With the proliferation of new and emerging channels, marketers continue to struggle to determine where to invest their limited marketing dollars to achieve their acquisition objectives in the most effective way.

As new customers are acquired, companies will track hundreds of metrics, the results will be analyzed, and the model will be revised in an attempt to make better media purchases during the next campaign. And so it goes for the cost of customer acquisition.

But what about the cost of engaging with your customers across the entire lifecycle? What would it mean to you, your customers, and your organization if you knew which lever to pull, at which time, across which channel, and at which stage of the customer lifecycle, to maximize your return on investment?

It's time to relinquish traditional marketing and customer service metrics for performance metrics that are provocative, compelling, and defensible. But without customer data, business rules, and decision-making tools, connecting the dots will be impossible.

So before embarking on a successful return on customer engagement strategy, organizations must implement the following five key components to ensure a more relevant, timely, and accurate measurement of customer engagement—and, ultimately, future business performance.

1. Central Repository of Data

Savvy marketers must have the ability to organize and prioritize every piece of customer interaction data as they look for behavioral clues and actionable insights across every customer interaction. On the front end, that should include known transactional, demographic, and behavioral data about each customer, as well as information regarding their channel preferences, product purchases, and response history to offers.

Companies should also capture customer feedback from satisfaction surveys, quality assurance scores, and key performance indicator results. By capturing the right data all in one place, marketing leaders will have a better understanding of their customers while uncovering valuable insight to help inform the right customer engagement strategy.

2. Customer Lifecycle

Historically, Marketing's focus on the customer lifecycle has been limited to awareness and acquisition, resulting in the organization's focus on the management of campaign execution instead of real-time customer engagement. Furthermore, the customer's view of the decision-making lifecycle is rarely in alignment with the organization's.

The key to building customer relationships that last a lifetime is to align lifecycle perspectives between the organization and the customer by mapping out each stage of the customer journey, including pre-acquisition, acquisition, support, retention, and growth.

3. Multiple Touchpoints

Today, consumers have more power than ever to positively or negatively influence brands, whether by phone, social media, or other online channels. Organizations should determine which consumer touchpoints are the most important to them and their customers, starting with an in-depth analysis of brand objectives and consumer preferences.

In siloed organizations, that can be a tricky endeavor, because customer-care organizations are typically focused on lowering the cost to serve, whereas marketing teams are focused on creating value. An agreement needs to be reached on the ideal customer experience across every stage of the lifecycle before making decisions on which channels to support. Once marketers know which communication channels are worth the investment and which ones aren't, their decisions on resources will become much easier.

4. Customer Lifetime Value

Are your customers worth keeping? Eventually, there is a tipping point at which the value of the customer and the cost of the service no longer equate. To determine that tipping point, marketers should calculate the following:

  • The total revenue generated in customer purchases
  • The total cost to acquire and support the customer
  • The total revenue generated as a result of customer referrals

Understanding customer lifetime value can yield powerful intelligence for developing effective customer programs and delivering a framework and rationale for differentiated customer treatments and interactions over time. In addition, it's a valuable tool to provide justification regarding where to maximize, optimize, or limit marketing and customer service spend.

5. Real-Time Analytics

Customers provide behavioral clues and actionable insights about themselves in every decision the make leading to a purchase or response. The problem, however, is that many marketers continue to treat all customers uniformly, regardless of whether the consumer is high-value, low-value, or likely to churn.

Real-time analytics is more that just a spreadsheet. Using customer data captured from all sources can deliver actionable data sets that drive cost savings, greater value, and higher levels of customer engagement. By analyzing what's happening today and making changes to affect that result tomorrow, marketers can now take a greater role in delivering on objectives.

Perhaps the most difficult to obtain, this component is the linchpin to achieving real success.


Having the right tools, strategies, and resources in place is only the first step. Organizations must still change the way they think, spend, and act—including looking beyond quarterly results—to fully realize the benefits of a return on customer engagement. Leaders must come to fundamentally believe that data relates to behavior, that customers want to be treated differently, that brands can learn how customers want to be treated, and that at a visceral level that treatment will yield results.

At times, the pursuit of a return on customer engagement may feel more like the search for a mythical creature, but don't get discouraged. The end goal isn't about achieving perfection or completely optimizing your marketing spend. Rather, it's about knowing which levers to pull at which points in time across customer segments, lifecycle stages, and communication channels that will have the most impact on your organization.

Leading this charge will not be easy. Obstacles abound. But the quest will be rewarded with demonstrated performance metrics that are not only provocative and compelling but also defensible.

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image of John Hoholik

John Hoholik is the chief growth officer for ACCENT Marketing Services, a member of the MDC Partners Inc. network and provider of multichannel customer engagement solutions for brands.

LinkedIn: John Hoholik

Twitter: @JohnHoholik