Posts tagged: referral

The Missing Links in the Customer Engagement Cycle

customer engagement cycleThe Customer Engagement Cycle plays a central role in many marketing strategies, but it’s not always defined in the same way. Probably the most commonly described stages are Awareness, Consideration, Inquiry, Purchase and Retention. In retail, we often think of the cycle as Awareness, Acquisition, Conversion, Retention. In either case, I think there are a couple of key stages that do not receive enough consideration given their critical ability to drive the cycle.

The missing links are Satisfaction and Referral.

Before discussing these missing links, let’s take a quick second to define the other stages:

Awareness: This is basic branding and positioning of the business. We certainly can’t progress people through the cycle before they’ve even heard of us.

Acquisition: I’ve always thought of this as getting someone into our doors or onto our site. It’s a major step, but it’s not yet profitable.

Conversion: This one is simply defined as making a sales. Woo hoo! It may or may not be a profitable sales on its own, but it’s still a significant stage in the cycle.

Retention: We get them to shop with us again. Excellent! Repeat sales tend to be more profitable and almost certainly have lower marketing costs than first purchases.

Now, let’s get to those Missing Links

In my experience, the key to a strong and active customer engagement cycle is a very satisfying customer experience. And while the Wikipedia article on Customer Engagement doesn’t mention Satisfaction as often as I would like, it does include this key statement: “Satisfaction is simply the foundation, and the minimum requirement, for a continuing relationship with customers.”

In fact, I think the quality of the customer experience is so important that I would actually inject it multiple times into the cycle: Awareness, Acquisition, Satisfaction, Conversion, Satisfaction, Retention, Satisfaction, Referral.

Of course, it’s possible to get through at least some of the stages of the cycle without an excellent customer experience. People will soldier through a bad experience if they want the product bad enough or if there’s an incredible price. But it’s going to be a lot harder to retain that type of customer and if you get a referral, it might not be the type of referral you want.

I wonder if Satisfaction and Referral are often left out of cycle strategies because they are the stages most out of marketers’ control.

A satisfying customer experience is not completely in the marketer’s control. For sure, marketing plays a role. A customer’s satisfaction can be defined as the degree to which her actual experience measures up to her expectations. Our marketing messages are all about expectations, so it’s important that we are compelling without over-hyping the experience. And certainly marketers can influence policy decisions, website designs, etc. to help drive better customer experiences.

In the end, though, the actual in-store or online experience will determine the strength of the customer engagement.

Everyone plays a part in the satisfaction stages. Merchants must ensure advertised product is in stock and well positioned. Store operators must ensure the stores are clean, the product is available on the sales floor and the staff are friendly, enthusiastic and helpful. The e-commerce team must ensure advertised products can be easily found, the site is performing well, product information in complete and useful,  and the products are shipped on time and in good condition.

We also have to ensure our incentives and metrics are supporting a quality customer experience, because the wrong metrics can incent the wrong behavior. For example, if we measure an online search engine marketing campaign by the number of visitors generated or even the total sales generated, we can absolutely end up going down the wrong path. We can buy tons of search terms that by their sheer volume will generate lots of traffic and some degree of increased sales. But if those search terms link to the home page or some other page that is largely irrelevant to the search term, the experience will be likely disappointing for the customer who clicked through.

In fact, I wrote a white paper a few months ago, Online Customer Acquisition: Quality Trumps Quantity, that delved into customer experience by acquisition source for the Top 100 Internet Retailers. We found that those who came via external search engines were among the least satisfied customers of those sites with the least likelihood to purchase and recommend. Not good. These low ratings could largely be attributed to the irrelevance of the landing pages from those search terms.

Satisfaction breeds Referral

Referrals or Recommendations are truly wonderful. As I wrote previously, the World’s Greatest Marketers are our best and most vocal customers. They are more credible than we’ll ever be, and the cost efficiencies of acquisition through referral are significantly better than our traditional methods of awareness and acquisition marketing. In my previously mentioned post, I discussed some ways to help customers along on the referral path. But, of course, customers can be pretty resourceful on their own.

We’ve all seen blog posts, Facebook posts or tweets about bad customer experiences. But plenty of positive public commentary can also be found.  Target’s and Gap’s Facebook walls have lots of customers expressing their love for those brands. Even more powerful are blog posts some customers write about their experiences.  I came across a post yesterday from entitled Tales of Perfection that related two excellent experiences the blogger had with Guitar Center and a burger joint called Arry’s. Both stories are highly compelling and speak to the excellent quality of the employees at each business. Nice!

————————————————–

Developing a business strategy, not just a marketing strategy, around the customer engagement cycle can be extremely powerful. It requires the entire company to get on board to understand the value of maximizing the customer experience at every touch point with the customer, and it requires a set of incentives and metrics that fully support strengthening the cycle along the way.

What do you think? How do you think about the customer engagement cycle? How important do feel the customer experience is in strengthening the cycle? Or do you think this is all hogwash?


The World’s Greatest Marketer

The greatest marketer any of us could ever have is a happy and talkative customer with lots of friends. Of course, any one customer’s reach is pretty limited compared to a TV spot, even in today’s 500 channel, multi-tasking, timeshifting, DVR world.

Wom However, she’s also infinitely more credible to her audience than any TV spot, display ad, print ad, website or sponsored search term will ever be.

When we retailers focus on the customer engagement cycle, which I’ve always defined as Awareness, Acquisition, Satisfaction, Conversion, Retention and Referral, we often spend the majority of our time and budgets on the first stages of the cycle and hope for the best on the Referral stage.

But I think there are at least two steps to actively drive the Referral stage:

1. Provide the right products and service to ensure we have incredibly happy customers
2. Ensure our happy customers have great and easy-to-use tools to tell the world about us

The good news is that the web provides us a fantastic foundation to create these tools, and some of them are so simple you can get them going in no time.

Here are a couple of quickies to start with:

Send To A Friend
Many sites have a Send to a Friend capability somewhere on the site. However, the vast majority of these capabilities are severely understated text links that are hard to find or notice. And worse, the actual email sent is almost always a boring text based email with no branding and compelling content whatsoever. Even though as the sender I’m often asked for my name and email address, the actual message frequently comes from something like sendtoafriend@company.com instead of coming from my full name, which would be far more recognizable to my friend and far more likely to be opened (I hope).

Why not outsize the Send to a Friend capability on the site itself with a fully designed email box with a sender, recipient and notes field and copy that encourages our happy customers to share our products with their friends?  Here’s an example from my past at Borders that worked really well:

Sendtoafriend

And when we send the email, why not create a nice, branded HTML template that compels our friend to click though? Why not put as much time and effort into this email template as we regularly put into our weekly marketing emails?


Social Network Sharing

Most news sites have long since added buttons to their articles that allow readers to post their articles to Facebook, digg, del.icio.us, Twitter and other social network options.

Social

All of our products should have these options as well. It never fails to amaze me how much people want to talk about products, and this is a great way to enable them to talk to all of their friends at once though social networks. These have much better reach than Send to a Friend capabilities, and the resulting post can then spread even deeper through other networks.

Those are two of the simplest ways to very quickly, with limited technical effort, give tools to your customers to help them be our best marketers. In a future post, I’ll discuss some more technically complicated but even more powerful options.

What do you think? What ideas do you have to create tools for your customers to be your best marketers?



Retail: Shaken Not Stirred by Kevin Ertell


Home | About