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Want to Improve Customer Service? Understand the Customer Journey


how to improve customer service with customer journey mapping, map

39% of buyers continue to avoid mid-sized companies 2 or more years after a bad experience*. Let that one sink in for a while. 2 or more years. Does that make you want to rethink your customer service strategy?

The number of ways customers can engage with companies and brands almost seem infinite, doesn’t it? A visit to your website, a call to customer service, an interaction on social media, an email exchange, online chat support—each touchpoint along the way defines their customer journey and ultimately defines their customer experience.  

As company/customer interactions continue to get more complex as a result of emerging technologies, real-time access to product and pricing information, and increasing competition, understanding the customer journey will become paramount for all companies, regardless of size.

And it’s up to you whether that customer journey is an incredibly smooth and enjoyable experience that leaves them wanting to tell everyone they know how awesome your company is. OR one that leaves them incredibly frustrated—wanting to tell everyone they know they think your company is terrible.

Understanding Your Customers

It might sound simple enough, but to truly understand the customer journey you need to first understand your customers—who they are, what they care about, and how they engage with your brand. What are their expectations? What types of information are they looking for when they are considering making a purchase?

Whether you create full-fledged buyer personas or just spend some time objectively trying to define who you think your customers are, those insights will be incredibly helpful as you start to understand their customer journey.

Mapping the Customer Journey

Once you know who your customers are, then it’s time to start thinking about all the different ways they can possibly engage with your brand before, during, and after they make a purchase. Their journey begins the second they experience a touchpoint with your business (no matter how big or small) and continues throughout their entire customer lifecycle.

Here’s a quick video on how to get started on creating a customer journey map. I think you’ll find it really helpful.

At each and every point, you need to identify both the good experiences and the bad—looking for ways to make sure those good experiences continue to happen while also trying to eliminate any of those bad experiences.

That’s one of the reasons I’m hell bent on companies rethinking their use of automated call trees. Nothing says “We don’t care about our customers” like automated call trees. Stop and think about your own customer journey when you engage with other brands—do you get all warm and fuzzy when you navigate an automated call tree?

Knowing Where Your Customers Are On Their Journey

Just as important as understanding their overall journey is your ability to understand where they are on that journey at each point in time. Back to the phone tree example, if they are a prospective customer that could be a huge miss as it could be their first and only point of contact.

The key is personalizing each experience based on each unique journey. That means you need to differentiate first-time customers from returning or former customers. Power users from casual consumers.

That also means you need to engage members of your team from across your organization. Understanding the customer journey and creating a culture of customer service is going to require having the right strategy, content, technology, and operational and organizational structure in place.

*Zendesk survey of 1046 respondents on the impact of customer service on customer lifetime value


Ready to start mapping your customer journey?

Here are 4 questions about the customer journey every marketer needs to answer.


[Image: Flickr user David Bleasdale]

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Communicating Value To Your Customers


craftsmanship, communicating value to customers, luxury products

Why is your product or service worth X amount of dollars? How would that answer differ if you asked current or prospective customers?

There are an infinite number of choices out there. No matter how narrow your niche or specialized your offerings are, there’s a pretty good chance you are competing for the attention spans of your target audience along with countless other competitors. All the time. 

Why should they buy from you?

It all comes down to value and your ability to articulate that value to consumers. I’m not talking about deep discounts or everyday low pricing—in fact far from it. There’s a reason why people are willing to spend $100,000+ on an S-Class Mercedes when they can choose between hundreds of other less expensive cars or pay a premium to buy their groceries at Whole Foods.  

Value transcends price

Whether you spent 2 minutes, 2 hours, or 2 years bringing an idea to life, you can’t automatically assume that customers are going to appreciate the true value of what you have to offer.  That’s one of the things brands like Mercedes Benz, Apple, and Whole Foods really have figured out—they are able to align the things their customers value the most with the value of their offerings.

I’m talking about capturing the essence of what makes their products and service truly unique and communicating that essence consistently with their messaging, positioning, and their brands.

Value transcends products

Don’t get me wrong, you have to have a great product.  If not, it’s going to be very hard to convince customers to give up their hard earned cash to buy whatever it is you’re selling. And even if they do, there is a pretty good chance they’re going to be very price conscious since they won’t have ways to differentiate your products or services from other like businesses.

But beyond the product, it’s really about the customer experience—packaging, product design, features, and the ability to address their need better than all of the other options they might be considering.

Articulating value

Be objective. You’ve got to have a thorough understanding of how your products or services are different from those of your competitors. Is it your design? Your attention to detail? Quality standards? Customer service?

