Customer Engagement as a Strategic Marketing Tool

Subject: Strategic Marketing
Pages: 60
Words: 16938
Reading time:
65 min
Study level: College

Introduction

The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer. Peter Drucker

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Customer engagement as a concept has received recent hype in the marketing literature. Both academicians and practitioners have perceived this concept to be a new era in developing and retaining customers. The reason behind this is that academicians and practitioners alike have found it to amalgamate other customer management concepts. These other concepts are found either to be antecedents or precedents to customer engagement. Search on scholarly internet articles on the topic provides a large list of material to choose from to understand the concept. Practitioners have associated the concept with the core strategy of the organisation as that adopted by Adobe, thus, associating it with something of great value to the company. Therefore, customer engagement has presumed increased importance in present customer management literature.

Though customer engagement has gained increased importance, certain areas related to the concept are not very clear to us. Customer engagement and other customer management concepts such as involvement, bond, etc., remain blurred as there lays a very thin line between the customer engagement process and customer relationship management (CRM). Are these two concepts one and the same thing, with just two terms coined for the academicians and practitioners to flaunt? Or, are these really of importance to marketing literature as this may be able to provide a thorough understanding of how customers can be better retained.

Academicians and practitioners alike have tried to unravel the hidden secret of attracting and retaining customers. Businesses have traditionally tried to measure customer value and manage their expectations through the conventional method of retention such as discounts for intense customers and acquisition of customers and through increasing the customers’ spending with the company (Kumar, Aksoy, Donkers, Venkatesan, Wiesel, Tillmanns, 2010) This understanding of customer management predominately is based on the transactional relationship between the customer and the company. The aim of the company is to ensure that the customer undergoes repeat purchase or cross-purchase, thus, ensuring elongation of the customer life cycle. However, customers end up helping the firm in a different manner than traditional customer management literature and practice had failed to. However, companies today realise the need to develop two-way communication between the firm and customer in order to engage in a non-transactional relationship. This new facet of customer management wherein firms actively indulge in transactional or non-transactional interaction with the customers has led to the development of the nascent concept of customer engagement.

Academicians, practitioners, and organisations believe that it is the star of present day marketing. Customer engagement, many believe, is not a passing fad rather an essential tool in creating greater value through meaningful coordination. It is believed by practitioners and academicians that the numerous challenges that businesses face today increase the importance of customer engagement. Some challenges that are explicit are increased competition, growing demand of customers, erratic business cycles, recession, and so on (Kumar et al., 2010). In a world with increasing customer networks through technological advancements and social networking, customer engagement in branding has gained prominence. Further, companies too are entering into non-transactional relations with customers, as in the case of leisure companies asking for customer feedback and rating in independent websites (van Droon, Lemon, Mittal, Nab, Pick, Pirner, Verhoef, 2010).

Research on the effectiveness of customer engagement in branding and its efficacy as a marketing tool has been the centre of study for many (e.g. Grout, 2010). Customer engagement is viewed as being key to brand building exercises (Grout, 2010). Many international brands like Marks and Spencer’s, Google, and Apple, among others, have embraced customer engagement to remain competitive against their competitors (Grout, 2010). Almost 82 per cent of brands profess that they practice customer engagement, and 24 per cent of brands have heavily invested in it (Grout, 2010).

The importance of customer engagement is paramount in marketing literature as going through the issues of the Journal of Marketing in the period from 2000-2007, almost 50 per cent of the articles cited in the journal were customer management related articles (Verhoef, Reinartz, & Krafft, 2010). Further, there has been a noticeably positive trend in the increasing number of customer management related articles in marketing journals.

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Academicians and practitioners also vouch for the effective results that customer engagement provides to a company are found through research. According to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU, 2007), most industry practitioners and academicians believe that engagement of both internal and external customers marketing is supposed to pay off in 5 years’ time. The EIU report suggests “…companies are now realizing that engagement also is a more strategic way of looking at customer or stakeholder relationships.” (EIU, 2007, p. 2) The report has tried to establish “… a deeper, more meaningful connection between the company and the customer, and one that endures over time.” (EIU, 2007, p. 2) Customer engagement, therefore, is aimed at creating a greater amount of interaction and coordination between the companies and customers. Academicians share a similar interest in customer engagement as practitioners.

Academic literature has produced extensive literature to show the various facets of customer engagement, the new marketing tool, in the form of customer co-creation and its applicability. Co-creation is a process through which value is created through fruitful interaction between customers and organisations. This shows the increasing stress of companies on the value generated for the customers rather than just selling their products or services. Academicians endorse the need to shift the focus from the product to the customer and to establish a space for interaction between the customer and the company (Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2000). With the advent of the distinction between the new consumer and the old consumer, the former is believed to be “independent, informed, involved and individualistic” (Hühn, 2004, p. 229). It is believed by academicians that customers are moving out of their traditionally defined roles of “consumers of value” to become “co-creators” (Prahalad & Ramaswamy, 2000, p. 80). Strategists, therefore, feel the freedom of choice must be given to the customers in order to inculcate their newfound image. For this reason, organisations have become increasingly concerned about giving customers their space to exercise their choice and to know customers’ preferences. Heterogonous customer demand helps to engage customers to develop “whole products” which satisfies a wide range of customer requirements (Hutchings & Knox, 1995). Social networking has provided customers with “Thematic consumer communities” that helps “individuals share ideas and feelings without regard for geographical or social barriers,” which have actually revolutionised established and emerging market conditions (Prahlad & Ramaswamy, 2004, p. 9).

Engaged customers indulge in word-of-mouth marketing and social networking that effectively reaches ten times more audience than television or radio advertisements (Roberts & Alpert, 2010 ). Academicians have also found a strong relationship between long-term growth and customer recommendation (Reichheld, 2006). Customer engagement helps to inculcate brand loyalty through constant interaction with the customers (Sweeney & Swait, 2008). Customers that are engaged “… provide invaluable feedback have longer business relationships and pose less risk to the company as they are committed to solving problems without escalating to more aggressive behaviours such as litigation” (Roberts & Alpert, 2010, p. 198). Thus, evolves the need for a customer loyalty program that suggests that companies need to have a specific database with access to information that pertains to the customer that can indicate the heterogeneous need of the customers (Roberts & Alpert, 2010 ). This increases the need for customer engagement in businesses today that helps in bridging the gap between product or service offerings and customer expectations.

Customer engagement assumes an important role in aligning the business with the needs of the customers. Customer relationship management helps to understand the company’s role in engaging customers. This indicates the importance of relationship management and the need to foster them (Manyika, Roberts, & Sprague, 2007). Customer relationships become an important tool in utilizing the right technology. Identification of the customer needs is important for the companies before they develop an appropriate engagement concept in order to enhance their relationship with the customers (Liang & Tanniru, 2006). In order to maintain customer relationships, companies require gathering information and maintaining a database regarding customer preferences and purchasing patterns. This leads to the necessity to analyse customer requirements because customers have varied needs (O’Brien, 2010). In order to gain success, businesses today, therefore, need to infuse all these into their product development in order to meet diverse customer demand.

Customer engagement has reaped success for firms that have adopted it (Manyika, Roberts, & Sprague, 2007). The result of this initiative has seen this company enjoy enhanced brand loyalty that most likely has also translated into increased financial returns (Manyika, Roberts, & Sprague, 2007). This probably is because increased consumer participation yields greater success for firms in terms of greater profitability and higher share in expenditure (Ashley, Noble, Donthu, & Lemon, 2010). Similarly, the use of technology helps improve customer relations (Luneborg & Nielsen, 2003). Thus, customer engagement is a possible solution to the impasse caused by higher competition.

Though there are a lot of studies related to customer centric marketing and customer management, little literature is available to determine the customer engagement process. Due to the novelty of the concept, definitions related to the concept are varied and therefore leads to various and unrelated understanding. For instance, some believe that it is a behavioural process, while others feel it is strictly a psychological process. Therefore a thorough understanding of the concept in totality is necessary, given its rising importance. In relation to customer engagement, the key questions that arise are: how is customer engagement defined in literature? Is there any difference or similarities in the definition, and/or is there any difference in the dimensionality of treatment of the concept? How does Customer Engagement differ from other concepts like Customer Involvement or Customer Relationship? Then it enumerates the similarities and differences. The paper researches the various constructs of customer engagement developed by academicians and practitioners. What is the relationship between customer engagement and loyalty?

A review of the literature on customer engagement and its various facets is necessary to understand the various definitions available for the concept and pinpoint what it actually means. Therefore, a definition of customer engagement is necessary to understand the effectiveness of the concept. The present study will research the findings and deliberations on the vast amount of literature on customer satisfaction, loyalty, management and engagement to understand the changing concepts of customer engagement. A large volume of literature is available that demonstrates the bourgeoning interest of academicians and practitioners alike in customer engagement and management. A vast amount of literature exists to understand the attributes that lead to greater customer satisfaction, involvement, and loyalty. There is a vast amount of literature related to customer value creation, customer satisfaction, customer relationship management and aligning these to the marketing strategy of the company. However, with all this jargon floating through the marketing literature, it is important to understand what exactly the term customer engagement means to marketers and academicians. There is no research that has tried to amalgamate this voluminous literature on customer engagement and provide a proper understanding of the concept. Various models and methods have evolved into measuring customer engagement, and confusion remains as to the other concepts related to customer management, viz. customer loyalty, involvement, and so on. The literature review of customer engagement literature was done to demonstrate the vitality of the concept and its importance to academics and practitioners alike.

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In summary, there is a need to understand the concept of customer engagement as perceived by academicians and practitioners and assessment of its allegiance to other customer relations and management concepts. The shift from product centric strategic marketing to customer centric marketing has come into being a decade ago. But the adoption of this method among practitioners was not high. However, in recent management literature, considerable attention has been given to customer management, but little attention has gone to customer engagement. Many companies invested heavily in customer management due to the high degree of competition in the market though it is believed customer engagement can reap greater returns than customer management. Therefore, a greater understanding of customer engagement will benefit both academicians and practitioners. Further, the paper will also evaluate the point of view that researchers hold regarding the success of customer management as a strategic tool. The review will demonstrate if the importance given to the concept is overrated. Further, the paper will also demonstrate the importance of the concept and its close links to technology. The paper paves the pathway through which customer engagement becomes a strategic tool for companies and helps in gaining loyal customers and improving brand performance.

