THE CUSTOMER LIFECYCLE

Imagine this: a young man—let’s call him Joey—is in the market for a sound system. He’s never bought one before, so he turns to Google to begin researching what to buy. A number of different results pop up. Some of them are paid advertisements. Many of them are the marketing sites of various audio equipment companies. Some of them are communities – either stand-alone or hosted on a company site – and home to conversations of the people who actually own the sound systems.

Joey ignores the ads and marketing messages. Like all good Millenials, he’s a skeptic. He does, however, pay attention to the reviews and community conversations. Some of the community members remind him of himself—in their early twenties and with a passion for electronic music and loud bass. He makes a buying decision based on these customer testimonials and goes to his local store (Amazon, I believe it’s called) to make the purchase.

His new equipment arrives a few weeks later. He has a bit of trouble setting it up, but he returns to the community embedded on the company’s Website, where he finds that he isn’t the first person to have difficulty differentiating between connector cables. Because of that, his question has already been addressed and answered. He’s able to set up his new system easily and uneventfully.

A few months later, Joey decides to waterproof his speakers, but he wants to make sure this won’t cause serious problems. He returns to the community to confer with its army of employees, super techies, customers, and other people who love to listen to music outside when it’s raining. They give him the green light, as well as some useful tips and waterproofing best practices.

At this point, Joey is no longer a one-time customer, but a loyal one who is willing to advocate for the brand, answer the questions of new prospects, and stick up for the company when other customers have issues and get upset. The next time he needs a product that the brand makes, he’ll have a propensity to choose it automatically because he trusts the brand to produce quality electronics and be responsive and helpful.

Cultivating these types of satisfied, loyal customers is not necessarily an easy task. It requires that you take a comprehensive approach to customer experience management. As explored in this paper, there are six stages in the customer lifecycle, and when each step is handled correctly by you and the people you work with, your company can deliver an excellent experience that drives customers to the next step, perpetuating the cycle.

To be successful, you also need to fully leverage the opportunity presented by social. This means going beyond broadcasting marketing messages to the fan bases you’ve built. You have to truly engage with them at every stage in the customer lifecycle—and in a way that feels personal and relevant to them.

Let’s explore the six stages in more detail.

STAGE 1: DISCOVERY

The first stage in the customer lifecycle is “Discovery.” This is the stage where a potential customer has just realized he has a need that your product or service could fulfill. He may or may not be aware of your company yet. He’s just beginning to seek out solutions, so you want to make sure that your brand and relevant products are visible and searchable – and you can quickly respond to any questions or comments that come your way.

This means having a presence on relevant social networks—Facebook for sure, and probably Twitter, YouTube, and even Pinterest and Slideshare, depending on your business. You’re also going to want to have a branded customer community (see sidebar) so your prospects can access the most up-to-date information about your products and gain immediate access to your customers, employees, and brand advocates for honest answers to their questions.

Get Satisfaction is the leading provider of customer communities. Unlike many social networks, Get Satisfaction communities are highly optimized for search engines due to their unique URL structure and huge platform that facilitates customer-driven conversations. So when prospective customers go to Google to begin their Discovery process, your Get Satisfaction customer community is likely to show up in the top one or two results. (The sidebar on Pampers illustrates how this works.)

Community conversations pack a heavy SEO punch no matter where they are, so it’s a good idea to embed them into your Website, landing pages, and eCommerce pages. That way, your content is sure to turn up when prospects are searching for products, and they have access to conversations about the products or services they are researching. And since communities are optimized for response, it’ll be easy for you to identify and respond to questions that come up.

Customer communities are:

  • A place to connect customers to each other online to talk about your products
  • Proactively managed by companies
  • Have strong linkages to social networks, so they can easily share information with like-minded friends
  • Full of relevant, accurate content provided by people like them, vetted for accuracy by the brand, and easily accessed so that it’s relevant to members’ changing context (shopper, new user seeking service or technical assistance, etc.)
  • Designed to help them assess the trustworthiness of peer answers and comments
  • Tightly integrated with the company’s Website so shoppers can easily view social conversations and opinions as they research products on the brand’s Website

Pampers Gets Discovery Right!

