Engagement != Experience != Relationship — You Know That, Right?

Oracle announced the acquisition of Vitrue this morning.  Did they need that?  Let me put it this way… if I say “Databases” you probably think Oracle… If I say “Marketing” there may be a lot of companies that come to mind before Oracle, if at all.  It will be added to their cloud offerings, joining the likes of RightNow and Taleo at the very least in their expansion as a SaaS provider.

Oracle has been executing well on their cloud strategy this past year.  In their global analyst day a few weeks back, the vision and message shared (most of which remains NDA for about another month or so) was quite advanced and well done .  They have a good vision, and a good wallet to execute on that vision as the recent acquisitions of RightNow Technologies, Taleo, and few others show.  They are making the shift to that place that Larry Ellison derided in 1999 when he asked “Why on Earth would anyone want to use the cloud?” (paraphrasing).

Credit where credit is due – they are doing a good job of coming up to speed in it as their clients take on it and ask Oracle to join them there.

There are many things that are not yet done in the execution of that vision but this is not the place for it; there are  some parts that are being executed quite well.

The messaging shift to “Experiences” as the replacement for “Relationships” in CRM is one of those.  They get it, they know what they are going after, they understand what their customers are asking and what they need to do (side item: that has always been Oracle’s strength and strategy, come from behind the hype and deliver working solutions that are good for mainstream, not ahead for early adopters – but I digress, and will discuss Oracle’s innovation credentials at some other time).

What prompted me to write this post is this tweet I saw this morning.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsI am not taking on Alan individually, he is a great analyst at Constellation (where I sit in their Board of Advisers) and he is doing a great  job. What he is saying is a simplified statement (140 characters only goes so far), and partially right.

But I want to take on the wrongly stated concept that end-to-end engagement is the same as end-to-end experiences which in turn is the same as end-to-end-process.

That is not the case, by far.

There is still room for relationship building with customers, even in an experience-driven world, since not everyone is looking for an experience.  I just want my checking account balance, not an experience.  That two second interaction is just a small part of  the relationship that I have with my bank.  I don’t want to be asked how it was, to have it improved, or to be made fast or interesting or different.  I want a number.  I expect it to be there, accurate, and ready when I want it – it is the bank fulfilling their end of our relationship.  This is simply content provided on-demand when needed. There is no context, no intent, and not circumstances that surround it.  Not an experience, just part of the relationship.

There is a certain set of processes, that can be transformed into an experience.  If I want to open a new account with the same bank, I’d expect an experience.  I’d expect context and intent, I’d expect more focused and complementing information to be provided, different steps in the process delivered via different channels (I can choose which one I want) but the ultimate goal is to complete the set of transactions with the least effort on my part, best result, and a happy win-win for the bank and myself.  The complex and intertwined processes the bank needs to undertake in the back-end to make this happen (provision the account, verify my identity and credit-worthiness, give me content to support my decision-making, interact with me at different touchpoints, offer me specific products and solutions based on my needs, and more) will make this an end-to-end experience.

Engagement is just wrong.

I was in a panel last week where the use of the word engagement was all over the place; apparently it has replaced relationship and experience as the new go-to-word for everything we do in business these days.  I did not know that customers are demanding engagement (they aren’t, trust me) and businesses need to engage to retain Trust (another one, I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole right now – but they don’t either).  Sure, bring your “research” and put it in the comments, glad to debate that down there… if you feel it is debatable.

Paraphrasing Scott McNealy – there is no engagement, get over it.

It is a buzzword used by the Social Media Gurus to try to control the next stage in the evolution of business on the road to becoming a collaborative enterprise.  I won’t go into a lengthy discussion on that today (1,000 words is more than enough for this), but seriously — who wakes up in the morning and says “I so wish I could engage with my bank this morning as I need to get my balance” or “If my bank does not engage with me when I try to open a new account, I am done with them”.  Even better, can you imagine the CEO of your bank saying “How come we are not engaging more with John? He seems to be upset about it”.

Engagement does not exist, it is a word used to make believe that businesses are “social” and “human”.

If you want to sound hip and modern, go ahead and use engagement and engage as much as you want. Just make sure to explain that you are only using it because is part of the vernacular, not because you believe in it.  You’ll get more respect in the world of real business.

