Customer engagement is a hot topic. SAP’s annual Sapphire Conference this past week emphasized the theme of how to better engage and understand customers to improve decision making. Why? Because businesses can’t risk unhappy customers.

McKinsey report last year showed that 56 percent of business executives feel that online customer engagement is a top priority. Furthermore, the Bluewolf consulting firm found that 60 percent of Salesforce.com clients surveyed believed customer engagement should become a key objective this year and 84 percent predicted it would replace productivity as a key ingredient for growth.

Businesses are increasingly trying to incorporate the voice of the customer in their decision making. Capturing customer input used to be handled by market researchers only via telephone surveys and in-person questionnaires. Now with the convergence of social, mobile and big data, customers are empowered to share -- and they do. They’re giving their opinions on social media network sites like Yelp, Twitter and Facebook. And doing so in the moment via their smartphones. This new world of customer empowerment has created a need for businesses to understand consumer needs and wants very quickly and better than ever before.

With unhappy U.S. customers costing businesses an estimated $537,030,000,000 a year, based on Accenture's "2013 Global Consumer Pulse Survey," companies should follow this formula to succeed: 1. Deliver a great customer experience. Know the audience, get consumer feedback and deliver on those preferences. 2. Have conversations with customers. Create an environment where customers can weigh in on decisions about products and services through a secure, online community. 3. Provide flawless support. Customers want better customer service, so be sure to support them through their preferred channels.

Below see an infographic that my company, Vision Critical, has prepared, on the cost of unhappy customers.

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Why Businesses Can't Afford to Upset Customers (Infographic)