Life Events: Serving Customers When and How It Matters Most
Babies. Jobs. Houses. Spouses. These are just a few examples of major events in people’s lives. They are the standard by which customer experience and marketing professionals must now drive experience design. Why? Life events are driven by emotion and are significant opportunities for companies to attract new customers or cement relationships with existing customers – for life. For example, having a baby is a defining stage of life when consumers are most likely to change their purchasing behaviors. Customers will recognize when companies show up during these critical moments and, if executed well, this effort will pay dividends.
I recently gathered three CX experts from Andrew Reise Consulting – Dan Arthur, Jeff Lewandowski, and Joe Piette – to discuss life event marketing and learn more about how to do it right. At a high level, we talked about the following topics:
Strategy for Neutral or Negative Interactions
How would an organization better understand customer life events?
Joe Piette: You still leverage some of the traditional customer experience tools like customer lifecycle and journey mapping to begin to understand the interactions. But I think the driver behind life event experience strategy is really more about determining how we fit into a consumer’s life versus how they fit into ours. Each company needs to answer this question: What are those events in a person’s life that cause the need for interaction with our business? In healthcare, there are definite triggers in a person’s life that drive the need to think about insurance: having a child, getting married, losing a job, retiring, getting sick, etc. The most important thing to understand is what the customer is doing, thinking, or feeling at that time. Customer journey maps are helpful tools to show where the customer may interact with the brand during that life event — “moments of truth,” so to speak.
Jeff Lewandowski: Another way to anticipate your customers’ life events is generation segmentation. For example, a lot of companies — particularly in financial services — are really interested in baby boomers, which overlaps with retirement, or millennials, which overlaps with buying a home or getting married. How do these different sets of customers come to and view these life events? By combining the generational awareness of your customers with appreciation for the specific life events, you know what to expect and strategize accordingly.
What are ways that an organization can identify life events so it can develop strategies accordingly?
Lewandowski: The care center probably is the No. 1 source of real-time information about your customers. Most companies get millions of calls per month but the agents’ capability to listen to all of that information is limited. On the other side, you often see a typical company’s marketing group hire third-party researchers to evaluate their customers instead of using the internal knowledge the company already has. Long story short: it’s very important to listen at the care center level, but it’s also very important to put the infrastructure in place to validate that a specific concern is happening with a significant number of customers.
Can you give some examples of what companies can do after they understand the life event better?
Dan Arthur: From a marketing perspective, for something like retirement, just by better understanding the consumer’s attitudes, behaviors, and emotions at that point in time you can change your brand’s messaging or start a new campaign. The tone, timing, and cadence of messaging will be unique to that life event creating a stronger, more personalized connection. Also, getting married, having a baby, or buying a house can be very exciting times and positive events, but they’re also extremely taxing. So just because it’s a positive event doesn’t mean that’s how a customer is feeling at that time. It’s important to understand the full picture and range of emotions of the customer when crafting your communications.
Piette: We use customer personas to help paint a picture of how different consumers experience a life event, including their attitudes, behaviors, and emotions. These are used to help educate the organization, particularly for customer-facing employees that interact with customers every day. They are also great for designing personalized experiences across multiple channels.
What about big data – how does a company get insights into which customers are going through life events?
Piette: Big data is a great opportunity to bring science to the art of customer experience. But I worry that brands could get lost in the data, or too concerned with accounting for every X and Y data point. A lot of what focusing on life events is all about is being more human. These approaches we talk about, such as walking in your customer’s shoes, are not just lip service. They are about trying to understand from an emotional and proactive standpoint what the consumer is going through and how you can be more empathetic, more human in your interactions with them. That’s the balance between big data and some of the tools we bring to the table, like personas and journey mapping. There’s value in bringing the best of both.
Strategies for Neutral or Negative Interactions
When a company typically has had only neutral or negative interactions, what are some tips on how to use life events in an experience strategy?
Piette: Some of the best practices aren’t radical ideas; it’s how well you do them that determines how successful you’ll be. First, understand what the trigger is so you can be more empathic in your interactions. Next, understand all of the different players within a life event and all of your different interactions and contact points during that life event. Then try to set up timely and relevant messaging and calls to action for that life event.
