What do you do when you can’t get to the customer?
A frequent issue we see marketers dealing with is the inability to talk to their customer.
It’s not that marketers don’t want to, but in many organizations the list of teams that want customer input are long.. and marketing oftentimes comes in at the back of the line.
But there are still ways to get customer input in environments where you can’t personally talk to the customer. Kristin Tyndall Director of Digital Marketing at EAB, filled us in on some useful strategies to get customer feedback, and why getting into the customer’s “mental model” is so important. Keep reading to find out:
Name: Kristin Tyndall
Position: Director of Digital Marketing at EAB
How did you get to where you are today?
I Started as a qualitative researcher, which meant my job was to do 150-200 interviews per year, summarize and analyze what we learned, and then use those insights to write content like blog posts and white papers.
I wanted to think more deeply about how we can optimize that content and deliver it better to our audience, so I moved into digital marketing, where I’ve been for the past 7 years.
I initially started with managing one blog and now, 7 years later, I oversee all of digital demand generation across our website, blog content, SEO, ads, and email newsletter
Can you tell us a fun fact about yourself?
Growing up, I wanted to be a teacher, a writer, or an artist. Now as a marketer I get to be all three!
Ok, let’s start with an easy one: Why, specifically, are you looking for customer feedback as a marketer?
The benefits to getting customer feedback are pretty obvious – most marketers know that they should be using customer feedback to determine things like which features to launch or to shape the features or to understand what customers currently think about their brand.
But there is one area where many marketers underestimate the importance of customer input: SEO and conversion optimization. Having a deep understanding of the actual customer language that your buyers are thinking in and searching for is super important to being where they are when they’re looking for a solution.
It’s critical that this be real customer language, not pre-thought and written quotes or testimonials. You need to be able to match your customer’s mental model as much as possible of what this product category is, what it does, how it can help them.
And if none of that exists, then you need to understand what kind of adjacent mental models they have so that you can kind of plug into. You need to be able to answer:
- What words they use to describe all of those things?
- What are the words that they use to describe the product category?
Once you can answer those questions, you can use customer feedback in other ways to drive content creation or changes that make life easier for people interacting with your brand. Customer feedback is going to get you out of your perspective, and having little drips of direct feedback running at all times is going to allow you to create content in a way that you wouldn’t have before because it gives you ideas that you could not have had otherwise.
These things can be as simple as “these colors are hard for me to read” to “I read this kind of content on my way to work in the morning on my phone, so the font should be big”.
There is so much about the digital user experience that isn’t just “going to the website”. Incorporating customer feedback into your digital marketing can make the very experience of interacting with your brand more delightful.
So unfortunately, the world isn’t perfect. What are the typical issues that get in the way for marketing teams to get access to the customer?
I think the biggest barrier is a very sensible one–protecting the customer & prospect experience and making sure we don’t have 20 people trying to call the same person for interviews.
Tons of people in the company want to call customers–consultants, UX people on the product team, every team in marketing, sales, customer success. Nevermind that your customer is also getting communication from you in other channels, so they feel like they’re interacting with you all the time.
So, there are a ton of people that are vying to get direct customer feedback for something they are responsible for, and in many organizations marketing falls to the back of the line and is de-prioritized over things like “what they think of the new product”.
Given those restrictions for the marketing team, can you lay out a few strategies fo/r how marketing can get the information they need without direct access to the customer?
First of all, while it’s helpful to actually talk to the customer, you don’t need to physically speak to them to get the benefit of customer understanding. You can do a lot of research online and learn a lot by hanging out in the same digital spaces as your customers, for example:
- Reading their posts in a forum
- Seeing their social media posts
- Interacting with their comments on articles, or
- Reading their reviews of your competitors’ products.
Additionally, to get into the customer mindset, you need to consume the same types of content they consume. This is actually really easy – some ideas for that are:
- Sign up for magazines and newsletters targeted to your audience
- Follow influencers in their field
- Check for podcasts in their field
I’m always surprised by how many marketers don’t do this. In today’s world, your customers are literally volunteering their opinions constantly–go read what they’re saying.
However, for direct customer feedback, we know that marketing may not get time alone with the customer, so I look for small ways to collaborate and piggyback on an existing channel – here’s a quick 2-step outline I like to use to make this happen:
- Brainstorm a list of everyone at your company who interacts with customers in person, phone, or digital channels:
- Main phone line
- Website help desk
- Drift chat
- Email newsletter
- Social media manager
- UX team
- People running webinars and events
- Now, next to each one, list 1 small way you could collaborate with them to get micro customer feedback:
- Add 1 question
- Add a short survey
- Send notes/transcripts
- Forward relevant emails
- Meet quarterly for insights
There are also plenty of tools that can assist you as well. I’m not going to go into detail on each one, but check out this post that features a pretty fun infographic than can help guide you to the right tool for you.
Getting feedback or customer input can be a pain – how should marketing teams think about putting process or automation around getting this kind of information so it becomes second nature? At what point should the team make it a focus?
I think it’s much easier when you start small – look for small wins and places to inject 1 question into the workflow that gets you feedback. Always start small – 1 question is better than nothing.
For things that are more manual – I like to set quarterly calendar reminders for myself and my team
In general, I like to be Agile-ish: get customer-facing teams involved on your big projects, go beyond asking them for input one time and see if they can help you get market input. Be in the mentality of having something always running or have a default question when the opportunity comes up. If you think manually or in a one-time mindframe, you’re not going to be as successful.