Does Your Website Match the Customer Journey?

The Customer Journey
Last week I argued that firms need to concentrate more effort (and money) on top of the funnel marketing and metrics need to reflect the new priorities of measuring the success of actions aimed at the top of the marketing funnel. Today, I’d like to expand on that by helping you match your content to the customer journey.

How customer journey differs from the marketing funnel

Marketing funnel

When HBR (Harvard Business Review) asked top marketing firms to assess the relevance of the marketing funnel in today’s digital landscape, they found the problems summarized below:

According to these marketers, the primary problem with the funnel is that the buying process is no longer linear. Prospects don’t just enter at the top of the funnel; instead, they come in at any stage. Furthermore, they often jump stages, stay in a stage indefinitely, or move back and forth between them.

Instead of looking like this: social media marketing

HBR, McKinsey, and other top marketing think tanks argue the customer journey is convoluted, with numerous tangents, stalls, backtracks, and exits from the funnel.

svg_Q309_CDJexhibit2 REV6

Customer journey

Here’s what the customer decision journey looks like according to McKinsey. The cyclic process is a better fit for reality than the linear journey down the marketing funnel, but the customer journey depicted by McKinsey is still too rational and doesn’t fully show the tangents, stalls, and exits from the marketing funnel common among consumers today (and maybe always).

Consider this version of the ecommerce customer journey (for Rail Europe) provided by Adaptive Path (I recognize you can’t read this well. Simply select the image to see a larger version).

customer journey mapping
Obviously, there’s not a true correspondence of the McKinsey customer journey with that of Adaptive Path, but I would argue the more complex customer experience journey is more important from a marketing standpoint because it maps out all the touch points in the customer journey.

In the first panel, you see an expanded version of the marketing cycle including both exits from the process as well as outside influencers such as other websites and friends. Moving to the second panel, you see the various touch points encountered along the way from exploration to conversion and the all important post purchase activities ignored by many marketers (but that’s a post for another day!).

Notice even the touch points aren’t linear, with backtracking through changing plans and re-evaluations of the alternative before finally consummating the sale.

For complex purchase experiences like vacations, post purchase involves not only decisions to share about the customer experience, but purchasing additional products and returning for more research related to the trip.

While I don’t want to divert into a discussion of the remainder of the customer experience journey, take a few moments to appreciate the lower panels discussing the actions and emotions related to each stage in the customer journey. I’ll leave this for a future post.

Does your website provide content that addresses each step in the customer journey?

In my experience as a consumer, I find website owners don’t pay enough attention to serving up content aimed at each step in the customer journey. Often, they focus enormous attention on customers seeking information to guide their purchase decision and not enough content aimed at other stages in the customer journey.

Today, most website visitors are pretty far along the customer journey — they’re aware of your products and services from friends or other websites (like review sites, social networks, or online communities) and probably already formed opinions about your brand based on earlier activities.

Customers come to your website or physical store with your product in their consideration set and the business is yours to lose — if you don’t match content to where they are in the decision-making process.

Borrowing from sales, once you’ve convinced the consumer (or business consumer) to buy, shut up — don’t go through the rest of your presentation. They want to buy, so close them.

The same goes for your website. Don’t take potential customers through pages of sales copy if they’ve just come for the last piece of the puzzle before buying — your price, terms of sale, and delivery options. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked to buy something from an email only to find myself on this lengthy sales page. Too often, I simply give up because the only piece of information I want is the price. The marketer now wasted the entire cost of her campaign because she didn’t understand what I wanted from her website.

Matching content marketing with the customer journey

So, the customer (or prospective customer) comes to your website armed with an intention to buy your product.

Let’s go through an example to show how your content should match the customer journey, now that the prospect arrived at your website. For this example, I’m gonna use SproutSocial, which helps me manage my content marketing tasks. Here’s what their homepage looks like above the fold:

match content to the customer journey

As a potential customer, maybe I’ve heard recommendations for SproutSocial from colleagues or reviews or lists of useful social media tools. I have a few questions that prompt my visit to the website and the website better make it easy for me to find this information:

  • Price — this is the biggest question a prospect has when they reach your website. Notice the prominence of the free trial button and the menu option for pricing information.
  • How easy is it to use SproutSocial. Also above the fold, I see screenshot of the dashboard and social engagement tools.
  • Social proof — I may be looking for recommendations from businesses or colleagues I trust. So, below the fold, you’ll find a list of businesses most folks view as household names to lend their support for SproutSocial.

