When it comes to doing business online, the fundamentals remain the same while many of the specifics (and the tools) undergo drastic changes.
Same goes for handling customer service online: At the end of the day, it’s all about taking care of your customers — but how you that hinges on your ability to adapt to the many options that online customer support offers.
7 online customer service tips for exceptional customer care
From choosing the correct support channels, to using online resources to get out of the way, to empowering teams to keep customer happiness a priority, understanding how to properly conduct online support is paramount to creating an amazing customer experience.
What follows are our best tips for improving your online service today.
1. Ask yourself: What are my customers’ support needs?
One of the most important things to consider when it comes to online customer service is finding what your customers typically need from your support team.
As an example: Say you’re looking for a company to host your website. You might want to make sure they offer live chat, since you’ll want to make sure you can get an immediate response should your site go down. In that instance, you don’t want to get sent through a ticket system or to a forum.
Meet your customers where they are. If they’re already on your website, make sure they can find any answers they may need right from the page they’re on — e.g., with an embeddable support widget like Beacon. That way, customers can find contextual help without leaving your site. (To see this in action, click here. Pretty cool, huh?)
It’s easier to succeed by placing emphasis on the support channels where your customers actually need you. Email support is still the most popular in many instances, but considering the needs of your customers takes priority over anything else.
Free PDF: Choosing the Right Support Channels for Your Business
It’s better to excel at a few channels than to spread your team thin and provide poor service. Download this simple, free guide to choosing the best customer support channels for you and your customers.
2. Get out of your customers’ way
Self-service can be an enormous benefit to your customers — not the hindrance you may perceive it to be.
One of the better examples out there can be found over at WooCommerce. The Woo team offers WordPress themes for site owners, many of these folks being beginners. If you’ve never run a website before, even on a relatively simple platform like WordPress, know that there can be myriad headaches and questions as you take your first steps.
What’s the support team of Woo supposed to do? If they had to handle each and every customer question, they’d likely have zero time to focus on making themes. To stem the tide of common questions, Woo turns to content, coming in the form of documentation, best practices tips, FAQs, and video tutorials.
Just check out the support section on Woo’s site, and you’ll see the first option is documentation:
Woo understands their users don’t want to get stuck in a support forum or have to email their support team for every little question. Even larger companies in industries notorious for lackluster support have taken charge with self-service options, such as how Comcast rebooted their online self-service system for customers who wanted more control.
3. … But don’t stop at knowledge base documentation
The idea of “content as customer service” is one that many businesses can benefit from.
We’ve taken this to heart at Help Scout, taking time to create a variety of customer service resources that run the gamut of free e-books, webinars, and whitepapers that aim to help people excel in customer support. When customers ask about these sorts of topics, we have an full suite of content pieces that can help them out, instead of creating a separate reply each and every time.
We also offer HelpU, a full-scale education platform for companies and teams who want to create better customer experiences. It’s chock full of actionable advice for support professionals and their teams. (If you haven’t visited recently — or at all! — definitely check it out.)
When you’re providing a ton of valuable content to new visitors and prospective customers, you begin the chain of Know, Like, Trust, turning random visitors into long-term customers.
Are you solving customer headaches with content?
4. Respect your customers’ time
Do you know how long your customers wait for an initial reply? Or how long the average time to resolution is? What about how many times a customer has to go back and forth with your team before they get their questions answered to their satisfaction?
The longer you make customers wait to hear from you, the more time you give them to start exploring your competitors’ offerings. We don’t have to tell you that what gets measured gets managed — unless you’re already keeping an eagle eye on your customer service metrics, chances are there are some opportunities for optimization.
Make sure your help desk comes equipped with reporting tools that are robust enough to drive the results you’re looking for.
5. Recognize that ‘online service’ ≄ ‘robotic service’
When you’re working with customers online, via email or chat, the temptation can be toward a just-the-facts-ma’am style — but a pleasant tone (or any specific tone, really) is more difficult to convey via text, where you don’t have additional signifiers like swings in vocal pitch or friendly body language.
Conveying empathy via your virtual tone is critical in online customer service. One crucial skill that goes a long way with customers is mirroring — matching their tone lets them know you’re on their side. When a customer is formal, keep your tone strictly professional. If they’re more casual, relax your tone too — it’s OK to crack a joke or include a funny GIF in your reply if the customer has sent you a queue that they have a sense of humor.
Mirroring builds rapport and puts your customer at ease, reducing the amount of interpretation needed to understand what you’re trying to communicate.
Free PDF: How to Talk to Your Customers
Communicating with customers is an art, a science ... and a competitive differentiator. Get your own free copy of this comprehensive guide to talking with customers.
6. Beef up your product knowledge
Just because online customer support gives you more leeway and time to look things up than, say, in person or phone support does, doesn’t mean support teams should rest on their laurels and rely solely on what the documentation says to help customers.
Forward-facing employees should know the ins and outs of how your product or service works, like any power user in the real world would. Having a solid product foundation not only allows you to help more customers faster, it helps you understand their experience so you can become their advocate.
Of course, you can’t know the answer to every question. Even the most seasoned support pros need to collaborate with engineers and designers on some of the more complex conversations. (That’s when help desk features like notes and @mentions come in handy!) Customer support is a team sport. Which brings us to ...
7. Empower your entire team to help customers
One of the biggest benefits of conducting most of your support online is definitely the flexibility, and empowering your entire team to talk with customers and handle their questions is critical if you want to turn your support from good to great.
Why take the risk of running into a customer service trainwreck? Create a customer-centric culture into your employee’s mindsets by having everyone do support. It won’t hinder their long term company-specific skills, and it will make sure that each employee knows how to properly talk with customers.
With this team system for talking with customers in place, you have to actually give authority to your employees to make decisions. Consider Nordstrom’s notorious employee handbook and their #1 rule for dealing with customers:
Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.
When your customers come to you with concerns, you can be all but certain they’re not concerned with your company policies — they want results. Let your employees give it to them without having to go through all of the needless red tape.
Have systems in place, but embrace the power of Whole Company Support by putting your employees on your customers’ team. Nothing builds customer goodwill quite so effectively.
Make sure you gather feedback with every customer interaction. Help Scout provides customer reporting, instant feedback with happiness ratings, and on-site help using Beacon. Try Help Scout free for 15 days.
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated for accuracy and freshness.
A poorly written support email reads like a slapped together instruction manual. Unless you want customers floundering about like a fish out of water assembling an IKEA TV stand, it pays to get the “flow” right.
This means considering how a customer will actually approach the advice you’ve given them. Are your implied “Steps 1, 2, & 3” the actual order the customer should be doing them in? Are they logically organized, not only by what should be done, but by difficulty?
Here are three principles to live by:
Always explain things chronologically.
No exceptions. The first thing customers should do must be Step 1. As with all these steps if you can do it for them, you should.
Order by difficulty.
