You’ve found it – the complete guide for designing a customer journey support system that will boost the growth of your IoT business, specially for consumer-oriented IoT companies.
There are a million different opinions about key growth factors for technology companies.
Some assert that customer acquisition is the key. Others claim that having a unique product that fulfills an otherwise unmet need is most important. Some place the burden largely on aggressive sales and marketing.
We think a more inclusive, holistic approach, what we call Customer Journey Support, is key to that growth. Predicated on the perception that customer lifetime value serves as the basis of value for any business, Customer Journey Support is defined as supporting your customer throughout their engagement with your product and company, from on-boarding, to first-use, support and maintenance and renewal. This approach places a clear premium on customer retention.
Customer Journey Support is the unique intersection between customer operations, customer success, analytics and marketing. Together these elements form a virtuous circle that turns into a flywheel driving exponential growth.
In this article, we provide you the roadmap for how you can plan for and design the processes to support your customers along that journey. If you follow this path, you will not only retain your customers, but cross-sell them, upsell them, and turn them into raving fans of your company.
Why Customer Journey Support?
Customer Journey Support is a new support model specifically designed for today’s technology companies, including – and maybe even especially – IoT manufacturers.
There are two important developments from the last few years that have made this new support model a requirement: the increasing rate of product innovation, and the subscription-based business model.
Internet thought leader Jeffrey Eisenberg described the economics of customer retention in a recent post:
Customer lifetime value (LTV) predicts the profits of the future relationship with a customer. Customer retention directly affects lifetime values. If ABC Company spends $100 to attract a new customer it makes a $100 in gross profit on the first transaction. If they make $100 every month for five years they make $6,000. The longer the relationship continues the better the Return On Investment (ROI).
Customer equity is the total of lifetime values of all your current and future customers. It’s the sum total of all the value you’ll ever realize from customers. Customers create all value. Customer Equity is the same as the “going concern” value of your business.
Value of a Business = Customer Equity + (Assets – Liabilities)
Consumer products today are more technologically complex. This is the space where consumer IoT companies live: selling innovative and complex technology products to a market that by default is not very technologically sophisticated.
The market needs a lot of hand hand-holding, but it’s cost-prohibitive to scale the kind of hand-holding consumers need. B2C companies have hundreds of thousands to millions of consumers.
But while technology has made today’s consumer products complex, it has also enabled a level of automation that makes providing support along the complete customer journey possible– and necessary.
Example: Home Security Camera
Let’s look at the example of a home security camera, like those shown on some of the commercials that seem to be ubiquitous these days.
In these commercials, you see a woman sitting at a sidewalk café calmly sipping a coffee and chatting via her smartphone to a burglar. She leads the burglar to believe that she is at home bathing the kids.
This is not a simple product. It can intimidate consumers who are not technology savvy.
That’s where Customer Journey Support comes into play. By looking holistically at your consumers’ experience throughout the life of your engagement, you can map out the key touch points they’ll have with your product and company, and design support plays to ensure that at each step of the way there’s greater product usage, greater customer satisfaction, you’re producing relevant metrics that will allow you to optimize, and your customers renew and become advocates.
Once you’ve designed the plays you can then plug them into various stages of the journey, decide what you can automate, what you want your team to do, and what you can outsource.
Step 1: Map Customer Journey and identify Touch Points
To get started you need to map out the customer journey and identify key touch points.
What are the important moments when you engage with a customer and in what way? Perhaps when you first close the sale or the client subscribes to your service; or when you contact the customer 30 or 90 days later to check on his progress with the product, or about any issues or questions; or every time the customer calls or e-mails your support team.
Once you know those touch points, identify what you should do at each point. Is any of this done in-product? Through email? Is this an actual phone call, or even a meeting? Are you looking up the customer in your CRM? What message are you sending? What goals do you have for that interaction? How do you schedule it? What kind of value elements will you give your customer while you’re talking to them?
What you decide to do and exactly how you decide to do it at every point in the customer journey are referred to as plays.
Step 2: Develop Customer Journey ‘Plays’
Plays are a set of steps that you follow to do something, decide who (or what or how) will do it, and schedule when it will be done.
Think about football plays. Members of a football team memorize dozens or hundreds of plays they can use at any given moment to move the ball forward.
The same is true for supporting the customer throughout her journey. The plays you design across the various stages of the journey will move the product forward.
On-boarding plays get your customer set up with your product, gets them using it, and helps them to extract value from your product.