Once I’ve started my free trial, I might want some support on using it. SproutSocial provides a blog that not only helps me get the most from my SproutSocial account, but provides social media insights to help me manage my social media campaigns better.

But, here’s where SproutSocial could do better at matching content to stages along the customer journey because there’s little content, except the blog, aimed at keeping me as a customer or encouraging me to become an advocate for their product. If I were managing their page, here’s a list of things I would add:

  • A chat option — now, I realize this is buried in behind the settings button, but I would bring it out maybe as a slider or just a button in the sidebar. My preference would be to add it under the “STUFF TO DO” options in the upper right corner. The same is true for the help button, which provides a link to help resources. Keeping customers is 5X more profitable than replacing them, so highlight content aimed at making customers happy.
  • A forum — sometimes the best way (and most responsive means) for help is by connecting users who likely encountered the same problems. Solutions and workarounds not only provide help for users, but offer insights that should guide product enhancements.
  • Integrate advocacy — there’s really no tool integrated into the website allowing me to share my experiences with my friends. Sure, I can share articles from the blog, but there’s no way to share the product.

I recognize the website isn’t SproutSocial’s only means of communication with customers, but your website should still contain content aimed at each stage in the customer journey, with other marketing efforts supporting your website efforts.

Here are some other things to think about when adding content matching the customer journey:

  1. Filtering — often ecommerce sites create filtering assuming customers are in the exploration stage of the customer journey. Sometimes prospects enter your website at another stage. For instance, think about the situation where I share my vacation photos on Instagram. You ask me about the house I rented and I give you the name of the house. Try searching for the house name and many sites don’t offer that option; instead offering filtering based on location, size, etc.
  2. Going back to filtering, think about how customers want to search your databases, not how you can construct them easily. For instance, when purchasing a dress, I might be more interested in length or sleeve options than the designer. Offer filtering that matches my needs.
  3. Post-purchase options — let’s say I already purchased a product from you. Now I want to order accessories, track my purchase, or return the product. Making such queries easy goes a long way toward creating customer satisfaction and offer an opportunity to up sell products. For instance, ordering memory from Apple can be a nightmare because it’s unclear which memory cards fit which devices. Instead, you should be able to easily enter your information and get a filtered list of optional add-ons.

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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of Hausman Marketing Letter, is a full service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and social media.




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Digital Customer Service: The New Rules of Engagement

new rules of customer serviceCustomer services tactics are rapidly evolving. Technology led to a shift in the way people shop and do business, both online and in brick-and-mortar shops. Amazon leads online retailers in delivering superior customer experience, according to the 2014 Temkin Experience Survey.

The survey asked consumers for feedback about their recent interactions with companies in a full range of industries, including grocery stores, fast-food chains, retailers, and banks. Participants were asked to rank their experience on a seven-point scale in terms of three areas of customer experience: functional, accessible, and emotional. Amazon came in 15th overall, tying with fast-food chains such as Subway, to rank second among all retailers and first among online retailers.

Amazon’s ability to provide a virtual experience that delivers the same consumer satisfaction as prominent brick-and-mortar vendors exemplifies how to transfer traditional customer service principles to the digital market space. Amazon and other leading digital vendors excel at following a few fundamental principles that set them apart from their e-commerce competition.

Multichannel Is Mandatory

In Forrester’s review of the most important trends in customer service in 2014, the top trends revolved around consumers’ increasing demand for multichannel support. While service delivered by voice remains consumers’ standard preference, customers also want the option of being able to serve themselves online as well as receive digital support through chat and email.

Consumers also demand the ability to continue a customer service conversation across multiple channels, so that a ticket might be initiated by an online submission form, continued through email, and concluded over the phone. With smartphones becoming the new storefront, mobile customer service forms an integral part of this multichannel equation, with Forrester projecting that mobility will become the dominant paradigm for addressing consumer concerns.

Instant Online Support Is Expected

In an age of instant communication, consumers have come to expect the same speedy support they would experience at a physical store. LivePerson’s Connecting with Customers Report found that 71 percent of consumers expect to be able to access help within five minutes, and 48 percent will abandon the purchasing process if help is not forthcoming within this timeframe.

To address this need for instant online support, it’s vital to implement a help system that provides instant support across multiple channels, such as Zipwire’s client-focused inbound contact center, enabling shop owners to interact with online customers in real-time and follow-up with them offline as needed.

Operating online customer service 24/7 365 days a year is challenging, especially for small businesses with limited resources. New technologies, such as, enhance online customer service, but future options might rely on intelligent decision support systems and artificial intelligence combined to offer customer service through machines rather than humans. I expect new companies with such offering in the near future as advances in these technologies increase capabilities and reduce cost.