Method

The research design is a literature review of the available literature on customer engagement. Research is incomplete without undertaking a thorough study of the previous literature on the subject. A literature review is supposed to strengthen the thesis of the literature and makes one understand the gap in the existing work. A literature review helps in the formation of a new idea and direction of study from the pool of existing literature. Further, this also helps in doing away with any existing discrepancy in the existing literature. Therefore, a literature review of the articles in the case of the present research will provide a detailed understanding of the varied views regarding customer engagement. A literature review familiarises researchers with the existing literature. A literature review is defined as the

… methods that researchers use to synthesize, organize, understand, and interpret existing literature vary widely depending on the discipline, the research questions being considered, the researcher’s methodological orientation, the topic being examined, and the nature of existing research methods and findings in the given knowledge domain. (Rumrill, Fitzgerald, & Merchant, 2010, p. 399)

This method of research design has been extensively used in the academic field but has not been fully cultivated in the business and management discipline (Zorn & Campbell, 2006). Armitage & Keeble-Allen (2008) point out that a structured literature review is considered a tested method of synthesising previous research. This paper uses a systematic literature review for understanding the customer engagement literature.

Framework for the method

A literature review is used to “reshape previously existing information in a way that contributes new perspectives” (Rumrill, Fitzgerald, & Merchant, 2010, pp. 399-400). The main aim of this type of literature review is to “enhance professional practice and inform future research” (Rumrill, Fitzgerald, & Merchant, p. 400). For this purpose, a systematic literature review explores important topics in the field of study and illustrates the relevant issues in the topic. This methodology is specifically useful in understanding the shortcomings in practices laid down by previous research and helps to identify ways to do away with them. Therefore, a systematic literature review provides ways for “important policy changes” as well as the path for “future empirical research” (Rumrill, Fitzgerald, & Merchant, p. 400).

The next sections will delineate how the literature evolves and how it defines and helps us understand the process of customer engagement. The section will provide how the works of literature that are selected for the study are chosen, how they are categorised and on the basis of what criteria they are chosen. These details are presented in the section below. The literature review of customer engagement is based on the review of published literature. It is divided into three distinct categories – articles from peer-reviewed academic journals usually presenting the take on the topic of the academicians, articles from trade journals and magazines representing the view on the topic from the point of view of practitioners, and then that of reports on customer engagement that shows the point of view of the organisation on the topic.

Selection of Relevant Literature

The relevant literature has been chosen from two broad categories – first, those related purely from peer-reviewed academic research and the others from business magazines and practitioner’s research work on customer engagement. The literature that has been studied is derived from various fields such as marketing management, business, service research and management, operations, and psychology. The publications that are derived for the study has been gathered from the following databases: EBSCO Host, JSTOR, journals published by Sage, Elsevier, ProQuest, Ingenta, and Emerald.

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Selection criteria

The only criterion that is followed in searching for relevant literature is customer engagement. The articles that are selected for the present literature review research are articles that directly and specifically mention customer engagement in their titles or abstracts and deal directly with the subject material. Further, only articles published in English are selected for the research. Articles are segregated into two categories – peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed. No alternative keyword searches are employed as the paper is directly related to the subject and not to any other topic related to it.

The articles thus chosen from the online databases are selected from databases are presented in table 1. The articles presented here are the ones selected for the research. The databases that have been used present peer-reviewed scholarly journals.

Table 1: Number of selected sources based on the source of the database

Customer Engagement
Database Hits Abstracts
Sage Journal Online 8 36
JSTOR 1 10
Elsevier 1 97
EBSCO 9 13
Emerald Insight 2 5
Ingenta 1
ProQuest 1
Total 23 161

The articles are searched for relevance, and then their content and stand on customer engagement. First, the articles are read to find out the definitions that can be found through the paper. The review of the literature is done to ascertain the discrepancies in ideas and definitions of customer engagement and the difference in treatment of it.

Findings

In this section, the literature review is undertaken to construct an understanding of the various ideas developed in the customer engagement literature. The review first tries to understand the evolution of the definition of customer engagement, then to understand the treatment of the customer engagement evaluation process in the literature. The next part reviews the different methods that are suggested in the literature to engage in customer engagement. In the end, a proper synthesis of the three ideas was conducted in order to understand the similarities and differences in the existing literature and then to deduce the views related to customer engagement in the literature.

Conceptualisation of Engagement

The theoretical root of engagement literature can be traced back to the 17th century when the term engagement was used to describe many moral or legal obligations, employment, conflict, and so on. However, the use of the word in the social sciences has expanded further in recent times with its connotations of “connection”, “attachment”, “involvement”, and/or “participation” (London, Downey, & Mace, 2007). Engagement at the meta-level as a form of interactive social behaviour is characterised by the transient state occurring within the broader engagement process over time (Bryson & Hand, 2007).

In the last two decades, engagement has gained enormous importance in the fields of psychology, sociology, organisational behaviour, and political science. This has led to many conceptual approaches that have helped to understand different aspects of the concept (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011). For instance, civic engagement is a field of study in sociology (Jennings & Stroker, 2004), and social engagement is studied in psychology (Achterberg, Pot, Kerkstra, Ooms, Muller, & Ribbe, 2003).

Over the last two decades, different definitions have developed for engagement, especially in management discourse. The term engagement can be traced back to its usages in legal and moral obligations, employment or military conflicts (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011). However, holistic explanations of the term that has emerged in social science, management, and practitioner literature. These definitions provide a possible connection between the term engagement and others like “attachment”, “bond”, “involvement”, and/or “participation” (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011). Engagement as a meta-analysis form has been defined in the “social, interactive behaviour, has been characterised as a transient state occurring within broader relevant engagement processes developing over time” (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011, p. 3)

The engagement has found its presence in various fields such as in psychology, sociology, political science, and organisational behaviour that lead to various aspects of the concept (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011). The table below shows the varied definition of engagement that has been provided by the literature. The first definition of engagement was traced back to Kahn (1990).

Table 2 represents the different forms of engagement that has been researched in other subjective fields such as psychology, sociology, educational psychology, and organisational behaviour. The analysis of the literature on engagement in these fields and the definitions that they present shows that the engagement is predominantly cognitive, emotional or behavioural in nature, as had been suggested by Brodie et al. (2011). This, therefore, can be extended in understanding the concept of engagement used in marketing literature and to see if the former has extended the meaning of engagement to any further dimensions. The literature on engagement in other social science researches predominantly shows engagement as a multidimensional concept.

The literature review on engagement from other fields of study was done based on other perspectives shows that the concept of engagement is multidimensional in nature. Though it is a multidimensional concept, most of the literature on engagement also showed it to be a one-dimensional concept such that either it is based on the cognitive, emotional, or behavioural aspect of the engagement. Behavioural dimensions seem to be a dominant dimension for engagement. However, these one-dimensional approaches seem to have the merit of simplicity, but they fail to demonstrate the richness of the conceptual scope of engagement.

Many investigations into the literature on engagement within social science and management literature shows engagement has been observed in broader iterative engagement processes. This has been observed in the case of “civic engagement” in political science (e.g. Jennings & Stroker, 2004), “engagement of states” (e.g. Resnick, 2001), “social engagement” (e.g. Achterberg, Pot, Kerkstra, Ooms, Muller, & Ribbe, 2003; Bejerholm & Eklund, 2007; Huo, Binning, & Molina, 2009), and “student engagement” (e.g. Bryson & Hand, 2007).

The review also indicates that the social iteration process may indicate short as well as long term manifestations of engagement (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011). Further, the review also demonstrates that the degree of engagement of the subject at the initiation process of the engagement typically tends to develop over conducive and contextual conditions.

Table 2: Engagement concept in other fields of research

Discipline Construct Authors Definition Dimensions
Sociology Civic Engagement Jennings & Stroker, 2004 Involvement in voluntary services and work facilitates the development of social networks. Cognitive, emotional, and behavioural
Mondak, Hibbing, Canache, Seligson, & Anderson, 2010) The civic engagement of individuals are related and affected to a great extent by the Big Five Personality dimensions.
Political Science State Engagement Resnick, 2001 The iterative process with aim to influence the political behaviour of a state by increasing and maintaining contact with the other state and increasing interdependence Behavioural
Psychology Social engagement Achterberg, Pot, Kerkstra, Ooms, Muller, & Ribbe, 2003 A high degree of sense of involvement and response to the social stimuli Cognitive, behavioural
Huo, Binning, & Molina, 2009 Identified by group-oriented behaviour Emotional, behavioural
Task Engagement Matthews, Reinerman-Jones, Langheim, Washburn, & Trippe, 2010 Vigilance performance and sustained attention in doing a particular task Cognitive and behavioural
Bejerholm & Eklund, 2007 Level of involvement for completing an activity or occupation Cognitive and behavioural
Educational psychology Student engagement Bryson & Hand, 2007 Based on the degree of engagement, a student may show involvement in a particular course or curriculum. Cognitive, behavioural
Organisational Behaviour Employee Engagement Frank, Finnegan, & Taylor, 2004 The desire of employees to put in discretionary effort in their job in terms of extra hours or energy Cognitive, emotional, behavioural
Luthans & Peterson, 2002 Emotionally engaged with peers and feel empathy for others Cognitive, emotional, behavioural
Macey & Schneider, 2008 Broad-based behavioural forms and effort directed to one’s work and organisation Cognitive, emotional, and behavioural
Saks, 2006 Amount of physical and emotional energy that an individual is willing to impart with at her workplace Cognitive, emotional, and behavioural

There is extensive literature available on the engagement concept. Engagement in social science literature shows that there is extensive multidimensionality applied to the concept. The next section looks into the literature of engagement in marketing literature.

Engagement in Marketing Literature

The literature on engagement in the marketing literature is scant as definitions and conceptualizations have started only five years back. Few definitions or conceptualizations are available. However, the literature on customer management is vast and appears to be the leading light for the conceptualization of customer engagement. In the following section, customer engagement conceptualization has been divided into two distinct parts – concepts before 2000 and after 2000. This provides a clear idea into the development of the definition and the ideas related to the concept.

Evolution of CE prior 2000

Literature on customer-centric marketing was amply available before 2000. Prahlad & Ramaswamy (2000) pointed out that there has been a transformation of the customers’ behaviour and interaction with organizations. There was a shift in the traditional roles of customers who were becoming “co-creators”. They showed that customers have been becoming less passive and more active players since 2000. Prahlad & Ramaswamy (2000) showed that in the 1970s and 1980s, customers were mainly persuaded, groups. In the 1980s and 1990s, they were in transactional roles, and in the 1990s, the customers started developing particular lifetime bonds with the brands. It was with the dawn of the new century that customer shifted their roles to become co-creators. We can say that these significant shifts in regard to customer engagement were from defensive marketing to customer co-creators and then to customer satisfaction.

Defensive Marketing

Customer-complaint and defensive marketing strategies were used extensively in the 1980s and 1990s as a means of reducing marketing costs and effective retaining customers. Extensive research on the area is available.

