Every good customer service professional knows that these days, business is about much more than merely closing a one-time deal. The best companies build mutually-beneficial relationships with customers that equate to a higher customer lifetime value -- meaning, these customers are going to stick around for a while.

Brand loyalty is of the utmost importance today. For instance, in the automobile industry, there are dozens of brands and many sell similar models for similar purposes. So, what helps a customer choose an SUV between, say, Toyota and Chevrolet?

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Most likely, brand loyalty. For example, the customer's first car could have been a Toyota Camry back in the 90s. The car was reliable and their trusty partner in crime throughout their college years.

Now, as an experienced car-buyer looking to invest in a new SUV, which company are they going to go with? The brand that has been there for them for the past three decades, or the one that's completely new to them? Probably the former. 

However, loyalty is only the final step in the customer lifecycle. There are several steps preceding it that are essential to building long-term customer relationships.

Typically, the customer follows these steps:

Customer-lifecycle

Source: Blake Morgan

1. Discovery

This is when a customer begins searching for a product. They'll compare products across competitor brands, as well as read customer reviews. Eventually, the customer will reach out to a certain brand with questions and concerns.

2. Education

The brand will respond to the customer's questions and concerns, as well as inquire for more information on the customer's needs. Following that, the brand will offer the best products or services to satisfy the customer's needs, as well as educate the customer on the uses of those products or services.

3. Purchase

Having gained all necessary information, the customer makes a purchasing decision. Post-purchase, the company follows up to ensure that the purchase went smoothly for the customer.

4. Post-Purchase Engagement

The company checks in with the customer later, asking how their experience is with their new product or service. Using information directly from customers, as well as social media engagement, the company continuously makes improvements to their products, services, and customer service experience.

5. Advocacy

The customer feels like an important asset to the brand and makes additional future purchases with the brand. In addition, to help influence others, the customer posts on social media about their experiences with the brand and writes their own product reviews, which later inform a future customer in their discovery phase.

Although these are the typical steps -- albeit, sometimes, with different titles -- that a customer follows in their journey with a brand, this process can be very fluid. With an excessive amount of media in existence today, customers can come to learn about a brand in several ways: family or friend recommendations, social media, advertisements, research, etc.

This is why it's essential for a company to be very aware of the customer lifecycle and, more importantly, customer lifecycle management.

Most customers follow a similar set of steps when it comes to choosing a brand's product or service and, eventually, becoming loyal to that brand. Rather than leaving that to chance and hoping that customers will choose you, you can guide them in your direction. This isn't manipulation; instead, this is putting out the kinds of content that consumers are already searching for. By providing them with value, you can prove to customers that you are a reputable, transparent brand that has their visitors' and customers' best intentions at heart.

For each aforementioned stage, a company can plan the best ways to strategically lead strangers to their business. Let's review a few of those techniques in the section below. 

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1. Identify your target audience. 

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Discovery 

Before your customers discover your company, you need to determine who you're trying to reach. Rather than marketing to everyone, identifying a specific target audience helps you create content that's relevant to your customers. 

The easiest way to define your target audience is to create buyer personas. Buyer personas are fictional people that represent the demographic and behavioral characteristics of your customer base. They have names, backstories, even hobbies. Everything you need to know about your customers is found in these personas. 

2. Share relevant content.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Discovery 

By putting out lots of useful, engaging, search-engine-optimized content, your company will pop up more frequently when customers are searching for related topics. Content can include original blog posts offering industry information, templates for email, infographics, and other marketing tools, and online courses, such as those offered by HubSpot Academy. Give your customers a reason to trust you before they invest in you.

Then, when customers are looking for certain products or services, your company will be the first that comes to mind against other competitors. This is the basis of the inbound marketing methodology.

3. Provide self-service resources.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Education

You can make potential customers' lives easier by offering as much information as possible that limits their need to reach out to your customer service team.

Create a knowledge base -- a centralized, online database offered by your company containing extensive information on the uses of your products and services and answers to FAQs. Customers like to handle as much of the purchasing process on their own, so providing them with a means to educate themselves will further attract them to your brand.

4. Utilize Proactive Customer Service 

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Education

Even if people haven't bought your product, they may still have questions about it or your company. They may not know how it works, or even what it does, and this can lead to potential customers walking away from a purchase. 

Rather than relying solely on self-service tools, your customer success team should be working proactively as well. They should be reaching out to leads and offering them trials or demos that help familiarize customers with your products. This not only promotes your product line but it also establishes a personal relationship with the customer. 

5. Remove friction from the purchase stage.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Purchase

Build a simple, online ordering system that ensures the most difficult part of the purchasing process is having the customer write out their credit card number. It's obvious; the easier it is to add items to a cart, add shipping and card information, and press "submit," the more likely it is that a customer will make a purchase.

6. Provide support options during the purchase decision. 

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Purchase

Depending on what you're selling, the purchase stage can be a high-stress moment for the customer. No one wants to have buyer's remorse, and this fear of regret can act as a major point of friction during the customer experience. 

One way to counteract this is to provide support options during the purchase stage. For example, if you have a website, you can add live chat that links to a support rep. That way, customers can easily contact your team when they have questions while they're shopping. Instead of navigating away from the page they're on, they can just click on the chat widget, ask a question, and return to their purchase.

7. Personalize post-purchase engagement.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Post-Purchase Engagement

Don't forget about your customers after they've made a purchase! That will ensure that they'll only be a one-time customer.

Make the customer feel just as cared for post-purchase as they are pre-purchase. Set up an automated email system that immediately thanks customers for their orders post-purchase. Or, you can personally reach out after their product has been shipped or downloaded to ensure they got exactly what they wanted and are happy with their purchase.

8. Invest in automation. 

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Post-Purchase Engagement

Personalizing your post-purchase engagement is easy when your team only works with a handful of customers each day. But, as your customer base grows, you'll need to scale your efforts accordingly to keep pace with customer demand. 

This is where marketing automation tools come into play. Pairing them with your contact base and CRM allows you to quickly access user information and turn it into personalized content. For example, you can set up a workflow that automatically sends customers an email whenever a new product or service is released. This keeps you in steady communication with your customers and helps maintain an active relationship with them.

9. Encourage brand advocacy.

Customer Lifecycle Stage: Advocacy

A customer will need that final push to encourage them to go above and beyond for your brand. Encourage happy customers to share their experiences by making it simple to do so. Email them brief surveys, link them to your Yelp or Google Reviews sites, and offer them discounts or compensation for referring friends.

Now that you understand the importance of the customer lifecycle and of managing it to guide customers to your brand, you can follow these steps to ensure you're always maximizing the effects of customer lifecycle management in each phase of the customer lifecycle.

To learn more, read this post on customer engagement next.

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Originally published Jan 24, 2020 3:26:00 PM, updated April 15 2020

Topics:

Customer Experience