Who wants to see your company succeed? You may think only the employees, management, the board of directors, and the investors do, but most likely, many more stakeholders do. This group may be broader to include people who are and who are not your customers, including influencers and even general fans. But rather than list them all, it’s easier to describe them through their behaviors:
Over time, people who share these behaviors become a surrogate employee of sorts who work in your company’s favor, often resembling a marketer, a customer service or support representative, or a salesperson.
These types may take time to act and may not act consistently. They do many of the same activities as customers who share their experiences and they typically speak positively about your company. But these types get a little more involved in your company’s business by suggesting ideas for ways your company can improve like new product features or programs. Such supporters make great candidates for a customer advisory board or council. Note that these people may represent multiple personas and that’s okay. Just know the personas that they represent so you can create programs that will appeal to them so you can best engage with them.
To better understand this group and their bottom-line contribution, you may need to track more traditional loyalty metrics, like direct sales referrals. Specifically, you’ll want to know which referrals made by which types of customers and influencers not only convert to a sale but which personas these customers and influencers represent so you can target more of them to expand your business and help it grow. I include influencers because their content can drive sales. You want to be sure to track such referrals to see if followers who read their content eventually convert to leads and sales. And you will also want to better understand other ways they have conversations and share your company’s experiences to get a more rounded perspective about their loyalty, such as sharing their success stories that include your company’s solution or sharing other types of wins by your company. Their success stories about your company’s product or service should include the emotional as well as the business impact on their lives to be a more moving story. Other activities to observe and measure beyond social media and content sharing includes providing advice in a forum or other online area, participation in meetups or group meetings for your product or service, participating in webinars and other sales efforts, and more.
And, again, don’t forget to consider their willingness to be a member of a customer advisory board or even an employee. That also indicates a loyal connection. When an individual wants to be part of your larger customer community, that always indicates a very strong relationship with your company and brand.
So, to get started, let’s consider what we can measure using content analysis for conversations during each customer relationship lifecycle step. This will help us identify where customers and influencers help our companies spread the word and provide insight into the types of opportunities that a company can offer to enable that.
As we know, analyzing conversations and content can help you better understand how a group is loyal to your company and brand. You can do this for pre-purchase and purchase conversations in the customer relationship lifecycle to determine:
You can use many of the approaches described in previous videos to measure their impacts like mapping popular topics to journeys, activity or site traffic, personas, and engagement.
In other videos, we have talked about the product and post-purchase experiences. These two experiences overlap through timing because they both happen after purchasing a product; however, they are separate yet connected experiences. The product experience builds community by allowing customers to share their successes with each other regarding how the product or service improved their life in some way, while the post-purchase experience simply builds a relationship between your customers and your company.
Let’s first consider what the product experience conversations offer in more depth to better understand the connection that is built with customers during that time so that they become those who want to see the company succeed and will do anything to help with that.
To measure the effectiveness of relationship building in product conversations to build community, consider three types of customers:
Those who reach out to the company’s community for help are looking for customer experts and “super users” in forums, videos, or other presentation channels. You may notice that some stand out in their activity. These are the “super users” and they can inspire other customers by giving them hope—if they can do it, then I can do it too. Find a way to allow these super customers to become leaders so customers can see how to be successful with the product. That will help build your community and involve those customers in your success.
If you want to see customers sharing their success when using a product, you’ll need to provide them with communication guidelines or ideas like:
When you are trying to get customers to optimize their results, you are inspiring and encouraging them to think bigger about their lives. This is a key factor in building a great customer relationship. There is more information about this idea in the video about vision and mission statements, but this is ultimately what will build the customer relationship: connections form when the product solves a problem and when the customer is working towards something bigger than him or herself. And you need the super users to share this information so new customers and customers who are underutilizing the product can get real-life advice and feel that sense of hope that they too can succeed just like them.
Engaging these customers to think bigger and showing them the path to success and life change improves engagement, accountability, and loyalty. You are helping them trust your company, product, and brand through these actions. And they are trusting themselves through this experience. Through this guidance to succeed, they are being signaled that they made the right decision to choose your solution and they become more confident and secure with this choice. This deepens the customer relationship because they can see that your company wants to help them change their life for the better.
