- Product experience (perception of choices and comparative offers)
- Outcome focus (ability to achieve their desired outcome)
- Moments of truth (service expectations and encounters)
- Peace of mind (confidence in the service provide and perceived expertise of the provider).
- Peace of mind has the strongest impact on customer satisfaction, loyalty and word of mouth.
- Moments of truth are the next most important attributes to positively impact loyalty and word of mouth.
- Outcome focus (the customers’ ability to achieve their goals) effects loyalty and word of mouth but only to a lesser extent than peace of mind.
- After peace of mind, product experience has the strongest impact on customer satisfaction, but not as much impact as the other three dimensions on loyalty or word of mouth.
Considering our purpose as marketers, we should be placing customers at the center of our marketing efforts. That’s truer today than ever before, because customers have more choices, more control, more ways to connect, and more access information. No wonder marketers everywhere are scrambling to develop content and make use of the myriad of channels to reach and connect with prospects and customers.
Many marketers have gotten so caught up in the creation of content, however, that they have forgotten how important it is to match marketing content with the customer buying journey and life cycle. Content delivered in the right channel at the wrong time can be a wasted touch point.
Too few marketers have mapped their customer’s buying journey and moved from profiles to personas, and therefore few clearly understand their customer’s life cycle. Because keeping a customer is more cost effective and profitable than acquire a new customer, knowing both the buying journey and the customer life cycle is important.
The Customer Life Cycle
One common definition of customer lifecycle is “the progression of steps a customer goes through when considering, purchasing, using, and maintaining loyalty to a product or service.” The key point is to recognize that the life cycle defines an ongoing relationship and continuous dialogue.
Forrester defines the customer life cycle as follows: “The customers’ relationship with a brand as they continue to discover new options, explore their needs, make purchases, and engage with the product experience and their peers.” In our company, we talk about the Six Cs associated with this process:
Whether you use this approach or another, the premise of the customer life cycle is the same: Capture potential and existing customers’ attention, preference, purchase, and loyalty.
As marketers, we can and should use the customer lifecycle as the basis for every marketing investment decision we make that’s designed to acquire, retain, up-sell, cross-sell, and create customer advocates. Only by understanding the customer life cycle can marketers make better decisions about the additional marketing investments of time, people, and cash on customer-targeted efforts.
Content and Life Cycle
The purpose of content marketing is to deliver high-quality, relevant, and valuable information to prospects and customers in the right channel at the right time to drive profitable customer action. Content marketing is not the same as running a campaign. Content marketing looks more like publishing, where you serve as the architect of useful and compelling information that will inform, educate, engage, and entertain customers and prospects. Content marketing is part of the marketing mix, not a substitute for it.
If you serve more than one market or region, and your product requires a consultative approach, you will likely have multiple customers and will therefore need to map content to multiple buying journeys and life cycles. Perhaps the following examples will help bring this point home.
Let’s say you currently market and sell a technology product to IT buyers and decision-makers in the federal government. Your research suggests that there may be a strong growth opportunity in the Emergency 911 system—a quasi-governmental system. If you didn’t map the customer buying journey, you might assume that the buying process for the Emergency System was the same as for any other government agency. And you might also assume that the profile of the IT buyer at these sites would be the same as the IT buyer at the agency. Only by mapping the buying process would you learn that these are two very different personas and two different buying processes with different marketing content implications. White papers and tradeshows may be far more important in the early stages of the government-agency buying process, whereas webinars and videos of the system in use are more important in the early stages of the buying process for the emergency services sites.
How can we record this process when most customer buying journeys and lifecycles are not linear? Though it is impossible to completely capture and monitor the entire buying journey and decision, mapping the process helps you capture channel preferences and interactions. You may not be able to know exactly which colleague, analyst, online and offline channels a customer used, or which publication informed the decision, but mapping the buying journey and customer life cycle will give you insight into when and how they are influenced.
Mapping the Journey and Life Cycle
The approaches to mapping differ. Regardless of the approach you take, you should include input from all internal people who are in contact with customers (Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, and Product Marketing) as well as input from the customers themselves. The mapping process should take into account the following:
- Initial triggers that lead to first contact
- Steps they take (industry reports, product reports and reviews, white papers, demos, etc.) and the conversations (analysts, colleagues, event encounters, call centers, salespeople, etc.) they engage in to solve their problem and find a specific solution
- Steps and experiences leading up to their purchase (the RFP, reference calls, pilots, etc.)
- Steps associated with the purchase and consumption (the on-boarding process, purchasing processes, implementation, invoicing, etc.)
- Ongoing experience and reaction to their purchase (problem resolution process, new product offers, community participation opportunities, etc.)
Once you’ve mapped the process and organized each step into the appropriate stage, you can begin to match marketing content with the buying process and life cycle. Two important benefits of the mapping initiative are improved Marketing and Sales alignment and a more behaviorally based opportunity-qualification process.
Matching Mix, Content, Channel, and Life Cycle
The links between marketing activities, content, and the customer buying process and life cycle will become clearer once you complete the mapping process. You’ll realize that different programs and content will be more valuable and appropriate at different stages depending on the customer process. The map will serve as a guideline for improving the utility of your mix and the content you use to connect and engage with customers and prospects, as well as to enhance existing customer relationships.
