A guide to customer engagement platforms
In the last few years, there's been a huge shift in customer expectations. Customers now live in an omnichannel world, where they expect their interactions with companies to be fast, meaningful, and personalized — across various channels and touchpoints.
While the customer-centricity of this world isn't new to most businesses, many of them still find themselves behind the curve. One recent study showed that 85 percent of companies say their customers are more digital than expected, and 90 percent say their existing systems for tracking customer journeys need improvement.
Customer engagement platforms are fast becoming companies' go-to way to bridge the gap between what their customers expect, and what they can offer in terms of personalized service, thoughtful marketing, bullseye recommendations, and communication that meets customers where they are — phone and email, social media platforms, live chat, SMS, messaging apps, and more.
Customer relationships aren't getting less complex. Your company needs the right tools to manage and maintain them — it needs a customer engagement platform. Read on for all the details on how customer engagement tools work, how to choose the right one for your business, and which platforms stand out from the crowd in 2023.
What is a customer engagement platform?
A customer engagement platform (CEP) is a software solution designed to help businesses interact and communicate with their customers. It combines tools and features that allow businesses to understand and engage with their customers in real-time across multiple channels and touchpoints. The ultimate goal of a customer engagement platform is to improve the customer experience — but CEPs also help build customer loyalty, streamline support workflows, increase customer satisfaction, and drive revenue.
Some of the key functions of a customer engagement platform are:
Customer engagement. It's all in the name — CEPs replace legacy contact center tools and allow businesses to engage with customers through many different channels, including email, chat, social media, SMS, and in-app messaging. They're powerful and flexible, helping businesses meet customers where they are — no matter the channel.
Customer insights. CEPs provide real-time data and analytics about customer behavior and preferences. This information is precious in a world where customers expect personalized brand interactions. It can also be used to create targeted campaigns.
Marketing automation. CEPs help businesses to automate repetitive marketing tasks, like email campaigns. Because they contain such a wealth of customer data, they can also help streamline your marketing efforts by targeting specific customers and segments based on their behavior and preferences.
Customer service. CEPs integrate multiple customer service and support tools, like chatbots and knowledge bases, to help customers quickly and easily find the answers they need.
Integration with other tools. Customer engagement platforms can often integrate with other crucial software solutions, such as CRMs, e-commerce platforms, and marketing automation tools.
The reasons a business is most likely to use a CEP include:
To centralize and manage customer interactions all in one place
To be able to communicate quickly with customers across all different channels from a single platform
To collect and analyze customer data, so you can continuously improve your customer experience over time.
A good way to think of a customer engagement platform is like a command center for customer data. It's a place where you can access all of your customer communication and engagement tools and data. Your customer engagement solution allows you to see all the pieces in one place and then combine them to create multichannel and omnichannel workflows for engaging your customers.
Are CRMs, CDPs, and CXMs customer engagement platforms?
Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are kind of like the predecessor to today's CEPs. A CRM is a type of customer engagement platform that focuses primarily on managing customer interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle. It helps businesses manage customer information, sales activities, customer service, and support. CRMs were originally designed for managing customer data, but over time, they've evolved into cloud-based, analytics-driven platforms that integrate with many other software tools.
A customer data platform (CDP) is another type of customer engagement platform that focuses on collecting, storing, and managing customer data from multiple sources to create and unify a single view of the customer. It helps businesses understand their customers better by providing real-time insights into customer behavior and preferences. Marketing, sales, support, and analytics tools can use customer profiles generated by CDPs.
And customer experience management (CXM) is a broad term that refers to a range of practices and technologies aimed at improving the overall customer experience. A CXM platform can include features from both a CRM and a CDP, as well as other tools and features designed to improve customer engagement and experience.
CRMs and CDPs do some of the same functions as today's customer engagement platforms. But the big difference is that they collect and analyze data, then send it to downstream tools to be utilized. Conversely, a CXM is more similar to a modern customer engagement platform but with a narrower focus.
The most significant difference is this: CRMs, CDPs, and CXMs can all be considered types of customer engagement platforms, each with a different focus and set of features. However, true customer engagement platforms combine elements of all three, providing businesses with a comprehensive solution that encompasses the benefits of three powerful tools — all in one place.
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How customer engagement platforms work
Let's say, for example, a new customer named Sarah signs up for an account using the desktop site for a meal kit delivery service. She chooses her meals for the week, picks her delivery day, and enters some personal information, including her dietary preferences and her address and phone number. In a welcome email, she gets an invitation to download a mobile app, but she doesn't do so.
After her first delivery is complete, Sarah is asked to rate her experience. She gives it 3 out of 5 stars, noting that she wishes there were an easy way to follow the online recipes without having to navigate your website on her device while prepping and cooking food. Your support team sends a follow-up email thanking her for the valuable feedback and letting her know the recipes are available in a step-by-step video format on your mobile app, with a link to download it. This time, she does.