So many new mothers are interested in the question, “How can my child model for Pampers?” that it’s one of the FAQs on the Pampers site. Of the 7.9 million results Google reports, the Get Satisfaction community topic page for this question is at the top of the list — ahead of Pampers’ own blog post on the subject, which is result #2. The unique URL structure of Get Satisfaction, plus the large amount of customer engagement taking place in the community, means it’s extremely likely to rank well in search results. Those factors, combined with the strong linkages to the Pampers social presence, means the Pampers community is incredibly easy for prospects to discover and engage with.

STAGE 2: EVALUATE

Once your potential customer has discovered several good product options, he begins the “Evaluate” stage in the process. In the pre-social era, this might have involved talking to friends and family members, going in to a store to ask employees questions, and seeing what articles or reviews he could get his hands on. Things are not so different now, but the resources and opinions available have been greatly expanded and amplified by social.

Your prospective customers now have instant access to the intimate opinions of friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers. They trust the opinions of their peers more than your marketing messages or even those of thought leaders and influencers. 84% of Millenials say social opinions—even from people they don’t know well—influence their purchase decisions1. This can work to your advantage or to your disadvantage, depending on what people are saying online, so you want to make sure you’re actively engaging with your customers on social to provide them with a good experience.

You don’t have to single handedly manage your brand’s social reputation. By actively empowering the most satisfied and knowledgeable customers on your community to act as Champions and speak out on your behalf, you can leverage them to be a powerful extension of your marketing department. You can do this by incentivizing them, implementing a formal Champs program (like the one offered by the Get Satisfaction platform), or even just by asking them to get involved. (Don’t forget to thank them when you notice that they have contributed to your community.)

Your company can’t afford not to encourage and expose these social conversations. And a customer community is the best platform to facilitate them in a way that is engaging, outcome oriented, and search-engine friendly. When you use the Get Satisfaction platform to support your community, your prospective customer will be impressed by how easy it is to find and as well as access the reviews of their peers. At the same time, you can demonstrate how you are to respond to their needs and questions.

Nice’neasy Customers are Their Best Marketers

With something as personal as hair color, it’s important the referral comes from a trusted source. That’s why Nice’neasy uses a customer community to provide a forum for customers and prospects to share authentic, objective advice and tips around hair color. In the Nice‘neasy community, 75 percent of the questions are pre-purchase questions; that means most of the community visitors are there to ask specific product questions before making a purchase decision. By providing a customer community, Nice’neasy facilitates the conversations that help move the Evaluate process along, without coming across as too heavy-handed or sales-y.

STAGE 3: BUY

Now that your prospective customer has evaluated your products and those of your competitors, he feels like he’s ready to make an informed decision. To move your prospects from the “Evaluate” to “Buy” stage (and convert them into customers), you want to facilitate conversations with as many customers and advocates as possible.

You should facilitate these conversations right as they are considering making a purchase. If a potential customer is on the checkout page of your Website and has a question about whether or not the sound system you make will fit in their custom cabinets, for example, you don’t want them to have to leave the page to ask the question and get an answer. By embedding your community on your eCommerce pages, your prospects can ask questions and get answers from the most trusted sources (their peers) quickly and easily without ever leaving the shopping flow.

You should also consider bringing entry points to your community (widgets, for you techies out there) to other parts of your Website where they can highlight praise and testimonials. But showcasing your happy customers, prospects will be more likely to take the plunge and go with your product (rather than your competition’s product).

Kiddicare Makes Converting Prospects into Customers Look Easy

Kiddicare embeds customer conversations about each product in their community right next to that product on the eCommerce page, so prospective customers can ask pre-purchase questions without ever leaving the product page and disrupting the shopping flow. If prospects want to know whether or not a given car seat will fit in their car, as shown in the figure, they can search the community Q&A right next to the product. A number of answered questions pop up, ranging from the general to the very specific. In this example, that’s because the prospect found the response to her question quickly, easily, and without leaving the page. And as a result, she’s now likely ready to buy.

STAGE 4: EXPERIENCE

Once you’ve successfully converted a prospect to a customer, you want to make sure that their first “Experience” (ok, every experience, but the first is especially critical) with it goes well. This will largely determine whether they become a sporadic customer, or a loyal, regular customer. Depending on your particular product or service, this first customer experience may involve assembly, installation, or instruction access. By sticking close to them and letting them know that you’re here to help, you create a satisfying customer experience that will build loyalty and a positive experience.

