Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2016. It has been updated in July 2020 with fresh content, insights, and examples.
Some companies really roll out the red carpet for their best customers. They send personalized onesies for the CEO’s new baby. They fly across the country to meet new points of contact (or they did, back when we were flying places). They have teams of Customer Success reps to call and can walk customers through every new feature. As much as we’d all like to do that for every single customer, it’s just not possible, especially if you’re operating with limited resources.
But it doesn’t mean these customers don’t matter—and it doesn’t mean you can afford to ignore them.
High-touch, 1:1 interactions between a customer and a company can lead to better retention and drive up lifetime value. And the good news is that there are a lot of ways to help your product experience feel a lot more like a bespoke, high-touch customer experience. In fact, you can make customers feel like they all have 1:1 attention even if your company is composed of 3 people working out of someone’s living room.
Here are 3 cost-effective ways to make your low-touch customer engagement strategies feel more personal.
1. Use targeted, strategic messaging
There’s a reason customer success reps call people—customers really like that high-touch, person-to-person interaction. But in-app messaging, unlike calling someone on the phone, is scalable. And when implemented correctly, can give customers a similarly tailor-made experience
Have a personalized in-app messaging strategy
To create a sense of personalization, every message you send users should feel tailor-made to them. And by tailored we don’t mean simply using your customer’s name in a message. Your application captures a ton of user data, and it’s on you to use that data to construct a powerful and personalized customer experience.
How do you accomplish this? By segmenting your messages based on a customer’s actions and inputs. Each message you send should resonate with your customers—where they are in their journey, what their goals are, etc.—and encourage them to engage with your application.
Mailchimp strives to provide a personalized dashboard experience for all of their customers. To achieve this, they use a friendly banner message encouraging customers to answer a few simple questions for personalized recommendations during onboarding:
Once customers answer the questions, their dashboard highlights key insights that are tailored to their business and tips to ensure customers are taking the right actions to optimize:
Behaviorally triggered messages make automation feel more human
Triggered messages have a similar effect to personalized messaging, even though they’re automated. That’s because they’re triggered based on events and actions that users take within the app.
A very simple example of this can be seen in the UberEats app, which triggers a discount to new customers when they log in for the first time. Since getting new customers to convert is a big hurdle for product owners, providing an incentive is a great way to get them to take the next step:
Customers are welcome to opt out, but this kind of automation—recognizing that the customer has taken an action, registering it, and then responding as necessary—makes the product experience feel more like a 2-way conversation.
Chat tools engage our conversational impulses
More and more companies are using in-app chat services as a means of addressing customer service. Chatbots are another self-service tool that helps customers on their path to conversion by answering questions in real-time. A study by Invesp found that 67% of consumers used a chatbot for customer support within the past year, which helped resolve up to 80% of routine questions. Chatbots help alleviate a substantial customer support burden, all while getting customers the answers they need in an efficient and effective manner.
The elements of a high-touch phone call can still be present in a chat messaging app. Using a live-chat tool or chatbot helps engage our conversational nature and shows customers that you want there to be a dialogue. The key is to make it feel human. Start the conversation with a greeting before you address the customer’s problem. Drift’s chatbot provides the extra guidance a new users needs to navigate their platform:
2. Give your customer success team the right customer engagement tools
Phone calls used to be the go-to method for getting in touch with prospects. But these days, there are more effective ways of communicating that take less time, are asynchronous, and scalable.
Somewhat counterintuitively, Y Combinator founder Paul Graham actually instructs startups to do things that don’t scale—and to go out of their way to delight customers, even when they’re desperately racing toward growth. High-touch companies do it all the time. Their CS reps spend a lot of their days calling to check up on customers, whether it’s to explain a new feature or just see how they’re doing.
