The Six Stages of Social Customer


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business woman The Six Stages of Social CustomerThe Social Customer is not a figment of your imagination; she’s here kicking social media butt and taking names. She wants to engage with you, the brand, but only when appropriate and convenient for her. Just because you are listening, does not mean that she wants to talk. Tools like Attensity Respond For Social Media (which we just launched today) help you understand what’s relevant, what needs a follow-up and who should follow up. However, what you actually say to her is more of an art than a science. Understanding what her needs are, and where she is in her decision and consumption cycle, can help guide your conversation with her. I’ve identified 6 main stages that a customer goes through when communicating with brands via the social web, and what she is looking for in each cycle. Let the customer set the tone for the conversation and tell you what she needs; don’t “show up and throw up”.

1. Pain point identification:

The first step to fixing any problem is the recognition of that problem. If the customer knows she has a problem, she becomes open to solving it, and later considers various solutions. What she is looking for: advice on what to do next, primarily from her network. This is not your place to sell your service; you must trend gently and realize that the most effective (i.e. listened to) communication will come from peers. This is where your advocacy buildig efforts will pay dividends; one word about you from a happy customer is worth 10 words from you about yourself. A tweet like “Oh no, my watch broke!” will elicit ideas from her network, such as: “Hey I know this great repair shop” or “Hey, Macy’s is having a watch sale today.” Listen to the context of these interactions, and only if you can add value, suggest an idea, remedy, send a link to a resource page (resource page is not your product demo page, by the way). Do not sell her to your solution; she hasn’t yet decided which route she will take to solve her problem.

2. Research:

After the customer decides on a course of action, she starts exploring options consistent with that course of action. Continuing our example… if she decides to buy a new watch, she will first examine independent advice on how to buy one, where to buy it, what the most important features are, as well as things to look for and avoid. Only then, will she be looking at various brands and retailers, and doing due diligence on the options available to her: via her network, consumer review sites and even brand and retailer sites at a later point. What she is looking for: advice and resources, and maybe more specific suggestions later. Again, don’t send her links to a sale you are having. If she engages with you, and thinks you have been helpful, only then is it time to include: “Oh, and by the way, we are having this sale.” Each situation is going to be different, and there are situations when it’s not appropriate to talk about yourself at all, or at least until much later in the conversation. Consider the individual circumstances and remember that you have to earn the right to talk about yourself.

3. Validation:

When a customer is in this phase, she has decided on a course of action and is evaluating options. This stage can be quick or drawn-out; length is typically dictated by engagement with the category, complexity of the product, average price (or price range) within the product category and availability of information about options (think: choosing a pen vs. an automobile). What she is looking for: her network to tell her about their experiences with a set of options, information from brands to be easily found, and brands to be available for questions and research. At this point, it’s OK to share product information, but only if it makes sense. She isn’t looking for a canned marketing message, but rather a customized learning experience. This is also the point where advocacy from her network can pay huge dividends for your brand. When she asks Twitter for a watch recommendation, she will listen to people she knows and trust first.

4. Selection:

In a higher involvement category, she will probably select a couple of competitors to really focus on. At the end of this stage, she will select her top contender and will be ready to purchase. What she is looking for: a hands-on experience and support from the brands she is evaluating, tools to help her make a decision. If she gets a free trial of your product, make sure she is adequately supported. Here’s an important point worth stressing: her customer experience during this period needs to be aligned with and indicative of her experience as a customer. If you provide phone support to paying customers, you need to provide it to potential customers. The reverse is also true: don’t oversell the experience and then under-deliver. Decide how you want to support her and in which channels: social and / or traditional.

5. Post-purchase:

Congratulations! You won the customer’s business, and she signed up / purchased your product. You should know by now that customer retention is your number one priority. Not only is it cheaper than customer acquisition, but happy customers also make happy advocates, which in turn creates new customers, creating even more happy advocates, reinforcing the cycle. Happy customers are also good for sales: Vovici research shows that “a totally-satisfied customer contributed 2.6 times the annual revenue that a somewhat satisfied customer generated, and 14 times the revenue of a somewhat dissatisfied customer”. So it follows that a tip-top customer experience is key and more than pays for the expense of providing it. What she is looking for: as your customer, she expects you to be available when she needs help, where she is, with a customized support experience, and to have her voice heard. Sending your customer to an 800 number over Twitter is not enough. Make sure your employees are empowered to give her the precise solution tailored to her problem. Taking it a step further, make sure you proactively collaborate with her and allow her to shape the future of the product. When listening to product feedback, don’t get defensive; help her explain what she means, and never get so entrenched in your own vision that you can’t take input or course-correct along the way.

6: Advocacy:

This doesn’t mean that you should kiss the hands of all people who say nice things about you. That being said, you should definitely invite your lead raving customers to share their experiences. But also understand that true advocacy comes from really listening and giving users a stake in the future of your product. Know who your advocates and influencers are, and give them the tools to tell your story. Don’t force them to talk about you, but rather make it easy to rave if they have a good experience. What she needs: to be recognized as a contributor with solid ideas, have her ideas listened to and heard, and incorporated into the product.

The stages of the decision cycle may and will vary by product and industry. However, regardless of the industry and stage in the decision cycle, the social customer is always going to look for:

  1. Speed of response
  2. Speed of resolution
  3. Honesty and transparency
  4. Customization
  5. Empathy, humanity and respect

To learn more about engaging with the social customer, check out our whitepaper “Engaging In A Social Media World“.

Photo credit: Search Engine People Blog

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maria Ogneva
I'm the Head of Community for Yammer, the enterprise social network used by 100,000 organizations, including more than 80% of the Fortune 500. At Yammer, she is in charge of social media and community programs, fostering internal and external education and engagement. You can follow her on Twitter at @themaria or on her blog, and Yammer at @yammer and company blog.


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