Back to the security camera analogy. When a customer first buys the system they need to set it up. Some may be able to do the setup themselves, but some will not. In some instances they may want to integrate your product with another vendor’s platform (think Amazon Echo or Google Home). After they get it set up, you need to make sure they’re actually using it 30 days, 60 or more days after they install the product.
At various stages your customer will face challenges, and you will want to know about them. For example, at the 30-day mark you’ll want to know if your customer is still using the camera. Were they able to use the app and take advantage of the basic features?
At the 60-day mark, you may want to know if this person is interested in integrating the camera with other devices.
In this scenario a play would be a series of automated and triggered emails. The first email may point the customer to a video showing them how to set it up in their home, for example.
Follow up and Engagement Plays
After the initial excitement of onboarding and first use, product usage might go down. We want to ensure this doesn’t happen. We want to increase usage of the product. How do we do this? We want to educate the customer.
At the 60 and 90-day mark you could send them emails that point to FAQs and videos that can help them trouble-shoot commonly experienced user errors, or familiarize the user with new product features. These plays help avoid common reasons for customer attrition, and gets them further engaged with the product.
Designing support plays is similar for B2B and B2C. In both scenarios your customer is calling somebody on the phone, sending a support email, opening up a trouble ticket on the support website, or initiating an online chat session.
Your customer is engaging in a support conversation to resolve a specific issue, whether it’s a product knowledge issue or a product defect.
In addition to assisted support plays, there are also unassisted support plays, such as providing support on common product issues on the website or through a user community.
The last major set of plays is renewal. At some point in a subscription-based model, the yearly subscription will run out. You need to prime your customer in advance. Maybe 30 days before renewal you send a triggered email. For a B2B company, that might be a phone call or a personalized email.
Plays are processes, and processes are a critical part to scaling your company and ensuring that customers are treated with care on a consistent basis throughout their journey.
Step 3: Identify “outsourceable” v. internal operational assignments
The “process” nature of plays also makes it easy for you to decide what you need to outsource, and what you can automate or handle internally.
For example, you might decide that one of your plays can be outsourced. You could hire a specialized outsourcing team (such as Infolink-exp) to perform an onboarding function or a support function, knowing that you can ramp them up really quickly because you set up the plays beforehand.
Or maybe you can automate some plays. Refer to your play document to design an automated flow using the email automation system that comes with or integrates with your CRM tool (like HubSpot, Salesloft or Infusionsoft).
Step 4: Identify linkages between internal team and partner
Hopefully the power of the customer journey support concept is starting to become obvious. But at this stage it becomes even more powerful.
Your customer journey starts to become a holistic process that joins all the plays together along the journey. You can then design seamless transitions from one stage of the journey to another. and decide what team handles what aspect of the customer journey.
For example a customer may be interacting with the onboarding team or your customer success manager, but then has a question more appropriate for your support team to handle. At some point, the support team may also need to escalate to the customer success team for things like subscription related issues.
By designing the customer journey support process with your pre-defined plays, you also design the seamless connection between the teams, especially if you outsource onboarding, support, or any other touch point interaction to a remote team, which is common and makes sense for companies that need to scale operations rapidly. IoT vendors commonly fit that bill.
These are called “linkages.”
You can design linkages to ensure that the communication and hand-off between teams, whether outsourced or internal, is transparent to the customer – and transparent to you.
This is also true when it comes to metrics. How do you ensure that the metrics you and your outsourced team are using are synchronized and calibrated? Are you both reading from the same song-sheet when it comes to metrics? Linkages allow you to do that.
Step 5: Operate and execute plays
Everything up to this point has been planning. Without planning you’re feeling around in the dark, and without planning from a customer journey support standpoint, you may lose track of your customer’s experience and value throughout the whole engagement.
But after planning your customer journey plays based on the customer journey map, you need to actually execute them. In the end, this is the part that takes the most effort and where you can validate that your holistic approach is working.
Now you need to write and schedule the emails, and program the triggered events. Your support team needs to actually handle the calls, emails and chat sessions. This is where you will need expert help in building a capable team, planning for hourly coverage across time zones, using the best available tools, managing resources, managing escalations and more.
This is where the rubber meets the road.
Describing how you’ll execute all the plays, and how you’ll measure everything, is rather complex and out of the scope of this article. But I don’t want to minimize it. It’s critically important to your operation.
That’s what we at Infolink-exp do: we help you plan and execute the plays, and we insert ourselves into your customer journey map, to support you and your customer every step of the way.
Step 6: Measure outcomes
Measurement is so often overlooked, yet it’s one of the most important parts of the customer journey, both from an operational standpoint and from a customer success and marketing standpoint.