For example, you may learn from the mapping process that traditional in-person events and presentations are far more valuable at creating contacts and connections for a specific segment than social media and blogs are. Your map may reveal that webinars with industry experts are a viable touch point for consideration for some customer segments while online chats with existing customers and traditional telemarketing are more effective for other segments. Through the process, you may learn that traditional e-newsletters are ideal for staying connected with one set of customers, whereas an online community with guest posts is better for another. Marketing will then need to select the program and build the content that supports the preferred channel for particular touch points in the process.
Would you like incremental purchases from existing customers? Would a lower churn rate help your bottom line? Would referrals from existing customers help reduce the cost of sale for your company? We hope you answered a resounding yes to these rhetorical questions. And if you did, our next question which isn’t rhetorical at all is, “Do you conduct Voice of the Customer (VoC) research?”
If you do, fantastic, you’re among the few organizations that do. According to a study by Temkin Group last year only 57% of large North American firms have a formalized VoC program and many medium to small size organizations don’t. The premise of VoC is to collect and analyze customer data to transform an organization into a truly customer-centric operation.
VoC is a market research technique designed to help a company better understand customers’ wants and needs and to be able to prioritize these in terms of importance and satisfaction with current alternatives in order to positively affect the customer experience. When executed well, a VoC program enables you to acquire business insight about customers and what is important to them. You can then use this information to enhance the customer experience. Research by Forrester shows that a better customer experience drives improvement for three types of customer loyalty: willingness to consider another purchase, likelihood to switch business to a competitor, and likelihood to recommend to a friend or colleague.
VoC takes an investment of time and money but the results directly affect a company’s bottom line with incremental purchases from existing customers, lower churn, and new sales from referrals. Hopefully we’ve convinced you to conduct a VoC study. VoC research is typically more than a customer satisfaction study which is designed to measure how an organization’s products and services meet or surpass customer expectations. VoC research should enable you to make customer-focused decisions.
Most firms turn to experts for help. Whether you decide to move forward solo or with the help of an experienced third party, you should know the basics.
The Basics of VoC
1. The first decision is what questions to ask and how. Most VoC research is
conducted using in-depth interviews with a pre-defined discussion guide. The questions in the discussion guide typically cover these topics:
What are your customers “saying” about your company, brand, product/service? And where are they saying it?
How do your customers “feel” about your company, brand, product/service? And how does this affect their intent to buy?
Why do they feel the way they do and what is the root cause of this sentiment?
Are their differences among different types of customers and if so, what are they and which customer segments?
Who are what influences your customers’ perceptions and feelings?
What are your customers’ needs, wants, desires and intentions and how do these relate to your company, brand, products/services?
What are my customers saying and feelings about your competitors and what are their perceptions of your competitors and how well do the competitors meet their needs, wants, and desires?
2. Framing the questions. While many VoC studies are qualitative in nature, we firmly believe these studies should consist of both qualitative and quantitative, open and response option-based types of questions. The quantitative types of questions help with ranking, rating, and comparing choices. The qualitative questions help with capturing the actual language, phrasing and nuances. Use ranking and paired comparisons to aid to prioritizing customer needs.
3. Selecting and notifying customers. How many customers do you need to talk
with? While there is no hard and fast rule because the number will depend upon the complexity of the product, diversity of market, product use, and the sophistication of customers, experts in the field suggest that with 20 customers you can capture 90-95% of your customer needs. The first source of information if you are trying to address your current market should be current customers. But it is also a good idea to talk with prospective customers, especially if you hoping to address a new market. And we often recommend talking with competitor’s customers.
4. Conduct the interviews. The participants should be offered confidentiality which is why it is best to use a third party. The third party won’t know who to interview, so it is up to the company to provide the contact list and pave the way. This is a single blind type of study, which means customers will know the study is about your company but you will not know their individual responses. An incentive isn’t necessary but a thank you and sharing your action plan as a result of the feedback is essential.
5. Data capture, analysis, and reporting. One of the challenges of analyzing the results of a VoC study is that customer voices are diverse. There are multiple customer voices for most organizations, even those that work in only one market, such as the voice of the procuring organization, the voice of the user, and the voice of the supporting organization. These diverse voices must be considered, reconciled and balanced during the analysis of the study. One technique to accomplish this is to set in advance of the study different priority ratings associated with each customer voice.
The point of the VoC study, or any research for that matter, is to derive actionable insights from the results. So once you the findings are reported a key step is to develop an action plan. And of course, measure your progress and the improvements once the action plan is implemented.
To succeed VoC studies, you need a minimum of two things. First you need a robust voice of the customer (VoC) process. Second, you want to implement the initiative with people who are properly trained. As you embark on your VoC initiative, keep in mind that the objective is to understand how satisfying particular customer needs, wants and desires will influence the purchase decisions and improve the bottom line. There are numerous benefits from listening to your customers such as faster adoption of new products, more repeat sales and loyalty, and lower cost of sale or cost to serve. Engage in VoC and reap the rewards.