A support email can also be organized by complexity. If multiple tasks can be performed “first” (i.e., order doesn’t matter much), have customers do what’s easiest first. Early friction decreases the likelihood that they’ll finish or even follow your advice .
Be mindful of workflow.
This is a bit more abstract—in general, we all recognize that if you link someone to a video a few paragraphs into your email, you increase the chances that they’ll get distracted. For support, this means structuring responses in a way that keeps readers in the email and doing/reading things that won’t interrupt their problem-solving workflow until they are near the end.
Recognize that “reader fatigue” and “click fatigue” go hand-in-hand. Similar to assembling help content, place links strategically in sections to nudge customers into clicking them only when ready.
Use Underline, Bold, and Italics
There’s a special place in hell for people who underline text that isn’t a link. Not really, but c’mon folks, it’s 2014. There’s almost no reason to ever underline text in emails.
Bold is a fantastic way to clearly organize the customer’s queries into segmented responses. It becomes poorly utilized when you start emphasizing random words that make people place emphasis for no reason. Don’t do it.
You can even reframe a customer’s question to add clarity. Bold what they’re really asking, and respond underneath. An example customer email:
The theoretical email above is one that many customers will send—well meaning, but not exactly clear. Decipher for yourself, and use bold to organize your responses.
In short, bold is best left for framing a response. It allows you to chunk off sections for easy reading, much like a sub-headline.
Italics are useful for placing a lighter touch on points of interest. For instance, telling a customer to “go to your settings” is okay, but a better response would be “up in the top right, click on My Settings.” The emphasis brings attention to exactly what they should be looking for.
Do not force your customers to suffer through an entire paragraph of nothing but italic font. It isn’t easy to read, and it’s a misuse to apply it everywhere instead of strategically using it to act as a highlighter.
Writing for the web lends a distinct advantage. You have flexibility in structural style that helps make for easier reading.
Bullet points are a common example. Make use of bullet points to “ladder” lengthy sets of instructions. When discussing an ordered list, use numbering. Example below:
Blunt wording that gets right to the point, but it could be even easier to follow:
Seems obvious, but I’ve had many support responses that missed an opportunity to make my life a little simpler by structuring the steps this way.
Links are a bit trickier. It’s fairly well-established that an excessive amount of linking in any piece of writing will diminish comprehension. They become too distracting. But a differing principle that comes from email marketing is that links that stand out are links that get clicked.
This matters when you’re sharing an important piece of documentation or just something the customer needs to see. Two examples below:
The problem with the links here is that they are buried within the message and the anchor text isn’t descriptive enough. You might not think of support emails as needing a call to action , but it’s a principle that applies outside of marketing. It’s an encouragement to get things done and can easily be applied here.
Let’s try that again:
This gives you the flexibility to keep messages short should you need, but it doesn’t interrupt the customer while they read the overview. You also give them a clear “what to do next” by having a section written around the links. Use descriptive language for the anchor text; don’t be above writing “Click here for ____” if you think it will add clarity to your instructions.
P.S.: Did you know that the P.S. is the most consistently read part of any email? Direct response copywriters have known this for decades, and they often put some of their most compelling writing in this area.
For support, how you use this depends on the conversation, but it’s a great place to close a conversation with messaging like, “PS: Be sure to let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you, happy to help!”
That’s a wrap. Be sure to consider and use these quick styling tips to help you organize communication in a way that is beneficial for you and your customers.
Data is a map of interconnected points as far as the eye can see.
There’s no finite end to the numbers, which makes data powerful to harness … but overwhelming to work with. For better or worse, the options are limitless!
The success of a customer support team often hinges on the ability to navigate this vast maze of data to gain insights that drive real results. Not unlike in a board game, to chart an efficient path toward an overarching goal, you need to make sure you don’t get lost or fumble over unexpected challenges.
With so many metrics to explore, it’s easy to get pulled off track. Before you know it, you spent the entire day at the mercy of one customized report that serves no real purpose. When it comes to reporting, focusing on value is everything.
Teams that curate their data in alignment with clear questions and clearer goals reap the greatest benefits from this treasure trove of information.
Here’s how to dive into the essentials of building impactful customer support reports with Help Scout, so you can harness the power of data without getting lost in the debris.
Ask a guiding question
Every impactful report starts with an insightful question. What exactly do you want to know? The topic or issue can be as broad or specific as you like related to performance, product or customer experience. You can get as granular as the hour-to-hour efficiency of your support team or as broad as the most common hiccups customers faced in the last year.
The most important part of this step is to make sure that the question you ask is tied to a primary business goal or KPI. Every query should help inform a way to increase profits (growth metrics) or decrease cost (retention metrics) — because if you just start messing with data for data’s sake, you’re not going to create an actionable report that holds value for your company.
Here are a few examples of guiding questions that drive our work at Help Scout:
How happy are customers with our support?
Are there any components of our products that need adjustment?
How successful is the team this day, month, year?
Choose a quantity and quality metric
At Help Scout, we know from experience that one metric can’t tell you everything. If you want to answer a guiding question, you need to assess multiple metrics to paint a clearer picture.
In the case of “How is our support team performing?” you could look at both the response time (quantity metric) and the happiness rating (quality metric). Together, the two metrics tell you how quickly a team responds to customers and how effective they are at making customers happy.
Instead of analyzing each metric in a silo, notice any connection between the numbers that may pinpoint a deeper conclusion. For example, when the response time goes above four hours, you may see a serious and consistent drop in the happiness rating. Together, the two metrics tell you a story: Responding within four hours is essential to customer satisfaction across the board.
Mo McKibbin uses the example of a diet to illustrate the same idea. Let’s say you want to lose weight this year. You could use one metric — weight loss — to measure your success. But there are a lot of unhealthy ways to lose weight that could make you feel terrible in the long run.
Instead, you could add in a quality metric to the equation: how much weight you lose and how healthy you feel on a daily basis. Together, they give you a clearer picture of whether a new exercise regime and diet are supporting your health for the long term.
Curate and distill data for an audience
When you’re curating these metrics to present to an individual or team, focus on what the specific audience needs to know. The scale and detail you include (as well as how you present them) may vary depending on the audience, even if you’re addressing the same question.
In the example of “How is our support team performing?” the report should look different based on the audience. An individual agent needs to know their team isn’t being efficient this week, but the CEO doesn’t need to know that this specific week has seen a small drop in productivity on the team.
This flexible, curated approach to reports ensures the story behind the data doesn’t get lost in the numbers — because what’s the point of a report that doesn’t communicate value?
Curating data may sound overwhelming, but in Help Scout, it’s much more intuitive than it sounds. Our help desk’s reporting is robust, easy to interpret, and simple to manipulate. There’s no need to spend days or weeks building custom reports because everything is already at your fingertips.
With the Reports Views, you have the flexibility to filter data for the audience (and save the results) depending on the report.
Help Scout Reports Views
A report should always help a company improve, or it’s not worth sharing. When you’re analyzing the data, highlight any changes, trends or correlations in the numbers and let go of everything else. These fluctuations help you pinpoint the most valuable insights that spark positive change.