Hauser & Shugan (Defensive Marketing Strategies, 1983) presented the defensive marketing strategy to compete against the threat of the entry of a new product into the market. Though this article talks extensively about the strategies that can be adopted to combat the incumbent new product, it does not directly talk of the process of handling customer expectations and using customer complaint letters as a means of improving customer satisfaction.

Fornell & Wernerfelt (1987) presented the theoretical model for a defensive marketing strategy for customer management. The paper suggests how customers complaint can be managed and how customers’ generic behaviour (i.e. entry into market, brand sifting, customer exiting market, and change in frequency of purchase) can be managed (1987). The authors also show that a defensive marketing strategy can actually help firms in reducing customer complaints and handling these complaints more satisfactorily. Many researchers have extended their support to the concept of marketwise defensive by means of customer complaints that can reduce marketing costs extensively.

An empirical study was conducted by Clark et al. (1992) that studied the effect of complaint letter response by companies and offering free goods, replying to complaint letters, and not replying. The study found that for companies who effectively replied to the customer complaints and acted upon it reduced cost to a great extent and improved the company image with its customers.

Table 3: CE conceptualization prior to 2000

Area Year Authors Conclusions
Defensive Marketing 1987 Fornell & Wernerfelt Theoretical study shows that defensive marketing is beneficial for handling customer complaints and reducing customer exit.
1992 Clark, Kaminski, & Rink Empirical study supporting defensive marketing handling customer complaints.
Customer Co-Creation 1990 Gronroos Customer participation in co-creating a product or service leads to greater satisfaction and loyalty. This, in turn, can be deduced to affect engagement.
1992 Davidow & Malone
1993 Gummesson
1996a,b Wikstrom,
1996 Hallowell
1997 Hallowell
Customer Satisfaction 2000 Prahlad & Ramaswamy Customer engagement leads to customer satisfaction

Customer co-creation

The literature on co-creation by customer and company interaction is seen as becoming more accepted in industrial markets. Customers have assumed an active role in co-creating products and services. Customer co-creation has found predominance in marketing literature in the 1990s (Gronroos, 1990; Davidow & Malone, 1992; Gummesson, 1993; Wikstrom, 1996b; Wikstrom, 1996a; Hallowell, 1996; Bitner, Faranda, Hubbert, & Zeithaml, 1997; Raaij & Pruyn, 1998). Literature on customer-company interaction believes that customer interaction differs from the nature of the product. As Gronroos (1990) points out, in the case of consumer durables, customer interaction was already existing as these products required delivery, installation, and service. Wikstrom (1996a; 1996b) points out that with the emergence of a higher degree of awareness among customers and due to their increasing demand, customer interaction has been included in the value-creating process in many industries. This can be found in the process of designing, producing, and marketing. However, he also points out that until the 1990s, the benefit of the customer-company interaction went only to the customers and not to the companies. This process is found to hold tremendous possibilities for companies if they change their organizational structure and establish new channels of communication (Wikstrom, 1996a; 1996b; Fornell & Wernerfelt, 1987; Day, 1969; Guest, 1944; Johnson & Fornell, 1991; Mittal, 1995; Moorman et al., 1993; Morgan & Hunt, 1994; Raaij & Pruyn, 1998; Zaichkowsky, 1985).

Bitner et al. (1997) point out that the contribution of customers to service delivery in service industries has been high. However, the degree of customers involved in the service delivery depends on the nature of the service. For instance, Bitner et al. (1997) point out that customer participation is low in the case of standardized products. However, it is moderately high for services where customer inputs are required and high for services where customers co-create service products. Bitner et al. again show that in service industries, customers contribute to maintain service quality and deliver value to the customers:

Another role that customers can play in services delivery is that of a contributor to their own satisfaction and the ultimate quality of the services they receive. Customers may not care that they have increased the productivity of the organization through their participation, but they probably do care a great deal about whether needs are fulfilled. Effective customer participation can increase the likelihood that needs are met and that the benefits the customers are seeking are actually attained. (Bitner, Faranda, Hubbert, & Zeithaml, 1997, pp. 197-8)

Bitner et al. (1997) demonstrate through their research that customer education and expectation are important for setting appropriate roles for customers. Customer participation, therefore, raises several questions for organizations and researchers that lead to the question “what is required of a company’s customers … and how it the company might develop approaches for training and rewarding its customers for effective participation.” (Bitner, Faranda, Hubbert, & Zeithaml, 1997, p. 203)

The literature review on customer co-creation before the 2000s shows that this may lead to customer engagement in the process of product creation or service delivery. A proper process of co-creation created through customer education and involvement leads to the process of engagement, and this may lead to greater customer satisfaction (Bitner, Faranda, Hubbert, & Zeithaml, 1997). The literature review actually supports this idea that greater customer co-creation may lead to greater customer satisfaction, and that may also lead to greater customer engagement.

Customer Satisfaction

Bowden (The process of customer engagement: A conceptual framework, 2009) points out that there is a great effect of customer loyalty and satisfaction of the customers is that they lead to word-of-mouth marketing and intention for repeat purchase. The literature on customer satisfaction and its link to customer engagement in the years prior to 2000 is almost non-existent. Before the year 2000, there were almost no articles that demonstrated a possible correlation between the two. However, Prahlad & Ramaswamy (2000) point out a possible link between the two as they state the example of Amazon.com to demonstrate the increased engagement of a company with its customers and the degree of satisfaction they achieve. The authors point out that due to the high level of satisfaction of the customers, the company enjoy a higher degree of customer engagement:

Each time Amazon customer accesses the company’s Web site, the online book-seller provides recommendations based not only on the customer’s previous purchases but also on the purchases of other people who have bought similar books. As its customer’s tastes and preferences evolve, Amazon’s engagement with them reflects those changes. As the Internet takes hold in more fields, other companies will have to develop the interactive capabilities of Amazon.com to keep customers engaged (Prahlad & Ramaswamy, 2000).

The literature on customer engagement prior to 2000 does show a connection between satisfaction and engagement. Such literature suggests that engagement can lead to customer satisfaction that may then lead to retention of customers. Prahlad & Ramaswamy (2000) therefore point out the need to engage customers that leads to satisfied customers.

Evolution of CE post-2000

Customer engagement as an area of study is a more recent study as most of the research and the literature available on it was found in the late 2000s. There is a plethora of literature on customer engagement in the years after 2000 that has tried to establish a connection between other customer management terms like satisfaction, involvement, brands experience, and so on. However, before 2000, the study was focused on these specific areas, and little effort was made to understand the effect on customer engagement. The conceptualization of customer engagement in marketing literature found formal initiation in the special edition of the Journal of Service Research published in 2010. This special edition dealt with articles related solely to customer engagement and brought forth the different aspects of the theory.

Number of articles dedicated to Customer Engagement searched in Google Scholar
Figure 2: Number of articles dedicated to Customer Engagement searched in Google Scholar

The number of articles dedicated to customer engagement published in the 1990s was zero as the concept of engagement in marketing had not yet evolved. By the early 2000s, there were few publications on the topic (see figure 2). However, at the end of the 2000s, especially from 2008 through 2010, there was a phenomenal increase in the number of publications in the area. Therefore, this definitely shows that customer engagement as a concept has evolved recently in the academic arena.

Published Articles in 2000-2010
Figure 3: Published Articles in 2000-2010

Published articles on customer engagement in 2000-2010 based on the different journals in which they were published were analyzed using Google Scholar. The total number of articles published on customer engagement between 2000-2010 was 38. Segregated based on the journal they were published in, the maximum number of articles was published in the Journal of Service Research. The above analysis shows that most of the research on customer engagement was done post-2000, and therefore, this can be dubbed as a new concept.

Customer Engagement and S-D Logic

Recent research conducted by Brodie et al. (2011) explored the roots of customer engagement, and they believe that it can be explained using service-dominant (S-D) logic. The customer engagement may be explained using S-D logic which otherwise is used in a goods dominated view of the relationship. However, this more rational way of understanding customer behaviour outcome is believed to have been created through the customer’s interaction and co-creation activity. Brodie et al. (2011) focused their discussion on a particular form of customer engagement, but it can also be extended to other forms of the concept such as “brand engagement” or “consumer engagement”. According to the study conducted by Brodie et al. (2011), they provide four of the foundational premises for the underlying S-D logic, which is important to understand the foundation of the emerging concept of engagement in marketing literature. The sixth premise specifically states, “The customer is always a co-creator of value” (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011, p. 2). This concept highlights the “interactive, cocreative nature of value creation” between the customer and the organization. The ninth premise states, “All social and economic actors are resource integrators.” It indicates that the process of value creation occurs within networks. The eighth premise states, “A service-centred view is inherently customer-oriented and relational,” indicating the transcending and interactive relational nature of service (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011, p. 4). In this view, service is believed to generate customer benefits through the process of co-creation of value with other actors in specific service relationships through the process of focal interactions and interactive processes. The tenth premise states, “Value is always uniquely and phenomenologically determined by the beneficiary,” indicating the contextual nature of the value co-creation concept where customers become co-creators of their perceived value (Schembri, 2006; Bolton & Saxena-Iyer, 2009). These four premises form the theoretical foundation for the customer engagement concept. The idea of customer co-creation as a process of engagement was first put forth by Lusch and Vargo (2006).

Evolution of the Definition of CE

Definition of customer engagement started evolving in the second half of the 2000s. The term became more popular and apparent in marketing literature post-2004. Despite the growing popularity of customer engagement in marketing literature, few researchers have actually tried to present a definitive definition for the concept. This section relates the evolution of the definitions of customer engagement in the marketing literature and their dimensionality.

Definitions to customer engagement are found in the works of researchers like Patterson et al. (2006), Brodie et al. (2011), Mollen and Wilson (2010), Bowden (2009), van Doorn (2010), Pham and Avnet (2009), Higgins and Scholer (2009), Kumar et al. (2010), Brakus et al. (2009), Delgado-Ballester, Munuera-Aleman, and Yague-Guillen (2003), Fader and Hardie (2007), Gupta & Zeithaml (2006), Gupta et al. (2004), May et al. (2004), McEwen (2004), Sureshchandra et al. (2002) and Hoyer et al. (2010). A few of them are discussed in table 3.