Automated Inventory Is Essential

E-commerce created new shopping behaviors that require merchants to make adjustments to how they handle inventory in order to keep up with customer service demands.

Merchant Warehouse describes a common situation whereby approximately two out of three consumers search for information about products online before buying them in local stores, hoping to avoid shipping delays and costs, while six out of 10 of these same buyers also engage in the opposite behavior of browsing in stores and then buying online—hoping to find better prices.

One implication of this is that merchants with an effective inventory system, ones who can ensure that products are readily available when customers are in a buying mood,  enjoy advantages over competitors.

The customer service paradigm for addressing this issue is Wal-Mart’s just-in-time inventory system, which uses automated sales forecasting and restocking to make sure popular products are available on schedule to meet buyer demand.

Fast Shipping Is Fundamental

In an on-demand digital shopping environment, efficient  inventory stocking must be supported by equally fast shipping to customers. Amazon’s recent addition of same-day shipping options to its already-popular two-day delivery service prompted Google and Barnes & Noble to follow suit, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Most recently, industry giants seek permission to operate drones for delivering purchases within minutes or hours, not days. Surely, the days of The Jetsons are near when Amazon promises delivery within 30 minutes.

Instead of trying to compete with giants such as these, small businesses are using Amazon’s respected shipping services for order fulfillment, according to Daily Breeze. This means that smaller enterprises should expect their competition to soon be offering overnight and even same-day delivery as a matter of routine customer service. If you can’t get it there fast, your competition will.

Need Help?

Whether you need a complete content marketing strategy or a complete metrics-driven social media strategy, we can fill your digital marketing funnel. We can help you do your own social media marketing better or do it for you with our community managers, strategists, and account executives. You can request a FREE introductory meeting or sign up for my email newsletter to learn more about social media marketing.

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Why your Brand Needs Social Customer Service

Social customer service is more than just fixing a part, answering a question, sharing a new shortcut, or completing an upgrade. It’s about creating better a customer experiences. If you haven’t implemented social customer service, you probably should.

Everyday, users go online to complain about brands – with Twitter being the prime location for customers to share their criticism. Responding to these complaints in real-time reduces the impact of them on your bottom line.

Hey, wait minute, you say. I have great customer service. We have an 800 number where customer questions and complaints are answered by knowledgeable and courteous employees. Well, that’s so 20th century and that’s not enough anymore. Customers aren’t calling your 800 number. They’re getting on Facebook and complaining about you or sending a Tweet about your lousy service. Social customer service is a very different ball game with unique practices, plans and a different timeline. You’d better be listening for online complaints and be ready to respond in real-time or face potentially negative profits.

Social customer service emerged because organic online conversations require an immediate response. When a customer complains about you on Facebook or Twitter, you’d better be listening and respond within a very short window or poor attitudes about your brand escalate. Social customer service is more than complaining. It connects your customers with people, both inside and outside of your organization, and with the information they need to solve problems and make better decisions. Social customer service empowers your customers to crowdsource support, share knowledge, discuss new ideas and connect with peers using today’s most popular social tools and social networks.

Why does social customer service matter to your business?

Your customers expect it. Yet, according to Hootsuite, less than 40% of large firms used social media as part of their customer service. This despite the fact that customers who engage with companies on social media spend 2 to 4 times MORE than other customers. That’s a BIG reason for setting up an effective social custombluewolf_infographic-blog-full_byoalaer service department.

Want more reasons? Take a look at this infographic to give some ideas of how important social customer service is to your brand.

Yet, when you search for social customer service, what you get are companies providing social CRM (customer relationship management). Certainly, CRM can HELP with providing social customer service, when you look under the hood of most programs, you find they’re more interested in the company’s interest than customers — most are designed to help make more sales rather than addressing customer concerns.

The reality is customers may never say anything to you about your brand when they’re disappointed — they might just leave and take a bunch of their friends with them. Based on the infographic, you can see that you can lose 85% of your business due to poor customer service.

Steps to creating better social customer service

1. Recognize that providing superior customer service is everyone’s responsibility. Empowered, effectively trained employees in every department and every functional area are critical if you want to provide superior customer service — social or otherwise.

2. Hiring, training, and managing front-line employees effectively reduces the chances of poor customer service in the first place. For social customer service, you’ll need tech-savvy employees to monitor conversations on social networks and respond appropriately. For instance, I had a student who complained about her airline’s policy in the face of a pending weather emergency. She quickly got a response from a representative, which made her happy and prompted her to take back her earlier negative comments.