Free PDF: The Most Helpful Customer Support Reports
Which customer support metrics should you measure and report on? It can be hard to know where to start, but this free guide breaks it down and makes it easy!
Listen to people and build a story
There’s no doubt: Data-driven customer support can transform the customer experience. But to create meaningful growth, you need to dive into the customers’ and support team’s real life experiences, too.
That means harnessing empathy — and a healthy dose of narrative feedback — to build a story that may or may not support what you’re seeing in the numbers.
At Help Scout, we use customer interviews to get at the heart of how people experience the product. Nick still talks to multiple customers a week, so we always have our pulse on the day-to-day “feeling” around the product. As we prepare to launch big improvements to Beacon, for example, we’re talking to customer after customer about their processes and needs, and we’re making adjustments to the product along the way based on that feedback.
Similarly, when good support managers talk to their teams, they ask each person how they feel they’re doing and what their life is like at the time. When the data shows a team member is struggling at work, might they be struggling at home, too? Would they benefit from some time off to regroup?
These narrative experiences can point to the “why” and the “how” behind trends in the data, which are just as important as the numbers themselves.
By guiding reports with clear questions, balancing multiple metrics, and curating the data, you can create reports that drive results in the long term. Together with a human-centered approach, this data helps boost team performance, serving customers every day.
HIPAA compliance may not be a thrilling subject for everyone — but for our customers who need it? They really need it.
When you’re handling sensitive data like Protected Health Information (PHI), you need to ensure the tools you use adhere to the same high privacy and security standards you do.
For organizations that require HIPAA-compliant email, there’s an additional layer of complexity when it comes to evaluating tools. We know it’s not easy, so we try to make things as simple and clear as we can.
What is HIPAA?
HIPAA stands for the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which, among other rights and protections, requires the confidential handling of PHI, or Protected Health Information.
Help Scout maintains ongoing compliance with the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and is able to process, maintain, and store protected health information for any entities restricted by these regulations.
A HIPAA-compliant help desk
To maintain HIPAA compliance, we conduct annual risk assessments and take exceptional care to secure and encrypt data — we enforce the same level of encryption that banks and other financial institutions do. Help Scout is hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS), a scalable cloud-based computing platform with end-to-end security and privacy features built in.
We also require every Help Scout employee who supports our customers (and because we practice whole-company support, that’s all of us!) to complete HIPAA training each year. Of course, we never access customer accounts unless we’re explicitly asked for help.
We currently use Accountable for our annual employee HIPAA training.
For organizations that require a business associate agreement (BAA), we can sign those upon request as well. After it’s signed, we turn on a set of features on your Help Scout account that removes identifying information from any notifications.
Not all customer support software is created equal
There aren’t too many HIPAA-compliant help desks out there, and the few that do exist often lack other features support teams need to do their work (such as reliable CSAT ratings and other reports). But integrating extra apps to bridge those gaps is another can of worms, because those third-party tools also need to be HIPAA-compliant.
From your initial search to final purchase and setup, this unbiased resource will help make choosing any help desk easier.
Keeping the personal touch
Just because you’re accountable to rules and regulations doesn’t mean your email support has to be impersonal.
You can comply with HIPAA regulations and treat your customers and other stakeholders like the humans they are.
The unfortunate side effect of many help desks is that the customer experience suffers. Users encounter barriers instead of frictionless communication; every customer who starts a conversation has the fact that their “ticket” is being processed shoved in their face.
The best help desk is the one your customers don't even notice. There is something about a plain text email that is friendly and familiar. We send these emails to our friends, co-workers, and family members. We don't send them aggressively stylized, amorphous pamphlets that place design over function.
When your customers receive emails from you, the fact that it looks like any other email means that it doesn’t place a visual barrier between them and your company — you get to have a personal conversation with a human touch.
Patients deserve to have their personal information protected, but nothing about those protections precludes health care providers from treating them like humans. To that end, health care organizations and Help Scout share the same goal: helping people.
The reason your personal Gmail inbox so rarely finds itself at inbox zero? It isn’t easy to respond to all those emails, but it sure is easy to archive or ignore them.
Your customer service inbox doesn’t have that luxury.
There are only so many “Sorry for the wait!” messages you can send before customers stop waiting and start getting in line for your competitors.
The balancing act of speed and completeness is one that support departments struggle with. You can’t provide great service with a flooded inbox, but you can only throttle the lever so much before speed becomes a liability.
Let’s look at a few strategies to find the happy middle ground. It starts with identifying ways to cut the fat so support can embark on the empathetic path to inbox 0.
Using Saved Replies and help content
Only so many keystrokes can be made in a day.
A shared saved replies database of canned responses the team can actively build on — creating a living resource — allows you to salvage those precious keystrokes by streamlining how you answer common questions.
Be fairly liberal with adding them. There is little downside other than getting somewhat trigger-happy and ending up with replies you rarely use. Since it’s easiest to access them via your help desk’s search feature, this won’t generally be a problem.
Establishing a relaxed set of guidelines encourages the team to use their gut to decide when a saved reply is needed; “I feel like we get this question a lot” or “this is the third time I’ve seen this question from a customer” is often all the justification you need.
Mainly, saved replies can be used to reduce the number of conversations that are not valuable to your company. A new customer who needs to know how to reset her password still deserves help, but this is a conversation that warrants a template. You’ll gain more time to have high-value conversations, which result in real insights.
Knowing when to add content to your knowledge base is similar but slightly different. You know your support process best, but here are a few suggestions on common problems to be addressed through help content.
When the response is too long
It doesn’t matter how great your reply is; most customers are going to ignore a 1,000-word email. You also gain the advantage of having images, videos, and formatting appear exactly how you want, instead of potentially being butchered in the customer’s inbox. When your knowledge base is integrated, the process is especially easy because you can pull in articles without leaving your reply.
When targeting long-tail searches
Customers will obviously want to evaluate parts of your product before they buy. In industries like B2B software, you may find it common for prospects to search “How to transfer from [your competitor] to [your product].” Customers are likely evaluating how easy it is, so give them the answer. For a consumer product like shoes, customers could search for queries like “How to care for chromexcel leather.” Companies like Bevel have made great use of this strategy.
When you want to build a success portal
A saved reply is a one-to-one response that is beneficial to you and the customer, but a portal of help content is a one-to-all way to guide customers to getting results with your product. Grand examples like the Wistia Learning Center don’t happen overnight, so if you’d like to create an A → Z support experience by creating an archive with varied articles on common slip-ups and pro-tips, it’s best to start with a single step.
Focus on strategic automation
Through talking with Help Scout customers, I found that they felt having a large primary support inbox was valuable, because it didn’t cause needless diffusion.
Put another way, they felt that automation like Workflows, auto-assigning of conversations, and automatic filtering to specially created Folders were best utilized to create big wins for the team, rather than adding needless complexity.
