You'd think customer engagement wouldn't be all that difficult.

They're customers, after all. They're already sold enough on your brand to have made a purchase. Now you just need to hang on to them, ping them with the right messages at the right time, and the rest just takes care of itself, right?

If that were really the case, there wouldn't be such a growing demand for customer engagement solutions, and more than only a quarter of the population would consider themselves loyal to a brand.

Customer engagement really isn't all that complicated. At its core, it's the act of keeping a brand in front of someone on a consistent basis in a way that adds meaningful value to the relationship.

What's so hard about engaging people who are already convinced enough about you to have made an initial purchase?

In my view, these are the five big mistakes companies make in their relationships with their customers.

1. They sell when they should give

Pop open your email inbox right now, and most of what you'll open is designed to convince you to buy more stuff.

Engaging? Eh, only if you're ready to buy and the email is pushing something you're interested in.

There's a time to make a sale, but positive engagement is built on adding value. The companies that enjoy the highest engagement tend to offer up information that makes the customers' lives better or easier, such as tutorials, best-practices, other helpful content—even contests.

Imagine being at a party and getting stuck talking to a car salesman. Which is fine, of course; you're OK with car salespeople. Except it seems this person can only talk about selling you a car.

You put forth a good effort, bringing up different topics and asking him questions about the weather or his hobbies.

But he's not giving up the sales pitch.

You? You're going to escape and avoid that guy for all eternity.

That is the same approach many brands take. They just don't know how to do anything other than sell.

Except the smart ones. The smart brands know how to interact and add value to a dialog. They respond to questions and they are proactive about communicating new and exciting information.

You know... like good friends do.

2. They assume their product is enough

Follow every purchase with a next step, with this question in mind: What's the most important thing someone can do to get the best experience from your product or service, or your brand?

For example, when you sign up for Twitter, the service suggests people for you to follow. Twitter knows you're more likely to keep using it if you can read tweets from your favorite athletes or celebrities.

Even the lovable iPhone can't stand on its own. It's useful out of the box, but customizing the device and adding apps is what makes it invaluable to people. Newer iterations of the iOS software even include a "Tips" app that highlights features people may not be aware of.

An Accenture survey found that 81% of people say it's frustrating to deal with a company that doesn't make doing business with it easy. So make it easy by holding you customer's hand, guiding them directly into the best possible experience they can have.

3. They don't really try

If we look at the big picture, most brand interactions are perfectly fine. A few are great. And a few are terrible. On the whole, we're mostly OK with the things we buy and the brand interactions we have.

So why do just 22% of people consider themselves brand-loyal?

Because a lot of brands don't even put in the effort to engage.

Why didn't they ask customers to sign up for their email newsletter, follow them on Instagram, or review them on Yelp? Why didn't they have a loyalty program or at least a little "Buy Ten, Get One Free" punch card?

People are rarely more pleased with a business than when they make that initial purchase. Why not formalize the relationship and try to earn a second date?

Loyalty programs, SMS clubs, and even social media connections provide the grounds for ongoing relationships.

The bigger point is to do something. Don't just let your future loyal customers walk out the door without some way of bringing them back.

4. They abuse their privileges

Many brands associate customer engagement with sending emails every day or constantly tweeting out the latest offering or service. But what matters most is being present at the right time—not all the time.

Granted, timing is a delicate art. You can get away with frequent tweets because the lifespan of a tweet is so short. Email and Facebook posts need to be far less frequent, however.

My rule is this: When you're really adding value, frequency is irrelevant. Consistency helps, but value trumps all because you'll be top of mind when people need something you offer.

For example, we need a plumber when our pipes are clogged. Plumbing help isn't an ongoing, everyday need, so we don't need to constantly hear from a plumber. But a plumber is most likely to get the call when the need arises if that plumber has dropped a line here and there, or sent over a helpful video about how to get wads of hair out a sink.

And that's the goal of customer engagement. Building enough of a relationship so that you get the call when the need arises.

5. They keep all their secrets

KFC won't share its secret recipe. Would doing so hurt the business?

Probably not. Because it'd still make a better product, more economically, than 99.9% of the population could at home.

The truth is that most businesses' secret sauce isn't that big a secret. Why are mechanics still getting paid when you can find just about every automotive repair tutorial on YouTube for free?

So open up a bit, share some of your expertise. Turn your customers into semi-pros at what you do. But deliver an experience so good they'll pay you to do it anyway.

Share how people are doing things with your product you hadn't planned on, or connect new customers to an online forum of their peers.

Encourage mastery and expertise. Peel back the curtain a bit and let people connect with the brand and the company. It's the best way to build long-term trust.

The common thread is customer relationships, not marketing

If there's a common thread to all of these engagement mistakes it's that brands aren't exactly treating people like people.

Engagement is all about relationships. Most great relationships aren't built by keeping secrets or selling things to each other. Relationships are about belonging to your customers' tribe and adding value that makes their lives better and easier.

Every brand can do that, whether it's offering online accounting software or peddling beaded jewelry at the local farmers market.

The advantage for you is that most companies aren't engaging correctly. They're more interested in new business, moving product, and thinking a sale is the ultimate goal.

They're wrong. A purchase is the beginning of the relationship, not the end. Treat it as an opportunity to keep the conversation going, and you'll already be far ahead what everyone else is doing.

More Resources on Customer Engagement and Relationships

How to Build a Full-Lifecycle Customer-Engagement Strategy

LinkedIn B2B Marketing: Three Underused Ways to Engage Prospects and Customers

Poised for Profit: Execs Reflect on Digital Customer Engagement

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image of Brandon Carter

Brandon Carter is a loyalty and engagement writer and analyst for Access Development. He covers customer loyalty and engagement and employee engagement.

LinkedIn: Brandon Carter

Twitter: @bscarter