The more people understand what to expect from your product and the more familiar they are with the experience; you will notice increased adoption rates and improved customer relationships. Together that will build a stronger customer community because people are happy to be there and use your solution. Customers, employees, and the company become an ecosystem that inspires each other to be and do better.
Let’s now talk about the post-purchase experience where you build a relationship between your customers and your company.
This relationship evolves in a few ways:
As you can see, a broad range of activities happens in the post-purchase experience.
There is a need to share information, complete transactions, make decisions, be an influencer or be influenced, develop a relationship, and collaborate to find new solutions. All of these conversations are necessary for someone to have a deeper relationship with a company, building upon that initial product experience to understand and realize the company’s true mission. And that experience may be something that the customer may want to share, repeat, or encourage others to have as well. The product was one experience of the company’s vision and mission; now in this post-purchase step, the customer experiences the company’s vision from a broader perspective, understanding the company and its culture first-hand.
Unlike other steps of the journey, the post-purchase step combines elements from all previous steps—pre-purchase, purchase, and product use. All types of conversations can apply here and are used interchangeably and together. The purchase agreements could be changed or extended through a product license renewal or the addition of a support contract for good measure. Persuasion for someone to buy or use a product is less important than demonstrations and influencing customers to use a product better or show them how to work with the company to achieve a larger goal. This is why I would use the model that I included in the epilogue of my book to outline the types of conversations that could be automated conversations for AI’s. And these conversation types include informational, transactional, decision making, influential, relationship building, and collaborative or problem-solving.
Additionally, the customer relationship lifecycle could have layers to it, allowing the customer a way to deepen connections and build relationships. A company may introduce complementary products and services or VIP programs or other methods to help solve a customer’s problem. This may usher a customer into the pre-purchase step for that product or service. This makes the post-purchase step a type of transition step, taking a customer from his existing customer relationship to something more involved, engaged, and significant.
There are also transitions for someone to move to the pre-purchase step to order a refill, a replacement, or have a repair. Assistance is needed for a customer to make that decision to purchase and the post-purchase step springboards customers into those processes.
Customers may want to receive regular updates about products or services such as learning about new features, account or service changes, changes to warranties or guarantees, and other explicit or implicit agreements. They may want to adjust their existing service contracts or subscriptions. Somehow, those transactions would need to be supported in this step. And there’s no need here to develop a new or deeper customer relationship; these customers only want to adjust the existing relationship to something that works for them.
A company may want to share information about itself to build a connection, as a friend would. Customers may want to learn about what’s happening in the company itself, about acquisitions and partnerships, key new hires, customer wins, product releases, events, or corporate social responsibility programs. This may happen through various experiences or conversations. Sharing information and discovering shared goals and connections is the objective. Experiencing the company’s culture more directly and better understanding who it is, is a result.
And during the post-purchase experience, a company may offer customers a way to participate in customer councils or user groups to connect, learn about how they use the product, and what features or services they would like to see added to the offering. Here they build community with each other and the company.
And we can’t forget the opportunity for existing customers to share their story with others to inspire them to use the product in creative ways and achieve better results.
What are some approaches that you can use to discover opportunities for your customers and influencers to be more involved with your company, and contribute to its success?
One way is to start by understanding what your most loyal customers and influencers are doing today. That knowledge may spark ideas regarding the possible roles and opportunities you could create for them within a formalized program.
So let’s look at some ways that you can easily discover what your customers and influencers are doing now.
Analyze comment and review sentiments. Are there customers and influencers speaking positively about your company? Or are their reviews and comments seemingly trashing your product? Now, criticism may be considered positive if it is constructive and that is consistent with this group providing your company input and feedback to succeed. Leverage approaches from the accountability content analysis videos so you can do a content analysis on your customer product reviews and comments to discover what exactly is being said.
Understanding the sentiment and nature of the review may change how you see your influencers and customers. Their willingness to provide unsolicited suggestions and ideas imply that they would be more active in your company community if you gave them an opportunity to do so.