Here are a few common ways to “automagically” streamline your incoming emails.
Opportunities for retention
By setting up a folder and a Workflow for a keyword like “Refund request” in the subject line, you give your team a prioritized place in your dashboard to salvage potentially lost customers. You can apply this in a number of ways, but it starts with considering opportunities to filter special conversations (“Upgrading,” “Canceling my account”) to provide excellent support at key crossroads.
Highlight VIP customers
All customers are created equal, but some are more equal than others. More seriously, it’s helpful to filter high-value customers to their own folders to ensure timely responses and to avoid losing loyal advocates over an unlucky case of message shuffling. As your VIP list grows, add more emails or separate folders based on lifetime value or length of time as a customer.
These are helpful for making iterative improvements to your support process. Let's say you want to keep response times down to ~6 hours, and you want to escalate conversations that have been sitting for longer than that. You can set up a “Waiting Since” Workflow to remind the appropriate user(s) so that messages don’t sit and collect dust.
Controlled subject lines via contact forms
An interesting way to use your contact form (such as Gravity Forms) is to set the subject line to something pre-defined, such as “Pre-sales questions” or “Non-customer.” Because each incoming reply will have the same subject, you can apply consistent filtering with Folders, assignees, and other workflows.
Get everyone on the same page
Running support without a playbook can feel as chaotic as a pee-wee football game.
Consider the time lost manually answering frequently asked questions; the same principle applies to explanations to your staff on the back-end. Encourage autonomy and eliminate confusion by creating unity through clarity.
Use a support lexicon
“Is it OK to say this?” Support should always feel welcome to ask, but you can eliminate excessive questioning through a support lexicon, a handbook on how to talk to customers. Focus on the dos and don’ts of tone and language, and outline the sort of customer service you admire.
Free PDF: How to Talk to Your Customers
Communicating with customers is an art, a science ... and a competitive differentiator. Get your own free copy of this comprehensive guide to talking with customers.
Address common objections
A while back I had a prospective customer make a “scale objection” to Help Scout: could we handle 50 users? I knew some of our customers had more than 300 unique users and replied as such, but I felt my answer would have been better with additional information. The next week, our support team made a customer objections list in Docs, addressing things like competitor objections (“How are you different from ____?”) and pricing objections.
Outline your processes
When is it appropriate to write a piece of help content? Is it OK to set up a new Workflow without asking management? How should we document bugs and errors? Every support department will have these questions, and to best address them, give guidelines that allow for autonomy but that don’t leave people lost without a map.
Start with making it easy for customers to email you, then use their replies to turn issues into fixes.
Bill Price, Amazon’s former VP of Global Customer Service, considered the company’s contact-per-order a metric of supreme importance, and he drove it down over 70% during his time at the company. A reduction here was often the result of improving the experience in such a way that there was no need to contact support.
From talking with Help Scout customers, I heard some mention that it is useful to do this through a smaller lens, like a feature-by-feature basis. If your software has an “Import” feature, then evaluating your contacts-per-import can help showcase a problem that a saved reply cannot solve.
The reason Whole Company Support matters here is because it’s where designers and engineers can fix the original leak. When your UX designer is handling support emails that stem from bad UX design, you can bet that fixing it will become a priority.
The KAYAK Big Red Phone, which can randomly ring in a KAYAK team member’s office, wasn’t too fondly received by some engineers. The CEO’s response? If you want to reduce the calls, talk to customers and fix the reason that made them call in the first place.
Where are you spending your time?
To help better spend your time, start with knowing where your time is spent.
By using Tags and support metrics, you can drill down on data for specific types of emails — for instance, finding out how much time (on average) is spent helping customers who contact you about troubles with “Migrating.”
Seeing this allows for a better grasp on average-handle-time. This matters because the volume of emails you receive can make some issues seem more important than they are; what about those issues which are a little more infrequent, but require a lot of time to handle?
Knowing will allow you to make better decisions. Does this warrant a knowledge base article to help cut out these lengthy responses? Or do we just need to improve the user experience so they don’t have to ask? To begin answering these questions, you’ll need more than guesswork, and data kicks the conversation off right.
Being an Inbox Hero
While inbox zero often causes us to envisage an assembly line environment of productivity, a cluttered support queue results in mistakes and perceived unprofessionalism.
Not to mention the impact on morale — when the team feels like they are constantly spinning their wheels against an impregnable wall of emails, it dampens the mood and stifles creativity.
Having room to breathe results in better conversations. While your search for inbox zero starts with empathy, you have to execute with strategy. Follow some of the steps above to shake off the weight, allowing you time to give customers the service they deserve.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated for accuracy and freshness. The original version first appeared on the Help Scout blog on June 1, 2015.
Creating a useful customer survey is no easy task, but it’s worth pursuing. Few other forms of feedback allow you to gather such a large volume of data so quickly on any set of questions.
While some of our other favorite ways to gather customer feedback focus on active listening during one-on-one sessions with customers, customer surveys provide an opportunity to poll your users on questions that might otherwise go unanswered.
But surveys inherently have a few serious problems, and these issues are only compounded when you create survey questions without a game plan.
Today we’ll look at some proven ways to turn your surveys into a reliable source of insightful customer information.
10 customer survey tips for collecting genuine insights
Customer surveys have a few glaring problems, but that doesn’t mean they should be dismissed as a useful resource.
Not surprisingly, most of these problems revolve around getting accurate answers from respondents:
No matter what you do, research has shown that there will always be a small minority of people who will lie on your survey, especially when the questions pertain to the three B’s: behavior, beliefs or belonging. (Here’s a review of this topic from Cornell University.)
Fortunately, research also offers solutions to these consistent problems with surveys. A joint study by Survey Monkey and the Gallup Group offers some good insights on creating and structuring surveys that can keep these problems to a minimum.
Below, let’s look at the study’s most important takeaways so you can get a clear picture of how to improve your surveys.
1. KISS (Keep it short, stupid)
Applying this spin on the traditional KISS principle is important for assembling a successful survey.
Your biggest concern is being clear and concise, or in finding the shortest way to ask a question without muddying its intent. It’s not just about reducing the character count; you must eliminate superfluous phrasing from your questions.
At the same time, overall survey length remains important for keeping abandon rates low. Think about the last time you sat around and excitedly answered a 30-minute questionnaire. It’s probably never happened.
2. Ask only questions that fulfill your end goal
Be ruthless when it comes to cutting unnecessary questions from your surveys.
Every question you include should have a well-defined purpose and a strong reason for being there. Otherwise, it should be put on the chopping block. Depending on the survey’s purpose, it may not matter how a customer first came in contact with your site. If that’s the case, then don’t ask. Do you need to know a customer’s name? If not, again, don’t ask.
Including that question you thought couldn’t hurt to ask only adds unnecessary bloat that could send survey takers hunting for the “back” button.
3. Construct smart, open-ended questions
Although it’s tempting to stick with multiple choice queries and scales, some of your most insightful feedback will come from open-ended questions, which allow customers to spill their real thoughts onto the page.
