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Are You Listening to Your Customers' Most Important Cues?

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
11 February 2015

Listen to CustomersWant to know what your customers think, what they want or what their next moves might be? You could ask them using surveys or your preference center. A more reliable way is to detect and follow the cues your customers give you whenever they interact with your brand.

These cues — also called behavior signals — happen when customers act on your email messages, visit your websites or stores, post on your social networks (or about you on other networks), use your mobile app or contact your customer support.

Some cues are easier to track than others, such as purchases or purchase intents. But if that's all you track, you could end up drawing disastrously wrong conclusions.

This is especially true during holiday or special-occasion shopping, when your customers are buying for other people. Valentine's Day is one of those occasions when purchases don't match a customer's expressed preference data.

Irrelevant email and off-target remarketing are just two of the hazards that can result. But, getting the cues right and developing follow-up email messaging and remarketing programs can help you avoid missed opportunities and serve your customers better, both of which can generate a better bottom line.

What Cues Should You Listen for?

Look at the obvious ones first, like these:

  • Purchase
  • Account registration
  • Listing preferences
  • Downloading information (data sheets, etc.)
  • Browsing (pages, time on page, page returns)
  • Cart/process abandonment
  • Requesting demos
  • Downloading a mobile app
  • Using/not using a mobile app
  • Viewing FAQs or how-to videos
  • Clicking on cross-selling/upselling suggestions on product pages
  • Calling/emailing your call center

Once you build these basic cues into your customer tracking processes and database(s), you can seek out others, or combine cues, to get even more enlightenment.

For example, years ago I bought a set of wine-bottle neck hangers from a wine retailer's direct mail catalog. Although it was a relatively inexpensive purchase, an executive at the retailer told me it signaled to the company that I was likely a serious wine person. Years later, I did buy a wine cellar from that retailer.

When Cues Conflict

Registering a preference tells you one thing about your customers. Their browsing or buying behavior might tell you another. But what about customers who sign up to get news about mountain bikes, but browse or buy road bikes on your website?

If you listen to just one cue, you're missing half the picture. In this example, you might over-weight promotions and targeting toward mountain bikes at a time when your customer is actually in the market to buy a road bike.

This combination of stated preference and current behavior might also suggest that this customer has greater potential to be a high lifetime-value customer.

Silence is a Cue, Too

Cues typically represent trackable actions, but the lack of something happening can be a cue as well. Abandoning a download or shopping cart, downloading a mobile app but then never installing or engaging with it, breaking off a browse session on your website or not acting on your emails are cues that you could be missing if you don't capture inactivity or incomplete processes.

Combine Cues for More Enlightenment

Customer cues seldom happen in a vacuum or one by one. A customer's purchase reveals one piece of information. Frequency reveals another.  Frequency and order size tracked together can reveal your once-a-year buyers, enthusiastic newcomers who are becoming loyal shoppers or longtime customers who are cooling off.

Integrating cues can help you avoid problems like the following:

I was trying to buy some items on a landscaper's website. When I got to the checkout page, I clicked the "Pay with PayPal" button and got a 404 page instead. I emailed a heads-up to the company's customer support department and received a response that said, "Thanks, we’ll let IT know." After that, nothing.

The company missed three key cues:

  • I abandoned a shopping cart with items in it.
  • I abandoned the purchase process at the critical payment stage.
  • I contacted customer support to report a problem.

Any of these cues should have alerted the company to a problem that warranted follow-up, such as a reply from customer support or a remarketing program such as a checkout reminder.

Perhaps this retailer lacked the kind of internal integration that could have triggered a follow-up message and increased my likelihood of completing the sale. I can't think of a better way to justify a budget request to integrate your database, ecommerce and messaging system.

As your marketing year unfolds, take a fresh look at what your customers are telling you. Look for ways you can use this information to launch or retool your email marketing programs in ways that help you catch your customers' most important cues.

Related Resources:

1) Tip Sheet: “10 Digital Marketing Tips for a Successful 2015

2) Blog: “Web Push Notifications: Delivering a Richer Web Experience

3) Tip Sheet: “10 Tips for Using Email to Drive Mobile Engagement – and Vice-Versa


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