But the following week, Sarah skips her scheduled delivery. You use the new mobile app to send her a push notification that reads, "Feeling hungry? Take $10 off your next scheduled meal kit delivery." Sarah opens the app and places her next order using the discount code you provided.
In this example, Sarah's actions in one channel are triggering data-driven events in other channels. Before customer engagement platforms, setting up an omnichannel workflow like this one would require using a ton of different apps and tools — customer onboarding tools, email marketing and automation software, customer support software, apps to send and analyze customer surveys, programmable messaging, and more.
But a CEP allows this hypothetical meal kit delivery company to do it all from one place. What's even better is that when all these events and interactions happen within one platform, there are no broken integrations, data silos, or fragmented customer experiences. You can simply engage customers, wherever they are, with one totally seamless SaaS tool.
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What to consider when comparing customer engagement platforms for your business
When choosing a customer engagement software, ensuring it has the functionality your business needs is key. Here are some of the most crucial considerations to keep in mind.
In order for your digital engagement platform to act as the "command center" for customer interactions for your business, it needs to be able to integrate with all the tools you need to build out an omnichannel system. This includes communication channels (like email, social media, SMS, phone, live chat, chatbot, and anything else you use to communicate with customers), customer support tools, marketing, product improvement, sales, and any vertical-specific tools you use.
2. Single customer view
One of the most useful things a customer engagement platform should be able to do is offer a single customer view — that is, a unified view of all the data you have on a single customer, collected from all the channels they've interacted with.
Not only is this great for delivering a highly personalized experience to individual customers; it also allows you to build customer segments based on these unified, single customers. Then, you can design relevant campaigns that are built to reach the right customers for your business.
3. Growth potential
Of course, your customer engagement strategy today may not be your strategy forever. Any tools you use to manage customer engagement need to be agile and scalable so that they can grow with your business.
Top customer engagement platforms for 2023
With so many factors to consider when choosing a customer interaction platform, you'll want to compare multiple top options to ensure you're getting all the features and functionality you need.
Here are some of the top customer engagement platforms, including the top features for each.
Salesforce Customer 360
Salesforce Customer 360 is the company's CRM platform, which integrates freely with other Salesforce tools, including Salesforce CDP. It's an incredibly powerful and scalable tool, made to streamline customer engagement activities for marketing, sales, customer support, and HR teams.
Einstein AI, which evaluates a customer's individual profile and interaction history with your business to recommend the best next steps you can take in a sales or customer support campaign.
Out-of-the-box integration with Tableau for real-time data analytics and visualization
Seamless integration with hundreds of other apps and tools, including Salesforce's entire suite of SaaS tools — and countless third-party tools
Zendesk is one of the biggest, most trusted names in customer support technology, and not for nothing. Zendesk Sunshine, its cloud-based CRM offering, gives help desk reps a way to manage customer conversations across all channels from a single interface. It integrates seamlessly with communication tools like Slack and Whatsapp, as well as business tools like Shopify and HelpScout.
No-code tools make it easy to customize your interface or build your own apps within the Zendesk app framework.
Built-in chatbot that can be deployed on any communication channel — wherever you need it
Available APIs to integrate with more than 1,200 apps
Qualtrics XM (for experience management) can be a powerful tool, when combined with other software. It doesn't integrate with as many channels as some other CEPs on the market, but it's still a powerful tool for collecting, analyzing, and unifying customer conversation data, which can then be used with Qualtrics' predictive models to improve customer experience going forward.
Can pull conversation data from a select number of external apps, websites, voice and video calls, social media, direct messages, surveys, and even IoT devices
Uses predictive analysis to identify opportunities to improve future custom experiences
Becomes even more powerful when integrated with other customer engagement and analytics tools
The future of commerce is conversational.
From concierge-facilitated e-commerce to chatting with a seller in an online marketplace, to asking a live streamer questions about a product in real-time before making a purchase, to "social shopping," or sharing deals, in real-time, with your friends — more and more, today's e-commerce consumers expect personalized experiences. And above all else, that means having the option to chat with a real person, not a bot.
Additionally, customers who are familiar with tools like Whatsapp, Slack, and Messenger have high expectations for text, voice, and video chat. Building a full-featured chat platform that meets those expectations is a complex (and expensive!) task.
That's where Sendbird comes in. Thanks to its API, native chat SDKs, ready-to-ship UIKits, robust support, and countless integrations, Sendbird makes it easy (and super fast) to roll out a full-featured chat program so you can focus your resources on the things you're good at. And because Sendbird uses global AWS infrastructure, it's infinitely scalable and able to handle even the most massive traffic spikes easily.
You get complete control over the user experience (and the ability to customize the user interface with your own branding). But Sendbird is plug-and-play — you don't have to worry about maintenance, updates, or bugs. You own your platform and your data, without having to take the time to build it from the ground up.
The bottom line? For businesses looking for a customer experience platform that integrates seamlessly with all their other tools, provides powerful data that can help them build best-in-class customer experience, and grows with them, there's only one answer: Sendbird.