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How to drive real-time customer engagement

How to drive real-time customer engagement

Real-time customer engagement offers a highly effective way to reach customers on a deeper level, building relationships, increasing trust and even enhancing conversion. Done correctly, this type of engagement can offer many rewards.

Many businesses tend to either see this as an afterthought or neglect to consider the intricacies of real-time engagement. As the name suggests, time plays a critical component in real-time engagement. Often, it is not only how you engage customers, but also when you try to engage them that can make all the difference.

You could think of it a bit like a cocktail party. There are a few ways that people interact at such events. You get the people who take the time to get to know you a bit, making conversation, showing interest, revealing information about themselves, and making you feel relaxed before you start to talk business. Then, you get the people who have their business cards in hand, ready to sell to whoever they meet. These types are often looking around the room while others talk, or they are too busy talking about their own business or achievements to listen or even ask about anyone else.

Using that analogy, the same applies to customer engagement. When you are trying to reach customers in real-time, you could start by first building relationships and driving trust or you could try to leap right in and hope for the best. Needless to say, the latter approach seldom gets you anywhere.

A key part in getting these interactions right is being able to provide relevant messages that build connections, while also understanding many factors, from device preference all the way to location, time and who you are targeting. When you start to focus on these factors, it soon becomes easier to interpret intent and respond accordingly.

Remember, it takes a matter of seconds for customers to make decisions. If you cannot reach them immediately, you will likely not be able to reach them later down the line, either. You have a very short window to make that connection. That is where real-time customer engagement comes in to help you make your connection, the first time around.

The pillars of real-time customer engagement

Before sharing tips on how to improve customer engagement in the real-time, it is worth noting that there are three key pillars when it comes to engagement. You will need to achieve all three of these to get started:

1. Agility and speed

Interacting in real-time comes down to agility as well as speed. You have to make those seconds last so you are able to engage your audience instantly and effectively. You need to be able to deliver value without being intrusive or annoying. Your campaigns may require an instant response or you may have a bit more time to work with if you are aiming for a longer response time. However, whatever your target time may be, you need to ensure your campaigns hit home as quickly as possible.

2. Personalisation

Real-time personalisation comes down to data rather than guesswork. You will need to do your homework and have a very clear idea of your target audience. You will need to know how to bring your campaigns together and how to create a segmented, relevant campaign that is targeted and geared towards your audience. Without data, that will become almost impossible. Use your insights wisely to create a picture that can be easily adapted.

3. Optimisation

Another thing you will need to think about is how your campaign falls into your broader omni-channel marketing strategy. Are you focusing only on one channel without looking at the bigger picture? Or, do you have an optimised real-time strategy that incorporates multiple channels across the board? If you are able to reach your customers in real-time across every channel, you are likely to have far better success than you would if you are putting all your eggs into a single proverbial basket.

Simple yet effective strategies for real-time customer engagement

Now that you have a bit of a plan in order, how can you improve your real-time customer engagement? Let's take a look.


USSD (unstructured supplementary service data) offers a highly effective communication tool that is accessible, affordable and simple. Unlike other types of mobile marketing, USSD requires no smartphone and no data. It is extremely interactive and ideal for real-time campaigns that require participation and one-on-one communication. A variety of services can be used through USSD, including push and pull messaging. Companies are able to create surveys, competitions, polls, giveaways, charity donations, and various other campaigns that can be accessed from any phone, via any network.

This technology also works in remote areas that do not have a lot of mobile infrastructure. USSD has paved the way for new revenue streams, while also building brand awareness, driving engagement, and boosting loyalty. As a real-time solution, it is useful for events, limited time offers, promotions, specials, sales and various other campaigns.


SMS remains a popular and widely-used channel, whether used alongside USSD or as a standalone mobile campaign. What makes SMS a good choice for real-time campaigns is that they have a far higher open rate compared to e-mails, which can often sit in inboxes unopened. Texts are typically read when they arrive or soon afterwards, making this channel perfect for time-sensitive events such as flash sales, same-day promotions, limited time deals, and other similar events.

Consumers have the ability to opt into messages and are also able to respond to SMS messages easily, which further opens up lines for communication. SMS promotions are a great way to boost engagement and encourage consumers to head in-store. From there, they are more likely to spend more than they would if they had shopped online. In-store SMS that uses beacons, GPS and other similar technology can be especially useful for retailers.

Live chat

Yet another effective channel for real-time connection is live chat. Evolving rapidly since the early days of online assistants, live chat tools of today are smart, unobtrusive and genuinely helpful. One of the worst experiences for customers is having to wait for service. Live chat offers a proactive way to help customers while they are on the site, reducing the need to make contact and helping to speed up the entire process. If your Web site requires customers to have to sign up or log in to leave a support ticket or force them to call your call centre, you will be very close to losing a customer for good.

Instead, you can reach them directly with the help of live chat tools. Live chat does not have to only be used on your Web site, either. Facebook Messenger and other social media messaging tools are quickly becoming as widely used, allowing brands to connect to customers in real-time. These messages are typically faster and simpler, reducing friction points and allowing customers to reach you directly.

Improving your communication plays a key role in your digital and mobile engagement. Try one or more of these strategies and you should soon start to see a difference in your real-time customer engagement results.

This article was first published on 4 September 2018 in Grapevine’s press office on

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