Table 4: Definitions of CE in marketing literature

Authors Concept Definition Process State
Appelbaum (2001) Customer Engagement Defines customer engagement to consist of both rational loyalty and emotional attachment towards the brand. Cognitive Loyalty and attachment
Patterson et al. (2006) Customer Engagement
(Services)
The degree of cognitive, emotional and psychical presence of the customer with the service organization. Absorption and interaction Emotional
Bowden (2009) Customer Engagement Process
Brand
A psychological process that underlines the mechanism by which customer loyalty is formed and maintained for repeat purchase of a service brand Psychological state Emotional attachment
Pham and Avnet (2009) Engagement Behaviour Engagement is defined as “a pattern of action or withdrawal with respect to a target object.” (p. 116) Behavioural Action to associate or withdraw
Higgins and Scholer (2009) Engagement They define engagement to be a state wherein the individual is completely absorbed with the brand. The higher the degree of engagement greater will be the value added. Behavioural Value creation
Mollen and Wilson (2010) Online Brand engagement The cognitive commitment and affective commitment of the customer personified by technology-based media like a computer or the Internet to communicate brand value Psychological state Commitment
Van Doorn et al. (2010) Customer engagement behaviour Customer’s behaviour towards a brand or organization that goes beyond transactional relationship resulting in motivational drivers like word of mouth promotions, recommendations, blogging, etc. Behavioural Transactional relationship
Kumar et al. (2010) Customer engagement value This is determined through an aggregation of customer’s lifetime value, referral value, influencer value, and knowledge value. Behavioural Value creation
Hoyer et al. (2010) Customer engagement They believed that the customer co-creation process led to customer engagement Behavioural Value creation
Bijmolt, et al. (2010), Verhoef, Reinartz, & Krafft (2010), Roberts & Alpert(2010 ) Customer Engagement Analytics Follows the definition presented by van Doorn (2010)
Vivek, Beatty, and Morgan (2011) Customer engagement The level of participation of an individual in organizational activity and offering that is either initiated by the customer or the organization. Behavioural Level of Participation
Brodie et al. (2011) Customer Engagement This is defined as an interactive and coercive relationship and participation between the stakeholders of an organization. Behavioural Interactive

Customer Engagement

The definition of customer engagement evolves through the idea of customer satisfaction. Traditionally customer satisfaction has been criticized for its inability to capture the critical process and depth of customer response. Therefore, the early literature on customer engagement believed that this shallow performance of the customer satisfaction process could be changed to make the customers more engaged and loyal to the brand. This process was the first impetus for the development of the customer engagement process. In the initiation process of customer engagement literature, the first step was to define engagement.

From customer engagement evolves the importance of customer-centric marketing in business. In the late 1990s, there has been a conceptual shift in the marketing arena from product-centric to customer-centric marketing. This shift was considered as the initiator of the customer management field. The shift towards customer-centric marketing has been under discussion for more than a decade. However, the conception of a product-centric approach was not possible in many organizations. However, recent history on customer engagement suggests that there has been a significant increase in customer-centric activities in companies (Verhoef, Reinartz, & Krafft, 2010). The limitations that were apparent in the traditional product-centric marketing constructs in explaining customer behaviour outcomes related to customer loyalty was an issue that was acknowledged by many (Sureshchandra, Rajendran, & Anantharaman, 2002). Therefore, through these behavioural aspects, the need for customer engagement was felt.

The literature review suggests that the concept of engagement has its roots in various social and behavioural sciences (May, Gilson, & Harter, 2004). The concept of engagement has been first defined by Kahn (1990, p. 700) as the “task behaviour that promote connections to work and to others”. Literature related to organizational behaviour, therefore, indicated many positive outcomes of engagement that led to positive attitude and behaviour at both organizational and individual levels. In this connection, it was believed that engagement in marketing too would bring positive outcomes in understanding customers (See table 1).

The engagement has also found prominence in advertising literature that considers it to be a proxy measure to demonstrate the relationship between the customer and the engagement object such as brand (McEwen, 2004; Applelaum, 2001). Therefore, research in advertising suggests that engagement of a brand with the customers encompasses emotional involvement, integrity, a sense of pride towards the brand and confidence towards it (McEwen, 2004; Bejerholm & Eklund, 2007).

In understanding customer-centric marketing, there is a large divide between the perspective of management and academia (Verhoef, Reinartz, & Krafft, 2010). Managerial understanding of customer-centric marketing, which is the first stream, has been largely related to the development of information technology related to customer relationship management. On the other hand, academic understanding of customer management, the second stream, has primarily focused on the idea of customers as assets to an organization and deals with what customer management is conceptualized within the organization and how the customers can become effective mechanisms and drivers. The intent of the first stream has been to manage the assets within the customers to the optimum level and measure, utilize the various forms of customer value, and relate it to its respective outcomes. Therefore, the main aim of this stream of customer management study has been to gauge the various metrics of the customer value and how these can be measured to help in the resource allocation decisions of the organization. According to the second stream of understanding, there has been more alignment with the managerial concept of customer engagement, wherein technological underpinning is inevitable.

Definitions of CE

Table 2 presents the definitions of customer engagement or consumer engagement in marketing literature. The concept has erupted in the literature at the end of the 2000s. However, little effort has been made to bring forth a systematic and uniform definition of customer engagement in the marketing literature. The definitions identified in the marketing literature of customer engagement are summarized in table 2.

According to the definition of Applebaum (2001), customer engagement is not just restricted to high-end products like cars or jewellery. But he believes it is associated with three factors, viz. overall satisfaction, the intention of the customer to repurchase, and word-of-mouth promotion of the brand to other prospective purchasers. The article also suggests that customer engagement is the most “powerful predictor of customer loyalty” (Applebaum, 2001, p. 2). Customer engagement, as defined by Applebaum (2001), demonstrates an amalgamation of intentions such as identification, commitment, integrity, pride, etc. he presents engagement as the cognitive ability of the customers and the oneness they feel towards the brand is demonstrated. A survey was conducted by Gallup gauging the emotional state of the customers. The survey revealed that customers develop an emotional; bond with the brand in a “cumulative” way (Applebaum, 2001). Therefore, when customers were confident about the brand’s performance, they had a feeling of intense attachment with it. Customers feel integrity if they feel the company is fair and ethical.

Another definition of customer engagement by Patterson et al. (2006) suggests that the physical, emotional, and cognitive presence of the customer with the service organization entailing the definition of engagement in organizational behaviour literature is presented. In service organizations, the level of customer engagement is characterized by interactivity between the customer and organization thus, ensuring a reciprocal nature of the process (Patterson, Yu, & De Ruyter, 2006; Bowden, 2009).

According to the definition of Bowden (2009, p. 65), customer engagement may be defined as “a psychological process that models the underlying mechanisms by which customer loyalty forms for new customers of a service brand as well as the mechanisms by which loyalty may be maintained for repeat purchase customers of a service brand.” Bowden clearly holds engagement as a psychological process. In this definition, Bowden clearly differentiates between engagement dynamics and customers. In other words, Bowden points out that as customers’ moves from a new customer to a repeat purchaser of a brand, their relationship evolves through “construct of cumulative commitment, affective commitment, involvement, and trust.” (Bowden, 2009, p. 71)

Roberts & Alpert (2010) defines customer engagement as their loyalty to the brand. They point out that “engaged customers derive word of mouth marketing they are ten times more effective at resonating with a target audience than television or print advertising.” (2010, p. 198)

In another view, customer engagement is non-transactional customer engagement. Non-transactional relationship implies any relation with the customer and the organization other than the buyer-purchaser relationship. Some believe that non-transactional customer behaviour is going to be more important in future than transactional behaviour (Verhoef, Reinartz, & Krafft, 2010).

A definition presented by van Droon et al. (2010, p. 254) state that “customer engagement behaviours go beyond transactions, and may be specifically defined as a customer’s behavioural manifestations that have a brand or firm focus, beyond purchase, resulting from motivational drivers.” They point out that the behavioural manifestation on customer engagement can have both a positive as well as a negative impact on a firm or brand. They posit that customer engagement consists of customer co-creation and the voice component of the customer. Before this definition of customer engagement was provided by van Droon et al. (2010), the research in the area was largely devoted to the transactional nature of the relationship. Research has been mostly dedicated to customer behaviour and the areas related to customer retention and cross buying phenomenon and has strived to predict the behaviour of the customers (e.g. Fader & Hardie, 2007). Other researchers based their research on customer equity, loyalty, and lifetime value (Gupta, Lehmann, & Stuart, 2004; Gupta & Zeithaml, 2006). Verhoef et al. (2010) point out that there exists great importance on word of mouth marketing in these researches even when their main forte is a transactional form of research.

Mollen and Wilson (2010) further defined online brand engagement in multidimensional modes of “sustained cognitive processing”, “instrumental value”, and “experiential value” (p. 5). They also differentiate between the concepts of engagement from involvement.

Bijmolt et al. (2010) emphasize the new view of customers as the engine for co-creating value and competitive strategy for firms. Therefore they define customer engagement as the “behavioural manifestation from a customer toward a brand or a firm which goes beyond purchase behaviour,” supporting the ideas of van Droon et al. (2010). Therefore, they point out that customer engagement is a process of customer value management that they feel is directly related to customer outcomes which are generally transactional in nature. But they also point out that customer engagement is more concerned with the indirect manifestations of the customer on the firm’s performance, such as word-of-mouth, customer co-creation, etc. however, a definition posed by Kumar et al. (2010, p. 297) defines customer engagement as “two way relationship” between firms and customers that impacts other customers, “whether they are transaction to nontransactional in nature”.

Brodie et al. (2011, pp. 7-8) defines customer engagement as the “psychological state” and is a “multidimensional concept” that plays a central role in the “nomological network of service relationships” and a “dynamic, iterative process of service relationships that cocreates value”. From the five fundamental propositions developed for customer engagement, they developed the definition for customer engagement:

Customer engagement (CE) is a psychological state that occurs by virtue of interactive, cocreative customer experiences with a focal agent/object (e.g., a brand) in focal service relationships. It occurs under a specific set of context-dependent conditions generating differing CE levels; and exists as a dynamic, iterative process within service relationships that cocreate value. CE plays a central role in a nomological network governing service relationships in which other relational concepts (e.g. involvement, loyalty) are antecedents and/or consequences in iterative CE processes. It is a multidimensional concept subject to a context- and/or stakeholder-specific expression of relevant cognitive, emotional, and/or behavioural dimensions. (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011, p. 9)

S-D logic led Brodie et al. (2011) to derive the five fundamental propositions that help in defining the conceptual domain of customer engagement. It also helps in differentiating the concept of customer engagement from other marketing concepts like involvement and participation. The fundamental propositions suggested by them are:

  • FP1: CE reflects a psychological state, which occurs by virtue of interactive customer experiences with a focal agent/object within specific service relationships.
  • FP2: CE states occur within a dynamic, iterative process of service relationships that cocreates value.
  • FP3: CE plays a central role within a nomological network of service relationships.
  • FP4: CE is a multidimensional concept subject to a context- and/or stakeholder-specific expression of relevant cognitive, emotional, and behavioural dimensions.
  • FP5: CE occurs within a specific set of situational conditions generating differing CE levels. (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011, pp. 7-8)

While developing the fundamental principles, Brodie et al. (2011) addressed the differences in the conceptualization of customer engagement. As has been observed through the literature review, there is a distinction in some conceptualization of engagement as the required customer engagement antecedents while others depicted potential customer engagement concepts.