However, nothing makes a survey more intimidating than a huge text box connected to the very first question. It’s best to take on brief questions first to create a sense of progress, and then give survey takers who’ve made it to the closing questions the opportunity to elaborate on their thoughts.
One strategy is to get people to commit to a question with a simple introduction, and then follow up with an open-ended question such as, “Why do you feel this way?”
4. Ask one question at a time
We’ve all been hit with an extensive series of questions before: “How did you find on our site? Do you understand what our product does? Why or why not?”
It can begin to feel like you’re being interrogated by someone who won’t let you finish your sentences. If you want quality responses, you need to give people time to think through each individual question.
Bombarding people with multiple points to consider leads to half-hearted answers by respondents who will just be looking to get through to the end — if they even stay with the survey at all. Make things easy by sticking to one main point at a time.
5. Make rating scales consistent
Common scales used for surveys can become cumbersome and confusing when the context begins to change.
Here’s an example I ran into recently. While answering a survey’s initial questions, I was told to respond by choosing between 1-5, with 1 = “Strongly Disagree” and 5 = “Strongly Agree.”
Later on in the survey, however, I was asked to evaluate the importance of certain items. The problem: Now 1 was assigned as “Most Important,” but I had been using 5 as the agreeable answer to every previous question.
It was incredibly confusing, and although I realized what was going on, I have to wonder how many people completely missed this change and gave inaccurate answers, completely by accident.
6. Avoid leading and loaded questions
Questions that lead respondents towards a certain answer due bias in their phrasing are not useful for your surveys. SurveyMonkey offers a great example of a leading question to avoid:
“We have recently upgraded SurveyMonkey’s features to become a first-class tool. What are your thoughts on the new site?”
This is a clear case of letting pride in your product get in the way of asking a good question. Instead, the neutral, “What do you think of the recent SurveyMonkey upgrades?” is better to use.
Remember to cut out language that caters to ego or contorts a respondent’s understanding of what’s being asked. To avoid loaded questions, stay away from any presupposed facts or assumptions.
A well-known example on disciplinary action with children is as follows:
“Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”
The assumption here is that smacking a child is inherently a part of “good” parental correction, when in fact that is simply the opinion being argued. You can avoid loaded questions in your surveys by eliminating emotionally charged language that hints at preferences or assumed facts.
For the sake of this article, we’re assuming any survey you’d run to collect feedback from your customers would be genuine in that intention. Critical readers can tell whether the intention of your survey is to collect authentic insights versus building support for a cause or other purposes. When the goal is to honestly learn something, don’t risk annoying your participants (and muddying your data) with leading questions or other tactics designed to get the responses you want to see.
It's safe to assume the goal of this survey is something other than collecting unbiased feedback.
7. Make use of Yes/No questions
When you are asking a question that has a simple outcome, try to frame the question as a Yes/No option.
The Survey Monkey study showed that these closed-ended questions make for great starter questions because they are typically easier to evaluate and complete.
These questions can also be used to qualify the respondent with less of an ego bias, such as asking a question like, “Are you considered an expert in [blank]?” vs. “What level of expertise do you have in [blank]?”
8. Get specific and avoid assumptions
When you create questions that implicitly assume a customer is knowledgeable about something, you’re likely going to run into problems (unless you are surveying a very targeted subset of people).
One big culprit is the language and terminology you use in questions, which is why I’d recommend staying away from industry acronyms, jargon, or references.
One of the worst assumptions you can make is to assume people will answer with specific examples, or to explain their reasoning. It’s better to ask them to be specific, and let them know you welcome this sort of feedback:
“How do you feel about [blank]? Feel free to get specific; we love detailed feedback!”
Interestingly, the Survey Monkey study found the highest survey open and click-through rates occurred on Monday, Friday and Sunday respectively.
There was no discernible difference between the response quality gathered on weekdays versus weekends, either, so your best bet is to seek out survey-takers first thing during a new week or to wait for the weekend. Perhaps Monday has such high response rates because nobody feels like working.
With regard to sending frequency: Companies might conduct customer surveys once a year, or at most, once per quarter. And while that’s great, it’s not enough to keep a pulse on customer satisfaction — you don’t want to wait 90 days to find out your customer is disgruntled. Between surveys, you’ll want to keep a keen eye on your customer satisfaction ratings and other metrics. Reporting tools (such as Help Scout reports) can help you turn every conversation with a customer into a feedback session.
10. Give them a bonus
It sometimes makes sense to entice customers to take your survey: a variety of data show that incentives can increase survey response rates by 5 to 20 percent. These incentives could be a discount, a giveaway or account credit.
A valid fear is that a freebie may detract from the quality of responses, but a few studies show that this isn’t likely to be the case.
Last but not least, to ensure you don’t lose your shirt, be sure to make incentives something you can financially handle, such as an extended trial of your software for a period of time.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated for accuracy and freshness. The original version first appeared on the Help Scout blog on April 24, 2013.
When time is of the essence, fast email support is a given. But there’s much more to providing exceptional customer service when everything is ASAP.
The one constant in travel is that it’s always changing, and fast: flights are cancelled, trains delayed, luggage lost. When you’re on the train from Bruges to Belarus, you want to believe that the company you booked with has got your back.
Loco2’s customers are on mobile and on the move, so it’s critical that our support team acts fast to keep them on track.
9 lessons we’ve learned about providing fast customer service
We’ve seen it all — from landslides to lost passports, stolen wallets to missed trains — and we learned some hard lessons along the way. Here’s what we’ve learned about helping customers in the travel industry, where every minute matters.
When we launched our first DIY support feature — a basic refund tool — we hoped it would save us from the most time-critical requests. What we didn’t expect was the uptake.
Within a month, 65% of our refund requests were in-app and automatic. This simple tool punched a hole in incoming mail overnight, freeing up the team to get their teeth into other conversations.
On-demand resources for customers give them agency. And a solid, educational knowledge base means they can find answers immediately, without sending an email. Delivering a world-class customer experience on time and at scale means finding ways to help customers solve problems on their own, quickly and conveniently.
2. Be there when you’re needed
Sure, some drunk people accidentally book a train to the wrong city at midnight on a Monday. But most of your customers are creatures of habit.
Learning what your customers need and when they need it lets you schedule human support when it makes the biggest difference. Most European trains run during the day, so there’s no use building a 24/7 remote support team that’s online when our customers are sleeping.
If you make it easy, most users are happy to help themselves during off hours. But for seven days a week, up to 16 hours a day, we have real people online to help customers when nothing but personal service will do. Most are astonished to get any reply outside of 9-5, and customers in Europe are blown away when they hear from a real, thoughtful human at 11 p.m. (“You’re up late?!”), when one of our team members in Alaska is just finishing lunch.
3. Hold the phone
There’s nothing like a phone call to build rapport with customers. But unless you want to build a call center, it’s difficult for many companies to offer quality service over the phone at scale.