At the risk of dating myself here, flame on.

disclaimer: Oracle is a customer and have frequent interactions with them as part of their IR program, including attending the global analyst day for free and getting my expenses paid to be there. I am currently working with Oracle on an unrelated project to create content. Vitrue was never a customer.

13 Replies to “Engagement != Experience != Relationship — You Know That, Right?”

  1. Esteban, you make a good point however the other day I woke up asking myself this question: “I so wish I could engage with my bank this morning as I need to get my balance”… I needed it to open a new bank account and went throughout my lists of banks that are providing a good engagement – engagement for me is how well they know me and based on that how well can the provide service based on my needs. Like you explained, “Engagement” is not equal to “social” and “human”, engagement for me is to simply get a good service (via sales, via support, via marketing) – period. The bank that provided good service on my recent interactions got the new account.

    Yes. I have already left a few banks when their service is not good… The same with telcos and airlines…


    1. Jesus,

      Thanks for stopping by and chiming in – I like what you are saying, but to me good service is not part of engagement. Good service is part of the bank’s DNA or not – if it is, they will do it for their particular reasons (retention, attracting new business, just being nice) but it is not for engagement reason.

      I hardly believe that your bank’s CEO said “we should provide good service so we can engage customers” — more than likely what was said was “we need to be nice so they stay, and we can then use the captive audience to propose new products that deliver more value to them while generating more fees for us. If we are bad and they leave, we won’t have the ability to generate fees out of a captive audience and we won’t make our numbers”.

      Although, you do raise an interesting point: what it the difference of engagement? So far, from the comments here and via email and in person, each person has a different definition. I know that good friend and role model Paul Greenberg has done some work to define it – but I quite certain that it should happen independent of specific functions.

      More work to do, I guess.


  2. Esteban, your example about waking up and wanting to engage with my bank today made me laugh out loud (LOL). It does sound absurd! And it does drive me crazy when we system providers (I work for Infor, as a matter of full disclosure) as well as industry consultants, influencers, and experts, keep trying to come out with new ways to say similar things in the name of “innovation.” What I have found matters most is a company’s ability to listen to and understand its customers and their needs and then respond to them in the most appropriate way. In my prior life at one of the top banks in the country, we did add real-time marketing messages onto our self-service IVR. But only after customer research and usability studies in which we learned how tolerant a customer might be to this type of behavior on the part of it’s Bank. We learned, as you said, that all they really want to do is get the info that they want right now and are not looking for more than that. BUT that does not mean that a customer was not accepting of more, you just have to time it right, message it correctly, have the relevant content, make it seemless to fulfill and so on. But to call this “engagement” would have been overstating it and I think that applies to social channels too. As my friend (I hope I can say that) Paul Greenberg told me recently (my paraphrase here), “As a restuarant owner, you can’t just walk over to a couple eating at one of your tables discussing your restaurant’s pros and cons and interrupt them with your own responses…” That would be inapproriate and it is also inappropriate for a business to do this and call it “social engagement.” So we have more to learn, but keeping some basic principles in our minds and the customer in our heart is always the best policy I find.


  3. BRAVO, for taking on the brouhaha surrounding ‘engagement’. we desperately don’t need a new term to describe a common sense practice.

    could agree more with your use cases, although i still like the term experience.

    in essence, as a customer, I am looking for three kinds of experiences:

    A ‘simple’ experience (get me the account balance and nothing more)
    A ‘Tailored’ experience (get to know me, my context and use that to drive a tailored experience)
    An ‘Enriching’ experience (give me best practices thru social, help me connect with peers via communities, send me proactive alerts)


    1. Vikas,

      Thanks for stopping by, somehow I thought you would…

      You bring an interesting point also, something that I have been thinking about lately – the different type of experiences and whether or not getting a balance would be a type of experience (simple as you call it).

      I am starting to see something similar to what you are saying, and am working on a model to explain it better, but I am still not convinced that smaller interactions are experiences in themselves, maybe part of a larger experience — not sure yet.

      Thanks for bringing up that great point, appreciated. Stay tuned to this bat-channel for more on experiences and engagements – sans the hype (hopefully).


  4. Correct, those 3 terms are not the same.
    Relationship are built on experiences between two parties.
    Experiences are based on things like interactions with people (which is what engagement is refering to), services offered (web sites, apps, etc.), marketing (traditional advertising and social media), costs and a dozen other factors that don’t fit into a tweet.