Given these definitions of customer engagement, the next step is to understand the similarities and differences of these definitions and the nature of the variations. This is done in the next subsection.

Similarities and differences in the definition of CE

The new era of marketing observes customer engagement as the new phenomenon in marketing that has grown out of the boom of the Internet and Web 2 (Bielski, 2008). This concept of increased customer participation with manufacturers and organizations due to the boost in information technology has also been supported by Prahlad & Ramaswamy (Co-opting Customer Competence, 2000). This process of dialogue that organizations engage with customers would help in defining the expectations of the customers as well as understanding their outlook, thereby making companies highly flexible. Further, this process is supposed to provide great value to the customers. However, according to the definition presented by Gallup, an engaged customer is one who is emotionally attached to the brand and encompasses this attachment to her self-concept (Bielski, 2008). Though the definitions of customer engagement in the literature are varied, the present literature defines customer engagement as one that has its underpinning in behavioural sciences that presents the customer’s level of motivation brand-related state of mind that is dependent on the level of activation, identification, and absorption of the brand and service interactions. Therefore, Kahn (1990) implicitly presents the taxonomy of cognitive, behavioural, and affective engagement elements. The definition of engagement, as demonstrated by Kahn, has been previously discussed in this paper. However, this implicit contact of the customer with the brand or organization is done away in the definition presented by Patterson et al. (2006) that extends the definition of customer engagement to the direct and explicit contact as in transactional relation of the customer to the brand.

Customer engagement is considered context-specific and has a viable impact on customer choices, in particular to engagement objects such as brands or services (Patterson, Yu, & De Ruyter, 2006). The reasoning behind this argument is that they believe customers to be “partial employees” for which they are asked to get engaged physically, cognitively, and emotionally during the service encounter.

Engagement is said to occur in a distinct timeframe, is a dynamic process, and is characterized by distinct phases (Bowden, 2009). Further, engagement is also measured in particular levels to provide engagement outcomes. Based on the literature review, customer engagement is found to have the following aspects:

  1. Customer engagement can be positive or negative (van Droon et al., 2010). Positive customer engagement is considered those aspects that have both financial and non-financial positive effects on organizations.
  2. Engagement is supposed to be a dynamic process (Bowden, 2009). However, van Droon et al. (2010) points out that it may be a temporary or ongoing process. Further, it is also believed that the scope of customer engagement may be local or geographically dispersed (van Droon et al., 2010).

The definitions that are found to be the most comprehensive are that of Patterson et al. (2006), Vivek et al. (2010), van Doorn et al. (2010) and Mollen and Wilson (2010). In drawing their definition of customer engagement, they drew on the literature available of the related fields and conceptualization of engagement in other fields such as social or behavioural sciences. For instance, Patterson et al. (2006) derive their definition from organizational behaviour research and propose four specific concepts of customer engagement. These are absorption, dedication, vigour, and interaction. Absorption is defined as the level of customer’s involvement with the main engagement object, such as the brand or the service organization. Dedication is defined as the sense of belonging to the brand or organization, which entails an emotional attachment. Vigour is defined as the customer’s psychological resilience in the interaction process with the brand. And interaction is denied as the two-way communication between the customer and the brand or organization. In this, vigour and interaction define the behavioural dimensions of engagement (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011). The focus of the definition of Vivek et al. (2010) is on specific actions and/or interactions of the customers and therefore point at the cognitive and behavioural dimensions of engagement.

Another researcher has drawn extensively on social science and management literature to define customer engagement as “customer brand engagement” as the “level of a customer’s motivational, brand-related, and context-dependent state of mind characterized by specific levels of cognitive, emotional, and behavioural activity in brand interaction.” (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011, p. 6)

Mollen and Wilson (2010) based their definition of customer engagement on “sustained cognitive processing”, “instrumental value”, and “experiential value” (p. 5). They drew a conceptual difference between engagement from involvement. The authors, therefore, suggest that customer engagement moves beyond involvement and dub customers to be more proactive and interactive in their relationship with the brand or organization. They, therefore, posit that customer engagement transcends beyond mere cognition exercise and requires an instrumental and experiential value. This view is found to be consistent with service delivery logic that too is found to stress interactivity and customer experience (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011).

Customer engagement is also considered to be a psychological process that leads to customer loyalty (Bowden, 2009). On the other hand, van Doorn (2010) and Pham and Avnet (2009) focus on customer engagement behaviour with reference to specific types and concepts and/or patterns of focal engagement activities. In another definition, Higgins and Scholer (2009, p. 108) define engagement as “a [consumer’s] state of being occupied, fully-absorbed or engrossed,” and therefore “generating a level of attraction to, or repulsion from, a focal engagement object.” These authors not only identify the positive aspects of engagement, such as bonding, but also the negative aspect of the concept, such as disassociation from an object. Marketing literature so far, according to Brodie et al. (Customer Engagement: Conceptual Domain, Fundamental Propositions, and Implications for Research, 2011), has predominantly dealt with the positive aspects of the concept of customer engagement, avoiding the negative aspects.

The motivational nature of customer engagement has been explicitly dealt with by researchers like van Doorn et al. (2010), Mollen and Wilson (2010), Vivek et al. (2010), Patterson et al. (2006), Pham and Avent (2009) and Higgins and Scholer (2009).

It is believed that customer engagement leads to customer satisfaction (Bowden, 2009; Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011). This idea finds support through other marketing literature. Customer satisfaction is considered to be the main idea behind marketing practice and so for customer engagement (Bowden, 2009). Satisfaction has been associated with other related promotions for the organization or product through word of mouth promotion, customer loyalty, or intention to purchase. In a way, satisfaction has become an unavoidable part of corporate success (Bowden, 2009). Literature on customer satisfaction and customer engagement tries to establish a link between the two in order to develop

measurement models that effectively account for the depths of customers’ emotional responses to consumption situations and that recognize that as customer-brand relationships evolve through increased experience, so too does their weighting and assessment of the importance of various attributes in determining their overall service evaluations. (Bowden, 2009, p. 64)

Researchers have identified an inherent problem in model development for customer engagement (Bijmolt et al., 2010). Traditionally customer engagement is connected to customer value management in order to maximize the value of a company’s customer base (Verhoef, Doorn, & Dorotic, 2007). The literature on adopting a model for measuring or predicting customer engagement was based on customer value management. Bijmolt et al. (2010) presented a model for measuring customer engagement. They used customer value management as the process of measuring customer engagement.

Further, a geographical difference in the nature of engagement has been identified by (Kobayashi 2008). A distinction is made between the engagement process done in the US and in Japan. It is believed that according to the American definition of engagement, it becomes synonymous with other marketing concepts like “involvement, relation, commitment, bond, and tie” (Kobayashi, 2008, p. 110). In Japan, the research of engagement in marketing literature is a personification of “advertising activities”. Some researches on engagement, such as that of Dentsu Engagement Research, has stayed away from using the word engagement and rested their study on “bond-based relation” (Kobayashi, 2008, p. 116).

From the literature review, it was observed that the customer engagement process as conceptualized by the theoreticians in the post-2000 phase stressed the multidimensionality of the concept. Therefore, it was suggested by most of the theoreticians that customer engagement went beyond just the “involvement” concept and encompassed a more proactive and interactive customer experience with a specified engagement object. Mollen and Wilson (2010) point out that the customer engagement process transcends the simple exercise of cognition and, contrary to involvement, requires a more interactive and experiential value. This argument is found to adhere to the concept of the S-D logic that demonstrates the importance of “interactivity” and “customer experience” (Vargo, 2009).

The iterative nature of service relationships demonstrated that the process of customer engagement pointed towards engagement related concepts. These included concepts such as commitment, trust, brand loyalty, brand attachment, etc. These co-related concepts may act as antecedents to the subsequent process of interactivity and co-creative process of the customer and the engagement object (Wang, 2006; Delgado-Ballester, Munera-Aleman, & Yague-Guillen, 2003; Moorman, Deshpande, & Zaltman, 1993; Voyles, 2007; Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantello, 2009; Day, 1969).

In summary, the evolution of the definition of customer engagement shows that it shows a transcending relationship and provides a broader conceptual domain. Theoretically, it provides a lens for customer experience. Engagement, unlike the traditional concepts of involvement and participation, is based mainly on interactivity with customers and the engagement object such as the brand or organization. The next section is dedicated to the identification of the themes related to engagement and extending the idea to a more generic concept. Based on this analysis, it can be determined whether the fundamental proposition and the definitions provided in the customer engagement literature can be extended to all service and product-based relationships.

Customer Engagement themes from various definitions

Identification of themes within a concept is the process of identification of the patterns or themes within data (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Further, this form of analysis is useful in interpreting various aspects of a specific research topic (Boyatzis, 1998). As opposed to content analysis, thematic analysis allows researchers to account for the entire conversion as a single unit (Boyatzis, 1998). Therefore a large number of themes may be derived from a single concept using an analytical methodology (Braun & Clarke, 2006).

The search on customer engagement using online databases like ProQuest, EBSCO, Google Scholar, etc., generated 49 articles that were selected for the analysis. The journal articles were segregated into two distinct themes – business-to-business (B2B) relationships, business to customer (B2C) relationships and other relationships.

Table 5: Key Themes

B2B Relationships Themes
  1. Interactions
  1. Role of the customer as the co-creator
  1. Relations that create value as well as solution
  1. Continuous relationship over a period
  1. Exchanges through business
  1. Process of relationship over time
B2C Relationships
  1. Interaction between consumer and the engagement object (e.g., brand or organization)
  1. Interaction between customer and organization
  1. Relationship of the consumer with the brand
  1. The emotional experience of the consumer
  1. Emotional nature of the interactivity with the consumer
  1. Co-creation is the process of service or product delivery
  1. The interactivity between consumer and firm leads to value co-creativity
  1. The relationship development between the consumer and the firm
Other Relationships
  1. Customer-centric strategy adopted
  1. Identifying ways to instil brand value on the employees
  1. Interaction between the employee and the customer
  1. Interaction between customer and organization
  1. Developing a strategy that aims at mutual responsibility of the firm and the consumer

Given these themes and the fundamental principles stated by Brodie et al. (2011), the first proposition states the presence of an “interactive experience” between the customer and the organization being the potent mark of customer engagement. Therefore, a distinction between involvement and engagement is clearly made in this respect as an individual’s degree of interest and of personal relevance relative to a given object. However, customer engagement requires the undertaking of a focal interaction between the consumer and the engagement object (e.g. brand). This idea of interactivity supports the themes identified in table 5. These include terminologies like “interaction”, “interactive dialogue” specifically in B2B relationship and “interactivity”, “consumer/firm relationship”, etc. in case of B2C interactions. In addition to other relationships, the employee-customer relationship and the customer firm relationship delineate the main interactive role of the customer engagement concept.