In forums and social media, discover if they contribute when asked. Do they contribute when asked as a group? Or only when asked individually? Are they inspired to contribute on their own? What are their motivations for action? Once you understand how you can best activate and engage them, you can design programs that involve them in your company community, and it will help you define a role for them to help your organization and other customers.
Also, review their frequency of engagement. How often do they participate in social media and forums? This frequency analysis will help you understand their loyalty and commitment to help your company. As stated in the previous video, more frequent connections indicate strong loyalty. In this case, wanting to help others indicates not just connection to the brand, but to the company community and seeing others succeed using your product. That’s powerful and should be encouraged and rewarded.
Based on the content of their responses, learn if they support the community as well as your company. Do they follow-up on conversations? Or do they provide an answer and leave? Do they care if the other person got the information they needed? How committed are they to their colleague’s success? How much are they willing to contribute to that? This information signals their commitment to not just the company’s success, but the community’s success. If you observe this and can encourage it, that will help build community and help you identify leaders who can help you spread the word.
Discover if they participate in conversations from the heart. Do they provide deep advice and personal experience? Or do they provide high-level feedback and end there? Deep advice and personal experience with emotional expression will allow people to connect emotionally with the author and your brand. Identify the individuals who do this, map them to a persona, and find more people like them. And of course, encourage everyone to keep sharing.
Learn if they share experiences. Do they come to events alone or with friends and colleagues? As indicated in a previous video, bringing people to experience a product or service is a sign of loyalty – they want to share their experience with others. Determine who does this most often and identify ways to encourage them to continue this behavior.
Discover their engagement patterns online with your company and others. Do they engage their friends on social media and other digital communication areas? This is a sign of loyalty. Engagement and loyalty are closely related. Great engagement indicates trust and the desire to build a relationship; loyalty requires trust. Again, encourage this.
Reflect on their informal role with your company. Do you debate hiring them because you see them as part of the team? That’s always a sign of a loyal customer. You can see them working for your company because, in many ways, they already are.
Here are some examples of programs and activities that other companies have included in their operations to build a customer and influencer community. You could include similar programs in your company as-is, or use this list as a starting point to brainstorm new ideas. With data about what customers and influencers do today and the ideas in this list, you are well on your way to create your own unique programs that will increase engagement and build stronger loyalty.
So here are some ideas that other companies have implemented to get a customer or influencer active.
Create a social media influencer program to encourage members to share information about your company and their experience with your product. This is great for people motivated to get the word out about a great company or product that they support and to help people solve their problems. Meet with them quarterly or twice each year to show them what they can use for content and new best practices. You may also give them ideas for unique content creation – from videos to blogs and more. Discover opportunities for them to jointly create content with your company. This could be through videos, white papers, articles, or other types of content where your company works with them to not only expand their reach but incorporate their perspective on a topic. It would be fun for them and for your company. The more the merrier when it comes to social media voices and everyone loves new voices.
Create a special group in your company’s online forum to recognize your customers’ contributions. They earned it. They are amateur experts in your product and are already helping your customers. That’s their motivation here – to be helpful. Might as well recognize them for it, increase their engagement, and make them a closer member of your company’s community. And once they are formally recognized, they may contribute and engage more, especially if you offer them additional compensation like opportunities to meet key employees and executives, to create content and participate at events, and offer other interactions with your employees and within your industry.
Get them to share their stories about your company and brand. They can share stories by presenting at a conference or video or webinar or in some other way. If they share a story about how they found your company and solution, why they chose it, and how it was implemented, and they share the emotional impact that solution had on them, encourage them to participate in your sales meetings and presentations. Make sure they share more than the time and cost savings. They need to share how they felt once the problem was solved as well as its tangible benefit—personally and professionally. Alternatively, encourage them to share on a stage with other prospects. Listen to how they use your product and get their ideas for improvements and refinements. Note that this group includes natural storytellers and people who are motivated to share with others so they can have a great experience too.
