A typical customer journey is a vast and tangled experience. The path your customer take to becoming a customer and staying a customer is rarely straightforward.
It can extend for a long time with several variations. Sometimes, customers go a long time and deep into a decision process without speaking to someone at your company. Other times, there are multiple decisions makers and the top dog shifts from initiative to initiative.
Even when you think you understand the journey, customers rarely take the steps you want them to take. Often – especially with business customers - there are so many people involved that tracking the customer journey becomes even more difficult.
And yet, despite all of these complications, there’s no denying that the customer journey is important, both pre and post sale. Understanding how your customers arrived at the decision to purchase your product and observing their behavior after the fact helps your company understand what you’re doing right, what you could stand to improve, and where opportunities for additional revenue lie.
When you have a greater understanding of the customer journey, you can provide a better customer experience. You can also optimize the sales process and improve customer satisfaction.
Before we get into how you can use your online community platform to address your customers’ needs at several points in the lifecycle, let’s talk about the basic stages of a customer journey.
While some models elaborate and expand on different steps, these five standards reflect a typical customer journey:
- Awareness: A prospective customer becomes aware of their problem.
- Research: The prospect researches other options and learns more about potential solutions to their problem.
- Engagement: By this stage, the prospect has narrowed down their choices to a short list of contenders and engages them to inform their decision.
- Selection: Your prospective customer officially becomes a current customer with the purchase of your product or service.
- Continued Relationship: This post-sale stage represents what can happen after a prospect becomes a customer. Do they continue to purchase your product? Do they purchase other products or services from you? Do they become a brand advocate?
Online customer community platforms are refered to as the Swiss Army knife of your CRM toolkit. Between the number of customer engagement features – ranging from email communication and discussions to segmentation and content management tools – and their inherent flexibility, there are numerous ways to leverage your online customer community to improve the customer journey - both pre-sale to post-sale. Let’s dig in.
How You Use Your Online Community Software To Improve Your Customers’ Journey: Before the Initial Purchase
Attract Prospective Customers
Customer communities don’t need to only serve existing customers. A well-planned customer community can put your company at the center of your market. When you position your business as an authority in your industry, your community becomes more than just your customers talking about your products. Instead, your community can become a hub for your industry to discuss issues that cover a wide range of topics – from best practices to regulatory issues.
While part of your online community would be restricted to peer-to-peer sharing among customers, your organization would also open up sections on the community to others in your market. When you create an active social space where people can get exclusive access to quality content, conversations, and experts, your online customer community can become an awareness engine that helps attract prospective customers.
While your community members see your online community as a social network to get support, engage their peers, and share ideas, an online customer community generates a variety of valuable data for your company. Once you have people using your online community (this is vital), your company can identify potential opportunities by monitoring what people in the community are discussing.
Here is an example of how this works:
If you have created an active industry community and you see that a non-customer is posting in the community about a problem that your company can solve, your sales team can be alerted to the opportunity with that organization.
Close Sales Faster
With proactive monitoring of customer community activity and CRM integration, an online customer community allows you to track what prospective customers are interested in and reach out to them at the right time.
- Start by creating a section of your online community for prospective customers.
- Make sure you load the community with relevant content and discussions. A popular tactic is to give prospective customers access to ask questions of your customer advocates, product management people, or executives.
- Invite your leads to join the community. Even though this is a short-term engagement for many of your leads, you’ll still need to manage the online community as you would with any other customer community.
Rather than going with the much maligned, “Hi, I’m calling to check in” sales follow up, your sales team will be able to access prospective customers’ level of engagement, areas of interest, and key questions from their activity in your online customer community.
They can then use that data to get the right information in front of the right leads at the right time. The kind of information your community provides can make it easier to close sales faster.
How Your Online Community Platform Can Improve Your Customers’ Journey: After the Initial Purchase
For many products, especially in the business to business arena, getting started is not as simple as flipping a switch. It often takes training and multiple steps to get up and running so that you can get results from the solution.
Leverage your online community software platform to provide relevant documentation, content and videos, and peer groups to new customers to get them off on the right foot. Tip: Create a structured process in your customer community to guide customers through the set up processes.
Customers don’t usually take full advantage of products and services during their initial rollout. That is why businesses put a premium on ongoing training. Many companies provide live and service training materials for their customers.
Access to the customer community’s resource libraries, peer experts, and online classes helps customers learn how to better use the product they have purchased. Create a central place where new and existing customers can find training opportunities and resources right beside the other things that they frequently access, like discussions, documentation, and company or product updates.
One of the biggest advantages of participating in an online customer community is having access to support from peers and experts. Customers who feel as though there is a network of customers, partners, and company employees out there supporting their objectives are more likely to remain customers.
Identify Opportunities (again)
Just as opportunities to find new customers were more easily identified before the sale when you leverage the activity data in your online community platform, the same is true after the sale. The information that your online community collects can be used to convert customers to purchase additional solutions, professional services, or a product upgrade.
Proactively Address Issues
Customers participate in online customer communities in a variety of ways. They ask and answer questions, provide product suggestions, and comment on articles, videos, and documents.
Your company can tell a lot from these interactions. When customers ask questions or make comments where you can sense a bit of frustration in their tone, that activity data is goldmine for identifying customers that need special attention.
Customers’ behavioral information in your private online community gives your business the opportunity to address issues before they become major problems. Systematically doing this can help to efficiently reduce customer churn and grow the lifetime value of each customers.
At some point, customers are going to want something that your product or service does not yet offer. Being able to methodically collect and evaluate feedback from your community members lets your company gather market data, product feedback, and prioritize your product roadmap more effectively. You won’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you want to test a new features or validate a product idea.
Customer or brand advocates play a blog role in growing awareness of your company and shortening the sales cycle. For many companies, the goal is to delight customers to the point that they become advocates for your products or business in the market.
Leverage the activity data in your online customer community to help identify these potential brand advocates.
Once you recruit a customer into your customer reference program, use the communication tools in your online community platform to keep them engaged and informed, so they’ll be able to continue spreading your message. Examples include empowering them to lead a discussion or group, contribute blog content, and participate in discussions to help other customers solve problems. An engaged advocate is an active advocate.
Customer Journey Takeaway
Online communities create opportunities to deliver relevant information to prospective and current customers at a time in their journey when it will resonate the most. Customers are able to engage both your company and its ecosystem throughout the span of their relationship.
The strategy of mapping content and engagement opportunities to your customer’s journey is not new. Though many of the tools online customer community platforms provide are similar to traditional techniques of influencing the customer journey, the ease of use is much improved due to the flexibility and comprehensive nature on customer community software.
The centralized approach simplifies the process and lays out a more straight forward for your company to address the points in your customer’s journey.