The second proposition stated that the interactive process of customer firm relations resulted in the co-creation of value. Therefore, customer engagement creates an iterative process that helps in the peak of a focal engagement process. This proposition also indicates the co-creation of value with the customer or with other stakeholders through a specific interaction between focal service relationships and the firm. The themes identified through the process of literature review demonstrates that the process of customer engagement, both B2B and B2C relations are dynamic and help in the co-creation of value. For instance, in the case of the B2B relationship, engagement was found to encompass a customer firm relationship that encompassed “promise management”, while that in B2C related to a main aspect of the “co-creative” process. Further, engagement is also mentioned as the “relational mechanism” that indicates the existence of dynamic, iterative interactions between customers and the engagement object. In the B2B relationship, the co-creative nature of engagement is illustrated by the customer’s “role as co-creator”, while in the case of B2C, the co-creative process is furthered through a value-creating process. In addition, the linkage between engagement and co-creation is found to be implicit rather than explicit in the interface between customer and organization.

Various Aspects of Customer Engagement

Various aspects of customer engagement
Figure 1: Various aspects of customer engagement

From the literature review, various aspects of customer engagement can be deduced. Figure 1 shows the different aspects of engagement that can be deduced from the literature on the conceptualization of customer engagement. Engagement from the literature review is deduced to be a context-specific aspect with a lot of impact on the choice of consumers. Further, customers may be engaged to different objects, i.e., it may be the firm in case of services or products or the brands (Patterson, Yu, & De Ruyter, 2006). Engagement is also relative to time and therefore is characterized by different phases (Bowden, 2009). This is done at different levels (van Droon et al., 2010). Therefore, given this, it is understood that engagement is measurable at a specific time and at different levels. This depends on the individual customer’s motivational level and her brand-related context-driven state of mind characterized by the degree of activation, identification and absorption in the process of interaction with the brand.

Therefore, this definition implicitly presents the taxonomy of cognitive, behavioural, and affective engagement elements (Kahn, 1990). However, this implicit contact of the customer with the brand or organization is done away in the definition presented by Patterson et al. (2006) that extends the definition of customer engagement to the direct and explicit contact of the customer to the brand.

A constructive definition of customer engagement was first provided by van Doorn et al. (2010). Before they provided this definition, the research in the area has largely been devoted to the transactional nature of the relationship. The research has been mostly dedicated to customer behaviour and the areas related to customer retention and cross buying phenomenon and has strived to predict the behaviour of the customers. Other researchers based their research on customer equity, loyalty, and lifetime value (Gupta, Lehmann, & Stuart, Valuing Customers, 2004; Gupta & Zeithaml, Customer Metrics and their impact on financial performance, 2006). Verhoef et al. (2010) point out that there exists great importance on word of mouth marketing in these researches even when their main forte is a transactional form of research. Therefore, researchers in early 2000 and prior to that based their research on customer management and other aspects of the customer relationship such as satisfaction, loyalty, trust, etc. but little or no attempt was made to understand the concept of engagement in customer relationship management. However, the breakthrough of technology and distinctiveness of the engagement process found by the researchers brought customer engagement into the limelight.

The literature review on engagement from other fields of study was done based on other perspectives shows that the concept of engagement is multidimensional in nature. Though it is a multidimensional concept, most of the literature on engagement has shown it to be a one-dimensional concept such that either it is based on cognitive, emotional, or behavioural aspects of engagement. Behavioural dimensions seem to be a dominant dimension for engagement. However, these one-dimensional approaches seem to have the merit of simplicity, but they fail to demonstrate the richness of the conceptual scope of engagement.

Many investigations into the literature on engagement within social science and management literature shows engagement has been observed in broader iterative engagement processes. This has been observed in the case of “civic engagement” in political science (e.g. Jennings & Stroker, 2004), “engagement of states” (e.g. Resnick, 2001), “social engagement” (e.g. Achterberg, Pot, Kerkstra, Ooms, Muller, & Ribbe, 2003; Bejerholm & Eklund, 2007; Huo, Binning, & Molina, 2009), and “student engagement” (e.g. Bryson & Hand, 2007).

Customer engagement researchers like Patterson et al. (2006), Brodie et al. (2011), Mollen and Wilson (2010), Bowden (2009), van Doorn (2010), Pham and Avnet (Rethinking Regulatory Engagement Theory, 2009), Higgins and Scholer (2009), Kumar et al. (Undervalued or Overvalued Customers: capturing total customer engagement value, 2010), and Hoyer et al. (2010).

The review shows that firm based factors affect customer engagement behaviour (Verhoef, Reinartz, & Krafft, 2010). Brand perception can strongly affect such behaviour. Other factors found to have a strong influence on customer engagement behaviour are a platform for “customer voice”. Further, the presence of consumer information in the organization also affects customer engagement behaviour.

The review also indicates that the social iteration process may indicate short as well as long term manifestations of engagement (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011). Further, the review also demonstrates that the degree of engagement of the subject at the initiation process of the engagement typically tends to develop over conducive and contextual conditions.

Customer engagement has been linked to value co-creation with the customers. This is believed to exist in the mind of the customers through a perceived co-creative process with the firms (Prahlad & Ramaswamy, 2000; Prahlad & Ramaswamy, 2004). This interactive process helps in the creation of value through the process of interaction between the customer and the engagement object. Therefore, customer value co-creation can be considered to be the consequence of the customer engagement process.

The process of customer engagement supposedly has a strong positive relationship with brand loyalty (Patterson, Yu, & De Ruyter, 2006; Bowden, 2009). The process of repeat purchase by the customer, i.e. behavioural loyalty, is intensified by strong attitudinal loyalty (Guest, 1944; Day, 1969). This definition of brand loyalty shows that the repeat purchase behaviour of the customers is influenced by the attitudinal loyalty of the customers. Following the literature review, it can be argued that involvement is a necessary component of the process of engagement as it is found to mediate the affiliation between customer satisfaction and the decision making process of repeat purchase customers. Further, research has also established a relationship between affective commitment and loyalty has found that commitment leads to a greater desire to remain and invest with the brand, as well as engaging in positive word of mouth communication (Harrison-Walker, 2001; Wetzels, Ruyter, & Birgelen, 1998). Therefore, affective commitment also has relevance to loyalty. It can be deduced that affective commitment has a strong positive role in influencing customer engagement.

The customer engagement may be explained using S-D logic which otherwise is used in a goods dominated view of the relationship. However, this more rational way of understanding customer behaviour outcome is believed to have been created through the customer’s interaction and co-creation activity. Brodie et al. (2011) focused their discussion on a particular form of customer engagement, but it can also be extended to other forms of the concept such as “brand engagement” or “consumer engagement”. According to the study conducted by Brodie et al. (2011), they provide four foundational premises for the underlying S-D logic is important to understand the foundation of the emerging concept of engagement in marketing literature. The sixth premise specifically states, “The customer is always a co-creator of value” (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011, p. 2). This concept highlights the “interactive, cocreative nature of value creation” between the customer and the organization. The ninth premise states, “All social and economic actors are resource integrators,” indicates that the process of value creation occurs within networks. The eighth premise states, “A service-centred view is inherently customer-oriented and relational,” indicating the transcending and interactive relational nature of service. In this view, service is believed to generate customer benefits through the process of co-creation of value with other actors in specific service relationships through the process of focal interactions and interactive processes. The tenth premise states, “Value is always uniquely and phenomenologically determined by the beneficiary,” indicating the contextual nature of the value co-creation concept where customers become co-creators of their perceived value (Schembri, 2006, p. 385). These four premises form the theoretical foundation for the customer engagement concept. The idea of customer co-creation as a process of engagement was first put forth by Lusch and Vargo (2006).

Overall, the research on customer engagement is nascent, and its multidimensionality needs to be inculcated. Definition and conceptualization are not yet strong enough, and there is a need for further research into the area. Other marketing concepts such as involvement, satisfaction, trust, bond, etc. though different in nature, needs to be associated more closely, and their relatedness needs to be ascertained. The next section provides the limitations of the present research and the areas that can be found in customer engagement literature that provides scope for further research.

The literature review extended the scope of the theoretical work done on customer engagement and tried to establish a connection between the initial conceptualization of engagement. This further provided the scope for understanding customer engagement in a more holistic manner drawing relevance from engagement concepts from other fields. The present research showed that engagement as a concept in any field is multidimensional and therefore has a greater scope of applicability. In marketing literature, customer engagement needs to come out of its one-dimensional mode to develop it into a more diverse customer management concept. Roberts and Alpert (2010) suggest that there should be an effort made to move towards a “total engagement” model instead of aiming at employee or customer engagement models. This will help the firms in understanding the diverse nature of engagement and employ its full potential.

CE compared to Other Marketing Concepts

Table 6: Relationship between CE and Other Marketing Concepts

Theme Definition Relation to CE
Customer value co-creation The perceived level of value co-created in the mind of the customer arises out of the interaction and personalized activities with the stakeholders (Prahlad & Ramaswamy, 2000). This is the outcome of the process of interaction between the customer and the brand.
Brand Loyalty The process of repeat purchase by the customer, i.e., behavioural loyalty, is intensified by strong attitudinal loyalty (Guest, 1944; Day, 1969) The potential of a strong positive relationship between customer engagement and brand loyalty (Patterson, Yu, & De Ruyter, 2006; Bowden, 2009)
Involvement The process of an individual’s degree of interest and personal relevance in respect to focal object/decision in terms of one’s value, goals, and self-concept (Zaichkowsky, 1985; Mittal B., 1995). An important antecedent to CE as this eventually leads to the customer’s engagement.
Customer Interactivity This is basically the interaction between customer and firm (Bolton & Saxena-Iyer, 2009) This, too, is supposed to be a prerequisite for the generation of CE.
Customer Satisfaction (cumulative) An overall evaluation is based on the total purchase and consumption experience with a good/service over a period of time (Johnson & Fornell, 1991). The antecedent for CE for existing customers (Van Doorn et al., 2010) may act as a consequence for new customers (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011).
Brand Experience A subjective internal consumer response evoked by brand-related stimuli (Brakus, Schimtt, & Zarantello, 2009) Consequence of CE (Brakus, Schimtt, & Zarantello, 2009).
Customer commitment Valuing an ongoing relationship with a specific another party so as to warrant maximum effort maintain it (Moorman, Deshpande, & Zaltman, 1993; Morgan & Hunt, 1994) The consequence of CE due to the evolution of a positive relationship.
Trust The consumer’s
Perception regarding interaction of the brand (Delgado-Ballester, Munuera-Aleman, & Yague-Guillen, 2003)
Due to the high level of CE with a positive relationship between customer trust and engagement.

