What if I told you that there’s a way that you can boost your conversion rates by as much as 250%, generate a click-through rate (CTR) that’s 3x higher than before and cut your cost-per-click (CPC) ad spends in half?

Well, you’ve read the title of this article, so you’ve probably already figured out the secret behind these dramatic changes – spending time working in customer service.  Here’s how I made it happen…

When I first joined When I Work as the VP of Marketing, I asked to spend time working directly with  customers as part of the support team.  Throughout this experience, I joined live chats (after reviewing more than 1,000 chat logs to see how past conversations went), responded to support tickets (again, after reading through 2,000+ past examples), talked to customers on the phone and asked for honest feedback via email.  I’ll describe the results of this effort in more detail later on, but the highlights above should give you a hint at how helpful this process can be.

But this wasn’t the first time I’ve worked in customer support to get to know the needs of my target audience; I did the same thing in my past at Bridge.us.  In that instance, I was able to identify weaknesses in the company’s onboarding process and implement changes that helped drive their conversion rates by the 250% I mentioned in my first paragraph.

And it turns out, I’m not the only one who finds this strategy valuable.

Take the example of Alex Turnball, CEO and founder of the startup, Groove.  Prompted by an increasingly-high churn rate, Alex spent more than 100 hours talking to 500+ customers over the course of four weeks.  Instead of pestering them with a series of scripted questions, he started each call with the following simple prompt:

“Hey, thanks so much for agreeing to chat. I won’t take too much of your time. The conversations I’ve been having with customers have been invaluable in helping us shape the product and our plans for the future, so I’m excited to get your feedback.

My goal is to get an overall feel of how you’re using the app, what you like, what you don’t like, and what we can do to make it better. I’ll let you take the floor.”

As the result of these conversations, Alex identified seven major wins he was able to achieve:

  • Uncovering the need for better second-tier onboarding to help get existing customers more familiar with Groove’s features and more engaged with the total product
  • Turning unhappy customers into happy customers by addressing their concerns
  • Adding to existing knowledge on the personas of the customer base, including acknowledging some surprises that led to the creation of new personas
  • Building stronger relationships with customers by doing something that no other business they worked with was doing
  • Getting the chance to create some quick “wows” by identifying easy fixes and addressing them quickly
  • Discovering new phrases and ideas to add to company marketing copy and landing pages to better connect with prospective customers
  • Gathering additional feedback by email from customers who weren’t able to chat

If you ask me, that’s some pretty powerful stuff.  Attempting to interview every customer is no small undertaking, but the information Alex gathered will be priceless as he strives to improve Groove and help it stand out from competitors.

In my case, the time I spent working in customer service helped When I Work to bring about a number of positive changes, including better-performing ad copy, a stronger user experience and an improved onboarding process.

Better-Performing Ad Copy

user-experience

As a marketer, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the problems my target customers have so that I can align my products to meet their needs and my marketing materials to reach them.  And if you’ve ever worked on building buyer personas from scratch or creating a marketing strategy for an audience you don’t know well, you know how challenging this can be.

But the thing about working in customer service is that, well, people just give you this information.  Not only do they contact customer support because they have a problem – they give you the exact words they’re using to find a solution.  When you have this information, the rest of your marketing strategy falls into place – no guessing what customers are looking for, and no projecting your experience onto theirs to uncover their problems.

One particular area where I was able to quickly apply this newfound knowledge was to our paid ads.  By adjusting my ads to include my customers’ stated problems in the form of a solution in the ad text – in their own words – I was able to triple our click-through rate (CTR) and reduce our cost-per-click (CPC) by more than half.

The great thing about this is that any marketer can apply the technique, even if you don’t have the time or the inclination to work a few days in customer support.  Simply ask the people in your company that do this type of work for a list of the ten questions they hear most often and incorporate their responses into your ads for an instant improvement.

Stronger User Experience

Often, when you’re marketing a product or developing a new feature, you try to design something that’s intuitive and that has what you think is a great user experience.  But unfortunately, what you think is a good experience can be miles away from what your customers would prefer.  You might even find that the way people actually use your product or website is different than the way you designed it to operate!

You might have thought your “innovative” styled toolbar looked cool, but if customers can’t make sense of it, you’ve ultimately failed.  And believe me, when you work in customer service, you’ll hear about it!  Customer support is the perfect place to find these weaknesses and the disparities between how you thought people were using your product and what they were actually doing.

Take the case of Expedia– the worldwide travel giant.  Even though the company is large and well established, observing the way customer support handled questions uncovered a glaring issue.  When confronted with Variant A pictured below (the original checkout form), visitors saw the “Company” field and got confused.  Thinking that Expedia wanted them to enter their bank name, they then put their banks’ billing addresses into the fields below, leading to failed transactions and eventual abandonment.

expedia

One simple tweak to a form that left this field off, and the company increased their profits by $12 million a year.

It can be frustrating to find out that customers aren’t using your product in the way you intended, but you have to take pride out of the equation.  At the end of the day, it’s all about your business’s bottom line.  Acting on any disconnects you uncover can help you to identify – and go on to fix – any areas of your site that are weak, confusing or unintuitive.

Improved Onboarding Process

One way to use your customer service experience to achieve the biggest improvements – whether you’re trying to increase your conversion rate, reduce churn and or simply make your customers happier – is to use the information you gather to improve your onboarding process. After all, onboarding is where you lay the groundwork for your future business relationships by shaping your customers’ expectations as you help them get started.

