Different Customer Engagement Models (And When To Use Them)

Any business knows the importance of customer engagement. Competition is increasing, and it’s all too easy for customers to jump to another product if yours doesn’t meet their needs. Cultivating loyal customers means continually engaging them, connecting them to the value of your product, and hearing their feedback.

Yet managing all of these interactions isn’t easy. According to a survey by HBR Analytic Services, 88% of business execs say that customer engagement has a significant impact on their bottom line. But only 36% feel their customer engagement is “good.”

With customer expectations rising and brand allegiance declining, it’s crucial that businesses get engagement right. And as we’ll see in this post, it all starts with choosing the right customer engagement model.

This guide will run you through the ins and outs of each approach, share some helpful product tools, and help you decide which engagement strategy is best for your business.

What is a customer engagement model?

A customer engagement model is a strategy for managing the post-purchase relationship with customers. It describes how a business interacts with existing customers with the goals of improving product adoption and driving customer retention and success.

There are two main approaches to customer engagement:

  • Low-touch. Low-touch is a one-to-many approach that is self-service oriented. Customer interactions are largely automated using product tools, making it a less customized experience but one that is highly efficient and scalable.
  • High-touch. High-touch is a one-to-one approach. The customer is guided throughout the customer lifecycle, usually by a dedicated customer success manager. This approach is highly personalized but less efficient than a low-touch model and not easily scalable.

High-touch and low-touch models can be applied to both phases of the post-sale relationship — onboarding and customer success. Onboarding involves helping new customers set up and begin to use your product, and customer success involves helping customers get the most value from your product long-term.

What do these engagement models look like in practice? Let’s take a look below.

Different customer engagement models + popular tools

1. Low-touch onboarding

Low-touch onboarding uses automated tech tools to help customers get started with your product. A low-touch approach can be highly effective when your product or service is easy to implement and digital support is enough to get customers up and running. It’s also cost-effective and highly scalable, making it ideal for onboarding large numbers of new customers.

Strategies:

  • Create onboarding material (e.g., documents, videos, and checklists) to guide customers as they begin using your product.
  • Send out drip emails to walk customers through different features and setup activities over a specific timeframe.
  • Use automated product tours and feature callouts to familiarize your customers with all of your product’s features.
  • Build a customer community to onboard customers, teach them about your product, and connect them to self-service tools.
  • Offer a support line (phone, email, or chat) where customers can ask for help from a front-line rep.
  • Tribe. Tribe is a community-building platform that helps you onboard your customers and nurture that early relationship without needing a dedicated CSM. It’s also a comprehensive self-service tool. A centralized hub helps users learn about your product through resource libraries, FAQs, and discussion areas. Customers can upvote or follow their favorite topics and questions and learn about your product at their own pace.
  • Userpilot. This product experience software helps you set up an interactive onboarding process. Customers discover and learn about features through digital engagements like feature callouts and onboarding checklists.
  • Intercom. Built for customer communication, Intercom is an engagement platform that offers live chat functionality and a chatbot to help resolve customer issues.
  • HubSpot. HubSpot is a popular CRM platform with many functionalities. For example, you can create a customer-centric onboarding experience, build drip email campaigns, and offer automated help desk support.
  • Vimeo. Vimeo is a video platform that can be used to create, host, and embed product demonstration videos.

2. High-touch onboarding

High-touch onboarding guides customers one-on-one as they integrate your product or service into their workflow. This approach is best for helping customers implement products that include complex features and/or a more complicated set-up. Although costlier and less scalable than low-touch, high-touch onboarding is crucial for high value customers who are used to dedicated service.

Strategies:

  • Assign each customer a dedicated customer success manager to walk them through the product setup and answer any of their questions.
  • Customize onboarding materials (e.g., documents, videos, help guides) to fit each customer’s specific needs.
  • Offer agent-led feature walkthroughs or product demos to show customers your product in action, while highlighting the features that are most relevant for them.
  • Loom. Loom is a video messaging tool that lets users record their camera and desktop screen. You can use Loom to create personalized videos that you can instantly share with customers. For example, when responding to customer questions, a CSM can use Loom to capture videos of their screen while they walk through the solution.
  • Clearbit. Clearbit is an intelligence platform that gives you an in-depth understanding of your customers. You can create buyer personas and segment customers to offer a personalized onboarding experience.

3. Low-touch customer success

Low-touch customer success involves continually supporting customers with digital tools as they engage with your brand and product. Some customers simply don’t need the individualized experience of a high-touch approach, and a low-touch model lets you offer generic support to a mass user base. Digital tools help you involve your customers in your community and inform them about exciting new features and updates.

