Encouraging customer engagement or preventing customer disengagement?

February 27, 2008

Most accounts of engagement suggest ways of encouraging or promoting a customer’s engagement with the brand/website. In a handful of cases however (e.g. Jim Novo and Erwin Ephron) one reads about preventing and reversing customer disengagement instead.

But is there a meaningful and valuable distinction between the two? Are the marketing techniques used to encourage our customers’ engagement with the brand/website different to those that are required in order to reverse their disengagement? Have most accounts of customer engagement overemphasized the former in the detriment of the later?

Is there a distinction?

It seems to me that the techniques involved in preventing disengagement must be different from those of encouraging engagement since the attitudes and behaviour of a customer that is disengaging are entirely different from those of someone who is already engaged. Disengagement, as Jim Novo warns, however is often masked by new customer acquisition.

Defining the disengaged

In order to be able to prevent disengagement it is necessary to be able to identify a customer who is disengaging from the brand/website.

We can identify a customer’s disengagement, when we witness a shift in his or her degree of engagement on the following scale:


Given that the process of disengagement can begin no matter what a customer’s degree of engagement, it is important to look at both:

  1. Where a customer is in the Engagement lifecycle
  2. What the pattern of a customer’s movement along the continuum of Engagement is. Were they less engaged in the past couple of months?

Preventing disengagement therefore refers to the process of identifying a customer’s disengagement with the brand and attempting to reverse it.

Before we look at the types of disengaged customers it is important to distinguish them from former customers (i.e. non-customers). To do this one needs to define defection, and not count dead customers as ‘retained, but disengaged customers’. As Jim suggests although there is no reason you can’t use “24 month active” or “36 month active” or “5 year active”, it is imperative to define what retention is for your particular business and stick with it.

There are two kinds of disengaged customers.

  1. Customers whose engagement is above average but on a downward (right-ward) spiral. What Jim Novo refers to as High current value, Low potential value customers.
  2. Customers whose engagement has fallen below average and is now either stable or continues to decrease. (Jim’s low current – low potential value customers)

Both of these customers, that is, irrespective of their current value, are apathetic towards the brand. They continue to provide their custom due to lack of competitors, convenience of location, low prices but are nevertheless ready to defect.

The value of paying attention to disengagement

The customer insights that are gained by means of identifying disengagement can be used in the following ways:

  • Segmenting marketing communications. Although two customers may have the same degree of engagement, their degree of engagement may be growing or decreasing. Your communications should therefore not be identical to both.
  • Improving customer retention. By means of tracking the disengagement process and preventing or reversing it.
  • Marketing budget allocation. Should you spend money at the 2nd kind of disengaged customers? At what point should you stop? Read further on how the concept of disengagement can help in evaluating…

2 Responses to “Encouraging customer engagement or preventing customer disengagement?”

  1. Pirsey Says:

    Not that I’m totally impressed, but this is a lot more than I expected for when I stumpled upon a link on Delicious telling that the info is awesome. Thanks.

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