One person can spend hours on the phone, chatting about hypothetical problems or how to update their browser, while customers with urgent queries wait patiently for an email reply.
We unpublished our phone number in 2014 and haven’t looked back. For us, email support is the most efficient way to diagnose and debug customer issues. It means we can help more people, more quickly.
But striking a balance between time and efficiency means being flexible, too. Live chat is now on our roadmap, and we’re prepared to find out if it can deliver the best of both worlds — the rapport of phone, with the efficiency of emails. Watch this space.
If you aren’t a Help Scout customer but you’d like to be notified when we launch chat, sign up and we’ll keep you in the loop.
4. Auto-reply, then human reply
“We’ll endeavor to get back to you within 30 days,” said nobody who cares, ever. No-reply email addresses and rubbish auto-replies are the enemies of time-sensitive support. We won’t stand for it, and neither should you.
Don't do this.
Our customers get an auto-reply to let them know they’ll hear from us within 24 hours. But most days it’s more like three hours.
Companies that fail to deliver the fast email support that people expect will find that their customers track them down on social media anyway and make a fuss. Use a bot to under-promise then get a human to over-deliver. Your customers will love you for it.
5. Don’t wait until you’re asked
Triage, tagging and saved replies are helpful, effective tools to work through a busy queue quickly. But teasing out time-sensitive requests is easier if you’ve stopped some conversations before they’ve even started.
Preemptive, personalized notifications are among the most powerful tools for automating support in a way that adds real value for your users. Out of stock: Email me when available. It’s simple enough.
For us, this “simple” feature is among the most complicated parts of our technology — detecting when tickets aren’t yet on sale, and inviting customers to set an alert for a journey months or even years ahead.
The day tickets come on sale, we automatically notify travellers, sending them a link to the train, times and tickets they’ve probably forgotten they even need. They’re delighted, and we’ve intercepted literally thousands of new conversations about holidays in 2020.
6. Empathy is everything
When you’re in a hurry, it’s easy to forget that sometimes just being heard is enough. We can’t guarantee the experience of our customers when they’re travelling, but when they reach out to us, they know that the person at the other end of the email cares about what they’re going through.
Your support team can’t always deliver solutions, but they can always deliver empathy.
You can’t promise that every member of your team has lived every scenario, but building a culture of understanding means customers are treated with the respect they deserve.
Speedy support shouldn’t sacrifice compassion; it’s the foundation of every customer success story. If that means a terse reply when you’re up against the clock, no problem. But reaching out to them the next day — with an update, new idea, or helpful suggestion beyond the initial problem — shows that the team really cares about the outcome.
Empowering your tech team — making them an extension of support — is an important part of that. For our most critical errors, we’ve built a suite of tools so developers can put things right themselves:
Error reporting that tracks individual user experience, sending critical alerts to the team
Unambiguous error messages and sound knowledge base articles to reassure the customer
A schedule of on-call developers so it’s clear who’s responsible during off hours
Internal docs that outline Plan A and Plan B, with saved replies ready to go
8. LOUD SHOUTYCAPS DO NOT CORRELATE TO URGENCY!!!!
Mister loud shoutycaps may think his message is the most important. But the most effective support teams are those that learn to separate outrage from urgency.
Sure, certain support requests require a greater sense of urgency — we use workflows to tag conversations when a customer sends three messages in quick succession (or helpfully puts “Urgent” in the subject). But we rely on triage, with clear processes, checks and balances, to keep things moving and make sure that more courteous customers don’t lose out to those who shout loudest.
The customer who makes the most noise can keep your support rep from helping those who truly need it quickly. So working up solid systems to read, tag and prioritize incoming messages is an art worth practicing to thoughtfully manage a fast and furious inbox.
9. Everything changes
Every day, something changes: new trains, tickets, features, bugs, weather, politics. This constant change means our support team needs to be flexible, responsive and in touch — not only with customers, but with one another, too.
Our #train-geeks channel in Slack is a place of fast-flowing information, problems and solutions (as well as weird and wonderful Slackmojis).
Group chat is good for many things, but conversations quickly become buried and are difficult to find and use as a reference later on. And with a remote, distributed support team, we rely on much more than chat to react to changing times.
Trello is the hub of communication for our product team — and a vital tool in reporting customer issues — but it’s also how our support team tracks changes in our knowledge base.
Basecamp is where we post “Staying on Track” notes: asynchronous updates about new features, processes and live issues that the entire team can read and delete, knowing the information is always easy to find again.
A combination of flexibility, experimentation, and sound principles of communication has allowed us to fine-tune our support in a fast-moving industry.
Customers want and deserve kind, speedy and practical responses, and with a little streamlining and paying close attention to patterns and history, that speed and empathy is possible without the phone or 24-hour support.
Customer loyalty programs can be a gift and a curse. When done well, they can keep customers coming back for repeat purchases, potentially turning a passerby customer into a loyal brand advocate.
When done wrong, however, they can be a huge waste of time and resources, becoming a tiresome burden for customers who have no interest in getting involved with the program.
But everybody loves free stuff, so how can we get these loyalty programs to be perceived as valuable to customers?
In the race to win the loyal customer, you should give them a head start.
What is a customer loyalty program?
A customer loyalty program is any kind of reward system a business offers its customers who make frequent purchases.
You’re probably a member of several rewards programs: your supermarket, credit card, gas station, favorite ice cream shop — whether these programs are online or their punch cards are taking up space in your wallet! — probably all offer you some benefit to buying from them regularly.
A few examples of customer loyalty programs:
Cosmetics company Sephora’s “Beauty Insider” program grants return customers three levels of benefits — from birthday gifts to special access to a private hotline — based on how much they spend in a calendar year.
Retention marketing isn’t just for retailers! Help Scout is currently testing a new referral program whereby customers get a $100 Amazon gift card when they refer someone who becomes a customer (and that new customer gets a $50 credit on their account).
The rideshare company Lyft rewards drivers $10 for referring passengers to become drivers, and runs frequent promotions whereby passengers can earn ride credits for getting their friends to sign up for Lyft.
The creation of a successful customer loyalty program largely boils down to three important steps:
Set a goal for customers to achieve.
Decide what action they will take to progress.
Pitch an early advancement in the program as a bonus.
Secrets of effective customer loyalty programs
Breakthrough academic research on loyalty programs by professors Joseph Nunes and Xavier Dreze called “The Endowed Progress Effect” demonstates how “artificial advancement” is the secret to improving customer retention, loyalty and churn rates over the long haul.
Nunes and Dreze hypothesized that customer loyalty programs could persuade customers to stick around if they were given a head start.
The researchers gave 300 loyalty cards to customers at a local car wash. All of the customers were told that each time they returned to have their car washed they would be given a stamp on their card. The incentive was a free car wash at the completion of their card.
In truth, two different types of cards were handed out to customers.
The first group received a loyalty card that had eight slots to be stamped before a free car wash was awarded.