3. Listening on social networks helps uncover poor customer service. But, listening is only half the battle. You must establish procedures to handle these complaints/ questions quickly and establish metrics to monitor your success in achieving service related goals. For instance, you might establish a 20 minute response time between the time  a question posted and your answer.

4. Have a contingency plan. Things can always go a little haywire. Customers forgive a lot easier if you communicate with them and have a plan to ease the burden caused by your failure.

5. Encourage other customers to respond when customers complain or have questions. Set up support forums and establish incentives for customers who respond. Not only does this reduce the load on your employees, customers prefer getting advice from their peers.

Need help?

Whether you need a complete analytics strategy, some help with brand marketing, or some consulting to optimize your existing social media marketing, we can fill your digital marketing funnel. We can help you do your own social media marketing better or do it for you with our community managers, strategists, and account executives. You can request a FREE introductory meeting or sign up for my email newsletter to learn more about social media marketing.


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What’s Your Unique selling proposition?

unique selling propositionDo you even know what a USP is? It’s a Unique Selling Proposition and without one, your business is fighting an uphill battle for survival.

Why worry about having a unique selling proposition?

The key to effective selling in this situation is what advertising and marketing professionals call a “unique selling proposition” (USP). Unless you can pinpoint what makes your business unique in a world of homogeneous competitors, you cannot target your sales efforts successfully.

Pinpointing your USP requires some hard soul-searching and creativity. One way to start is to analyze how other companies use their USPs to their advantage. This requires careful analysis of other companies’ ads and marketing messages. If you analyze what they say they sell, not just their product or service characteristics, you can learn a great deal about how companies distinguish themselves from competitors.

For example, Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, always used to say he sold hope, not makeup. Some airlines sell friendly service, while others sell on-time service. Neiman Marcus sells luxury, while Wal-Mart sells bargains.

You need to give customers (and investors) a REASON for buying your brand over other brands.

Finding a good unique selling proposition

First, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Then, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What problems do they face? Customers buy solutions, not products.
  2. If others offer solutions to a particular problem, how does your brand solve the problem better?

What makes a BAD unique selling proposition?

Cheaper. Cheap often means your brand isn’t very good. Instead, think about providing value – and deliver on your promise.

That’s especially true for shopping and specialty goods. If you’re selling oranges, being a little cheaper might provide a good USP, but selling cheaper jewelry might backfire on you. In his book, Influence, Cialdini tells the story of a retailer selling “authentic” Indian jewelry near an Indian reservation. The stuff wasn’t selling until she DOUBLED the price, convincing would-be buyers that the jewelry was, indeed, authentic.

Better. Better is a loaded word – subject to the evaluations of others. If you’re using better as your unique selling propositions, your brand must have objective proof that it’s better than ANY other brand – not just some brands. And, the feature that makes your product better must be something consumers value as part of the solution.

Often, convincing your market that your brand is better than all the rest is an expensive proposition, better left to big brands with deep pockets.

What makes a GOOD unique selling proposition?

1. It solves a real customer problem. Look at the minivan – the most successful new car type in decades. That’s because it solved a real customer problem by providing a car that held lots of people and gear, without being clunky or hard-to-drive.

Want a more recent example? Look at AirBNB, which offers affordable housing by renting out spare bedrooms, basements, and even couches across the world.

2. It’s easy to use. For example, Apple succeeded all these years despite its higher price because it provides a unique selling proposition – it’s easy to use. In a time when other companies offered free computer training, Apple made a computer that didn’t need training – it was intuitive.

A corollary is that it’s easy for consumers to understand your unique selling proposition.

2. It’s really NEW. You can add the word new to all your packaging, but if it’s not really dramatically different inside, you’re wasting your time. Again, the NEW has to solve a customer problem. Look at 3D TV’s – they’ve stagnated in the market because, while they’re very new, they don’t really solve a customer problem. No one is out there asking for images to jump off their TV screens. Maybe the time just isn’t right for 3D TV’s, but firms would be better off waiting for customer need.

4. It benefits the planet. Consumers want to believe in the brands they buy. That’s why companies like Tom’s shoes (which give a needy child a pair for every pair sold) and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream (which uses local sources to support the economy) have such strong, loyal followings.

How to create your own unique selling proposition?

  1. Think outside the box. Don’t do what everyone else is doing and just hope you can do it better. Do it differently.
  2. Don’t try to appeal to everyone. Find your sweet spot – those consumers for whom existing products just won’t do. Target your products (and USP) to just those individuals.
  3. Figure out what everyone else is doing. Too often, companies THINK they’re offering is unique only because they haven’t done due diligence to find those out there already offering your solution.