Strategies:

  • Build an extensive knowledge base (articles, checklists, FAQs, troubleshooting tips) that customers can refer to when they experience roadblocks.
  • Create video courses and tutorials to train customers on new features.
  • Host webinars to teach customers about your new product offers or the industry best practices.
  • Send out automated product emails and updates to keep customers informed and engaged.
  • Establish a customer community to provide ongoing access to self-service support and kinship.
  • Tribe. Far beyond the onboarding stage, Tribe helps you establish an online community that drives customer success. Maintain a regular presence with your customers by popping into the discussion to get their feedback or answer their questions. You can also create a detailed knowledge base, upload video tutorials about new features, and easily send out updates to your community.
  • Zendesk. Zendesk is a customer service software that lets you build a help center for your customers. You can establish a knowledge base and offer live chat support and an answer bot.
  • Skilljar. Skilljar is a customer education software that lets you build self-service training for your customers. You can create training pathways for different use cases and design quizzes and certifications.
  • Zipwhip. If you want to ramp up your digital communication, Zipwhip lets you message your customers through text using your business number.
  • CustomerSuccessBox. This customer success platform is built for B2B SaaS and uses AI to help you understand how customers are using your product. Monitor the customer journey and take action where needed.

4. High-touch customer success

A high-touch approach to customer success involves one-on-one, long-term relationships with your customers. This method is best if using your product involves complex strategizing and goal-monitoring. It’s also important for ensuring that customers with high recurring revenue are happy with your product and receiving the level of service they need.

Strategies:

  • Host online or in-person strategy sessions to help customers succeed with your product.
  • Initiate milestone meetings at regular intervals to check in on their goal progress and address any hurdles.
  • Offer customers expert consultation as needed to answer any questions and provide solutions.
  • Offer personalized training to teach customers the value and utility of newly-released features.
  • Gainsight. Gainsight offers your customer success team in-depth metrics like customer health scores. This holistic view helps you evaluate risks and target at-risk customers with high-touch strategies like personal check-ins to address their needs. You can also create playbooks that outline next steps for your CSMs when addressing certain customer challenges.
  • Planhat. Planhat is another tool that lets you access and manage complex customer data all in one place. Build playbooks that help automate sequences so your CSMs know what steps to take while managing the customer journey.

5. Hybrid Model

While high-touch and low-touch are two distinct strategies, you don’t have to pick one or the other. In fact, most businesses use a hybrid approach, especially if they have multiple products or pricing plans that are marketed in unique ways.

Hybrid models are particularly popular for SaaS businesses, which tend to offer different product tiers at varying price points — e.g., basic, business, and enterprise. These companies often design a different customer experience depending on the complexity of the product that was purchased.

For example, basic packages tend to be simple to set up with features that are easy to navigate, so they do well with low-touch onboarding and customer success strategies. Additionally, lower-tier customers bring in less revenue, so investing in a CSM to work with these customers is not cost-effective.

On the other hand, higher-level packages require high-touch strategies to help customers properly implement the product, understand the depth of the features, and get the most value from it. These plans also bring in more revenue, justifying the higher expense of a high-touch model.

5 things to consider when choosing a customer engagement strategy

Your organization’s annual sales price


Your choice of engagement model should help support your revenue growth. Ask yourself — does your revenue support a high-touch model or will you need to start with a low-touch model?

Your internal resources

High-touch models involve one-on-one customer relationships which means you need customer success managers with extensive knowledge in managing customer relationships. If you don’t have these resources, a high-touch model might not work for you.

Low-touch models are more efficient for reaching large numbers of customers with fewer team members. However, setting up the user interface and automation requires technical knowledge that some companies might not have.

Your customers

High-paying customers expect more from your product, which includes more dedicated support. For example, enterprise customers are used to high-touch models, and tend to expect the support of a CSM. If these expectations aren’t met, this could lead to customer dissatisfaction and churn.

Another aspect to consider is the age of your customers. Younger customers often prefer resolving their issues on demand rather than reaching out for assistance, making them well-suited to a low-touch model. For example, a recent survey found that 41% of Millennials and 49% of Gen Zers would rather use self-service tools than call and speak to a customer service agent.

Extra tip: If you don’t have a firm understanding of your customer’s needs, you might want to start with a high-touch model to help you learn your customers’ behavior and trouble points.

The complexity of your product

If your product is highly technical, a low-touch model might not cut it. A complicated process could lead to customer frustration, especially among those who are less tech-savvy. In this case, a high-touch approach is necessary to get customers started with your product.

Likelihood of customer churn

Some customers are on the edge of leaving if their needs aren’t met. These at-risk customers need immediate attention and personalized care — something a low-touch model can’t provide. High-touch strategies are vital for identifying these customers’ issues and ensuring they are resolved fast.

Final thoughts

Choosing an engagement model takes careful thought, but it’s well worth the effort. The right customer engagement process will help you cultivate and retain loyal and engaged customers while driving value for them at every touchpoint.

Keep in mind that whichever model you choose, you’re not leaving customers on their own. Low-touch engagement models use product tools to power their customer interactions, while high-touch models use dedicated support agents. What’s most important is that your strategy aligns with both your organization’s resources and your customers’ needs.

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Beth Ellwood

Beth helps SaaS brands produce meaningful, zero-fluff content. She’s also a mental health writer and passionate plant mom.

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