The second group received a loyalty card that had 10 slots to be stamped, but this time two of the stamps were already filled out, meaning customers only needed eight more purchases to get their free car wash.
With such a similar setup, one might expect very similar results. However, that definitely wasn't the case: The second group had a nearly double rate of loyalty card completion.
Only 19% of customers in the eight-stamp group (the first group) made enough visits to complete their card. However, 34% of the 10-stamp group (the ones given a head start) came back enough times to finish their loyalty cards.
Since the first group had eight slots to complete and the second group had 10 slots to complete (but with a two-slot head start), both groups needed eight purchases before they could get a free car wash.
The difference was that the “head start” loyalty card helped customers mentally frame the completion process; the fact that they didn’t have to start something from scratch played a meaningful role in their motivation to complete the card.
Even artificial progress has an impact on consumer motivation because it gives customers the feeling that they have already surpassed the most challenging aspect — getting started.
Both cards in this car wash program required the same amount of effort by customers. But the mental block of getting started was eliminated in the second card, leaving more customers able to complete it.
The researchers also highlighted other studies in their paper that emphasize the finding that the closer people get to completing a goal, the more effort they exert toward achieving that goal.
This research is useful information to know, but how can we go about putting it into practice?
Let’s take a closer look at how to complete the three steps — setting a goal for customers to achieve, deciding what action they will take to progress, and pitching an early advancement in the program as a bonus — with Nunes and Dreze’s research in mind.
Step #1 — Set a clear goal
To take advantage of “artificial advancement,” there must be a clear-cut goal that customers can look forward to and it has to align with a desire of theirs.
Without a finish line (or multiple finish lines) for customers to cross, they will lose interest. For instance, the car wash study had “a free car wash” as the end-goal for those involved; that was the reward they would be receiving. I’ve seen many subscription services instead offer price discounts or an upgraded account (such as additional storage or more features) to serve as a desirable goal.
Using your own product as a reward for achieving the stated goal is almost always the right path here. It allows you to avoid losing your shirt from too many expenses. Also, presenting your product as a reward is the perfect way to create enticement, the same way a free car wash (in that example, the product) serves as the reward above.
Step #2 — Decide how customers will make progress
As our article on gamification discussed, this is the step many companies have the potential to get very wrong. You have to be careful about choosing which behavior you want to reward.
Purchasing more items makes perfect sense for progression and applies widely to many industries, but when some online companies try to force product use as the action they end up creating misaligned motivations with their customers.
To continue with our carwash example, the “action” customers are taking is simply the purchase of an individual car wash. If your product is subscription based, you can get more creative and have a new customer referral be the end-goal, such as how Dropbox rewards their users via their refer a friend program.
This doesn’t hinder their usage of the product and encourages them to promote it to be rewarded, a win-win for both the customer and the business.
Step #3 — Pitch the advancement as a bonus
The important third step that most loyalty programs miss.
Dreze and Nunes found that artificial advancement only had a noticeable effect when there was a clear reason why people were receiving advancement at all.
In other words, artificial advancement doesn’t work as a tactic if you just hand out points for no reason.
But the reason can be quite simple. For example, you could position advancement as a reward for new signups. This works for every customer loyalty program, regardless of the industry. So when new users sign up, a simple message explaining that you’re giving them some bonus points to help get them started is all you need to justify the process.
No matter what you choose to do for advancement, make sure the reason for the bonus is clear. People won’t be swayed by artificial advancement if they don’t know why they’ve received the extra boost forward.
The role of “ego” in loyalty programs
Nunes has done some other interesting studies on customer loyalty. In fact, he discovered that in many instances the reward could be worth nothing and still create the same effect.
According to Nunes, people get excited about amassing points — even if the points have no currency value. To reinforce his findings, Nunes looks to points systems on sites like Reddit:
You can’t exchange these points for real-world goods and services, yet people still spend enormous amounts of time accumulating them just to beat others in a list of top point-getters, or simply to compete with themselves.”
In other words, it’s the competition and the feeling of superiority that is driving the success of many loyalty programs, especially when they aren’t offering a tangible reward.
While this method may work for a social site like Reddit, where the use of the site is the reward because it’s entertaining, how does this apply to small businesses?
Nunes says that loyalty programs “need to be designed to offer differentiated products and services to customers based on their purchasing patterns and profitability.”
That means most customer loyalty programs benefit from having different classes.
You’ve likely seen these classes before: “Gold” members get better deals than the “Silver” class. We are wired to want to maintain our status when we know that we are beating other users. The data from Nunes’ study shows that these premium classes can and do encourage people to spend more.
So if you do decide to implement a long-standing customer loyalty program, be sure to consider your “Platinum” users and how you might differentiate their program to reward their ideal spending on your business.
Experiential marketing is a promotional strategy that involves creating an interactive experience to get customers talking about your product.
A few creative experiential marketing examples:
A sporting equipment company builds a storm-simulation chamber for shoppers to test their gear
An airline grants travelers their Christmas wishes between takeoff and landing
A sneaker company gives basketball fans the chance to win new kicks by jumping as high as a pro baller
We’ll explore these and several other case studies shortly, but you’ll notice one thing many experiential marketing campaigns have in common: They rely heavily on creativity to not only capture attention, but to motivate people to experiment with and refer your products to others.
It’s a unique take on attracting customers, as costs can be variable, but are usually high in time spent — experiential marketing is a guerilla tactic at heart , and it relies more on thinking outside the box than shelling out the kind of money that’s required for traditional advertising.
In one novel case of allowing customers to see it for themselves, the European sporting equipment company Globetrotter lets shoppers step into a rain chamber that douses them with water and simulates storm-grade winds. This is all while wearing Globetrotter equipment, of course.
If that weren’t enough, many stores also have a freeze chamber where temperatures can drop to -30C, with an additional wind chill for good measure.
The outlandish nature of these experiential marketing “stunts” has come under fire from onlookers, but fans of the store have expressed their opinion that testing the heavy-duty (and often very expensive) sportswear in simulated conditions matters:
It might seem gimmicky or wasteful at first, but once having had the pleasure of working for a couple days counting fish in a -18F walk-in freezer, I can tell you that having the right gear matters.
Not only does Globetrotter benefit from the natural word of mouth as onlookers “ooh” and “aah,” but prospective customers get to wear their gear in action right in the store, making the experience much more valuable than just a marketing gimmick.
Travelers at their departure airport told a real-time Santa Claus what they wanted for Christmas, and were greeted at their destination with their hearts’ desires — everything from large-screen TVs to socks and underwear (ouch, maybe that traveler should have thought bigger).
3. Jump with Derrick Rose
In the sneakerhead culture, a lot of attention and hype can be centered around the release of a new shoe.
To get the ball rolling for a new line of sneakers from pro basketball player Derrick Rose, Adidas launched — and filmed — the simple but brilliant “Jump with Derrick” campaign. Rose, known for his amazing jumping ability on court, was the perfect athlete to inspire a competition to challenge average Joes to reach a 10-foot tall platform.