Need help?

Whether you need a complete analytics strategy, some help with brand marketing, or some consulting to optimize your existing social media marketing, we can fill your digital marketing funnel. We can help you do your own social media marketing better or do it for you with our community managers, strategists, and account executives. You can request a FREE introductory meeting or sign up for my email newsletter to learn more about social media marketing.

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Should We Ditch the Marketing Funnel?

the marketing funnel
We focus on conversion

Marketing is a really young discipline – only about 80 years old. And, in all that time, the concept of the marketing funnel drove marketing strategy.

Then, yesterday, Mark Bonchek and Cara France published a post on the HBR Blog entitled, “Marketing Can No Longer Rely on the Funnel”. Mark and Cara raise some interesting points about the marketing funnel, but let’s start by looking at what the marketing funnel is.

The marketing funnel

Whether you call is it the marketing funnel, conversion funnel, or sales funnel, the concept is central to marketing. Marketing strategy revolves around driving prospects down the marketing funnel toward conversion.

There’s good reason for the centrality of the marketing funnel. After all, companies are in business to make money and they only make money if the convert (sell) customers. An unfortunate reality in marketing is that tracking prospects as they move down the funnel is just so darned hard because attributing consumer action to a SPECIFIC tactic is challenging and assessing what individual tactics do to the mass of neurons inside someone’s head is nearly impossible. John Wanamaker said it best when he said:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the problem is, I don’t know which half.

Over the last few decades, marketers responded to this criticism by becoming increasingly analytic and the holy grail became tracking movement down the marketing funnel. Strategies focused on the funnel and analytics tracked which tactics were most effective.

Even Google Analytics adopts the notion of moving visitors down a funnel, but easily tracking movement through a website from entry to thank you page.

The marketing funnel today

Of course, the marketing world is VERY different today than when John Wanamaker made his famous quote. Digital marketing allows marketers to not only track movement down the marketing funnel, but demonstrate which tactics more effectively drive consumers down the funnel.

Mark and Cara (remember the HBR article above) make some good points about how the marketing funnel is obsolete today. First, they mention that social media now means consumers no longer move in a linear fashion from awareness to conversion. Of course, that’s not really new — consumers NEVER moved in a linear fashion leading to product purchase. Marketers used the funnel as a conceptual framework for the process knowing that consumers don’t move through linearly, but cycle through and jump around. That doesn’t make their point any less valid, however.

The second point made by Mark and Cara relates to the way people discuss and recommend products they never buy themselves. That’s certainly something you really didn’t see in a pre-digital era.

Should we ditch the marketing funnel?


I’m not really sure.

I think you can make a strong case for ditching the marketing funnel.

  1. You ignore valuable actions OUTSIDE the funnel, such as building relationships and repeat purchase
  2. It’s short-term oriented and business is a marathon not a sprint
  3. Conversion isn’t a linear process, it’s circular
  4. Consumers may do much of the process before YOU even know they exist — they’re getting their information and recommendations from social media

By the same token, if we lose sight of the marketing funnel, do we drift back to the Wanamaker days when we don’t know what’s working and what isn’t? Monitoring consumer movements towards conversion (and maybe beyond) offers a valuable tool for assessing the success of marketing tactics.

social media hierarchy of effectsMaybe, rather than ditching the marketing funnel, we need to think about what the marketing funnel looks like in the age of digital marketing? Maybe the funnel looks more like this (based on the hierarchy of effects):

Notice, this depiction of a funnel doesn’t contain conversion because conversion can occur at any point along the funnel. That doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the importance of conversion for businesses, it just means that, by focusing on other elements within the funnel, we’re contributing to conversion. Inherent in this notion is the belief conversion is part of a cause-effect relationship and that, by focusing on the “causes” of conversion, we’re supporting conversion in a deeper way than if we focused single-mindedly on conversion itself.

This digital marketing funnel focuses heavily on SOCIAL and recognizes that influences from a community more strongly impact purchase than anything a business might say.

The digital marketing funnel fills in the gaps that led the HBR post to suggest ditching the marketing funnel, while maintaining elements that make the marketing funnel a valuable tool — mainly that it helps evaluate marketing tactics.

Need help?

Whether you need a complete analytics strategy, some help with brand marketing, or some consulting to optimize your existing social media marketing, we can fill your digital marketing funnel. We can help you do your own social media marketing better or do it for you with our community managers, strategists, and account executives. You can request a FREE introductory meeting or sign up for my email newsletter to learn more about social media marketing.




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