Get specific. Trying to communicate value by saying you offer a “quality” product probably won’t be enough. In most cases, that’s assumed. You have to take it further. Dig until you find those 2-3 core things that make your offerings unique.

Once you understand the value, think about how you can educate current and prospective customers with your messaging. What would you like them to know? What is going to be most important to them? Why should they get really excited about your latest product offering? How will it help them fulfill and make something better in their lives?

The higher the price for your products and services, the greater the need for alignment between the values of your customers and the value you’re bringing to the table.

Back to the Mercedes example, customers expect impeccable design, world-class performance, and incredible craftsmanship.

That’s what’s important to them. That’s what they value. And that’s what they’re paying for.

[Image: Flickr user col_adamson]

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Make Google Search Results For Your Business Stand Out


search engine marketing

Every business wants to be at the top of the search results page. That’s a given. But what will prospective customers find when your business listing actually shows up. Do you know? 

You don’t have to be an SEO expert to figure it out. In fact, it’s better if you’re not. All you need to do is Google the name of your business to find out. And if you’re like a lot of businesses, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be surprised.

There are foundational elements that are core to any good business website. Unfortunately, all too often website designers either don’t tell you about them or they don’t include them as part of the build. And good or bad, those foundational elements are what’s going to show up in the search results.

Start with your page titles (the text that appears in the tab of your web browser when you scroll over). They’re one of the many signals that search engines look for to determine what that particular page is about and whether or not a page is relevant to a particular search query.

Effective page titles can increase your click-throughs (which is ultimately just as important as where you show up in the results, if not more important) and help drive traffic to your site. Check out this video to learn more about page titles and why, in some cases, Google changes page titles in search results.

If you leave your page titles blank, you’re really at the mercy of your site design. For example, I was Googling a business today and the first thing that appeared was “Home Page Category.” That was followed by the name of the business listed twice which not only served no purpose, but was also a total waste of invaluable real estate in the search results.

Just take a look at Apple, for example. No “Home Page Category.” No duplicate company name. Just Apple. Just the way it should be.

organic search result example for a business, page title example

Next, check your meta description—just a fancy name for the short blurb of content that appears right under your link in the search results. Meta descriptions are really, really, really, really important. They’re what can convince someone to click on your link versus all of the other search engine results. You can be first on the list, but if your meta description isn’t good you’re not going to be there for long.

If you don’t create unique meta descriptions, search engines will pull text from your site they think best represent the content on that particular page. It’s definitely better than nothing, but in most cases content it’s going to be difficult for a search engine to pull 160ish characters worth of content from your website that captures the scope of your offerings and the essence of your brand.

At the very least, you should look at creating unique meta descriptions for your core pages. Then, use Google Webmaster Tools to track any changes in your click-through rate and adjust as necessary. Check out this helpful guide from Moz on meta descriptions and SEO best practices

Back to the Apple example, notice how they’re able to capture the essence of their business, their brand, and their products—all in under 150 characters. If they can do it given the complexity of their business, you can do it.

effective meta description example

You could spend years trying to figure out how and why Google generates the listings that appear in search results. You could spend thousands of dollars every month on an SEO firm that claims to have Google all figured out. But first things first.

Google your business and what information comes up. Focus on the foundational stuff—the page titles and the meta descriptions—just as much as what page your business appears in the search results.

Want to know how your business listing is doing in search results? Request a free search engine marketing check up.

[Image: Flickr User MoneyBlogNewz]

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Providing Superior Customer Service [Case Studies]


breaking the rules for customer serviceSuperior customer service can help businesses retain customers, avoid those nasty online complaints, and differentiate themselves from their competitors. Sounds good, right?

So why is customer service consistently so bad at so many companies? 

Superior customer service isn’t about long-winded policies addressing every possible reason why you can’t help. It’s also not about scripted responses to frequently asked questions or making your customers navigate a voicemail system for 20 minutes with the hopes of speaking to an actual human being.

Thanks to the story about the Comcast customer service call from hell that has been making the rounds recently, we all know what can happen when your policies and training are focused on the wrong things.

Not a way to win hearts, minds, or cable customers. Or anything else for that matter.

Which leads me to this example of superior customer service involving Capital One, some spilled orange juice, and a broken keyboard. If you haven’t heard the story, I definitely encourage you to check it out. It’s guaranteed to make you rethink your views on customer service and how you handle customer issues.

According to the article, a Capital One customer complained on Reddit about not being able to pay his bills on time because he spilled orange juice on his keyboard.

