What is a Customer Engagement Platform? + Best of 2023

We discuss what customer engagement platforms are and overview the best options for 2023.


What is a customer engagement platform?

A customer engagement platform is a single piece of software that tracks, manages, and enables interactions with your prospects and customers. It integrates with customer engagement tools like email, direct messaging, chatbots, and more.

Think of a customer engagement platform like a command center. You can access all your communication channels and engagement tools from it and use them as building blocks for creating automated, omnichannel workflows. Best of all, you can activate and manage these workflows without leaving your platform.

How a customer engagement platform works

Say, for example, user John Doe signs up for an account on the desktop site of a food delivery app. In the account confirmation email, you invite him to download the mobile app, but he doesn’t do so. He orders food and gives you his mobile number so the driver can call him.

Later, you ask him to rate his experience, and he gives you three stars and notes that the delivery was late. You send an apology message and add a coupon for the next order to his dashboard.

John Doe doesn’t order again that week. You know that your customers order more often when on mobile, so this time, you send John Doe an SMS message to encourage him to download your app, and he does so.

In this example, a customer interaction (or inaction) in one channel becomes a condition to trigger an event either through the same channel or a different one. Different tools enable different interactions: email automation, call masking to keep phone numbers private, survey forms, dashboard notifications, and programmable messaging.

To create omnichannel workflows like these, you probably wield a dozen different apps. With a customer engagement platform, you can orchestrate all these interactions from a single platform.

Instead of opening a separate SMS messaging app, you’d integrate SMS functionality into your platform. Instead of simply sending phone numbers to a call masking tool, you’d use a voice API. When all these interactions work in harmony, there are no data silos and no fragmented customer experiences.

Are CRMs, CDPs, and CXMs customer engagement platforms too?

Today’s customer engagement platforms started life as a different type of software. Many stem from legacy customer relationship management (CRM) systems, which were designed mainly for data management but have evolved to become cloud-based, analytics-driven, and interoperable with other apps.

Other engagement systems are customer data platforms (CDPs) at their cores. A CDP collects data from multiple tools in real time, unifies data into customer profiles, and sends this data to marketing, sales, customer support, and analytics tools.

Modern CRMs and CDPs fulfill the functions of customer engagement platforms but activate data by sending it to downstream tools. The most advanced evolution of customer engagement platforms, though, activates data within the software itself.

You’ll also come across customer experience management (CXM) platforms. CXMs analyze feedback and sentiments to improve customer experiences – so you can think of them as engagement platforms with a narrower focus and goal.

So, yes – you can consider CRMs, CDPs, and CXMs as early iterations of customer engagement platforms. As technology advances, we envision a platform where apps for contact centers, marketing automation, sales automation, and more are built upon the same communications and customer data infrastructure, resulting in a single platform for managing the entire customer journey and lifecycle.

What to look for in a customer engagement platform

  • Cross-channel tracking & attribution — A customer engagement platform collects first-party data from various channels. It attributes results to interactions on those channels (e.g user X arrived at the landing page through an Instagram ad).

  • Single customer view — Look for the capability to recognize a customer across multiple channels and unite all their data (on how they interact with your business) into a unified profile, or a single customer view. You can then build customer segments based on these profiles in order to design relevant and personalized campaigns. For example, you see that a user of your food delivery app ordered coffee at around 2 p.m. for two Mondays in a row. But on the third Monday, the user still hasn’t ordered coffee by 3 p.m. – so you send push notifications for discounts or promotions for a new café.

  • Integrations — APIs for communication, customer support, marketing, product improvement, and sales tools let you build an omnichannel customer engagement system. You can then add apps specific to your vertical, like a personal stylist chatbot for fashion retailers.

4 best customer engagement platforms for 2023

We’ve identified some popular platforms based on the four criteria above. They’re used by startups, SMBs, and enterprises across many industries, like retail, F&B, financial services, media, telecommunications, healthcare, and more. This isn’t an exhaustive list but reflects some of the most popular and versatile options.

1. Twilio Engage

Twilio Engage collects data from sources like apps, websites, and CRMs, as well as tools for advertising, analytics, email marketing, feature flagging, A/B testing, and more. It can then unify this data into profiles to give you a single customer view, which can be used in tandem with extensible communications APIs to engage users across touchpoints and devices. 

Top features

  • Cleanses and validates the data you collect to ensure  accuracy

  • Updates customer profiles in real time

  • Build tailored campaigns with 400 out-of-the-box integrations with all your favorite tools.

Who it’s for

  • Marketers, developers, sales, and customer-facing teams

2. Zendesk Sunshine

Zendesk Sunshine is a cloud-based CRM. It lets you manage customer conversations on a single interface by integrating with messaging tools like Slack and WhatsApp. It also connects to business systems like Shopify and Help Scout.

Top features

  • Lets you customize its interface without coding or build apps with the Zendesk app framework

  • Has its own chatbot that you can deploy on messaging channels to support customer service reps

  • Has APIs for 1,200+ apps for customer support ticketing, sales CRMs, and live chat and messaging

Who it’s for

  • Customer service and sales teams

3. Qualtrics XM

Qualtrics XM (for experience management) identifies poor customer experiences by collecting, analyzing, and unifying conversational data. It then recommends next steps. For example, it might see that several food-delivery app users complained about the food from a certain restaurant, so it suggests setting up a meeting with that restaurant or doing a quality check.

Top features

  • Works with conversational data from 27 channels and 128 data sources, including apps, websites, video and voice calls, direct messages, social media, surveys, and IoT devices

  • Integrates with dozens of analytics and customer engagement tools, including Twilio for getting feedback through SMS and WhatsApp

  • Comes with predictive analytics to spot potential opportunities for improving customer experience

Who it’s for

  • Marketing, customer service, product, and HR teams

4. Zoho CRM Plus

Zoho CRM Plus lets you monitor and manage customer experiences. You get real-time notifications on customer interactions, which means you can react right away to fix a bug, resolve a complaint, or close a sale.

Top features

  • Has an AI assistant that helps predict trends, identify customer sentiments, and optimize campaigns (such as by suggesting the best time to call a particular customer)

  • Integrates with dozens of Zoho and third-party apps, including mobile apps for project management, CRM, sales, social media monitoring, and analytics

  • Lets you add, modify, and delete records in offline mode on mobile

Who it’s for

  • Marketing, sales, operations, and customer service teams

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Frequently asked questions

A customer engagement platform collects cross-channel data on customer interactions, unifies it into a single customer view, and activates it on various marketing, sales, product, and customer service tools.

A customer engagement platform serves as a single source of truth on every customer’s interactions with your company. Once that’s established, it lets you orchestrate customer experiences and interactions from a single platform.

Twilio Segment tracks and attributes cross-channel interactions and gives you a single customer view that’s updated in real time. It identifies customer segments that you can use for creating personalized, targeted campaigns on multiple engagement channels.