Digital Transformation Adtech Brand Purpose

3 lessons brands can learn from charities when leveling up their CX

By Sam Richardson | Senior visioneering consultant

March 17, 2022 | 7 min read

Do you really know your customers? As part of The Drum’s Deep Dive into The New Customer Experience Economy, Sam Richardson of cloud communications platform Twilio shares three ways brands can deliver successful customer engagement facilitated through genuine customer understanding.


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With customer expectations constantly changing in the digital era, brands are finding new ways to elevate their customer engagement strategy, making sure every customer’s needs are being considered.

In the business world, the top performers when it comes to customer engagement are often pretty well-known. But actually, many public sector organizations, NGOs and charities offer some of the best examples of good customer engagement, and there’s a lot that brands can learn from them to create useful and personalized experiences.

These organizations are some of the best in the business for customer engagement because they have a clear purpose, a desire to base their approach on a research-driven understanding of their audience and are truly concerned with the best interests of their end-users.

So, learning from these approaches, how can brands level up their engagement strategy and better utilize first-party data to show they understand their customers and are responsive to their needs and preferences?

1. Make sure no customer is left behind

When thinking about how best to engage with customers, the underrepresented and vulnerable need to be considered. Having an inclusive approach to customer engagement, not just thinking of the easy path and identifying those who have special needs or preferences, ensures no one is left behind when engagement strategies are designed.

Demonstrating concern for customers’ satisfaction starts with addressing the main challenges underrepresented groups face when it comes to contacting their favorite brands. The popularity of chats on apps for engaging with customers, for example, might not be the best solution for customers who are visually impaired or struggle with written language. Be My Eyes presents a good example of alternative ways of communicating with customers digitally without relying on written messaging. The company runs a platform for visually impaired users that connects them to a volunteer to describe the image their phone camera points towards. With this assistance, these customers are able to increase their independence and participate in digital interactions.

Taking an open approach to thinking about different customer circumstances, as well as preferences, unlocks opportunities to think creatively about the engagement tools that will be really useful for a wider customer base. Supporting this with first-party data insights provides a better understanding of exactly how customers choose to engage, while bringing this data into one place can help build a better sense of individual customers to inform decision making.

2. Ensuring there’s a channel for everyone

As well as having an inclusive approach to customer engagement, it’s increasingly important that brands have a wide spectrum of channel offerings to reflect a higher level of customer consideration. Again, non-profits have historically done this really well because they understand that sensitive information might not be best given or received for every person in the same way. The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ youth support organization, built a customer engagement strategy offering multiple different channels including phone calls, text and web chat so users can use the safest and most convenient channel at any given time.

With so many channels available, it’s key to offer customers a range of ways to communicate. Operating in-app chats, for example, might work for tech-savvy customers, but if there aren’t other options available such as voice-call, SMS, email or even video chat, brands may be shutting themselves off from a range of customers who would prefer engaging on these channels instead.

For example, only 17% of the UK population frequently interact with branded texts, according to our 2022 Global Messaging Report. This suggests that while SMS might be suitable for things like alerts or notifications, many customers prefer to use other channels to engage with brands. Giving users the ability to channel shift on the same device, connecting with customers on multiple channels makes sense, especially to a diverse customer base who are operating digitally. It’s about recognizing that a one-channel-fits-all approach doesn’t work in a world where personalization is expected.

3. Merging the digital with the physical

Increasing channel offerings to connect with customers is critical for reaching remote audiences, but it’s also important that the lessons organizations learn from physical interactions aren’t ignored.

Charities have long recognized the requirement to cater for diverse end-users and have been very good at delivering the same experience digitally as in person. This is because many of these organizations use data from years of experience of working with people directly to build something online that their users really need and will use. Brands can learn from this approach to elevate their physical customer interactions with digital equivalents.

Using in-person customer knowledge to build online experiences helps to cater to a diverse range of customers. In-store moments that reveal more about different customer needs, like elderly customers who prefer to talk to a person about an issue, or special needs customers who require more attention, are incredibly valuable when deploying digital communication channels.

Age UK utilized its in-person customer knowledge to recognize that human conversation is really important for elderly people suffering from loneliness, so made sure this was protected during the pandemic. The ’Call in Time’ program connected up to 10,000 calls a week during the pandemic, making sure users were still receiving humanized contact while they were in lockdown.

Ultimately, integrating more customer compassion and empathy into every decision around the customer journey will result in better customer understanding. It’s about asking the ‘what if?’ questions, thinking of customer diversity and catering to every type of customer. Great engagement starts with great understanding and having an inclusive approach means that no one gets left behind.

Sam Richardson is senior visioneering consultant at the cloud communications platform Twilio.

For more on The New Customer Experience Economy, check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive.

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