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If you search Google Trends for "customer engagement," you'll see an obvious uptick for the search term. "Engagement" is not just a buzz word; it's a phenomena.

It's no wonder engagement is one of the most pressing challenges facing today's CMO. In order to close the loop, CMOs and the rest of the C-suite need to not just talk about engagement - they need to act.

To truly engage customers, companies need to win the hearts of their customers. It goes beyond listening. If you're serious about engaging your customers, I challenge you to think of the following:

1. Engage quicker.

Today, marketing teams should be able to ask a question in the afternoon, have the answers the next morning, and take action before noon. Because of technology, CMOs and their research teams no longer have an excuse for not keeping up with the speed of business.

2. Ask fewer questions.

Here's a difficult pill to swallow: people usually multitask while interacting with your company. While tweeting about your new widget, they also check Buzz Feed or watch the latest viral video on YouTube. The consumer's short attention span demands you engage people accordingly.

Steer your team away from epic research projects. Small inquiries that will test your theories in iterative ways are more likely to engage people. The result is more meaningful insights from your customers.

3. Get the why and the how.

Traditional research has relied on transactional and behavioral data to try to figure out why people do what they do. These data sources are rich and powerful, but they are all observational - they let you watch what people do without revealing the how and why.

More recently, social media gave companies a way to hear directly from people. But social media offers some challenges when it comes to customer engagement. For one, we found that over 8 in 10 people are opposed to companies whose services they are using (like Google) monitoring the content of their social media profiles, internet searches and emails (despite the fact that a very small percentage of people demonstrate concerns over privacy in their everyday use of media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter).

But more importantly, social media platforms cannot always tell you the 'why' in a way that truly refeclects your customers' voices. You can talk to, and listen to, every customer talking about your brand on social media, but doing so could be time-consuming - and the medium doesn't always lend itself to the dialogue necessary to gather meaningful insight. It's unrealistic to expect your social media audience to be entirely representative of your customer base.

4 insights on how to close the loop on customer engagement

Transactional, behavioral, and social data are all important, but to truly engage your customers, you need to facilitate a two-way conversation. One solution is to employ an insight community and invite current customers to join. Your insight community could help you build a long-term relationship with customers and uncover the whys and the hows of their purchasing behavior.

4. Show that you're learning quickly.

Action speaks louder than words, so show your customers they didn't waste their time engaging with your brand. Provide evidence about how their input influenced your decision. Doing so could be as simple as posting a video message in your insight community or it could be in the form for a press release, a few tweets, or a blog post. Even if you don't implement everyone's ideas, your community would appreciate knowing they have been heard.

To win the hearts - and the wallets! - of your customers, you need to talk to them and they need to hear from you directly. Engaging customers is critical because consumers demand you do so. To learn more about using insight communities to engage your customers, read our free whitepaper featuring client stories from Banana Republic, NASCAR, VEVO and Dean Clinic.

How Nascar Increases Fan Engagement and Drives Business Decisions

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