But as companies grow, that kind of 1:1 attention just isn’t possible for each and every person. Arm your customer success team with alternate ways to connect with customers beyond phone calls. Below are a 3 channels you can use to deepen your customer relationships :
1. Email nurture
You might think of email nurture campaigns as a marketing tactic for new customers. The reality is, nurture can (and should) be used to engage with all of you customers regardless of their maturity. The key is to tailor the nurture stream so that it’s personalized to each customer. These emails should help them solve a problem they’re likely to encounter, or keep them up to speed on things that matter to them.
This type of nurture is successful because it’s personalized and beneficial to customers. You’re not asking for anything from them—instead, you’re building a relationship and continuing the conversation.
2. In-app notifications
In-app notifications are a great way to drop a note to your customers and keep them in the know about updates or exciting news:
In-app notifications help you reach customers while they’re engaging with your product. It’s a different but equally effective avenue to connect with customers and keep the conversation going. In addition to product announcements and updates, you can also have your customer success team leave a personalized message just to check in and let the customer know you’re there if they need support.
3. Snail mail
Adding a human element to your customer outreach strategies is essential to making your most valuable customers feel like one in a million.
Small gestures or gifts go a long way. Consider sending newly onboarded customers some product swag—like a t-shirt or even a pen with a short handwritten note. HubSpot likes to surprise and delight customers and prospects with some swag after they show the company love on social media:
Never underestimate the power a little surprise and delight can have on your customers.
3. Create opportunities to connect throughout the customer journey
Community forums are another way of adding a hands-on quality to a more low-touch approach, since customers get 1:1 engagement with someone from your company or a fellow user. They keep customers engaged with your product, whether that’s through a Slack channel that you’ve created or something as intensive as Buffer’s community forums.
When executed correctly, forums let your users do the work for you. On the flip side, these channels can also feel like duds if you’re constantly throwing out questions that no one is answering. To get it right:
Incentivize community participation
Some well-crafted forums reward users for consistently using their app. Moz uses “MozPoints” to incentivize, essentially outsourcing the job, and jumping in where they need to, moderating and answering questions where they see fit. You engage with the product, have a 1:1 conversation with a human being, and your questions are answered.
It’s also a good way to send out content that engages users, whether that’s a push notification or via email saying “Your friend X has answered your question.” If someone has posted a question or response, this can be a way of bringing them back into the app or forum through customer engagement.
It’s a direct, 1:1 response that feels high-touch, even if you’ve outsourced it to the community.
Community forum best practices:
Invite users to subscribe to comment threads so they’ll engage when they get a response.
Have someone at your company moderate
Ask questions to promote user engagement with the service to get the ball rolling.
Use videos to get the conversation started
Videos can be a great way to connect with new customers and prime the pump to get people excited about being a part of your community. They’re a scalable way to put a human face to your business.
Wistia has a whole host of engaging videos meant to inspire marketers and spark conversations. It’s a perfect way to connect with their audience and create a line of communication in the process.
“We argue that videos are like blog posts or other content. You don't write one and consider yourself finished. You point back to them, reference them in other content, and ensure they get the mileage they deserve. At the end of the day, it's all about generating good content and distributing it efficiently.”
So if you’ve made a tutorial video explaining how to use an aspect of your product and people in your community forum are asking about that problem, re-posting that video in that thread is a great way to get additional mileage out of that old video. The person posting the question feels like the video was made exactly for them, even though it was a fixed cost for your company.
High-touch customer engagement is a dialogue
High-touch customer engagement isn’t just about the perks. When companies take clients out for fancy dinners, they’re not just paying for a nice meal—they’re extending their time and attention.
Danny Meyer, restaurateur and founder of Union Square Hospitality group says that this is one of the most fundamental elements of customer happiness, and one that a lot of companies overlook. Having a relationship with customers—one in which they receive attention and feel like they’re heard—is incredibly important to keeping them engaged with your company. “While the customer is not always right,” Meyer says, “he or she must always feel heard.”
Eric heads up Marketing at Appcues. When he isn't helping companies become more product-led, he’s likely to be found keeping up with his wife and 2 children, exploring the White Mountains with his dog Barley, or fermenting things at home.