The commonality between engagement and other marketing concepts such as participation, involvement, and commitment has been discussed in previous research (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011). Therefore, this demonstrates that customer engagement provides a nomological process of establishing a relationship between concepts. The engagement relationship, as shown in Table 5, demonstrates that there exist a specific relationship between engagement and other specific concepts, as demonstrated in table 6.

The other marketing concepts that have been linked to customer engagement through the literature review are presented in table 6. Customer engagement has been linked to value co-creation with the customers. This is believed to exist in the mind of the customers through a perceived co-creative process with the firms (Prahlad & Ramaswamy, 2000; Prahlad & Ramaswamy, 2004). This interactive process helps in the creation of value through the process of interaction between the customer and the engagement object. Therefore, customer value co-creation can be considered to be the consequence of the customer engagement process.

The process of customer engagement supposedly has a strong positive relationship with brand loyalty (Patterson, Yu, & De Ruyter, 2006; Bowden, 2009). The process of repeat purchase by the customer, i.e. behavioural loyalty, is intensified by strong attitudinal loyalty (Guest, 1944; Day, 1969). This definition of brand loyalty shows that the repeat purchase behaviour of the customers is influenced by the attitudinal loyalty of the customers. Bowden (2009) addresses the question of rational bonds and new customers. The research suggests that customers over time develop a greater elaborate “knowledge structure associated with the brand” and “different psychological frame of reference when evaluating the brand when compared to those customers who may possess a lower level of experience with the same brand” (Bowden, 2009). A similar idea has also been presented by Soderlund (2002) and Mittal, Katrichis, and Kumar (2001). Mittal et al. (2001) pointed out that there exists a large degree of difference between the information process of a new customer and that of a repeat-purchase or loyal customer. They particularly showed that the tenure of the customers’ association with the brand has a great influence, and the newly acquired customers and the older ones cannot be treated in a similar fashion as there arises a difference in their consumption goals. Therefore, Bowden extended this idea into the form of “cumulative commitment” and “loyalty” to explain the role of emotion and cognition in building customer engagement. It is argued that loyalty always does not mean commitment (Warrington & Shim, 2000). A brand relationship between customers is supposed to occur through their cognitive and attribute-based evolutionary process of the brand wherein the “depth of loyalty is no deeper than mere performance” (Oliver, 1997). Bowden (2009, p. 67) points out that “Based on this argument, calculative commitment would subsequently have a much more limited role to play”. It is also believed that the existence of constructs like “involvement, trust, and delight” in the customer-brand relationship. Therefore, it is believed by Bowden (2009) that “delight” may be a useful construct in attracting new customers through word-of-mouth publicity and encouraging “repeat purchase” and customer retention. However, he also points out that the presence of cognitive complexity in the purchase process will reduce the effect of delight as the expectations of the repeat purchase customers would become very high. Therefore Bowden believes that for new customers, “the experience of delight accelerates the development of commitment and loyalty.” (Bowden, 2009, p. 68)

Involvement may be defined as a “goal-directed motivation” that demonstrates to what degree decisions are considered to be personal by customers (Mittal & Lee, 1989). Its importance in the customer engagement process is related to engendering the ongoing psychological effect of continuous involvement with the brand. Gordon, McKeage, and Fox (1998) and Swinyard (1993) demonstrated that the state of involvement creates a danger for the in-progress psychological process of the thoughts, feelings, and behaviour of customers who are greatly involved with a brand. This is also supported by Olivia, Oliver, and Bearden (1995), who indicate that involvement creates a “stickiness” in the customer-brand relationship. Therefore, the argument goes that the greater is the involvement of the customers with the brand over a long period of time, the greater is the degree of their loyalty towards the brand (Olivia, Oliver, & Bearden, 1995). Therefore there is a positive relationship between involvement and customer engagement.

Following a discussion on involvement and customer engagement, it becomes imperative to understand the underlying relation between customer satisfaction and engagement. Mano & Oliver (1993) stress that there is a link between the satisfactory answer to queries by customers to brand involvement. Thus, the idea is that customers need not be involved with the product category or the brand choice to get involved with the brand (Bowden, 2009). Mano and Oliver argue that involvement is “concomitantly required in the generation of high levels of either positive or negative effect” (1993, p. 69). A customer who remains uninvolved or uncommitted may switch brands or products regularly as the brand or the organization is considered unimportant in the decision-making process of the customer (Warrington & Shim, 2000).

The above-mentioned argument indicating the importance of involvement in the purchase decision process shows that this is a key factor affecting the repeat purchase behaviour of customers. The reason behind this is the higher degree of familiarity of the brand that leads to repeat purchase and bias towards the brand:

If I repeatedly come back to this object, it matters to me, and if it matters to me, I should have an opinion about it that signals that it matters, and a neutral or near-neutral opinion does not do that. (Soderlund, 2002, p. 866)

Therefore, it can be argued that involvement is a necessary component of the process of engagement as it is found to mediate the affiliation between customer satisfaction and the decision making process of repeat purchase customers.

Trust is another important element in the development of customer commitment. Hess and Story (2005) believe that trust is a necessary condition for establishing a connection between the customer and the brand. Trust, being highly cognitive in nature, is believed to have a risk-minimizing and utility maximization effect on the different concepts of customer-brand relationship such as affiliation, attachment, and identification. Therefore, trust assumes an important and necessary position for the fulfilment of true customer commitment (Hess & Story, 2005). Therefore, it is suggested by Bowden (2009, p. 69) that “higher the level of involvement with the service brand, the greater the degree of brand trust leading to increased levels of customer commitment.” Therefore, affective commitment, which is defined as the emotional state of the customer that shows the psychological closeness of a customer to the brand and consists of a “holistic or aggregate judgement of the brand independently from its functional or instrumental attributes” (Amine, 1998, p. 313). Previous research conducted on establishing a relationship between affective commitment and loyalty has found that commitment leads to a greater desire to remain and invest with the brand, as well as engage in positive word of mouth communication (Harrison-Walker, 2001; Wetzels, Ruyter, & Birgelen, 1998). From the given argument on the relevance of affective commitment on loyalty, it can be deduced that affective commitment has a strong positive role in influencing customer engagement.

Further, researchers posit that there exists a positive relationship between customer value co-creation and customer engagement (Brodie, Hollebeek, Juric, & Iliac, 2011). The rationale behind the finding is that there exists positive interaction between brand and customer that affect customer engagement. Therefore, this section shows that customer engagement as a concept has a close relevance and closeness to other marketing concepts and affects it greatly.

Given the closeness of the concept of customer engagement with other marketing concepts, it is also argued that customer engagement is just another jargon in the marketing literature, with no additional concept being added to the theory. However, the literature review shows otherwise. Bowden (2009) believe that customer engagement is a distinct concept, and there are clear differences between commitment, involvement, loyalty, trust, and customer engagement. This section elucidates the apparent distinctions that can be derived from the literature review.

The available literature on involvement defines it as the internal arousal of the customer (Warrington & Shim, 2000). In other words, involvement is described as a customer’s perceived value of a product class in relation to the self-concept, ego, and value system of the customer (Beatty, Kahl, & Homer, 1988). Customers are found to be involved when their values are salient to their decision (Crosby & Taylor, 1983). Commitment, on the other hand, is defined as the customer-specific attitudinal position and not just involvement and interest (Muncy & Hunt, 2001). An empirical investigation into this idea was done by Warrington and Shim (2000), who differentiated customers into two segments – the extent of decision making that encompassed involvement and the attitude towards a brand as in commitment. According to the distinction made, there arose distinct concepts in involvement and commitment. However, researchers have shown that involvement occurs prior to the development of commitment (Beatty, Kahl, & Homer, 1988). Therefore, those customers who show a high degree of commitment were also found to be high on involvement with the brand.

Research has shown that commitment and loyalty are closely related to constructs though they too are considered to be distinct (Beatty, Kahl, & Homer, 1988). However, brand loyalty is supposed to have an attitudinal aspect and also sometimes in terms of behaviour (Dick & Basu, 1994). According to this line of argument, it can be deduced that commitment leads to brand loyalty, but vice versa may not be true. In other words, customers who are brand loyal may decide to switch brands; however, those customers who are committed to the brand are less likely to switch (Warrington & Shim, 2000). Bowden points out:

The theorized process of customer engagement is not concerned specifically per se with each of the individual constructs that are modelled within it (i.e. involvement, calculative commitment, affective commitment, trust, delight, and loyalty). Rather the process of customer engagement is concerned with understanding the way in which each of these individual constructs might operate to drive customer loyalty within a broader psychological framework. (2009, p. 71)

Therefore, from the point of view of customer engagement, the other concepts are distinct from it and therefore are concerned more with the formation and development of the customer-brand relationship and the process that drive brand loyalty (Bowden, 2009). Thus, the concepts such as involvement, trust, loyalty etc., are related to the concept of customer engagement, but they are distinct concepts that cannot be considered to be the same. Therefore, the argument that many pose that customer engagement are just an old trick with a new look is found not to be true in the literature review.

Conclusion

Customer engagement is a nascent concept in marketing literature though the concept had been prevalent in other social science disciplines like organization behaviour, political science, sociology, etc. the literature review enumerates an evolution of the literature on customer engagement, development of different definitions, and the future of the concept. The paper demonstrates that the concept of customer engagement developed only after 2000.

The research is conducted through a literature review of previous peer-reviewed articles on customer engagement. The articles that are selected for the present literature review research are articles that directly and specifically mention customer engagement in their titles or abstracts and deal directly with the subject material. Further, only articles published in English are selected for the research. Articles are segregated into two categories – peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed.

The literature review first traces the precursors of customer engagement. The review suggests that the birth of the engagement concept has been from behavioural sciences (May, Gilson, & Harter, 2004). Kahn (1990) defined customer engagement to be an individual’s behaviour towards work offered the first definition of the concept.

Literature also suggested that engagement usually has a positive outcome for the organization as well as individuals. Therefore, this positivity in behavioural outcome in organization behaviour was thought could be extended to marketing too.

The literature review on engagement from other fields of the study shows that the concept of engagement is multidimensional in nature. Though it is a multidimensional concept, most of the literature on engagement has shown it to be a one-dimensional concept such that either it is based on cognitive, emotional, or behavioural aspects of engagement.