Include them in a customer council. Gather their input, insights, and feedback. They probably would do it for free, but pay them with lunch or a meal anyway. Or a meeting with the CEO. Or by interacting with your employees. Let them become part of your company community. They want to contribute to your success and it’s so vital that they do, so let them. And they may become a stronger influencer during the process.
Some companies encourage customers to suggest new features to include in a product or service through a type of forum. This often includes voting so people can indicate which features are most important to them. Include this where you can so customers can indicate what they would like to see your product do in the future and feel that they are part of your solution. When you offer this, make sure to implement some of their ideas and include them in your company’s product roadmap. Even call out who specifically made the suggestion. Make that information as public as possible so customers know that you do consider their suggestions. That will encourage greater contribution. Some won’t contribute if they assume their ideas won’t be used. If some customers frequently provide great ideas for new features, reward them for that so they keep up the great work. It also shows others that you value great suggestions so that by itself, will invite more contributions from a larger group.
Surveys and focus groups. When Apple sent me a customer survey to get my opinions about their products I was swooning. At the time, this was a new idea for them. I got to voice my opinion and provide input into what they made. I felt included and important to them. LinkedIn has an advisory council that does this with select paying customers – at least that is what they tell me. I feel included and closer to the brand when I get those emails. They invite me to be involved in their company by soliciting that feedback. My motivation to participate is to feel that I’m part of something larger than myself.
Customer days are a great way to encourage customers to give input, feedback, and suggest product ideas. I went to one with colleagues years ago for a marketing automation product. We gave feedback on the roadmap, ideas for new features, and got to know more staff than the salesperson we worked with regularly. We felt included in their process. If we knew what they did with our feedback, that would have been ideal, but either way, we felt closer to them after that experience. We felt that we could more openly ask questions and request unique features that would improve the product for our needs. And come to find out, the unique features that we wanted weren’t so unique; many other customers there wanted them too. We felt heard and that we belonged in the larger company community .
Include customers in your projects and competitions so they can be part of your company’s success. By including customers in this way, you are making space for them to contribute to your company’s success in a very tangible way. If you win an award, their work directly contributed to that success. You are in it together and can see how together you go further than alone. That’s very powerful and motivating.
Hackathons. This is a great way to get younger customers engaged if you have a software or consumer product. Encourage prospects to get creative in using your product. You may discover new ways in that your product or service can benefit your market or how it solves a new problem. It’s a great way to expand your reach and get exposure to a different audience. And it’s a great way to discover new, creative talent who is motivated to make a difference.
Create a prize program to reward customers for their efforts in using your product in new ways. Companies that host their own conferences often offer an award ceremony for such competitions. And such award ceremonies become the conference highlight. This definitely builds community for your users. They not only meet each other and have the opportunity to build relationships, but they are able to see how to best use the product and get inspired to use it better themselves. They feel more able to achieve success because they see a model of success on stage. The winners become a type of superuser to guide others to be like them. People are motivated not just to compete, but to share their success with other customers.
What all of these suggestions have in common is someone created a special group for these customers and influencers to be part of, a type of community with expert privileges where they can contribute and belong with your employees and each other. In all cases, these activities help them feel like they are part of your company. And that trust and connection builds loyalty.
You could measure your customer’s and influencer’s loyalty traditionally through referrals and purchases, which is more transactional, or expand your view to include their relationship with your company by analyzing their conversations and activities. You could gather a lot of information this way to understand what they do, what appeals to them, and how they describe your company or products to their networks. I included a few approaches earlier for these measurements, but there are definitely more approaches you could use to better understand how your prospects and customers see your company.
Now you could map this analysis to your company’s bottom line and discover if such loyalty activities are influencing an increase in revenue. They should be. If not, there are a few things to consider:
Your loyal customers may not be the target you communicate with regularly. Re-evaluate your marketing materials and review them with your loyal customers to get their feedback. You will most likely need to make edits.
Your solution may not solve the problem you think it does. Talk to your customers and discover what they perceive your solution to do. Work on some case studies and discover where the communication breakdown is happening.