Instead of focusing on hitting him with late fees, sending him nasty notices, or arguing over why he couldn’t use a different computer--they sent him a new keyboard along with a personalized handwritten note.

The keyboard retails for around $69. The handwritten note probably took a few minutes. Add a few dollars for shipping and you just created a remarkable customer service experience and a ton of free buzz that’s led to a lot of really positive articles and blog posts—including this one.

It’s easy to assume the worst when it comes to customer service and spend all of your time anticipating every possible negative scenario and to come up with reasons why you can’t accommodate a request and at the very least--let them know they’ve been heard. But that leads to a lot of wasted calories and a lot of frustrated customers.

Companies known for superior customer service like Zappos, Nordstrom, or thanks to the keyboard story—Capital One, focus on empowering their employees to use their judgment to identify opportunities for random acts of kindness. It doesn’t have to be a keyboard—it can be a handwritten note, a follow up phone call, or giving extra effort to find a solution to their problem.

I think we’d all agree random acts of customer service kindness are always better than being associated with a customer service call from hell (complete with an audio transcript).

What companies do you think of when it comes to providing superior customer service and why? Share your thoughts and comments below.

[Image: Flickr user me and the sysop]

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Converting Website Visitors Into Customers


converting visitors into paying customers, cash registerYour business website is only as good as its ability to get visitors to click around and ultimately make a purchase. Period.

There are hundreds of millions of websites out there with millions more being added every year. You can’t just dial it in and assume that having a responsive design, slick graphics, and some quality content is going to be enough to get your phone to ring or your ecommerce shopping cart to fill up.

It all starts with traffic. The right traffic.

If your website isn’t being seen by your target audience, your website is useless. Take the time (make the time) to review your web analytics once a month.

Look at your pageviews, average time on site, and bounce rate (if you’re using Google Analytics) to see if there are any surprises (good or bad). Look at the number of visitors over a 90 day period and what percentage actually fill out your contact form—this will give you a sense of how much traffic you need month-to-month to hit your targeted number of leads or inquiries from your site.

If you're not getting targeted traffic to your business website, then it’s time to revisit your SEO strategy including your target keywords, your page titles, your meta descriptions, and your on-page content.

The key throughout this entire process really is to think like your customers. What types of questions do they have? What information would they search for? What content would be the most helpful? What can you bring to the table to make your perspectives, content, and website unique? Critical insights both in terms of search visibility, and also once visitors get to your site.

I like to start by looking at top-level navigation. Assume first-time readers are going to look at your site from top to bottom and left to right. That means you want to start with informational content first—your about page (who are you), your products and services (what do you have to offer), faqs (if relevant based on your business and your offerings), resources (your blog, documentation, support) and finally your contact page and/or shopping cart.

By prioritizing items in your navigation, you can lead them down a path where they are able to gather more information and get comfortable with your offerings before jumping right into making a purchase.

Think about the purpose of every individual page on your website.

What would you like visitors to do on that particular page? Contact your sales team? Learn more about product features? Sign up for your newsletter? Something else?

Just like with the navigation, not everyone is going to be ready to buy right out of the gate. That means you want to prioritize your calls to action on each page based on where they are in their customer journey. For some, that will mean signing up for your newsletter. For others, it will mean reading a few blog posts. The key is understanding the customer journey and where and how to engage with them based on where they are in that journey.

67.45% of online shopping carts are abandoned before the customer completes a sale.

Think about that for a second. More than 2 out of 3 online shopping carts are abandoned before completing a sale. Staggering. That means you can’t assume you’ve closed the sale just because customers add items to their carts.

The good news is there are some really creative and effective apps out there to help you salvage the sale. I’ve spoken with a number of businesses that are having great success using abandoned cart emails to recover lost sales, collect customer feedback as to why they abandoned their order.

Hiring a designer to create a business website is only one step out of many. Converting website visitors into customers requires think about how all of your content, images, calls to action, and navigation fit together to create a unique (yet functional) experience.

It’s okay to be unique and different—but you also need to be practical. In other words if you try to be too cute with your design and/or content, your visitors might not understand how to sign up for your newsletter or find your contact information.

Looking for ideas on how to convert more website visitors into customers? Request a complimentary website checkup.

[Image: Flickr user You As A Machine]

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Shawn Graham

Over 10+ years as a marketing consultant, Fast Company blogger, and university director, Shawn has worked, interviewed, and partnered with hundreds of CEOs, entrepreneurs, and senior executives from innovative and highly successful businesses. Continue reading

"Within three months of working with Shawn our sales tripled."

Scott Imblum, PumpPeelz

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