One of the dominant dimensions for engagement is behavioural dimensions. Though the initial one-dimensional approaches to engagement seem to have the advantage of simplicity, they fail to reveal the richness of the conceptual span of engagement. This is shown in the review of literature conducted in the paper that demonstrated engagement as a broader iterative engagement process. A few examples of this are observed in the case of “civic engagement” in political science (e.g. Jennings & Stroker, 2004), “engagement of states” (e.g. Resnick, 2001), “social engagement” (e.g. Achterberg, Pot, Kerkstra, Ooms, Muller, & Ribbe, 2003; Bejerholm & Eklund, 2007; Huo, Binning, & Molina, 2009), and “student engagement” (e.g. Bryson & Hand, 2007).

Customer co-creation literature arising before the 2000s demonstrates customer engagement in the process of product creation or service delivery. Prevalent literature suggests that co-creation through customer education and involvement may lead to engagement and greater satisfaction of the customers (Bitner, Faranda, Hubbert, & Zeithaml, 1997). The literature review actually supports the idea that greater customer co-creation may lead to greater customer satisfaction. This may also lead to greater customer engagement.

Research on customer engagement erupted when its greater relevance to marketing was observed through the development of the Internet. In the late 1990s, a conceptual shift in the marketing arena from product-centric to customer-centric marketing was the initiator of the customer management field. The shift towards customer-centric marketing has been under discussion for more than a decade. However, the conception of a product-centric approach was not possible in many organizations. Participation of customers increased considerably in the manufacturing sector due to the advent of information technology (Prahlad & Ramaswamy, 2004).

This is believed to have the potential to make companies work more flexibly. For the customers, customer engagement has the potential to provide great value. These benefits of the concept are easily discerned through the literature review.

Customer engagement is defined by researchers like Patterson et al. (2006), Brodie et al. (2011), Mollen and Wilson (2010), Bowden (2009), van Doorn (2010), Pham and Avnet (Rethinking Regulatory Engagement Theory, 2009), Higgins and Scholer (2009), Kumar et al. (2010), and Hoyer et al. (2010). The evolution and the variety in definition available in the literature have been discussed in the paper. The definitions of customer engagement are found through the literature review to be varied. Definitions are based on various concepts such as psychological, behavioural, and/or cognitive. One definition of customer engagement defines an engaged customer as one who is emotionally attached to the brand and encompasses this attachment to her self-concept (Bielski, 2008; Appelbaum, 2001). Other definitions are based on the psychological, behavioural aspect of the customer. In other words, the definitions have their underpinning in behavioural sciences that presents the customer’s level of association with the brand that results in the motivation of the customer to a level of activation, identification, and absorption of the brand interactions. Though in some definitions, as in the case of that presented by Patterson et al. (2006), the explicit, transactional relation of the customer and the company is stressed upon, doing away with the implicit relation. The literature review, therefore, presents an array of definitions, which ultimately indicate that customer engagement is a state of association of the customer with the brand that ultimately leads to greater value for both the parties (i.e. company and customer). The process of customer engagement is discussed as one that takes the customer through usually myriad association, trust, and bonding. The antecedents of engagement are loyalty and co-creation of value. The literature review demonstrates this particular process of customer engagement.

The literature review shows customer engagement to be a psychological process that leads to customer loyalty (Bowden, 2009), specific types and concepts and/or patterns of focal engagement activities (Pham & Avnet, 2009; van Droon et al., 2010), positive or negative association with the brand (Higgins & Scholer, 2009), and so on. But one must note that in all the literature reviewed on the concept, the positive effects are only discussed, leaving aside the negative or neutral effects of the concept.

The literature addressed the differences in the conceptualization of customer engagement. As has been observed through the literature review, there is a distinction in some conceptualization of engagement as the required customer engagement antecedents while others depicted potential customer engagement concepts. The iterative nature of service relationships demonstrated that the process of customer engagement pointed towards related engagement concepts such as commitment, trust, brand loyalty, brand attachment, etc. these co-related concepts may act as antecedents to the subsequent process of interactivity and co-creative process of the customer and the engagement object.

Literature review indicates engagement to be a context-specific aspect with immense impact on the choice of consumers. The review of the literature suggests that customers may be engaged to different objects, i.e. it may be the firm in case of services or products or the brands. Engagement is time-related and can be bound through different phases. Therefore, given this, it is understood that engagement is measurable at a specific time and at different levels.

The source point of the definition of customer engagement is organizational behaviour literature. The concepts from which it is derived for marketing are absorption, dedication, vigour, and interaction. Absorption is the level of customer’s involvement with the brand, dedication is the sense of belonging, vigour is the customer’s psychological pliability while interacting with the brand, and interaction is the two-way communication between the customer and the brand. These relate to the specific actions and/or interactions of the customers and point at the cognitive and behavioural dimensions of engagement.

In summary, the evolution of the definition of customer engagement shows a transcending relationship and provides a broader conceptual domain. Theoretically, it provides a lens for customer experience. Engagement, unlike the traditional concepts of involvement and participation, is based mainly on interactivity with customers and the engagement object such as the brand or organization. The next section is dedicated to the identification of the themes related to engagement and extending the idea to a more generic concept. Based on this analysis, it can be determined whether the fundamental proposition and the definitions provided in the customer engagement literature can be extended to all service and product-based relationships.

We achieve various benefits from the concept of customer engagement. The literature review suggests that this is in no way a bygone concept but rather one that holds enormous promise for marketers. This research suggests that firm based factors affect customer engagement behaviour. Brand perception can strongly affect such behaviour. This perception of the brand creates a “customer voice”, which is found to have a strong influence on customer engagement. The availability of customer information with the company can help companies engage customers and modify their behaviour. The literature review also points out that the social iteration process may indicate short and long-term expressions of engagement. This demonstrates the degree of engagement of the customer at the time of initiation of the engagement process, which develops over beneficial and relative conditions. Therefore, marketers need to identify these areas and relate to the customers in order to create greater value.

Customer engagement is related to other marketing concepts and holds a strong relationship with them. The process of customer engagement supposedly has a strong positive relationship with brand loyalty. The process of repeat purchase by the customer, i.e. behavioural loyalty, is intensified by strong attitudinal loyalty (Guest, 1944; Day, 1969). This definition of brand loyalty shows that the repeat purchase behaviour of the customers is influenced by the attitudinal loyalty of the customers. Following the literature review, it can be argued that involvement is a necessary component of the process of engagement as it is found to mediate the affiliation between customer satisfaction and the decision making process of repeat purchase customers. Further, research has also established a relationship between affective commitment and loyalty has found that commitment leads to a greater desire to remain and invest with the brand, as well as engaging in positive word of mouth communication (Harrison-Walker, 2001; Wetzels, Ruyter, & Birgelen, 1998). Therefore, affective commitment also has relevance to loyalty. It can be deduced that affective commitment has a strong positive role in influencing customer engagement.

Customer engagement as a concept is very valuable to the marketing literature as it helps marketers understand the importance of interaction and association with the customers. Customers are not dormant purchasers engaged solely in the transactional purchasing process. Rather, they can be active partners in enhancing the brand value of the product or service. As in the case of Harley Davidson, it is the customers who believe in the brand’s masculinity or customers of Rolls Royce who believe in its luxury.

Measurement of customer engagement is an area that is not yet fully cultivated by academicians or practitioners, though serious thought is being given to it. Some researchers have already made an attempt to measure customer engagement, like Kumar et al. (2010) and Bijmolt et al. (2010). Kumar et al. attempt to measure the customer engagement value. Bijmolt et al. measure the “key behavioural manifestations of customer engagement” (Bijmolt et al., 2010, p. 341). Measuring customer engagement is important for marketers as this helps them understand many aspects of the customer, as how the customers differ from each other, how they move from becoming a non-engaged customer to an engaged one, or vice-versa, or what impact engagement has on the company’s profit. From the organization’s point of measuring, all these facets of customer engagement are important and beneficial as they would project the following:

  1. Help understand what would engage the customer.
  2. How customers can be kept engaged by companies.
  3. In more measure and quantitative terms, the direct, measurable benefit (i.e. profit) accrued by the company due to engaged customers.
  4. Creation of other non-quantifiable benefits such as value creation, word-of-mouth advertisements, etc.

Therefore, measurement of customer engagement is of absolute importance for marketers. This actually helps marketers understand if customer engagement has a positive or negative impact on the firm or brand’s performance.

The literature review extended the scope of the theoretical work done on customer engagement and tried to establish a connection between the initial conceptualization of engagement. This further provided the scope for understanding customer engagement in a more holistic manner drawing relevance from engagement concepts from other fields. The present research showed that engagement as a concept in any field is multidimensional and therefore has a greater scope of applicability. In marketing literature, customer engagement needs to come out of its one-dimensional mode to develop it into a more diverse customer management concept. Roberts and Alpert (2010) suggest that there should be an effort made to move towards a “total engagement” model instead of aiming at employee or customer engagement models. This will help the firms in understanding the diverse nature of engagement and employ its full potential.

In totality, the research on customer engagement is at an early stage and requires exploitation of its nascent multidimensionality. The definitions and conceptualization offered by the existing literature are not effectively strong to demonstrate this aspect of the area. Further, there is a need to associate other marketing concepts such as involvement, satisfaction, trust, bond, etc., with customer engagement and their relatedness need to be established properly. In addition, engagement as a concept is not only related to customer engagement but also with brand engagement and employee engagement. This is required to understand the link between the engagement concept in management such that a holistic model for engaging both the internal and external customers can be established. The next section provides the limitations of the present research and the areas that can be found in customer engagement literature that provides scope for further research.

Limitation and Future Research

The literature review of customer engagement is limited in nature as there are very few research articles available on the concept. As a concept in the marketing domain, customer engagement is still at a nascent stage, with little attention being given to the multidimensional nature of the concept. There are a lot of areas in the marketing conceptualization of engagement that can be extended to, and the idea related to customer engagement can become a dynamic process through which the other customer management concepts can be associated with. Though some research in the area has tried to put forth the antecedent and preceding concepts for customer engagement, most researchers do not have any consistent view regarding them. The research is limited in understanding the customer engagement conceptualization. However, if this is extended to a total model of engagement in management practices, then it can be related to the brand, customer, and employee engagement and how engagement can provide strategic intent (Roberts & Alpert, 2010 ). Engagement as a concept is vast and can be strategically used to gain optimum return and customer satisfaction. Though several models have been made to understand the process of customer engagement, no work has been found that relate the understanding of the engagement process to that of employee engagement or brand engagement.

Further, the literature review is constricted to the understanding of the conceptualization of customer engagement and does not cater to the analytics of customer engagement (Bijmolt et al., 2010). The process of measuring and understanding the true effect of customer engagement is not provided in the literature, wherein the measurement of the customer engagement value becomes difficult.

Future research in customer engagement should try to form a more holistic definition for customer engagement that entails the multidimensionality of the concept. Further analytics and measurement of the concept must also be researched such that the results are quantifiable. In the end, research should be done to show the difference and interlink between the different marketing concepts and customer engagement.

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