Everyone wants loyal customers: the kind that associates your brand with a specific product or service and is unlikely to switch to a competing offering. At the very least, you want to make a sale, and if you can make several sales off the back of one conversion, all the better. But before you can convert clients, they need to know about your business and go through the process of considering whether or not they will support it.
To clarify this journey, and to understand what you should be monitoring and measuring to test how good your efforts are, you need to understand the customer lifecycle stages. So what is customer lifecycle and how can your understanding of the customer lifecycle journey help your business and win you more loyal customers? Let’s begin!
Customer Lifecycle Definition
The customer life cycle is a process during which potential customers become aware of your product or service, make that all-important purchase, and in a best-case scenario, become loyal customers.
So far, so simple, and like most definitions, this one says a mouthful without actually telling you much. To gain a proper understanding of the customer lifecycle, it’s important to take a closer look at each step in the life cycle, and these are formally recognized as:
To manage the customer lifecycle properly, you need to track your customers, so that you know precisely where each of them is in the process and what the result is likely to be. Clearly, your communication style and intent changes depending on where your customers are. If someone is on the verge of conversion, for example, a reach strategy misses the point.
You also need to know how effective your business is in leading customers through the life-cycle, and that means assigning relevant metrics to each stage. These should indicate how effectively you are able to lead customers towards the holy grail of customer loyalty so that you can play to your strengths and improve in areas where you’re losing sales along the way.
Customer Lifecycle Stages
Let’s go through the steps of the customer lifecycle one by one to clarify this.
Before a customer sets out to make a purchase, he or she becomes aware of a need or want and begins to cast about for a means to fulfil it. No customer can choose you if you’re a complete unknown, so it’s important to be out there where they can find you. In today’s world, chances are they’ll begin their search online using search engines and social media.
But just being seen doesn’t make you successful at this step. You haven’t succeeded until the prospective customer approaches you for more information. Of course, more exposure is better, so you’ll be looking at your social media and search engine metrics to begin with, comparing your efforts to those of similar companies. Are prospects finding you? Are they showing an interest in you once they’ve done so?
Once you get that website hit, or better yet, a call, message, or email, your customer has entered the acquisition stage of the life cycle. But will you actually acquire that customer? The biggest factor here is the ease with which customers can find out what they need to know. If they’re on your website, they want easy navigation to relevant areas. If they’re calling or messaging, they’ll want quick, relevant, and helpful responses.
Once again, it’s all about communication, but you’ve moved from announcing your presence to answering direct enquiries. It’s a delicate phase. The smallest hint of unprofessionalism, or a delay in finding the information they need, will send prospective customers to your competition to see if it’s any easier to deal with them! Get it right, and they’re happy, excited, and eager to move on to the next phase and make the purchase.
You’re delighted! You made the sale! But it’s not yet time to rest on your laurels. You need your converted customers to feel that they’ve made the right decision. They’re getting value. They’re getting great service. Your product fulfils their need.
It could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship – or it could be where it all ends – unless you’re alert to the importance of progressing to the next phase. To get there, you need a flawless customer experience. Are your customers congratulating themselves for having found you? Do they come away from the conversion phase feeling like kings?
All too many businesses miss the importance of customer retention. They’ve made the sale. As far as they know, their customers aren’t complaining, and that’s that. If that’s what your competitors are doing, it’s time to win on customer retention. If it’s what you’re doing, it’s time to make some changes.
So what might customer retention consist of? It could be any number of little things that show you care about your customers’ experience with your business – even though the money’s already in the bank. Best of all would be a friendly call to find out how they feel after the transaction has been completed. However, even an email or short survey could reveal valuable information about your business from its clients’ perspective. It also makes your converted client feel valued.
Even more importantly, it’s time to get repeat business. Start a “refer a friend program”; offer discounts and benefits that aren’t available to just anyone. Your aim is to give your customer a sense of “belonging” that will turn him or her into a brand ambassador.
Customer loyalty is earned. It’s built up over time, and it consists of a series of positive experiences. The sum of these experiences lead your customers to feel that your brand is the right choice for them, and they’ll feel as if they’re helping any friend to whom they recommend you. What’s more, they’ll feel proud to associate themselves with your brand.
How do you get there? It’s a matter of being highly successful in navigating the first four stages of the customer lifecycle.
What’s it Worth?
You might think that customer life cycle management sounds labour intensive, and it is! So what’s your return on investment? You can work out your customer lifetime value quite easily. You need the following information:
- The value of the average order
- The average number of purchases per customer per year
- The average number of purchases over which your business retains its customers
Total everything up and you have your customer lifetime value. Or do you? In truth, you have a conservative guess. After all, the equation doesn’t factor in the likelihood of loyal customers referring their network of contacts to you.
What’s the Difference Between Customer Lifecycle and Customer Journey?
The customer journey is closely linked to the customer lifecycle, but it isn’t quite the same thing. As a clear and simple distinction, we can say that the customer journey consists of all interactions with your company throughout the customer lifecycle. It’s about how your customers feel. Customer lifecycle management strives to use each step in the customer journey to guide customers beyond conversion to the point where they have brand loyalty. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one.
Top Tip: Make it Personal
As we’ve seen, a positive customer journey is a must for companies hoping to lead customers through the customer life cycle. We’ve already touched on the importance of ease of communication and the timeliness and efficiency with which contact touch-points are dealt with. But people are looking for individual recognition too.
That means that contact agents need to know customer history. There’s no point in addressing a regular client’s enquiry as if he or she were making their first purchase, for instance. As another example, if a customer previously preferred X product, it should guide any recommendations made for the next purchase. Or, if a prospect already had several questions answered and now has a final one to add, it would be annoying going over ground that’s already been covered.
Needless to say, this involves some pretty solid data collection and software that allows your business’s representatives to pick up the relationship with your customers where it previously left off. Without this kind of detail worked into the relationship, your clients feel like cyphers rather than valued friends of your brand.
Knowledge is only as good as the people who use it, so apart from having good tech to provide background info regarding each customer’s lifecycle status and journey, you need the right people to put it to work. And in case you were wondering, scripted responses can all-too-easily sound like the generic information it is when delivered by anything less than a master of the art of communication.
When to deviate from the script, the tone of voice to adopt, and the degree of perceived empathy experienced by your clients are all dependent on the quality of your contact agents. They need to know how to make each contact feel genuinely important as an individual, even if they’re fielding multiple calls and messages every hour.
Customer Lifecycle Management Support From RSVP
If you’ve done the arithmetic around customer lifetime value, you’ll know just how important it is to extend that lifetime for as long as possible. You don’t just want a sale. You want multiple sales! But the bigger you are, the harder it gets to find the necessary focus on customer service. After all, you’re tied up with delivering the goods.
What’s more, getting info from your business needs to be easy for customers, or you’re never going to get beyond the acquisition stage and into conversion. Do business internationally, and you need live agents available 24/7. It can be a capacity and management nightmare and although you’d love to be customer focussed, you still need to deal with the practical and technical sides of your business.
Now, imagine this. Your sales and marketing team has a 24/7, multilingual team of professionals who take communication and data gathering very seriously indeed. They already have the software that’s needed to make customer relations management easy, but they do more than just use it. They also gather information and report back. A few minutes of your time is all it takes to know just what your customers are thinking at each phase of the customer lifecycle. It’s sleek, it’s smooth, and your customers think so too.
Unbelievable? Too cost-intensive? Talk to RSVP about customer lifecycle management and discover just how easy and cost-effective high-quality customer service and customer lifecycle-related data gathering and analysis can be! Use that information well, and your market leadership is assured. Want to know more? Put us to the test!