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Building a customer-centered organization from the bottom up

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How many times have you purchased a product or service from an overly attentive sales person only to discover after you’ve signed on the dotted line that the product isn’t all you were told? Perhaps the demos the sales person showed you aren’t actually built yet, or it’s impossible to find the support contact information on the website, or the social channels aren’t effectively addressing customer questions and concerns. These poor experiences result in an increase in churn, or loss of customers. It’s commonly accepted that retaining existing customers and reducing churn is the best way to continually build and grow a business. It’s simply more cost effective than generating new leads and converting new customers. This thinking has led to a greater emphasis on improving the customer experience across all phases of the customer journey.

Leading companies have addressed this by embracing customer-centered design, the methodology of conducting research to understand customer needs and using those findings to inform business, marketing and product decisions. Effectively involving customers and users in the marketing and design processes.

Below are the typical phases of a customer journey, who typically owns them within an organization, and the digital channels most commonly relied on during each phase of the journey.

  • Phase 1: Awareness
    • Owner: Marketing
    • Common Digital Channels: Social, Email, Online Video, Branded Content, Online Advertising
  • Phase 2: Evaluation
    • Owner: Marketing
    • Common Digital Channels: Website, Online Video
  • Phase 3: Acquisition
    • Owner: Marketing, Sales
    • Common Digital Channels: Website, App
  • Phase 4: Engagement
    • Owner: Product, Support
    • Common Digital Channels: Website, App
  • Phase 5: Advocacy
    • Owner: Product, Marketing
    • Common Digital Channels: Social

Creating a cohesive and optimized customer experience across all of these phases is incredibly difficult. Even companies known for a strong focus on customer experience have their weak links. To address these challenges companies have created new C-level leadership roles such as the Chief Experience Officer; a role focused exclusively on optimizing the customer experience across an organization. As obvious as this sounds, most organizations have yet to develop this role, and even if they have, many departments are often still working in isolation and out of alignment with the company’s broader vision.
If you find yourself in an organization such as this, what can you do to help optimize your funnel for long term success?

Step 1: Create a Customer-Centered Advocacy Team

It’s not uncommon for a marketing team and a product team within the same organization, who are theoretically (and ideally) serving the same customers, to have a completely different set of customer profiles or personas or none at all. It’s impossible to optimize the customer journey if your organization isn’t aligned around who your customers are and what they need.

Without top down leadership it’s difficult to define and distribute this type of information, and this is where bottom-up action needs to take place. One solution is to develop an ad-hoc team of representatives across marketing, sales, product, engineering and support. Working together, you can pool their diverse knowledge and expertise to document the knowns and unknowns that define your customers and the current state of the customer journey for your products or services.

Step 2: Conduct Market and User Research

Many organizations have clearly defined audience segments that identify market opportunities and include demographic and psychographic profiles. These profiles are necessary, but if they don’t include a deeper understanding of customer needs and goals when interacting with various touch-points throughout a funnel, they’ll be of limited use at best. At worst, they’ll be actively counter-productive, as departments within an organization end up making surface-level assumptions that lead to poor user experiences.

The solution is to ensure that market research and user research is not only conducted, but intelligently captured and utilized. Market research will clarify who you are actually targeting (as opposed to who you think you’re targeting) and the market fit for your product or service. User research will identify customer needs as well as specific goals and tasks your customers and users will want to accomplish when reading a content marketing piece, filling out a form in your buy flow, or using your digital product.

Step 3: Define The Ideal Customer Journey

Once you’ve developed a customer-centered advocacy team and clearly defined the market and user research, you can begin to document the ideal cross-channel customer journey, factoring in how a customer moves through your funnel and interacts with every touch-point along the way.
Every touch-point is an opportunity to address your customers’ or users’ needs. Customer-centered thinking can help you win customers at every step of the funnel. Here are some examples:

  • Awareness – Branded and social media content address actual questions and needs you know that customers have regarding your service because you’ve done the research.
  • Evaluation – Your website addresses your customer needs first and makes sure that the content your users are looking for is easy to understand and easy to use by conducting usability studies.
  • Acquisition – Ensure that your sales staff and your online buy flows are saying the same things.
  • Engagement – Make sure your product or service includes features your customers actually need and want, and that you make sure support content is available in any channel that customers may interact with, especially social.
  • Advocacy – You make it easy for customers to share good things about you in social media, and when they start a conversation, you actually respond, building a relationship between the brand and the customer.

This is only scratching the surface, of course, but it’s a solid foundation to build from.

Step 4: Share and Promote

Once you’ve formed an advocacy team, conducted market and user research, and developed a well-informed customer journey, you need to sell that vision across your organization. Be prepared for resistance, especially if that vision was shaped from the ground up without early buy-in from high-stream movers and shakers. In my experience, one thing that has always ensured a more receptive audience is presenting the nuts-and-bolts research and data to build your case, and present your analysis and vision to finish it. We all live and die by ROI today, but pure quantitative data alone isn’t enough. You need to paint a picture of the people your organization serves. You want each individual in your organization to empathize with end customers. To do this, you need to conduct qualitative research. Conduct interviews, usability studies and focus groups and capture video. Produce a short piece that emphasizes the key attributes of your customers and help the people in your organization digest this information as easily as possible. Tell them the data, show them the value.

If you’re successful in all of this, not only will you be helping your organization become more customer-centered, you will be improving the bottom line as well by designing campaigns, products and services that people need and want. Maybe your efforts will get you some attention, too. Maybe you’ll be your company’s first Chief Experience Officer.