If participants were able to touch the small shelf (placed at the height of the standard NBA rim), they were awarded a free pair of Rose’s new Adidas sneakers.
Doubling down on the highly popular contest, Adidas filmed the events and released a video (the original version generated 500,000+ views) that showcased participants trying to win the sneakers. It was a perfect example of using online media to get even better distribution for a live event.
Casper and One Night Got Everyone to Relax at SXSW - YouTube
In one SXSW experiential marketing campaign we love, the mattress company Casper teamed up with Standard Hotels’ “One Night” app to let weary festival-goers book a 45-minute nap in rooms complete with milk, cookies, and a stand-in “mom” to read bedtime stories. (What?! I want that.)
5. Unlock your inner 007
Great experiential marketing campaigns are often able to create scenarios that pull in non-participants as well. In our previous foray into viral marketing, we explored how the “Carrie” marketing campaign was able to capture the attention of everyone inside of a coffee shop.
This next example fits the bill as well: Coca-Cola, in a joint promotion with the James Bond film, created the “Unlock the 007 in You” campaign, where participants were randomly chosen at a kiosk to win a free pair of movie tickets to see Daniel Craig as Bond.
The catch? They had to make it to a second kiosk in under 70 seconds. To make it even more difficult, typical James Bond obstacles came across their path at every turn — everything from women walking packs of dogs to large panes of glass.
Unlock the 007 in you You have 70 seconds! Coca-Cola Zero Marketing Guerrilla - YouTube
The great part about this chase, as with the “Carrie” video, was that a large crowd tended to form just to find out what was going on.
6. Bar 702’s mugshot photobooth
Are some of the examples above a little too rich for your taste? Remember that a unique customer experience doesn’t have to be an expensive one.
On the show Bar Rescue, show host and hospitality consultant Jon Taffer has always counseled struggling bar owners to create something in their bar that’s worth talking about.
When fixing Bar 702, Taffer decided that it would be great to have something that customers would enjoy taking pictures of. Ideally, if customers take a picture of something in a bar, they’re likely to share it with friends on social media — nights out being one of the most common times to capture and post photos.
The solution was a open photo booth where patrons could get their picture snapped as a mugshot, ensuring all sorts of fun photos people were bound to share on social media:
(Left, a patron snapping a photo. Right, Bar Rescue host Jon Taffer)
Inexpensive, but effective in creating a simple, shareable experience that encourages people to talk about a business they’ve come across.
7. Grape stomping and flying futags
Although creating a marketable experience isn’t limited to hosting an event, events are certainly an important part of the experiential marketing ecosystem.
As a fan of target shooting, I can tell you that my local gun range got me as a customer long ago during their Christmas shoot off, which, funny enough, involves shooting Christmas tree decorations off of a tree.
For a less, er, aggressive take on events leading to repeat purchases, you can look at examples like wine festivals. Although made to move bottles of wine, these festivals often focus on the experience, such as kicking off your shoes and stomping some grapes for yourself like they do at the Rioja wine festival.
Last but not least, a more extreme example shows how events can become full on spectacles that draw thousands of people each year. Red Bull’s “flugtag,” as it’s known, invites participants to create handmade flying machines and fly them straight off a pier.
Top 10 Crashes - Red Bull Flugtag 2013 USA - YouTube
It’s a play to grab attention for sure, but it’s also an exceptional tie-in to Red Bull’s overall strategy to appeal to high energy, creative individuals.
Mastercard And Swarovski Launch Virtual Reality Shopping Experience - YouTube
The crystal-embedded (of course) headset allows consumers to visualize what different Swarovski pieces look like in various spaces, and purchase them in-app using (what else?) their MasterCard.
9. Paying it forward with chocolate
With all of the focus on nabbing attention in the previous examples, you might enjoy this more endearing use of a unique customer experience.
Chocolate company Milka started a campaign where they would purposefully leave out a single square of chocolate from a purchased bar. It’s a small amount but one that would instantly be recognized by customers.
The reason? Milka offered to either mail the missing piece to them, or the customer could choose to send the chocolate to someone else with a personal note.
It’s a small gesture from those “lucky” enough to receive a defective chocolate bar, but as we know, the small things can leave a big impact, and a thoughtful note with a piece of chocolate went a long way in spreading goodwill — and in raising awareness for Milka.
Traits of a successful experiential marketing campaign
Now that we’ve talked about a few success stories, let’s break down some common factors seen in each campaign. By and large, a successful experiential marketing campaign should hit most, if not all, of the following bullet points:
Product tie-in. Whether it’s through the use of the product itself (Globetrotter, Milka) or an explicit tie-in with the brand (the high energy nature of James Bond and Red Bull), any experience targeting prospective customers needs to weave in a selling aspect . It’s not enough to simply entertain customers; they also need to be motivated in some way to investigate and purchase the product.
Creativity above all else. As we saw with the mugshot photo booth, things that capture people’s imagination to the point where they simply must share it are key ingredients to a successful campaign. Companies have spent millions on failed tests simply because they thought money would bring attention to a boring, unoriginal angle.
Video is a must. If you want your experiential marketing campaign to have any kind of shot at going viral, you have to give people something to share.
Conducive to building a crowd. Great experiences are shared, either by drawing a crowd to watch (James Bond) or by creating an experience that is better when shared with others. You can imagine the flugtag event being a bust without the competitive element, or that the mugshot attraction could have tanked if it had been made a private (rather than open) photobooth area.
Listen to feedback. What good would Globetrotter’s freeze rooms be if they didn’t listen to customer feedback? Creative campaigns can get customers talking about products in ways that you might not expect , and if nothing else, you can learn what does and does not resonate with your audience in terms of keeping their interest.
Ultimately, the best ideas and execution come from knowing your industry and your market well . If you can check off the list above, you are certainly covering all your bases for success with experiential marketing.
Your next question might be, “Where’s the best place to start?” Think about the psychology behind what you’re selling — marketing is about creating connections, so target experiences that are most likely to hook customers into coming back.
What sort of customer does your product attract? If any of you caught the episode of Shark Tank with that wild spray paint for dogs (not joking), you may have had the same idea that hit me — why not hold a contest where customers send in pictures of their painted pets, with the most creative “pet paint” winning a prize?
Clearly, people who would buy paint for their pets are a bit quirky and artistically inclined, so it’s practically a guarantee that this sort of opportunity to share their creations and see the creations of others would draw the perfect sort of crowd.
Great experiential marketing campaigns create lasting connections with your customers , so effective executions starts with truly knowing your customers and what types of experiences would appeal to them.
Now that you have a better understanding of the experiential marketing process and maybe even a little inspiration of your own, we’d love to hear your example of an exceptional experience that was magnetic to prospective customers. Tell us about it in the comments!
Editor’s note: This post has been updated for accuracy and freshness. The original version first appeared on the Help Scout blog on Dec. 11, 2013.
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