Understanding & Strategizing the Customer Lifecycle
The customer lifecycle is a series of stages that a consumer goes through, from the point of brand or product awareness, all the way through to the point of customer loyalty or brand advocacy. The concept of a customer lifecycle has stemmed from the emergence of customer relationship management, which ultimately focuses on the quality and longevity of customer relationships.
The amount of stages in the customer lifecycle depends on how successful you are in converting people from prospective customers to existing customers, and how satisfied and loyal they become in the process.
What is the Customer Lifecycle?
There are 6 key phases in the customer lifecycle, each as important as the next:
Understanding each stage of the customer lifecycle is vital to maintaining good relationships with your customers, maximizing their customer lifetime value, and having optimal levels of advocacy among your customers. To properly understand the various stages of the customer lifecycle, we’ve completed a description of each stage and the best practices to follow within each stage.
The way businesses, particularly in B2B, are starting to view the sales process and customer journey is changing, with the focus turning more towards building a relationship, customer retention, and customer engagement.
The awareness phase is where you make your first impressions, so make them good. For the most part - provided you’ve covered your channels with plenty of content - you won’t have absolute control of how prospective customers become aware of your brand.
Customers may become aware via paid channels such as search engine advertising, or organic channels such as through your content (predominantly SEO) or word of mouth. While you can’t absolutely control how they become aware of you, you can control how good their first impression of you is. Create quality content, provide useful information and ensure that you’ve structured and presented your content in ways that facilitate conversions and lead generation.
When it comes to the consideration phase, first impressions are over. As long as they were good, consumers are now more actively analyzing your business and weighing up the value that you can provide to them or their business.
Providing quality content that gives your customers value and conveys your brand in a way that differentiates it is of paramount importance in this stage. Beyond this, providing proof is something that can help in getting you over the line if a customer is on the fence - customer testimonials, case studies, and videos displaying your product in use are all great ways of doing this.
Most closely related to the awareness and consideration phases, it should be noted that facilitating customer interest is the most important thing to remember. Companies that post blogs, and provide helpful content in the form of infographics, reports and free tools aren’t doing it out of selfless generosity - yet some seem to be, as they don’t include any calls to action or collect any information from consumers. Ensuring that you always have an obvious and attractive way of collecting consumer data to ultimately make a sale should be what you prioritize when posting content, whether it be on your website, socials, or a third-party platform.
This is where consumers become customers and you start to make some money. However, this doesn’t mean you’re done. Too many businesses create a purchase-focused sales funnel (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) but concentrate too much of their energy on the first 3 phases and not enough on the final 3 phases.
Within the purchase phase, you need to be aware of your pitfalls, where you’ve lost sales before and why, along with how you can reassure your customer and facilitate the purchase as comfortably as possible. Aside from this, providing support throughout this stage and each stage of the customer lifecycle is essential. This can take many forms, such as chatbots, live support widgets, and automated contextual messaging. Not only does this speed up and smoothen the process, but it also allows you to collect data on frequently occurring issues in the purchase decision process, which can subsequently be addressed.
Customer retention - you’ve made the sale, now it’s time to continue the relationship. Making a sale is great, but making a second sale is even better. Why? That second sale means that the customer is one step closer to becoming loyal to you, but it also means that you’re doing something right.
When it comes to the retention stage of the customer journey, you can start to employ tools and automation with great effect. Tools include CRM systems to keep track of your customer relationship, along with loyalty programs and content marketing. With the right loyalty program software, you’ll be able to send automated contextual messaging, provide personalized content and rewards, and collect valuable customer data that can be fed back in to improve your personalization and rewards. Don't forget the importance of having a proactive, attentive, and readily available customer service outlet.
Generally speaking, loyalty and advocacy are placed together as one stage within the customer lifecycle. However, a loyal customer is not necessarily always an advocate. Customer loyalty is simply making repeat purchases on a consistent and relatively frequent basis over a sustained period of time. How do you do this? Easy - repeat the steps listed above once you’ve acquired a customer.
This means providing them with ample information for their next purchase, supporting them in their decision and use of their already purchased product or service, and always facilitating a purchase or conversion without being too sales-y.
This is the holy grail of the customer lifecycle - the final stop. Achieving brand advocacy is notoriously difficult, and there’s good reason for that. Customers are almost overwhelmed with choices nowadays. They're constantly being encouraged to switch brands for a deal and being marketed to by your competitors.
Why is brand advocacy so sought after? It goes beyond customers just telling their friends and family about their experience. However, that's also often enough - customers are distrustful of brand advertisements and approach company-produced materials with skepticism. Hearing something from a trusted source that's already reached the loyalty stage of their customer lifecycle is often more comforting for consumers than the most extensive research possible.
So, how do you achieve brand advocacy with all these extraneous influences? There are a few key benchmarks that you should work towards, the first being the provision of a personalized and smooth customer experience. On top of this, even small incentives are often the push that customers need - think of rewards for referrals, social media interactions, testimonials, and more. Additionally, encouraging customer feedback and acting on it is something that is not just a bonus for customers, but will help you to avoid problems with future customers.