The ultimate guide to improving customer engagement with virtual events

Thomas Paris
August 18, 2021
The ultimate guide to improving customer engagement with virtual events

According to Gallup, engaged customers drive a 23% higher share of profitability, revenue, and relationship growth compared to the average customer.

While price, features, and convenience influence purchase decisions, ultimately, the affinity a customer has with your brand influences their final decision.

So, in a world where brands are vying for authentic relationships with their customers, what will set your brand apart?

The answer is experiences. Experiences are critical to customer engagement. In the context of the global marketplace, it's challenging to deliver these experiences in person. With limited mobility in effect across several countries, virtual events are a great way to deliver the same personalized experiences more efficiently.  

Virtual events offer businesses a unique opportunity to familiarize their customers with your brand and product, cultivate trust, and ultimately drive sales.

With virtual events enabling more holistic customer experiences, we’ll share some strategies to implement, pitfalls to avoid, and tips to try for delivering memorable experiences with virtual events.

What is customer engagement?

Customer engagement is often seen as a fuzzy marketing concept that can have multiple connotations. Is it the email sequence that compelled a prospect to buy from you? Is it an interaction with your customer service rep? Or is it the networking opportunities your customers enjoyed during your virtual event?

The answer is: D) All of the above.

Customer engagement is not one-dimensional. It is a product of every interaction a customer has with your company throughout their buying journey and beyond. The outcome is brand loyalty and advocacy.

In other words, customer engagement is long-term relationship-building. It involves delighting customers at every touchpoint, developing messaging that resonates, delivering content that helps, and ultimately encouraging communication to foster the relationship.

3 major benefits of customer engagement

According to McKinsey, 70% of buying decisions are based on how customers feel they're being treated. This clearly indicates that, more than anything, it’s the experience you provide that makes people buy from you.

Here’s how customer engagement benefits your brand.

1. It builds a tribe of brand loyalists

Brand loyalists are perhaps your most profitable marketing channel. They are the ones who relentlessly talk about your brand, leave positive reviews, share your content, and drive word-of-mouth sales. But customer loyalty doesn’t happen overnight.

Factors like trust, living up to your brand promise, and excellent customer service are essential to building stronger customer relationships. Customer engagement precisely focuses on these activities to deliver a positive experience that drives loyalty and brand advocacy.

As you continue developing your tribe of brand loyalists, you will see a drastic dip in your customer churn rate.

2. It improves brand experience

You stop for a coffee every day at your favorite coffee shop on your way to work. There are plenty of coffee shops on the way, but this one’s your favorite. You look forward to having your morning coffee there every day.

The coffee is good. The service is quick. The barista knows you and confirms your order without having you repeat it.

This is the gist of customer engagement. It goes beyond thinking about your offerings to delivering memorable experiences that make customers keep coming back to you.

3. It shortens the purchase cycle

People will trust you more as they get to know you better. Every email, social media interaction, retargeting ad, event, and blog article helps build that trust.

Apart from building trust, these activities make your brand memorable. And, when the time to make a purchase comes, the most memorable brand stands out.

Once you know what makes customers buy from you, you can use this information combined with how people use your offerings to develop better upsell and cross-sell offers.

Why some virtual events fall short of engaging customers

Virtual events bring tremendous learning opportunities with them, but businesses still struggle to engage customers for various reasons. Some reasons are purely tech-related while others are due to a lack of planning. Here are five reasons virtual events might fail to drive customer engagement.

1. Not enough networking opportunities

A woman reaches out for a handshake at a customer engagement event

Along with learning opportunities, the opportunity to interact with industry peers and experts provides a strong reason for professionals to attend events.

Virtual events are still striving to replicate the in-person networking experience. At in-person events, you can walk up to another human being and start a conversation. Since everyone is in front of their computer screen at virtual events, it becomes a challenge to strike up a one-on-one conversation.

Although networking platforms now offer dedicated breakout rooms and one-on-one meeting rooms, there are technical difficulties and a learning curve, making it difficult to provide an optimal networking experience.

2. Frequent distractions

In-person events offer a more immersive experience. The presenter or panel can be clearly seen and heard. The conference room is filled with attendees who are equally enthusiastic about the event. And even if you are momentarily distracted, it's easier to get back to the event in action.