Measurement feeds into customer success, product management and marketing. The data allows you to continuously improve the product and your messaging.
Operational metrics tell you if your customer is satisfied with the level of service that you’re providing and how productive your operation is, as well as the quality of every interaction
You should measure how customer support agents are doing. Are they handling the correct amount of customers per hour, per day or per week? Are they meeting customer satisfaction goals? How many calls are coming in through email versus phone versus some other channel? When are calls or e-mail coming in? And more.
You can also measure customer experience directly through a customer satisfaction survey, or you could even initiate a customer satisfaction call program (touchpoint) if you’re a B2B firm.
In an IoT scenario you might also be collecting data from the device or the app that allows the customer to control and monitor the device. That data will be key to informing your decisions, as you’re able to combine usage patterns with other customer data and customer behaviors.
Step 7: Identify usage patterns, At-risk customers and Selling opportunities
This is where the magic happens. Company growth comes at the intersection between operations, customer success, marketing and product development.
Operations feeds customer success and marketing, which feeds product optimization and product innovation, which ultimately leads to better operational and customer metrics.
And ultimately, company growth.
For example, I bought an Amazon Alexa device recently. The first few weeks I used it a lot, and then I stopped using it. I realized it was more of a nice-to-have, a novelty, rather than a necessity.
That’s a classic change in usage pattern. I used it a lot for a few weeks and then I stopped using. That’s not good.
You need to know that. This could indicate a customer who is ready to stop using the product. A customer who is ready to defect. A customer at risk.
Out of your whole universe of customers you need to identify those who are at risk of defecting.
More importantly, you need to identify why. Is it because they had a bad customer experience? Or did they have a negative experience with the product?
If it’s a negative product experience, these metrics can go directly to product management. If it’s an on-boarding problem or engagement problem, you can revise your plays, beef up your execution, write more comprehensive FAQs or film more “how-to” videos.
But what if you can detect a pattern that indicates they’re ready for an upsell? Again, operational metrics intersects with marketing. Your customer has bought product A and product B. Do we have an opportunity to sell them product C?
There is gold in your data, whether it’s in your product, your CRM or your support platform. But there needs to be alignment and cooperation between your customer success and your marketing teams.
A capability that enables you to take data from the various sources to ask questions about selling opportunities, changes in usage patterns, customers at risk, and put it together with the insights and experience of your customer success and customer support teams is the holy grail of this whole process.
If success looks like 95% customer retention, then a great customer experience throughout the journey + great insights that you can put into practice is the way to get there.
Step 8: Marketing and Customer Success: Implement actions
Once you have established that critical linkage between marketing, product development, customer success, operations and support, and you have the right data-driven plus human insights (those of your CSMs and support team), then you need to implement
For example, it’s time to do something about the customers that you have identified as at-risk, whether that is contacting them by e-mail to offer assistance or sending them a relevant article that will get them to reengage; or whether that is offering a promotion or an upgrade to clients that you have identified as prime for an up or cross-sale.
Other actions such as triggering e-mails with certain product information or recommendations, or informing a CSM’s renewal call with relevant customer data are possible too.
Step 9: Operations: Sustain or Scale
Finally, your productivity and quality metrics should tell you whether you need to sustain what you have in terms of the operations, or scale it.
If you’re going launch a new version of your product in two months, and you expect a peak in growth in number of issues, then you need to make sure that you scale your operation and you do it in a planned and affordable manner.
If you’re hitting the ball out of the ball park with your product sales, then you also need to make sure that your operation supports a much greater number of users, and the types of issues and requests you might be getting.
Today’s IoT vendors in the B2C space face an important challenge, and a profitable opportunity. They can leverage the Customer Journey Support model to drive growth and success in their market. By planning the plays they will use to support the customer through the on-boarding, engagement, support and renewal process, and the linkages and metrics to create a seamless, virtuous feedback loop, they knock down the Chinese wall that traditionally separates operations from sales, marketing and product management.
So what are your next steps?
We invite you to download our Customer Journey Support checklist so you can have a roadmap to plan.
Download it here, or contact us if you would like to set up a 20-minute mini-strategy call to see if you’d like our help to design and execute your customer journey support process.
CEO and Founder of Infolink-EXP. He’s founded technology companies in big data analytics, Internet services, software, nearshore outsourcing and technology customer support for 20+ years. Lives in El Paso, Texas and spends part of his time in San Jose, CA and the Silicon Valley. Passionate about customer experience (CX), in particular through consumers’ complete cycle of selecting, adopting and fully utilizing IoT technology to improve their lives.