How to design customer success into your content strategy

Kyle’s note: This post from Michelle Nickolaisen investigates how startups are using content marketing to improve customer success. Over to Michelle:

When you’re thinking about your content marketing strategy, you’re probably considering things like how often you want to post, what types of blog posts will do best, and questions your audience has. What you might be overlooking is customer success, and the part it should play in your content strategy—especially if you want to get the most bang for your buck from your content.

Customer success 101

The idea of customer success is fairly self-explanatory: you want your customers to be successful. Successful customers are customers that are more likely to spread the word about your business and your products, creating new customers for your business. Keeping track of (and improving) customer success is especially important for businesses who rely on repeat customers, like subscription-based business models. If your customers aren’t getting their desired outcome from your product, they’ll stop paying for it. Successful customers make for successful companies.

One important distinction is that customer success is not the same thing as customer support. Great customer support is part of customer success, but customer success doesn’t stop there. One way to differentiate between the two is that support is often reactive (dealing with one specific question that was sent in by a customer), whereas success teams are more proactive. They handle things like customer training and onboarding and making sure the users are engaged, reaching out to them before problems come up.

There’s obviously a need for customer support, but focusing on customer success is a better option.(CLICK TO TWEET)

Putting the focus there frees your team up to engage on more complex issues and gives them the creative freedom to be proactive,” says Andrew Moyer, formerly on the customer success team and and currently a Sales Engineer at UserVoice.

Related: Customer Success: The Definitive Guide

One example that I recently observed firsthand was a professional acquaintance having issues with her new scheduling tool. She set up an onboarding call with a member of their team. Even though she’d sent in multiple emails explaining her specific use case, the onboarding was aimed at their “standard” use case. It was of little use to her, and is a case in point of a business working from a more reactive support oriented mindset, rather than a success oriented one.

In any case, customer success needs to be considered in many areas of your business—creating effective user onboarding is one example. But the goal of this article is to help you create content that gets your readers (or listeners, and so on) to where they need to be to buy your product or use it more effectively, after they’ve bought it.  

Related: The 5 kinds of customer success

Insights from the field of customer success

The best place to start when it comes to insight on customer success? People who work within the industry, naturally. Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré, who does community growth at Inbound.org, is a moderator at Product Hunt and GrowthHackers.com, and considers herself a customer success evangelist, had some insights.

When asked what the single most common customer success mistake is, she says companies are attracting the wrong customers. “Customer success begins with identifying and attracting your ideal customer. And only one ideal customer. If you don’t know who your ideal customer is, then you don’t know how to speak their language. And you don’t know how to acquire and retain them. As Jim Gray points out, you don’t have a customer if you don’t have non-customers.”

The implications here for content marketing are obvious. If most companies are attracting the wrong customers, they’re doing so with their marketing—including content marketing. What’s Nichole’s solution? “Work through Lincoln Murphy’sIdeal Customer Framework”, identify an ideal customer, and infiltrate their network.”

Related: Content marketing: setting a purpose and measuring success

Incorporate interactivity

Creating great content isn’t enough—people need to have takeaways as a result of your content. After all, if they aren’t taking any action, they aren’t moving any closer to becoming a customer (or a successful customer, or a repeat customer).

Shenee Howard, a brand consultant, was one of the first people I knew who did interactive challenges. “I did my first one because I felt like I was creating content that was one-sided. People would read it and comment, but I didn’t feel like they were really engaging with it, or doing anything as a result of it. So I did an experiment and turned one long blog post into a series of posts, each with one piece of homework at the end.” As a result, she noticed that her engagement rates and the amount of time people spent on her site went up. Since then, she’s experimented with challenges that have homework distributed in a Facebook group or via email, as well.

BrandAwesome

She’s found that people are more likely to become customers after participating in a challenge. “It really positions you as a business, and not just a free resource. If you’re a run-of-the-mill blog, then you’re positioned against all the other free blogs out there. But if something is interactive and people engage with you, they feel like you really care and can really help them—they know you can, because you’ve already helped them. It turns readers into happy customers.”

It’s worth noting that Shenee’s challenges are all centered around having one piece of homework a day. Doing this keeps her participants from being overwhelmed with too many options.