This is where virtual events often come up short. Constant phone notifications, emails, and other stimuli are competing for attendee attention. While these are external triggers, perhaps the most complex internal trigger to manage is Zoom fatigue. Exhaustion, irritation, tiredness, and emotional strain caused by constant video calls are all too real and make it difficult for attendees to engage.

3. Lack of experiential elements

Another problem virtual events face in driving customer engagement is the lack of experiential elements. Coffee and lunch breaks, networking lounges, and live performances at in-person events improve the event experience and make it memorable.

Considering how knowledge dense virtual events can get, the absence of experiential elements can make attendees quickly zone out and then drop off.

4. Not responding to customer feedback

Live polls, Q&A sessions, surveys, and feedback are important tools for understanding how customers feel about your event. This data provides you with a goldmine of information that not only helps you course correct but can also inform your event strategy and offer insights to build better branded industry reports.

Many virtual event platforms come with built-in feedback collection tools. Not using them means losing out on information that would otherwise help you enhance your customer engagement strategy.

5. Inadequate omnichannel marketing strategy

Omnichannel marketing allows you to deliver a connected and consistent marketing message across every medium. It’s not enough to be on email, social media, display ads, text, search, and other marketing channels. How you use these channels to deliver a coherent experience matters in your customer engagement strategy.

Virtual events have now become a big part of the omnichannel mix. The opportunity to stay on top of the participants’ minds serves as an anchor for future considerations. But planning events without considering the omnichannel approach leads to a disjointed experience. When coupled with inconsistent messaging and siloed marketing, the customer engagement strategy falls flat.

3 activities you can use to boost customer engagement at your virtual events

The previous section may have given you the perception that driving customer engagement with virtual events is difficult. It is.

Considering the technical challenges and lack of in-person experiences, the odds are stacked against you. But hope is not lost. You can include these three activities in your virtual events to skyrocket customer engagement.

1. Virtual coffee break

Whether you are organizing a webinar or a full-day event, a 15-minute virtual coffee break is a casual way to encourage customer engagement. These breaks allow participants to move away from formal or work-related discussions and have more fun conversations. Everyone comes together over a coffee to casually chat and get to know each other.

2. Virtual lunch and learn

Virtual lunch and learns help organizations build better relationships with their customers and prospects. Virtual lunch and learns are similar to webinars. You pick a relevant topic for your customers, invite an expert, and decide the session format (presentation, fireside chat, etc.).

Now, here's how they differ from webinars. Instead of keeping the discussion formal, you make the session interactive by adding meals, beverages, and conversation starters delivered to your attendees. The semi-formal atmosphere promotes both relationships and learning.

3. Virtual happy hour

Virtual events can be taxing and virtual happy hours are perfect to end the day on a fun note. Virtual happy hours are a great way to let customers get to know each other and boost customer engagement.

You can make things simple by creating groups of 15 people each. Pick a happy hour theme, plan some games and activities, have an emcee host the happy hour, send drinks and snacks, and you're good to go!

Simplifying the logistics

You may have realized that a major roadblock in organizing a virtual coffee break or happy hours is event logistics. The planning is fairly straightforward, but the process of delivering food is cumbersome. The difficulty of managing a spreadsheet of customer addresses and coordinating with food vendors can discourage a company from organizing these activities.

Instead, you can use a service like Hoppier to offload all the logistics. Hoppier lets you set up individual virtual credit cards for attendees.

A Hoppier virtual credit card for customer engagement and rewards

You can set the budget for each card, add restaurants and vendors, and send card invites to attendees. Compared to the nightmare event logistics can be, Hoppier is a cakewalk (guests can even spend it on cake!).

Attendees can order from their favorite restaurants, bars, or stores, and Hoppier will streamline payments and logistics!

Places customers can order from as part of their customer engagement experience

8 best practices to improve customer engagement with virtual events

If you're wondering how you can improve customer engagement with virtual events, here are eight best practices to get you started.

1. Create an event strategy to drive customer engagement

With events serving as an essential ingredient in customer engagement, you need an event strategy aligned to your customer engagement goals.

For example, if you're looking to engage a specific customer segment to upsell and cross-sell your latest product feature, plan your event accordingly. In this scenario, you can organize an invite-only event for that specific segment.

