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Intercom's Des Traynor on getting close to your customers in a digital world

Patrick Campbell Nov 3 2020

Engaging with folks is not only inevitable, but it’s also the secret hidden in plain sight to improving your business. The depth of your relationship with your customers provides a better understanding of how you can actually serve them. People want to know which kind of coffee is best, if the album playing in store is from a local band, and even if there is a code or a key to the bathroom. At the very least, customer interaction is had during the purchasing process. It’s reminiscent of a phrase we preach at ProfitWell: the closer you get to the customer, the more you win.


While there’s always direct customer interaction with a brick and mortar business, SaaS in the world of the internet is not always afforded the same liberty. So how do you get closer to a customer with only a digital connection? The answer lies with Des Traynor. As the co-founder of Intercom, he has helped build his company to lower this barrier to entry, revolutionizing the way that we talk to our prospects and customers online. It was his experience at a coffee shop in Dublin while building his first business, Exceptional, that had a tremendous impact on the growth of his customer-centric career.

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Here we summarize the main takeaways for you to implement or hand off to your team for implementation.


Key terms: 

What is customer engagement?

In short, customer engagement is the depth of the relationship a customer has with a brand. The majority of customer engagement is built on emotions. It’s communicating with your customers through their lifecycle to ensure they’re getting the value and outcome they want. And as Intercom says, “to put it even more simply, [it’s] sending the right messages, to the right people, at the right time and place, to help them get to a desired outcome.”


Why is customer engagement important?

Customer engagement drives sales, promotes branding, strengthens loyalty, and powers retention. Without a constructive professional approach to this factor, it's nearly impossible to stay ahead of the competition. Customer engagement can become the key to building your company faster and boosting revenue substantially. It’s also key to keeping your customers happy and building lasting relationships.

Action plan:

 What to do today: 

  • Follow Des Traynor, and download and read Intercom’s ebook on Customer Engagement
  • Discuss your customer engagement practices with your exec team
  • Schedule a time to review your customer engagement strategy

What to do next quarter:

Run an exercise to review and implement any needed changes to improve your communication with your customers. 

Start by asking the following questions:

  • Are your messages laser focused on the right individual?
  • Do you write messages in the right tone, voice and format for maximum impact?
  • Is your message received in the most appropriate medium and in the most appropriate context?

Next up, utilize the following messaging guide straight out of Intercom’s playbook to up your customer engagement game. 

intercom cover

Define the audience for your messages by segmenting users according to behavior and action. Defining and targeting the right users is the foundation of a successful messaging strategy.

    • Simple segmentation for better messaging
      Segmentation is when you group people based on certain shared characteristics in order to customize your messages, and it’s the not-so-secret key to your customer engagement strategy. By narrowing your focus and sending messages to targeted groups, your recipients will find your messages much more relevant. And relevant messages get better results.
    • Matching messages to behavior
      Message personalization is often used to describe tactics like putting a customer’s name in the subject line of an email, or adjusting the send time to the user’s location. Personalization has become a buzzword in the marketing industry, but in most cases what’s being used is easily captured demographic and geographic data.

Crafting your messages for maximum impact—voice, tone, format, and language. Regardless of the type of message you're sending, there are some fundamental characteristics every message should have. 

    1. Get to the point quickly and clearly.
    2. Adopt a personal tone—warm and friendly, but respectful about what you don’t know.
    3. Make it relevant—your message should be specific and appropriate to the user.
    4. Always be polite—be respectful, don’t shout, don’t overuse jargon, and consider cultural and regional differences.
    5. Speak consistently—have a company style guide to ensure a consistent voice.

The right way and the right time for a message—what you can do to ensure it's received in the most appropriate setting and in the most appropriate context.

The right way: The medium through which we choose to communicate holds as much, if not more, value than the message itself.

      • Email – The key advantage it has over in-apps is that you can guarantee your customers will receive it, unlike in-app messages, which they have to log into your app to receive. 
        • Positive: Scalable, ubiquity, (almost) immediate, all people, all devices, guaranteed delivery. 
        • Negative: Overuse, low read and reply rates, timing and formatting. Ubiquitous, reliable, ability to reach a broad audience. Despite the explosion of new mediums, email is proving itself to be the cockroach of messaging formats.
      • Live chat – More and more frequently, live chat is becoming a primary channel for customer engagement.
        • Positive: Asynchronous, informal, easy to consume.
        • Negative: Disruptive, high volume, hard to scale.
      • Push notifications – Done right, notifications can be an extremely effective vehicle for your message.
        • Positive: Immediate, ease of response/action, guaranteed delivery, right device.
        • Negative: Diminishing returns, interrupts recipient, easily ignored, not all devices, short message length.
      • In-app messages – Like push notifications, in-app messaging must be handled carefully.
        • Positive: In context, high rates and quality of replies. Low effort for recipients.
        • Negative: Doesn’t reach inactive users, may interrupt workflows/leisure time.

The right time: The “perfect time” has many different variables beyond time of day. There are a number of distinct aspects of time you need to consider:

        • frequency 
        • local time 
        • calendar time
        • recency and significance
        • customer lifecycle

Once you’ve considered the impact of the above you’ll be well positioned to draw up the perfect message schedule. Examining your customers’ patterns of behavior will help you determine the best time for each type of message. Intercom has a ton of data around finding the right time, so be sure to download their book.

What to do within the next year: 

Utilize your exercise output to work through the following deliverables:

    • Customer engagement strategy
    • Messaging strategy
    • Marketing channels and specifics
    • Website copy
    • Content
    • Essentially, every customer touchpoint

Who should own this? 

Customer engagement is an on-going practice and company-wide effort, but is typically led by the head of customer engagement or head of customer success. In some cases it’s a combined effort between departments.

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Coming up next week
Next week, Chargebee’s Krish Subramanian discusses achieving success through loyalty and trust. Don’t miss out.

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This is a ProfitWell Recur Studios production—the first media network dedicated entirely to the SaaS and subscription space.

By Patrick Campbell

Founder & CEO of ProfitWell, the software for helping subscription companies with their monetization and retention strategies, as well as providing free turnkey subscription financial metrics for over 20,000 companies. Prior to ProfitWell Patrick led Strategic Initiatives for Boston-based Gemvara and was an Economist at Google and the US Intelligence community.

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