What is a Customer Engagement Platform? + Best of 2023
We discuss what customer engagement platforms are and overview the best options for 2023.
What is a customer engagement platform?
A customer engagement platform is a single piece of software that tracks, manages, and enables interactions with your prospects and customers. It integrates with customer engagement tools like email, direct messaging, chatbots, and more.
Think of a customer engagement platform like a command center. You can access all your communication channels and engagement tools from it and use them as building blocks for creating automated, omnichannel workflows. Best of all, you can activate and manage these workflows without leaving your platform.
How a customer engagement platform works
Say, for example, user John Doe signs up for an account on the desktop site of a food delivery app. In the account confirmation email, you invite him to download the mobile app, but he doesn’t do so. He orders food and gives you his mobile number so the driver can call him.
Later, you ask him to rate his experience, and he gives you three stars and notes that the delivery was late. You send an apology message and add a coupon for the next order to his dashboard.
John Doe doesn’t order again that week. You know that your customers order more often when on mobile, so this time, you send John Doe a WhatsApp message to encourage him to download your app, and he does so.
In this example, a customer interaction (or inaction) in one channel becomes a condition to trigger an event either through the same channel or a different one. Different tools enable different interactions: email automation, call masking to keep phone numbers private, survey forms, dashboard notifications, and programmable messaging.
To create omnichannel workflows like these, you probably wield a dozen different apps. With a customer engagement platform, you can orchestrate all these interactions from a single platform.
Instead of opening a separate SMS messaging app, you’d integrate SMS functionality into your platform. Instead of simply sending phone numbers to a call masking tool, you’d use a voice API. When all these interactions work in harmony, there are no data silos and no fragmented customer experiences.
Are CRMs, CDPs, and CXMs customer engagement platforms too?
Today’s customer engagement platforms started life as a different type of software. Many stem from legacy customer relationship management (CRM) systems, which were designed mainly for data management but have evolved to become cloud-based, analytics-driven, and interoperable with other apps.
Other engagement systems are customer data platforms (CDPs) at their cores. A CDP collects data from multiple tools in real time, unifies data into customer profiles, and sends this data to marketing, sales, customer support, and analytics tools.
Modern CRMs and CDPs fulfill the functions of customer engagement platforms but activate data by sending it to downstream tools. The most advanced evolution of customer engagement platforms, though, activates data within the software itself.
You’ll also come across customer experience management (CXM) platforms. CXMs analyze feedback and sentiments to improve customer experiences – so you can think of them as engagement platforms with a narrower focus and goal.
So, yes – you can consider CRMs, CDPs, and CXMs as early iterations of customer engagement platforms. As technology advances, we envision a platform where apps for contact centers, marketing automation, sales automation, and more are built upon the same communications and customer data infrastructure, resulting in a single platform for managing the entire customer journey and lifecycle.
What to look for in a customer engagement platform
Cross-channel tracking & attribution — A customer engagement platform collects first-party data from various channels. It attributes results to interactions on those channels (e.g user X arrived at the landing page through an Instagram ad).
Single customer view — Look for the capability to recognize a customer across multiple channels and unite all their data (on how they interact with your business) into a unified profile, or a single customer view. You can then build customer segments based on these profiles in order to design relevant and personalized campaigns. For example, you see that a user of your food delivery app ordered coffee at around 2 p.m. for two Mondays in a row. But on the third Monday, the user still hasn’t ordered coffee by 3 p.m. – so you send push notifications for discounts or promotions for a new café.
Integrations — APIs for communication, customer support, marketing, product improvement, and sales tools let you build an omnichannel customer engagement system. You can then add apps specific to your vertical, like a personal stylist chatbot for fashion retailers.
5 best customer engagement platforms for 2023
We’ve identified some popular platforms based on the four criteria above. They’re used by startups, SMBs, and enterprises across many industries, like retail, F&B, financial services, media, telecommunications, healthcare, and more. This isn’t an exhaustive list but reflects some of the most popular and versatile options.
1. Twilio Engage
Twilio Engage collects data from sources like apps, websites, and CRMs, as well as tools for advertising, analytics, email marketing, feature flagging, A/B testing, and more. It can then unify this data into profiles to give you a single customer view, which can be used in tandem with extensible communications APIs to engage users across touchpoints and devices.
Cleanses and validates the data you collect to ensure accuracy
Updates customer profiles in real time
Build tailored campaigns with 400 out-of-the-box integrations with all your favorite tools.
Who it’s for
Marketers, developers, sales, and customer-facing teams
Pricing: Currently in Private Beta Offering
2. Zendesk Sunshine
Zendesk Sunshine is a cloud-based CRM. It lets you manage customer conversations on a single interface by integrating with messaging tools like Slack and WhatsApp. It also connects to business systems like Shopify and Help Scout.
Lets you customize its interface without coding or build apps with the Zendesk app framework
Has its own chatbot that you can deploy on messaging channels to support customer service reps
Has APIs for 1,200+ apps for customer support ticketing, sales CRMs, and live chat and messaging
Who it’s for
Customer service and sales teams
Pricing: $19 to $99 per agent per month for sales platform; $49 to $99 per agent per month for customer service platform
3. Salesforce Customer 360
Salesforce Customer 360 is a CRM platform integrated with several tools, as well as with Salesforce CDP.
Features Einstein AI, which recommends next steps in a sales campaign or customer service interaction based on a customer’s traits and interaction history with your business
Comes integrated with Tableau, which provides real-time data analytics and visualization
Integrates with hundreds of apps built by Salesforce, Salesforce users, and third parties. These include apps for marketing, eCommerce, analytics, sustainability, and more
Who it’s for
Marketing, sales, customer support, and HR teams
Pricing: Varies widely depending on functionalities and verticals
4. Qualtrics XM
Qualtrics XM (for experience management) identifies poor customer experiences by collecting, analyzing, and unifying conversational data. It then recommends next steps. For example, it might see that several food-delivery app users complained about the food from a certain restaurant, so it suggests setting up a meeting with that restaurant or doing a quality check.
Works with conversational data from 27 channels and 128 data sources, including apps, websites, video and voice calls, direct messages, social media, surveys, and IoT devices
Integrates with dozens of analytics and customer engagement tools, including Twilio for getting feedback through SMS and WhatsApp
Comes with predictive analytics to spot potential opportunities for improving customer experience
Who it’s for
Marketing, customer service, product, and HR teams
Pricing: Not provided on website
5. Zoho CRM Plus
Zoho CRM Plus lets you monitor and manage customer experiences. You get real-time notifications on customer interactions, which means you can react right away to fix a bug, resolve a complaint, or close a sale.
Has an AI assistant that helps predict trends, identify customer sentiments, and optimize campaigns (such as by suggesting the best time to call a particular customer)
Integrates with dozens of Zoho and third-party apps, including mobile apps for project management, CRM, sales, social media monitoring, and analytics
Lets you add, modify, and delete records in offline mode on mobile
Who it’s for
Marketing, sales, operations, and customer service teams
Pricing: $57 per user per month (billed annually) or $69 per user per month (billed monthly)
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