At When I Work, we’re constantly making tweaks to our onboarding process and have already seen a 7x improvement in the number of leads that convert to customers. One thing we noticed from our customer service interactions was that, during the onboarding process of our product, people were very confused as our program completely changes the way they schedule employees by going from a pen and paper or Excel document to an easier electronic process.

But because our electronic process was so foreign to them, our customers had a lot of questions that we weren’t doing a good job of answering.  To help get them up-to-speed, we enabled a live chat tool, featured our phone number and even linked to helpful info that would help them get setup. These changes all made a huge difference in our onboarding process, but to take things even further, we made the “Help” page on the site more prominent – all of which contributed to the 7x gains mentioned above.

Another example of using customer feedback to make onboarding improvements is what I did back when I ran Single Grain.  Every time I sent out proposals, my clients kept asking the same questions.  To help expedite the process of answering these common queries, I broke things down in a “Trust & Proof” section so that, within my proposals and the emails containing the proposals, I was able to easily include references, case studies and the logos of customers Single Grain had helped (which I often tailored to be similar to the potential client we we’re sending the proposal to).

Then, I took things one step further. I found that when people read the “Proposed Actions” section of the proposal, they were most receptive to the “Trust & Proof” information, so I incorporated our company case studies into that section . I also included the logos, customer testimonials and references information from this section when it came time to list the costs we were going to charge.  It may sound simple, but restructuring my proposals this way increased the company’s conversion rate by 17% from lead to paying client. That might not sound like much, but these easy tweaks resulted in an extra $150,000 a year in revenue.

One of the things that my time working in customer service across all my different positions really highlighted for me is that people are afraid of change – and it’s rare that they’re going to go out of their way to learn something new if it’s difficult.  But the way I see it, you have two choices: you can dismiss the feedback you receive about particular features or areas of your product being confusing as difficult customers complaining for the sake of complaining, or you can use the feedback they bring to you to improve your product.

Obviously, I chose the latter – and I recommend you do too.  By taking every piece of feedback you receive seriously (even if you ultimately decide not to follow through on it), you’ll generate the insight needed to better explain your product’s features to new customers, leaving them more satisfied at the end of onboarding and more likely to become evangelists for your brand.

Want to try this technique yourself?  Keep the following recommendations in mind:

  • Always be looking for problems – If you can dedicate a few weeks of your time to working in customer service, that’s great.  But even if you can’t, you can adopt a mindset that’s always looking for problems.  Instead of shying away from uncomfortable issues, make it a priority to hunt them down and fix them.  Your attitude will go a long way towards driving positive results for your company.
  • Talk to your customers frequently – Business owners frequently find themselves tied down with administrative tasks, resulting in a disconnect between their interests and their customers’ genuine feelings.  The only way to prevent this is to spend time talking with them.  No matter how busy you are, make it a point to spend time answering support tickets, jumping on the phones or email customers directly for feedback.  Not only will you get the information you need to make positive changes, you’ll make it clear to your customers that their satisfaction is truly important to you.
  • Track the feedback you receive – When you’re in the moment, it’s easy to think that you’ll remember the questions your customers raised or the concerns they brought up.  But take it from me, after a few calls, chats or other interactions, they’ll all start to blend together!  Since your goal is to find the feedback that will help make your product or service better, take a few extra minutes to record it all.  Otherwise, you risk wasting your time by letting valuable information be forgotten.
  • Assess your recorded feedback – To be frank, not all customers will give you feedback that’s useful or actionable.  Some complaints will be wildly off topic, while others will request such extensive customization that it would be cost prohibitive to implement in a one-off basis.  Weed out these ideas, but do look for common themes that should be addressed or issues that can be solved without significant input.  Focus on tackling these items, and keep other ideas on the backburner in case you discover innovative ways to solve them without wasting resources in the future.
  • Hold yourself accountable – If you aren’t going to make changes based on your time in customer support, there’s really no reason to do it in the first place.  After assessing the feedback you’ve received relative to your ability to do something about it, set deadlines to mark when you’ll have your proposed changes finished.  Loop in your supervisor if you’re concerned that other priorities will get in the way of this implementation.
  • Always be testing – A while back, I called testing my #3 skill all SEOs must have, and today, I stand by that assessment.  No matter what type of business you run, you should always have at least one test running on your website or user interface – no exceptions.  In fact, if you don’t have one running right now, use the instructions found here to go set something up before returning and finishing up this post!

As a real cherry on top, consider publishing details on the changes you’ve made to your company’s blog or social profiles.  Not only do these types of “behind the scenes” posts typically perform well, your customers will appreciate seeing you make changes based on their feedback.  Even if you aren’t able to address every single issue that’s raised, you’ll likely find that the good will your updates generate more than makes up for frustrations over problems that have yet to be resolved.

Need a little more inspiration to convince you to get started?  Check out the following case studies to see how other companies have used the information gathered by customer service to make substantial improvements to their products:

Clearly, gathering information from customer support has been a valuable experience for me, as well as the companies in the case studies listed above, but now I want to hear from you.  Have you ever spent time on the service side of your business, or would you do it if given the chance?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Comments
  1. Sujan, fantastic post! Its been a while since your last post, but when you do whoppers like this its definitely worth the wait.

    Its funny that you spoke to this topic because I’m seeing lots of chatter around the IM community around things like live chat increasing conversion rates astronomically.

    A question though, at what point do you not pay attention to client feedback? Meaning that if one person tells you to do something, it might now be the thing for others. Do you look for repeated feedback in this case, before making a business decision to change somethings?

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