    “who wakes up in the morning and says I so wish I could engage with my bank this morning as I need to get my balance” is a silly example, but wishing my bank would be more engaged with me for things like ensuring I have the right type of account for my small business, or getting better rates on my mortage is something I wish for. My bank actually does this. Last time I was in the branch the manager asked to look at my accounts and suggested a better checking account which saved me $25/month. So yes, I HOPE my bank’s CEO is concerned about the ways they can be better engaged with me; whether it’s longer hours, better web site features, mobile apps, online chat, online communities, etc.


    1. It’s quite obvious that the main goal of competitive business should be an everyday improvement of customer EXPERIENCE on every stage of ‘customer journey’ and in each touch-point (each channel). In this case RELATIONSHIP could be viewed as customers’ perception of the improvements in each touch-point done by business to satisfy customers’ needs (constantly changing in micro and macro contexts). Thus, ENGAGEMENT could be achieved only if the customer experience is positive and endure. So, to me ENGAGEMENT is dynamic and it’s a RESULT of companies’ actions, but not a goal in itself.


    2. Alan,

      Thanks for stopping by, and let me reiterate – I just picked your tweet because it happened to cross my screen, nothing that you are saying is pertinent to you and no one else.

      Here is the thing, I hope by bank CEO does not know who I am and does not want to engage with me. Yet, I still hope my bank (not the CEO) cares enough to find out what I want, how, and delivers it.

      As I was telling Jesus above, there is no CEO that tries to engage a customer or cares about them honestly (not even a group). Their job is far removed from the customer and it should be. They can infuse a culture of caring and collaborating for customers into the company, but only insofar as it makes sense for the business.

      I am sure that your bank manager did not talk to you about your accounts to make sure you were engaged, rather to find places to propose new products and generate more fees to the bank. There is no way his or her bonus depends on engagement, it depends on revenues and profits. Engagement does not increase either, and more than likely cost them (if you bank manager where to make sure that everyone has the best products for them and reduces the fees for the bank in the process, I promise you that his “engagement” model will be noticed and corrected.).

      The bottom line is that corporations are not human. They may be made of humans, but those humans are following Maslow and they are focused on what the bank wants to do, not what is better for engagement. And, no – this is not bound to change with social channels or “the new way to work”. Businesses are in the business of making money, and that is not going to change. If you define engagement as making more money for the business while increasing the value offered to the customers, then you can have engagement.

      I will just call it business.

      PS – let’s see how those $25/month in savings look in 2-3 years when your fees from either the new account or other services they offered and you had to accept surpass the savings… just saying. Bank’s gotta eat, and everything they do is guided by a win-win (hopefully – is that engagement?).


  5. Esteban,

    Your argument is fine in so far that any activity we ascribe to customers be it management, engagement etc can be subject to critical exegesis. One man’s theology is another’s sin.

    I no more want to be ‘engaged’ as I wish to be ‘managed’. Nor for that matter subjected to an artificially constructed ‘experience’ cobbled together by 6 sigma, UX feaks and an external digital agency on a lucrative retainer.

    I just don’t care what innocent phrase is next kidnapped and subjected to linguistic torture! Fact is, you either ‘get’ customers and do the right thing or you go to seminars

    Pip pip



    1. Martin,

      Thanks for this

      you either ‘get’ customers and do the right thing or you go to seminars

      I just found the new raison-de-etre for my business — provide seminars.

      Seriously, I totally agree with you on this, but I’d not be so quick to dismiss the phrases; as much as I dislike the labels, helps organizations band around a common theme to move forward. Which we have indeed done in the past few years – don’t you think?


  6. Esteban,

    In response to some of your thoughts earlier about whether simple transactionns count as experiences.

    As a way of sourcing the logic I would go routing around for some understanding of the term experience. This industry has pounced on it to vaguely signal something better than the last label, but its use is impecise.

    For instance, when I was doing experiential training stuff back in the day, experience was a central point of focus and therefore discussion. The ventual consensus was it something that occured from the fusion of thought and feeling. Hard to theoretically define. Easy to witness in real life.

    If you accept that (as a for instance)then even the briefest encounter can be counted an experience.

    In other words, the definition drives when and where it seems applicable.



Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: