The keys to customer success

So, the sales guys got the contract signed. Hooray! Now is the time to make sure that the client experience is positive and you build a lasting relationship.

On boarding

Get to know your customer’s business inside and out. This means taking a deep dive into their business model, understanding the pain points and the main KPIs that drive the business and getting a feel for how the client likes to conduct their business. Are they dynamic and fast moving? Are they bogged down in their own bureaucracy (or as I like to all it “bureau crazy”)? Follow their social media accounts, sign up for their email newsletters, create a Google alert for the company and important competitors so you are always on top of information that may affect the client and a profile of your client’s target persona. Who are they? What are their needs? What’s the value proposition of the company’s product to a potential customer?

Once you are seeped in the business of the client and their target customer create a roadmap of how you are going to achieve success for the customer. What are the 3 month, 6 month and 1 year targets for success? What are the concrete steps that will be taken to achieve that success? Once you have a good understanding of the path forward, you will need to review this roadmap with your customer to make sure it aligns with their needs and does not undershoot or overshoot their expectations.

Relationship building

The old chestnut that it’s not what you know but who you know is as applicable today as it ever was. The personal relationships you build with clients will go a long way to continuing your business relationships as well. It’s all about building trust and providing value. Remember that Google alert for your client’s business and their competitors? That will come in handy here. As you move forward with the account, letting the client know that you are on top of developments in their industry will help build trust and provide value. If your point of contact is a mid-level manager try and get meetings with upper level managers (the folks who sign the contracts) and come prepared to those meetings with something of value to the customer. Always keep on top of what’s happening in your industry as it might apply to your client’s success. Is there a new product or service that might be of use to them? Can your services be intertwined with that new development and add even more value to the client engagement? Most importantly, take accountability for when things go wrong. Things will go wrong, mistakes happen, as long as you have established that trust relationship and you own up to the mistake most clients will forgive your transgressions.

Demonstrate value

Reports, reports, reports. If you have a track record of success with the customer make sure to document it in a visually appealing way that can be understood by a busy senior management person in a few minutes. I like to create presentations that have quick summaries of the value that has been brought to the relationship, and then more detailed slides that get into the nuts and bolts of what exactly happened in the engagement to allay any fears of your client that you are not paying attention to detail.

In House Communication

If you are the customer success manager it is your job to make sure that all the other areas of the business are aware of client activity. Sales and operations teams need to know what’s going on so they can add their value to the relationship. Every week a client review meeting should take place where client happiness, project progression and any and all client engagement is discussed. This meeting is also a great time to discuss future opportunities with the customer. Is there something that’s being worked on that might provide value or cross sell or upsell? Who do we know inside the customer’s organization that might find these services of value? When the lines of communication are open inside a SaaS or other client facing business the chances of success are much greater.

Empathy maps and emotional selling….and Donald Trump

I was recently working on a display campaign that was targeted to Republican Electoral College members (a.k.a. “electors”) to get them to NOT vote for Donald Trump. If you haven’t been following the news, there’s a tiny chance that 37 electors to the Electoral College could choose to disobey the popular vote from their state and NOT vote for Trump on December 19th, 2016. This would technically and legally prevent the Donald from taking office in January. Google “Hamilton Electors” if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

The display campaign was all wrong. In fact, it was so wrong it was likely to have the opposite effect of what was intended. It was probably going to convince those Republican party officials who are the electors to get behind Trump.

Clearly, the designer of the campaign had no idea how to use empathy maps and emotional selling.

Let me describe the display ads. Picture Trump’s head wearing his signature red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap and sporting an angry expression. Then in bold letters is the tag line “Donald Trump is a Russian Stooge”. There were variations on that theme, but you get the idea of the tone of the display ads.

Now that you have that image in your head I’m going to repeat to you who the audience is: Republican party officials who are members of the Electoral College.

I can’t speak for your family but I think we can all relate to that Thanksgiving or Christmas where the Fox News watchers at the dinner table yell at the MSNBC watchers and vice versa. Neither side is capable of convincing the other side of anything and even the most rational and logical of arguments on either side, brimming with factual evidence, cannot make a dent in the armor of steadfast belief that their side is the right side. In fact, many studies show that when someone has a false belief the more evidence you present to them that their belief is in fact not true, the stronger they believe it. This is called cognitive dissonance.

So when you tell someone who cares about the Republican party enough to devote their time and effort to represent that party as members of the Republican Electoral College that their President elect is a “Russian stooge” you’re not going to influence them. You’re going to evoke the exact opposite response. You will tap into the emotion of anger at such an accusation and drive them further into the belief bunker away from your goal of sewing doubt that Trump is qualified to be President.

What this lobbying group should have done is create an empathy map for those Republican electors specifically around the controversial President elect and figured out emotional touch points that would be more appealing. An empathy map is where you profile your audience by getting into their head, walking a mile in their shoes and then mapping out what that target audience is feeling, saying, thinking and doing. 

Here’s what a super simplified empathy map outline might have looked like for a Republican member of the Electoral College having doubts about Trump.

Feeling: uncertainty, apprehension, moral queasiness, concern, worry, patriotism, faith.

Saying: “I love the GOP, but…”, “Trump is too much of a hot head to be an effective leader”, “His actions don’t reflect Christian values”.

Thinking: “Is it right to disobey the will of my state’s voters?”, “This would be unprecedented in history”, “There will be consequences if I choose to pull my vote”.

Doing: Taking long walks and thinking, exercising rigorously to de-stress, engaging in a favorite hobby, working hard on unrelated projects.

Now that you understand your audience better you can use emotion better to appeal to those troubled electors. A better display campaign might have patriotic imagery (an American flag, the Statue of Liberty, etc.) and include tag lines like “Do you love your party but doubt the qualities of the man? On December 19th vote for what’s best for America.”

One thing was abundantly clear this past election and it was that Donald Trump clearly understood empathy and emotional selling and Hillary Clinton did not. Trump tapped into a vein of discontent among working class and middle class voters and mined it rigorously for electoral gold. Hillary positioned herself as the smart choice and the rational choice. She should have taken a note from her husband who was excellent at connecting with voters and “feel(ing) your pain”.

Regardless of your politics, as marketers or lobbyists or salespeople the key to success is finding that emotional pain point and addressing it.




User experience is (almost) everything

I was consulting a client and I pointed out numerous areas where the user experience could improve – particularly in the purchase funnel. The shopping cart had a “clear all items from cart” button in addition to the ability to remove individual items (why would you have a “nuke this entire purchase” option?), the site offered free shipping to the USA as a standing offer and had a large and obtrusive shipping calculator in the cart that only worked for the USA (again, why?) and multiple other distractions in the purchase funnel. When I recommended alternate designs that would be cleaner and keep the user focused on buying what they had added to the cart he said “changing these things on the web site don’t matter, I need traffic!”.

I had to respectfully disagree. Traffic for traffic’s sake is fool’s gold. What you need is qualified traffic, a clear motivation to buy and the easiest and simplest way to buy.

I had another client who had a small business for a men’s health product and was promoting it on Instagram by posting pictures of models in skimpy clothing. As we were discussing his business he kept referencing his thousands of Instagram followers of which he was very proud. When we started getting into the analytics it turned out that the referral traffic from his Instagram account was negligible and the conversion rates were abysmal. I asked him how much time he spent on sourcing and posting these pictures. “About 2 hours a day” was his answer. I suggested that he make some changes that took 2 hours on only one day and had lasting effects on improving his revenue for months and possibly years to come. That’s the power of good UX. It saves time.

Best practice is often pooled ignorance

Someone told me that the other day – “best practice is often pooled ignorance”. I laughed in tacit agreement. Best practice is what the herd thinks is right. It’s what the thought leaders think is right. And often it is right. But not always. In 2015 many were laughing at the idea of a viable Trump candidacy for President. Now he’s the one laughing.

Here’s a few examples of “best practice” that aren’t always best practice.

It’s considered best practice to have any call to action buttons above the fold on landing pages. You want the user to see that big shiny button straight off and let him know that’s what he needs to click before he scrolls any where. This is Hubspot’s recommendation, I’m Hubspot certified and that’s what I believed.

However, the product and the audience are not taken into account in such a best practice recommendation. Consider the landing page or lead generation form for a nursing home for an elderly parent. In such an emotionally charged purchase decision would it make sense to scream “buy now!” with a bright button above the fold? No, it would go counter to the mind frame of the customer at that point in time in the customer journey. It might even seem gaudy. In such a customer journey where a sensitive and emotional purchase decision is being considered you have to emphasize trust, build rapport, appear to NOT wanting to increase business. In such a case you may want to have a landing page with several paragraphs regarding the high level of care, the difficulty of making such a decision and then have a simple text link as the call to action. It seems crazy, but by de-emphasizing conversion you may in the end wind up increasing conversion.

Another example: the 5 second rule of landing and home pages. Best practice says if you don’t communicate the idea or the product value in 5 seconds you lose the customer. Best practice says that copy should be short and to the point because people don’t like to read. After all, we do have the acronym TLDR – too long to digitally read. However, if you look at almost any stock or investing landing page for disreputable penny stocks or get rich quick sites you will find that they are incredibly long, incredibly verbose and almost intentionally annoying to navigate. BUT THEY ALL DO IT. If they all do it, it must be working. There’s something about the get rich quick mind set that makes it more attractive to bury the value proposition in a mountain of text.

Even the more reputable purveyors of riches-through-stocks advice like the Motley Fool make it difficult to get to the meat of the matter in their marketing. Motley Fool drives users from email to a landing page where there’s a video that auto-plays but the video has no controls. You can’t pause it, you can’t fast forward or reverse. It’s several minutes long and you  just have to sit through it to get to the heart of the pitch. Is this a marketing mistake? Possibly, but I bet they tested it and found that this is what works best for conversion.

So remember, best practice isn’t always best. Always consider the audience, the psychology of the purchase decision and the product and ABT: always be testing.

Segmentation on user action

Most segmentation strategies focus on things like gender, geographic location, race, weekend vs. weekday traffic and the like. However, I have found that segmenting by user action is far more effective at driving conversion.

Let’s take a hypothetical that an e-commerce site has a wish list feature. Customers can put items on the wish list for purchase later. Let’s say a customer adds an item to the wish list. Now what does this tell us? It tells us the user is likely to return and since most wish list functions require registration we now have the personal info of this user. That means we can send them a customized and highly targeted email campaign or have the wish list product info dropped into a cookie so when they return a modal pops reminding them of the product.

Here’s another hypothetical: consider a web site with 3 levels for a service: novice, intermediate and pro. Let’s say the pro version has the most profit margin and that’s what you want to focus on. You could watch for a specific path in web traffic that indicates the user is a highly qualified prospect. For instance, if the user is a new user (has not visited the site before) and the pro product page is the 2nd or 3rd page visited by that user. That’s an indicator that this person is qualified, the site can then be optimized to convert that visitor to sale.

When your audience is telling you what they want with their actions, listen.

Cold value proposition, hot leads

Some companies have a hard time explaining themselves. Maybe their product or service is complicated, maybe it’s esoteric or maybe they just can’t find the right words to express themselves clearly. Perhaps their brand guidelines prevent them from speaking a language that most people can understand. A lot of financial companies and consultancies have this problem. If it’s not a tangible product that can easily be expressed in an image or a sentence you have value proposition problem.

Now if that company’s web site is geared toward lead generation, you have an even trickier wicket to play through. If the visitor doesn’t understand why they need the company why would they give away their information? In cases such as those it’s critical to get the prospect to self qualify as soon as possible.

Let’s take a complicated product like life insurance. There’s term life insurance, whole life insurance and variable life insurance. You get the difference, right? The names are self explanatory. Well, no. I had a client that was a major insurance company and they approached the problem of explaining the difference between these products in exactly the wrong way: long explanatory copy blocks. Reading long copy blocks filled with industry jargon leaves the prospect ultimately bored and confused.

The right way to approach this is to speak directly to the prospect’s needs. Create a profile of the prospect for each of the products and then have the prospect tell you he or she fits the profile. For something complicated like life insurance the prospect doesn’t know what they want or need, it’s up to you to tell them.

This can be accomplished in many ways. You can do it with copy: Are you under 50, make over $50,000/year and want protection for your family? Learn more. You can do it with a slider filter. The prospect moves  the sliders for age, health, income, etc. and then the settings are submitted and the optimal product is recommended. You can do it with forms, if just the right checkboxes are added and the form is not too arduous. Under 50? Check. Make over $50,000/year? Check.

Get creative with that customer profile, think about how you speak to that profile and never, never be boring.


You can’t program creativity

Everyone’s talking about programmatic and real time bidding (RTB) advertising. In case you don’t know these terms programmatic and RTB is a robotic way to control and optimize ad spend that is highly targeted. When you start to load a web page your browser details and your cookie details are sent to a market place and ad impressions are purchased on a visitor by visitor basis. This is all done in 100 milliseconds.

Here’s an example: Bob likes sports, he visits ESPN frequently and his last Amazon purchase was a football. This information is stored in Bob’s cookies. Bob uses Safari as his browser. Safari users tend to be more techy and have more disposable income. A sports retailer has noticed that their mobile app has the most downloads between 6pm and 10pm on Tuesdays. The retailer would like to optimize their ad spend to generate the most mobile app downloads. So, Tuesday nights a programmatic campaign targets sports loving, Safari browser using people who made a sports purchase in the last 30 days.

Sounds spooky? Welcome to the modern world of digital marketing.

But a recent study showed that content marketing drives three times more leads than buying a SEM campaign. Why is this? Probably due to advertising overload. On the web we have become inured to ads. I have been on Facebook for 8 years. They know a lot about me. And yet I think I’ve clicked a Facebook ad once, maybe twice. And since it’s estimated that 35% of all adds are now served by programmatic systems it’s guaranteed that I have been exposed to the most targeted of ads thousands of times. But I don’t click. I’m sure graphic designers and marketers spent untold hours trying to make the most compelling display and text ads, but the pure fact that they are ads makes them entirely forgettable. Ironic, no?

But if a product or service had a compelling video or a blog post I would read, watch and maybe even click. If the content showed some creativity and thought I might click. If this content went out of it’s way to NOT sound like marketing or just a page to boost SEO results I might click. Even in this age of big data and software eating our jobs and driverless cars we crave humanity in marketing. 

Card sorting and information architecture

Perhaps the most critical piece of any web site is the navigation menu. If the information your customers are looking for is on the homepage or one of the landing pages and is communicated in a few short seconds your navigation doesn’t matter to them, but if it’s not the customer has to hunt for it in the navigation menu. If your customer gets lost in that menu structure you have a great likelihood of losing them. Often navigation structures are chosen by a single person and it may make perfect sense to that individual why they have chosen the navigation terms or sub navigation structure. But that may not make sense to the vast majority of your customers. For example, I conducted a test on the navigation menu for a global manufacturing company that had “shop” as the top menu item that lead to a list of the product categories the company made, for example, shop > cameras. There was another menu item called “discover” that lead to glossy content for a few featured products. When we changed “shop” to “shop products” we saw a 54% increase in interactions with that menu item and a 35% decrease in interactions with “discover”. So, clearly people were confused.

To determine the best navigation terms and information architecture you can use a method called card sorting. Write down all the navigation terms your site uses onto index cards. Then, hand those cards to a person unfamiliar with the web site and have them order the cards on a table or pin board in the manner they think is most logical. Repeat this process with a dozen or so people to find patterns in how an audience would think about navigation item groupings. You can also give the subjects alternative top category names and see which ones are picked most frequently. To draw on the “shop” vs. “shop products” example mentioned earlier you could add other alternatives such as “products” and “see products” and ask your card sorting test subjects to pick the one they think makes the most sense.

Reward framing and offer perception

I used to do a lot of offer testing for a company with 35 e-commerce sites. Offer tests work like this: the traffic is split 50/50, one group sees one particular offer to buy, say a “buy 2 get 1 free” offer, the other group is given a different offer of “33% off your order when you buy 3 items”. Now, if the customer buys exactly 3 items and they are all priced the same then the discount to the customer is the same. However, the perception of the offer is not the same. We tested this very offer combo on two different sites during two different times of the year. Each time we tested it “buy 2 get 1 free” out performed “33% off your order when you buy 3 items”.

In a test done in the physical realm, car wash loyalty cards were tested. Customers to a car wash were given two different kinds of loyalty card. We’ve all seen these cards, they have little icons on them and the business owner punches them out or puts a sticker on the icons to indicate a purchase has been made. One type of card had a buy 8 get the 9th free message on it. The other had a buy 10 get one free message but two of the icons that indicate you had made a purchase were punched out. So, both types of cards have exactly the same value, they both require 8 purchases to get one for free. However, for the buy 8 get 1 free card only 19% of customers redeemed it for a free car wash while for the buy 10 get one free with two purchases already made card 34% redeemed it for the free car wash.

That’s a pretty big difference. So, if you’re going to offer the customer a reward of some type, consider re-framing that offer in another way and see which one converts at a higher rate.


How to measure the unmeasurable

Sometimes you have a page that you want to optimize but there’s no clear metric to determine success. For example, it might be a customer service or support page – no add to cart buttons or lead generation form to give you hard data on if you’re using the optimal design.

In such situations, if you’re trying to get customers to the information they need you might use time on the page to determine success, the less time on the page, the better the design. You got your customers to the information they need quickly and they left happy. But that is an unclear metric, it could be the page design is not optimal and people are just leaving quickly in frustration because they can’t find what they need. AKA: a high bounce rate.

Another interesting way to measure such pages that have no clear metric of success is to incorporate survey data into your analysis. I have done this with survey providers like Foresee and Opinion Labs.  Now imagine that a web page has an optimization test running. For simplicity sake, say it’s an A/B test of two page designs. 50% of traffic sees design X and 50% sees design Y. Or, Sarah sees page design X and Jim sees page design Y.

Sarah comes to the page and sees design X. She can’t find the information she needs and she’s frustrated so she answers the survey and gives the site a negative review. Jim, however, sees design Y and gets exactly what he needs in a few seconds. He answers the survey and gives a very positive review. Now multiply Sarah and Jim’s experience by 100. With a larger sample of data you get a better idea of how your page design performs.

By combining time on the page with survey results you get a better sense of which design is optimal. If design Y has a lower time on page metric and has better survey results you have two metrics that confirm each other and you can be more confident that you have a better design.