According to a study conducted in 2015, 89% of companies believed that customer experience was going to be their number one differentiator in 2016. For that reason, Gartner declared customer experience the new battlefield in business.
Turns out, they were right. The numbers indicate that businesses of all kinds have bought into the idea that, to set themselves apart, they need to pay close attention to their customers’ experience with their brand.
And for that reason, we want to talk to you about customer experience management.
Gartner defines customer experience management as:
“the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy."
In this post, we’ll take a look at customer experience from start to finish; from when they’re total strangers until they become your loyal fans. Most importantly, I’ll show you that customers never take this journey alone.
Once you understand that crucial point, you’ll see how online community is the key to tailoring the kind of customer experience that will ultimately lead to more business for you.
Defining Your Customers’ Experience as a Journey
One important conceptual tool in customer experience management is the ‘customer journey.’ In short, the customer journey describes a customer’s engagement with your brand from start to finish.
Mapping the Journey
If you’re going to take a trip—or, in this case, plan a trip for someone else—you need a map. I don’t want to go all meta on you, but the process for customer journey mapping already comes with a map of its own:
Rather than dwelling on the how of customer journey mapping, let’s skip ahead to step 5. Here’s a highly generalized customer journey map that’ll suit our purposes for now:
Here’s a breakdown of each step:
1. Discovery – This is the stage where your brand is revealed to the customer in some way. This might be the result of a marketing piece, a recommendation from a friend, a tangential mention on social media, or a Google search result.
2. Engagement – During this stage, you have the beginnings of a relationship between you and the customer. They’ve looked at your marketing. They’ve poked around your website. Perhaps they’ve even given you a call or pinged you on social media. They’re getting to know you.
3. Conversion – This is the moment of truth when you win over that person you’ve been cultivating for days, weeks or months, and they decide to become a paying customer.
4. Relationship – The final stage in the journey covers everything that comes after the sale: their product experience, your customer support, further up-selling/cross-selling efforts undertaken on your part, and customer advocacy (see below).
Two Ways You Can Goof Up a Customer Journey Map
Plotting the customer journey is a good and essential part of customer experience management. By laying out the path your customers take from start to finish, you develop a better sense of what you can do to ease their travel and enhance the experience at every step.
There are, however, two critical mistakes to guard against when plotting your map:
Mistake #1: Developing a Map Without Reference to Community
Thanks to the absolutist environment in which marketing strategy often takes place, it’s quite possible to design a map that perfectly describes an individual’s journey, yet do it in a way that completely fails to reference the context in which customers live, move and have their being.
We’re all social beings—even the most introverted among us. You can’t accurately describe a customer’s journey without taking stock of the people who influence them along the way.
Mistake #2: Limiting Community to the Discovery Phase
For those who’ve managed to avoid the first mistake, the second is crouching at the door; its desire is to have you limit online community to the discovery phase of your customer’s journey.
As we're about to see, however, the community has a role to play at every step in the journey.
No Customer Journeys Alone
Your brand’s community—which includes your customers, fans and even employees outside the marketing department—is the place where conversation takes place for and around your brand. It provides a public forum where experts and novices alike can commiserate around the common concerns that drive their problems, and discuss the solutions you provide.
More than anywhere else, this community is the context in which your customer journeys. How you manage this community will have a profound effect, not only on the way customers experience your brand, but on how well you can leverage that experience for further growth.
Here’s what that looks like in each step of the journey:
Of all the ways to connect with new customers, community is emerging as the most effective in B2C and B2B environments alike.
- 84% of B2B buyers begin the process with a referral.
- 92% of customers trust recommendations from their peers, while only 33% trust ads.
- 74% of consumers turn to social media for information before making purchasing decisions.
- 44% of Millennials trust the information they receive from experienced consumers (even if they’re strangers) more than their family and friends.
- Businesses report a 37% higher retention rate for those who've been referred by other customers.
The picture these numbers paint is clear: potential customers would much rather hear from their peers than they would from you.
From a customer experience perspective, this goes beyond mere conversion numbers. Yes, community is an effective tool in getting people to convert (see below). But more than that, it sets the stage for the customer’s overall relationship with your brand.
When the discovery process begins with a warm introduction in the context of a trusted community, you’ve already set the stage for one more sale for you and a satisfying customer journey for them.
Online community fosters a sense of belonging that will bear serious fruit when it comes time to convert. It also makes an engagement—the necessary series of steps along the journey to conversion—a whole lot easier. It may seem counter-intuitive, but with a well-managed and vibrant community, you can actually take a step back in actively cultivating leads.
That’s not to say you can take your hand completely off the wheel; the community manager is there to steer the conversation in the right direction. Even so, a highly engaged community will regularly share and discuss the kinds of information (product features, benefits, use cases, etc.) that your sales team and landing page would communicate.
In the context of community, that kind of information exchange feels like a helpful conversation. As part of a sales pitch, on the other hand, it may not be so readily received.
When your customer’s journey takes place within the context of community, conversion looks less like a hard sale and more like the next natural step in a long-unfolding sequence of events.
The customer doesn’t take that step under the pressure of a slick salesman, but with the comfort and assurance of trusted peers who’ve already been there.
In other words, they’re socialized into your brand.
If you think this sounds like a form of religious proselytism, you may be right. As “community” gains steam as an intellectual, philosophical, and sociological concept, faith communities especially have harnessed the power of letting people belong before they believe.
Your customers may not be giving themselves up to a higher power—unless, perhaps, you sell CrossFit memberships—but the idea is similar. Their experience will be all the better when it feels more like joining a community than being yielding to one of your salesman’s sermons.
Thanks to your community, customers have a built-in reason to stay connected to your brand apart from merely using your product. For one thing, it means they’ll use it in public, engaging with fellow customers and searching for the best ways to put your goods to use.
Better, their first stop for customer service, aside from your website, will be the community. They’ll connect with other users to find answers to their problems. This not only eases the burden on your CS staff, but it enhances their overall satisfaction with the product.
Most importantly, however, community strengthens the brand-customer relationship by unleashing the power of customer advocacy. Advocates are super-users who love your product enough to support you in every way possible—whether that’s generating content, helping with moderation, or simply telling your brand’s story.
Consider a few simple statistics about customer advocacy:
- As repeat customers, advocates are 5 times more valuable than one-time customers.
- Advocates are 2-3 times more likely to persuade others to buy.
- A 12% increase in advocacy can double revenue growth.
For an aggregation of these stats and their sources, go here.
A well-developed advocacy program will take your super-users and turn them into champions for your brand. This is one of the best ways to turn your customer's journey into an epic and encourage them to bring others along as well.
As we noted in the beginning, customer experience management is the key way in which businesses can stand out in the crowd. By paying close attention to the journey each customer takes in, with, and through your brand, you can ensure they enjoy the smoothest and most rewarding journey possible.
Remember: Your customer never makes this journey alone. There are always other people involved.
The question is: how will you leverage them?