To lay the groundwork, identify their most pressing needs and include topics that address those concerns. Next, include a new feature launch session where you give them a brief rundown and ask them to sign up for a demo. In this case, the number of sign-ups is the metric that will determine the event’s success and, consequently, customer engagement metrics.

2. Understand the customer journey

Your prospect goes through several steps before becoming a customer. These steps form the buyer’s journey. Your customer interacts with you at various touch points throughout this journey.

For instance, customers might come across your blog article while searching for tips on how to do something. Since they liked your blog post, they might sign-up for an upcoming webinar. As they become familiar with your brand, they might request a product demo and ultimately become a paying customer.

Knowing how a customer navigates their journey allows you to plan virtual events that target a specific stage of the journey to improve engagement.

3. Choose your engagement tools

Now, let’s look at how you can engage customers during virtual events.

A virtual event management platform comes with plenty of features to engage the audience throughout the event lifecycle — from a simple live chat feature on the event website to a post-event feedback form.

Take stock of all the engagement apps you can use throughout the event. Some of the engagement tools include live polls, surveys, knowledge tests, contests, and social media integrations.

Sometimes people need a nudge to participate actively. Almost all of these tools require minimum effort from the attendees, thereby guaranteeing a high rate of engagement.

4. Include a corporate gifting program or event swag bag

Planning a corporate gifting program along with the virtual event brings in the tangible element that a standalone virtual event strongly lacks. The feeling of connection with peers and the brand is what drives the engagement.

You can design customized event-themed gifts creatively throughout the event lifecycle to build anticipation and make the event memorable. While the traditional swag bag with a hoodie, journal, water bottle, and other mementos is awesome, you can also send e-gift cards, gift baskets, branded merch, and product trials. You can simplify your corporate gifting program with Hoppier virtual credit cards.

A virtual credit card for a customer rewards program

5. Facilitate networking opportunities

The virtual event platform, time allocated for networking, and networking activities determine the success of relationship building efforts at your virtual events. For instance, newer virtual event platforms let attendees network based on shared interests.

Since networking activities can be strapped for time in virtual settings, building an event-based community allows members to connect all year round.

Perhaps the best option is to organize cohort-based networking events. For these events, segment your customers into different groups based on their professional interests and preferences. The groups can be further divided into breakout rooms where guests can get to know each other better.

6. Bring in experiential elements

Another way to make up for the lack of in-person experience is to introduce experiential elements. Experiential activities involve active participation and therefore drive higher levels of engagement. Here are two ways you can include experiential elements in your events:

  • Virtual social events: These events are similar to virtual team-building activities. Activities such as virtual cooking or mixology classes, wine tasting, coffee appreciation, or virtual games are engaging and act as an informal way to network with fellow attendees.
  • Virtual live shows: Virtual music festival, a standup comedy set, improv sessions, or a virtual campfire provide an immersive experience that makes your event memorable.

7. Gamify the event experience

Scientifically speaking, gamification works because it rewards certain behaviors, which compels people to repeat them to get that dopamine rush. The reward could be a gift, prize, or simply recognition. You can make your gamification ideas more interesting by introducing competition in the form of a point system.

You can assign points for various activities like visiting the exhibitor floor, checking into the networking lounge, participating in the polls or quizzes, and starting a conversation.

All these activities inherently drive more customer engagement.

8. Work on the event feedback

The best tactic to understand the success of your customer engagement strategy is to ask your customers about it directly. A post-event feedback survey helps you understand how the attendees felt about your event.

You can ask the following open-ended questions to get thoughts and opinions:

  • What three things did you like or dislike about the event?
  • What was your main priority in attending the event?
  • How was your networking experience?
  • What can we do to provide a better experience in the next edition?

Combining this qualitative feedback along with data and metrics gives you a solid roadmap for improving your customer engagement efforts.

Wrap up

Chances are, there are tens to hundreds of competitors in your market, competing with you on pricing and features. With the constant influx of emails, ads, and other marketing messages, it’s hard for your customers to remember you unless you really stand out.

Well-planned virtual events help you build that brand affinity and engage your customers to build long-term relationships. To learn more, check out our webinar on creating memorable and engaging virtual events.

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