How do you build long-term relationships with customers using digital media?
"Open conversations generate loyalty, sales and most of all, learning... for both sides".
Achieving engagement with a customer or fan base is not so much about tactics such as Facebook or tools like Radian6, but how these are best leveraged to enable meaningful interaction with the consumer. As Seth describes in the quote above, open and maintain conversation, ask questions, listen, build better products and market in a more relevant way - add value to the relationship with the consumer. To create these conversations and build relationships is challenging - the biggest challenge in marketing perhaps. There are no quick tips we can give here, but we can offer this structure which will step you through the decisions you need to make to work towards long-term relationships.
We also have a new guide by Andrew Campbell describing how to create a customer retention plan, again part of a long-term process to build relationships.
This is the third in a short series:
Here are our 7 questions to help you do just that...
Question 1. What insights do we have about our customers, their needs from online services and perceptions of our service?
The people that have already bought from you are super-special, I mean really special when you think about it. They paid you money - they bought into what you said and now have a unique perspective of what it is like to journey from finding you, to evaluating you against the competition, then deciding to purchase and… then what? You thank them if, they're lucky, reward them somehow, just re-sell to them or simply ignore them? The first step is to understand how they perceive you based on the service and experience you have provided. So you need to harness insights you have about this super special group of people, and what insights could you have to help you do a better job to generate more sales?
There are multiple ways to generate insight, some of it should be engrained in your business day-to-day, other elements should be done at key times of the year. The questions we'd suggest that you ask are surrounding satisfaction with the process, what it's like to deal with you from an outside perspective. Did you even meet the customer's requirements and is there a quality gap from the users reality.
So, how can you get this data? Here are some ideas:
- Get data from those masses who do nothing on your site, tools like 4Q and Kampyle are great since they're low commitment, fast and anonymous. It's important to learn why people are losing interest and leaving?
- Email surveys are good if you lack a steady stream of data and prefer to ad-hoc, mass questioning of your database, annually for example. It's the most common form of insights gathering though done last minute when things feel broken, it's certainly better than no insights, just. But better is designing insight capture into the marketing and sales process in a robust way, for example using email sequences since it brings the consumer to the marketing table. Of course you can target particular groups of customers with email, so they're powerful in this sense.
- Avoid asking everything at once! Build relevant data capture at key buyer stages so that you learn more about your consumer as they near purchase, and beyond. This can be as simple questions built into existing enquiry, purchase and post purchase forms. Think about using tools such as Get Satisfaction for feedback too since it offers you progression into a feedback community and crowd-sourcing. You can also use the "Watch don't ask" approach of using analytics to see what customers click on or don't click on.
- The idea of feedback and insights gathering as a part of the business is the nth degree, and this space is certainly dominated by User Voice and Get Satisfaction, the latter going much further with Facebook integration - an end-to-end solution (more on this in question 3)
- Where there's a larger website forget web analytics as a means to indicate popular content types and topics - inferring motivation
Here's a blog post that Dave covered regarding customer feedback tools and techniques.
Question 2. What are the KPIs and goals for customer engagement?
The "R" in ROI is always in the eye of the beholder, so be sure to define this. It's not that everything has to be commercially orientated either, though personally I'd ensure it ties back. You can easily ensure that commercial goals tie to customer engagement or marketing KPIs by developing a simple matrix. Using this approach allows people at different levels, with different perspectives, within an organisation to see the value in an engagement or retention programme. For example, take the idea of customer making a second or third (repeat) purchase vs a referral of your brand to friends, both matter, both will tie to traffic to your domain and so can be tied to sale. For the customer, repeat purchase can manifest in 'lifetime value' commercial goals as well as 'new vs returning' visitors for the marketers using in Google Analytics. A direct relationship. You can just as easily use other counters of engagement, such as use of Facebook (usually more customer orientated) and any owned web property such as customer forums or groups. Ask 'What are our means to best judge engagement, starting as simple as possible'?
With the proliferation of social media usage, the idea of message amplification is really key, I feel. If you can engage any visitor on at least some level, then worst case, you can see how well your content and messaging resonates with an audience. Commercial sales are the end goal, and yet they're still preceded by a number of KPIs that are more manageable and meaningful to those working on the front line. Check out this infographic regarding the ROI of social media.
Question 3. Do you understand the gap between your customer needs and your delivery and how do you improve and prioritise satisfaction?