To this end, the conversations that exist on the Get Satisfaction community platform get indexed automatically by search engines, serving as a social knowledge base (KB) for your customers. Commonly asked questions are likely to exist in this KB already, so when a new customer has a question, they’ll find the answer whether they search for it in a search engine or within your community.

Get Satisfaction automatically searches the archives of existing conversations before letting someone post a new question, so customers can self-serve getting answers to their questions. This reduces the number of one-off questions for you to answer. And if their question hasn’t been addressed already, they have a whole army of resources—employees, customers, Champions—available to help. All they have to do is post their question in the community, and they’ll receive an email when their question has been answered. That answer will then act as a resource for future customers with similar questions.

Koodo Leverages Champions for a Great Customer Experience

Koodo is Canada’s most recommended mobile company. They have thousands of happy customers in their community helping them respond to questions and generally share the Koodo love—so much so that more than 70 percent of community topics are responded to and marked answered without any involvement from Koodo employees, and the average time to first response is just 6 minutes. This fast, responsive community means Koodo customers end up feeling satisfied and supported, even when they have issues. No wonder they’re most recommended!

STAGE 5: BOND

No matter how good your product or service is, there will come a time when a customer has an issue that requires support. The way that you handle this situation—the systems and processes set up for assistance, the speed and quality of response, the relevance of content available for them on your help repositories—will all impact the way they walk away feeling about your brand. An unhelpful or (worse) unresponsive support team is likely to leave your customers feeling frustrated, disrespected, and in the mood to jump back to the Discovery stage in search of an alternative.

The flip side, however, is that by providing comprehensive, searchable resources for self-service, you can create an experience that will build loyalty and goodwill towards your brand. In other words, they will “Bond.” The social customer doesn’t expect to never have a service issue with your product. He does expect those issues to be responded to promptly – and through whatever forum or channel he chooses to contact you.

Equally important to handling support requests is soliciting, listening, and responding to customer feedback. By doing this, you’re showing that your company’s innovation is centered around your customers – not the egos, budget, or whims of your product team. A Get Satisfaction customer community provides a place for product ideas and allows you to mark the status of each as “under consideration,” “completed,” “not planned,” or “recent,” so it’s easy to keep your customers in the loop regarding your plans. By using your community as a place to solicit and inform product updates, you’re also incentivizing your most engaged customers to come to your community, which will drive engagement and the next stage in the lifecycle.

Applegate & their Customers. A Love Affair.

There’s no question about whether or not Applegate is a beloved brand. This organic meats company prides itself on transparency with its customers—and no question goes unanswered in its thriving customer communities. In fact, 35 percent of the topics in their community happen in the “Bond” phase in the customer lifecycle. These are customers who come to the community to a build relationship with the brand and the other advocates, and in doing so, share their love and praise for Applegate.

STAGE 6: ADVOCATE

In the social era, customer advocacy is the holy grail of marketing. You need to have systems in place to identify brand “Advocates” and champions, to incentivize them to speak to prospects, and to highlight their praise in relevant places on your Website.

You’ll want to make sure that when customers are advocating on your behalf on social networks like Facebook or Twitter, you have a way to preserve those conversations in a way that is searchable and engaging. A Get Satisfaction customer community integrates with HootSuite, so you can import praise and advocacy from multiple social channels right into your community. This extends its shelf life, makes it discoverable by search engines, and provides a forum for other customers to join in the conversation as well.

Mindjet Explodes with Advocates, Expediting the Lifecycle

Mindjet, a company that provides brainstorming and collaboration software, has exploded with customer advocates in a short period of time. They have a team of more than 70 happy customers in their community responding to prospects and customers, expressing their love for Mindjet, and sticking up for the company in times of need. These people are the best source of word-of-mouth marketing content, and they help expedite the customer lifecycle for other customers.

Interested in learning more about how a Get Satisfaction customer community can help you acquire more customers, drive product innovation, and deliver excellent, low-cost social support? Call 877-339-3997 to schedule a demo.

About Get Satisfaction

Based in San Francisco, Get Satisfaction provides an online community platform connecting companies with customers to foster relationships that unlock new value for both sides. Companies of all sizes and industries—from Kellogg’s, P&G and Intuit to Sonos, and SugarCRM—rely on Get Satisfaction to deliver online communities that modernize customer support, accelerate sales, differentiate their brand and inspire new innovations. Get Satisfaction’s community platform offers the fastest time to value for companies ready to embrace the way today’s customers want to engage.


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