that their firm has dedicated metrics for measuring online customer engagement. But just 30% of the agency respondents said that their clients have dedicated metrics.
  • The barriers to cultivating better online engagement. Client-side respondents were half as likely as agency respondents to believe that their own lack of skills and experience are a barrier to better CE. The two groups’ views also diverged regarding the extent to which getting senior management buy-in, dealing with technology problems, and finding supporting agencies were a barrier.

It’s highly unlikely, of course, that the client-side respondents were clients of the agency respondents. But the discrepancies in responses can’t help but make me wonder if many agency people aren’t on the same page with their clients when it comes to customer engagement. A number of factors are driving this discrepancy, specifically the agencies’:

1) Tendency to overstate impact. Often, the agencies aren’t the ones measuring the results, so I’m not sure why they’d think that customer engagement efforts are having such a great impact. Or why any of the branding campaigns they’re involved are having such a great impact, for that matter. But, hey, they’re not going to say that their efforts didn’t pay off, are they?

2) Over-fascination with the new. The client-side people are in the trenches fighting daily battles and fires. Few have time to explore video- and image-sharing sites or to read (and write) blogs. The agency-side, however, with a broader perspective, is out there looking for the next new big thing. So they attribute the involvement they do see out there to a wider range of client-side firms than are actually participating in these sites.

3) Mismatch of definition. A lot of the agency-side discussion of customer engagement has revolved around the concept as a measure of media effectiveness. A lot of marketers on the client-side don’t care about that. They’re looking at customer engagement as a potential way to help them make smarter decisions about investing their marketing dollars, and for helping them gauge their success.

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