We're talking about the consumers experience of your product or service and how they feed that back. The challenge is how you do (Q1) this with so many options and tools available? After all there are two elements to the process that help us appreciate the size of the opportunity:
- Reactive - Zappos are the best example we hear of a customer obsessed brand who put tools and process around their consumer. As a business tools like Twitter and Facebook are channels back to customer service, no matter what they customer wants, apparently. Increasingly common place are tools like User Voice where User Voice for garnering feedback for product development and 'missing' product features, something Dell have pioneered…
- Proactive - Think Dell as past masters at this, and where Gary Vaynerchuck pushes with his The Thank You Economy book. Dell's approach is to listen to the whole market and seed out unhappy (and happy) customers in order they can pro-actively solve customer problems. They even have a command centre
Each approach isn't mutually exclusive, after all they're just processes dependent on how an organisation wants to (and can) work. Both require tools, customer process and at the more progressed, Dell, high-end a CRM software or community of some form (see question 5 and 6).
Question 4. What content and offers will engage different audiences types?
Of course, capturing and using data is at the heart of informing the creation of tailored content for the consumer. Once you're able to understand and leverage consumer motivation, need, intent and/or purchase history then there's the potential to re-market and so re-engage with someone much more easily, since you can really speak to them. How this is done is dependent on what kind of organisation you are in terms of budgets and resources available.
Useful content is at the heart of such a content strategy, on-topic content enables you to demonstrate a continued relevance to consumers who are buying certain types of products from you, or at least they're giving you indicators as to what is motivating and helping solve problems in their world. Blogs are a way to centralise this, to form the content hub, then repurposing your content into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ represent additional ways to reach (with permission) and so re-connect. Layer on segmented email communications to such solid social media programme and you're pioneering brand communications! Being useful adds an incomparable value to a consumer relationship post purchase as well as keep you front of mind.
This approach has obvious potential for re-promotion of your products in the right way, and at the right time, adding value and re-engaging re-affirms relevance and earns you that right. It's right-side up marketing in that sense since it has an inbound effect over interruptive outbound promotions that feel random to the recipient.
Question 5. What tools and technologies can we use to engage customers with a value add experience?
So, how do you layer on experiences for the consumer? We'd suggest that building social objects and a sense of community is central. It's another way of re-affirming the relevance of the brand. Why? Two reasons - you're connecting the consumer with others, and deepening their experience of subject area. And, doing that over blatant re-selling. Here are two dimensions to help make that clear:
- Interactive tools - Useful tools might include something obvious like calculators to help with saving or planning something, or interactive diagnostic/tutorials, even Q&A's tools that aid decision making, maybe tools that offer new ideas based on preferences, for example in the travel space - anything that helps problem solve over re-sell will create an experience of the brand that is most likely unmatched by your competitor set
- A platform to share - One of the most powerful ways to remain valuable is to enable the consumer to connect and share with other like-minded consumers, this allows the like-minded to flock together and simultaneously deliver ongoing insight for the brand hosting the platform. There's a lot of discussion in this area, and I blogged last week about creating your own social network, highlighting where topic based "vertical" social networks have an increasing importance over larger generic networks, such as Facebook
Question 6. How do we create an integrated communications lifecycle, integrating channels, content and marketing around the customer?
This the holy grail to keep customers connected. Marketing automation can help here and Dave has reviewed marketing automation tools before in this post. This is an area being pioneered by high-end, fully integrated marketing automation platforms like EDialog and Eloqua, and being made accessible to the rest of us by companies such as Genius, Office Autopilot and Marketo. Marketing automation is a huge area and different platforms have strengths in different areas. Marketing automation includes analytics and intelligence gathering, automating lead generation and conversion and advanced cross-department workflow. The practical start point is to take a lead from B2B marketers who focus around the automation of lead generation and lead conversion, with "get lead, convert lead" being the mantra, focussing mostly on email and outbound telemarketing in its simplest sense.
It's a complex space, our recommendation would be to start with simpler tools such as Office Autopilot where the focus is segmentation of a lead database (based on whatever makes sense: preferences, subject of interest, product type) since this enables the communication of the most relevant content. The power is layering on purchase intent (inferred through click behaviour and explicit through web forms) to then tone up or down promotional intensity and the strength of offers as relevant to the consumer. Integrating email communications, SMS and outbound with direct mail is pretty obvious and totally possible with these platforms since you get to design the communications sequences for each segment, and sub-segment. There's a nice write-up here on Zappos' use of email.
Question 7. How do we keep sales front of mind and measure commercial success?
It's a short but important answer, analytics. Through measurement and then improvement through testing against objectives, it's only as complex as it needs to be for your organisation. Focus on the basics as to what content, tools and techniques drive re-engagement, referral and re-purchase evidenced by your measurement dashboard. Grow what works, stop what doesn't. So long as the KPIs can be tied broadly to sale (question 1) then discussions with management are much simpler and meaningful at the commercial level.
This table summarises our recommendations on content marketing KPIs related to retention (Engage) and other parts of our RACE framework.
Have we missed anything, do you disagree or have experience in your organisation?