You may have saturated your market and need a new approach to expand your reach or a new solution to offer. Consider your company’s market saturation in the traditional sense. You know your company’s market size and market share versus your competitors – which company has the most versus the least. Is there an untapped market share to be had? You may discover that your market is maxed out by your company and competitors.
Then you could look at the market in a different way. What problems are your competitors solving versus what your company is solving? You may notice that your competitors solve a slightly different problem than you do so they aren’t technically competitors. This may free your company to identify a new market with personas that are more aligned to the solution you offer. This market may include fewer or different competitors providing an opportunity for you to build better customer relationships.
You may also want to analyze who your loyal customers are versus the ones who don’t have that level of loyalty. What are their behaviors? Is their relationship with your brand loose or tight? Would they quickly move somewhere else? See if you can ask such questions to loyal competitor customers. It may be worth considering that you may have reached market saturation regarding brand loyalty and the associated connections through customer relationships. Your competitor’s customer relationships may be so strong that their customers would never change brands or solutions.
So, some questions you may want to ask about your customers, prospects, and markets:
The bottom line here: if you can’t find new opportunities to build a customer relationship or introduce your company or product or service to a new audience, you will need to discover a new market or product use. If you can’t do that, you may need to expand your product line for growth.
If you have high customer turnover, you can interpret that as meaning that you don’t have customer commitment and yes, you need to change that right away. Notice what is happening before such customers leave. The video, Six Signs that your employees may not be currently capable of creating a relationship with customers, addresses this. If customers are leaving and not coming back, find out what happened before this departure. These customers won’t talk to you, but if you look at their records or activity, you may notice a trend like you contacted them too much, not enough, or you didn’t solve their true problems. If you don’t have influencers, you may discover that you aren’t talking to the right people or if you are, you aren’t speaking to them in the right tone using the right words. You may discover that your employees aren’t respecting your customers—and you will need to work with them to turn that around, so they feel compassion for customers. Usually, that is the bottom-line problem to solve: make sure that your employees love your customers and feel compassion for them. It’s only then that they will solve their problems.
You may notice many customers attending events and engaged with your company on social media, but not buying. That could be due to price lock-in with current vendors. They are currently dissatisfied and curious about what is out there as a replacement. They may not want to jump to commit to a new vendor, but want to be ready to move if the cost, (mainly long-term savings), timing, and emotional impact are right. There may be other reasons for this too. Take some time and do some research to discover why you have engaged, loyal influencers and fans and not have corresponding sales. Those two should correspond and influence each other.
If you have high loyalty, you should have high accountability and engagement with high revenue. If one is missing that will impact what’s happening to the bottom line. If your company has low accountability, you will need to improve that because it has a direct impact on revenue. If your company is not accountable to its customers, word will get out and customers won’t buy from your company, reducing revenue. High engagement and loyalty don’t correlate with low revenue. If this is happening, research why. One answer may be your competitors are locking-in customers or the product is a high price so it’s hard for customers to move after such an investment unless moving solutions is compelling monetarily for long-term savings or emotionally. Low engagement and loyalty with high revenues indicate that higher engagement will further increase revenue. Low engagement and low loyalty do correlate to low revenues. That’s expected. You’ll need to increase engagement and loyalty to change revenue numbers. However, you’ll need to research why this is happening through your metrics, focus groups, surveys, or content analysis on social media posts or customer service calls. The answers are always surprising.
As we have seen through these videos, customer loyalty can be communicated to your company by customers in more ways than referrals and purchases. There are many conversations your customers have with your company, other customers, and prospects that can influence buyer decisions. But you want to know what’s happening out there, so to understand if you have a truly loyal prospect, customer, or influencer, you need to look at different aspects of these conversations happening and how you are being represented by them. Are you being presented as a great company with a solid solution? Do your customers like your ideas but find your solution not up to par? This may help you better understand it and build better relationships with your customers.
Don’t be afraid of the data—it is your friend. With it, you can discover what your customers and influencers are doing, identify trends and opportunities, and find a way to leverage that. Customers always want to engage with companies. It’s your job to figure out how to best engage with them first so you can build loyalty over time to create a wonderful customer relationship.
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