Once you’ve designed your challenge, you can also build in a social media component, like Shenee’s Facebook groups, or encouraging people to share their progress on Twitter or Instagram with a challenge-specific hashtag. It’s not perfect, but this, combined with looking at your website statistics (time spent on site, etc.) and email open rates and click through rates, can give you an idea of how many people are actually taking action. Having those statistics on hand means you can compare the relative success of your challenges, as you experiment with them.

The role of design

Design might seem out of place in an article on content strategy, but it’s really not. Content strategy isn’t just marketing, after all—it also involves how your content is displayed, consumed, and distributed.

Katie Page is the head of user research at Knurture, a UX agency that’s worked with companies like QuickSprout, KISSmetrics, and ShareThis to revamp their apps. She’s pretty well versed in user research and its benefits, to say the least. When asked if the principles of good UX design could also be used to create a better website, she said definitely.

“User research is at its base level about understanding how people interact with your site. By observing how people interact with your site and understanding their motivations, you can really start to understand how the site design can be improved.”

CrazyEgg

You can also use tools like CrazyEgg, Clicktale, and Inspectlet get data on how people are using your site, but Katie cautions that these tools only tell part of the story. “Apps like that are great. They tell you what people are doing. User research helps you understand why they’re taking a certain action. Did they click that button because they’re confused, or because they actually want to land on the next page?”

Once you know how users actually use your site, you can optimize the design. “It’s better to optimize for one specific person’s path through your site, rather than trying to appeal to every possible user,” notes Marie Poulin, a website designer, echoing Nichole’s comments about knowing who your customers are and aren’t. Past that, her commonly spotted design blunders include cluttered sidebars and pages with too many calls to action, which tend to overwhelm the visitor and make them leave.

At a loss? Talk to them

No idea what would actually solve your customer’s problems, or what kind of action they need to take right now? Talk to them! Customer development isn’t just for building a better product, it’s also great for finding out what specific things are tripping people up. Whether that’s a barrier to them buying, or something they tend to get stuck on after they’re customers, knowing what’s going on lets you create how-to content that fixes those problems.

Alex Turnbull, CEO at Groove, credits customer development interviews as the main thing that’s made Groove successful. “By spending thousands of hours talking to our customers, we learn–to a super granular level–exactly what their challenges, needs, wants, and goals are.” He says anyone can identify a need and talk about it on a larger scale, but “to get inside your customers’ heads and deeply understand their thought process, their burning pains and the exact words they use to describe every tiny element of their perspective…that’s where the big wins happen.”

Intercom

Other communication with your customers can give inspiration, too. Barrett Brooks, director of marketing at Fizzle, says they use Intercom to organize feedback. “We tag every message from a customer with an idea about how we can improve the Fizzle experience with ‘Product feedback.’ Similarly, we tag questions that would be great for the blog or podcast with ‘Content idea’ so that we can always refer back to real questions from our audience when we’re developing new content.”

Keeping the ideas organized this way also lets them easily identify trends that come up across different customer interactions, letting them know which ideas are likely to resonate with a larger part of their audience.

What’s next?

  • Not sure if you’re 100% clear on your ideal customer? Work through the ideal customer framework that Nichole recommended.
  • Trying to get more engagement from readers and customers? Pick a question or issue you’re commonly asked about and create a quick five day challenge from it. It doesn’t have to be overcomplicated: just write a short prompt for each day with homework. Give your participants a way to track and share their progress, even if that’s just telling you on Twitter or commenting on Facebook.
  • Want to double-check that your design isn’t crippling your content? Find a friend willing to let you watch as they navigate through your website. You can also reach out to customers and set up a Skype call or Google Hangout where they share their screen as they navigate through your site, letting you know what they find confusing.

Need to talk to your customers to get clearer on any part of this? Alex details his process on how he talked to 500 customers in 4 weeks at this blog post, so you can do the same.

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About

Michelle is a freelance writer and business owner living in Austin, TX. She writes about business all over the web, and about productivity for freelancers and entrepreneurs at Bombchelle. Follow her on Twitter at @_chelleshock.

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