In health insurance, we use the example of job loss. With the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there’s a big opportunity for those who have lost their jobs to move from their employer-sponsored group insurance to individual insurance plans. When the ACA was introduced, the only messaging going out at that time to those who lost their jobs was a legal form letter about COBRA insurance. So we looked at the entire ecosystem around job loss. We talked with several different experts that interact with consumers going through the job loss journey on a daily basis, such as behavioral psychologists, HR directors, staffing firms, and career counselors, about the impact job loss can have. We talked to roughly 40 consumers about how they felt during job loss and what impacts it had on their lives. It turns out that timing is critically important, because if you reach out to someone too soon, they don’t hear your message because they’re so upset. It’s a deeply emotional event.
Next, the tone of the messaging is critical. If someone is eligible for COBRA, they’ve obviously lost their job. So customer care agents who handle those calls should be trained on that life event and how to be empathetic in that situation.
We talked a little about journey maps earlier, what is the connection between life events and customer touchpoints/moments of truth?
Piette: Life events are a broader way to look the customer lifecycle. We typically have the same phases of a customer journey such as Shop, Buy, Use, etc. During a life event though, a customer goes through those activities slightly differently. So, by understanding the life events, you can make the touchpoints and moments of truth more impactful to the customer, become more personalized, and ideally capture more of the market. An example is in the utility industry: in the spring, an electric utility’s marketing material will discuss outages. While they are not specific to a life event, utilities know outages are a huge disruption in someone’s life. And most utilities have tried to match the life event experience approach to a known neutral or negative interaction. It’s a great way to apply it.
Arthur: Customers really don’t want to interact with their utilities on a day-to-day basis, but customers expect them to show up when they need service. For example, moving can be one of the most draining transitions in a person’s life, and arguably a life event. If you call the utility and all they care about is completing the transaction with you and there’s no sign of empathy or consideration for all the variables going on with the move, your satisfaction will be lower.
Empathy Starts with Employees
So we’ve talked about how to understand the life event, manage some of the key moments of truth … what does this mean for customer-facing employees? How does a company tactically make this real for a customer?
Arthur: We’re having that discussion right now with several companies that want to extend their brand to the front line and make sure every touchpoint executes the brand’s promise. We stress hiring practices to help with that so you get the right people with the ability to be genuine and empathic in certain situations. Training and mentoring also are important. Consider something as simple as a bank overdraft — it might not be a life event, but there’s an impact on the customer’s pocketbook so there will be some passionate emotions. Handled correctly by the bank, this can be an opportunity to show how you understand what the customer is feeling. Then you can guide the discussion in a more positive way.
Lewandowski: There’s a natural propensity to want to get to the results. Everybody starts to do customer experience thinking they’ll get to some kind of end result, which usually is financial. Often too quickly the mentality is something like “How do I squeeze the financial benefit out of this?” There’s a chronology in how to get there. Happy employees deliver good customer experiences. These experiences engender loyalty, which results in financial returns. People have a tendency to want to skip some of the dirty work, so to speak, and get to the financial results.
Final thoughts? It sounds like this is the next generation of the traditional customer service ethic of putting yourself in the customer’s shoes.
Piette: Life event experience design is about connecting more positively with people, across all touchpoints and leveraging what you’ve learned across every channel.
Arthur: Connecting with customers at a deeper level will be critical for companies to compete in the future. How you make them feel is what they will remember in their interactions with your brand. Understanding the drivers and experience that creates positive emotions will be a differentiator.
Lewandowski: If you’re making life event experience design part of your strategy, the key piece is educating your employees on those relevant life events that intersect with your brand and what your customers are going through in those events. Then your employees can better understand what those customers are experiencing at certain points in time, where they are in their journey. You can’t build or encourage empathy without that education. And it makes the difference between really connecting with a customer versus reading off of a script. It’s more human to say, “Oh really? I’m so sorry. I will do anything I can to help make this easier for you.”
For additional thoughts and insight, be sure to read “What Drives a Profitable Customer Experience” (Forrester Research, Inc., June 2014). The report outlines Forrester’s analysis of the top 25 CX and loyalty drivers for numerous industries. Forrester’s research shows that it’s critical across all industries for customers to feel valued by a brand. “We tested how feeling valued relates to other emotions and found that it’s a unique concept, separate and distinct from feelings like ‘happy’ and ‘pleased,’” Forrester says in the report.
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