Content is a critical element in the way businesses promote awareness of their products and services, inspire interaction with their brand, provide information to support purchase decisions, and communicate with their customers post-sale. Content affects and guides customer experience and customer experience has a direct impact on your brand, sales, and customer loyalty.
How do you know whether your content is meeting your prospective and current customers’ needs? Are there gaps that are resulting in a poor experience or loss of engagement? This article focuses on why customer experience with content matters so much and how to audit your content to evaluate its effectiveness for your customers.
“Nearly half of retailers agree with the statement ‘Our customer experience is our brand.’”
“45% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly.”
Source: Forrester Reports
“It is 6-7 times more costly to attract a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer.”
Source: The White House Office of Consumer Affairs
“45% of companies offering web or mobile self-service reported an increase in site traffic and reduced phone inquiries.”
Source: New Survey Highlights the Growth of Web Self-Service, DestinationCRM.com
Although content is not the only element that affects your customer experience, it can play a major role in helping customers find what they need up front and get the ongoing support they need as they continue to engage with your products or services. Fewer resources spent responding to customers’ service requests or trying to regain lost customers means more resources available to invest in ongoing analysis and improvements that will pay off in customer loyalty.
The best way to deal with customer experience failures is to avoid them in the first place. Start by understanding who your customers are and what they need—and how content can support those needs. Map out their journey through your content and find the gaps. Then identify where you can improve the accuracy, relevance, and quality of your content.
When we talk about content in the context of customer experience, it’s necessary to take as broad a view as possible. The content that affects your customers’ experience can be found in all channels—including those you don’t own.
When you know what content you have, you can audit it against the journey your customers take through your content.
Where you might find content:
When we think content, we often think of print and we often think website, but if your customer service people have a script they follow, that’s content. Search results are content. Non-textual content is content. If an image doesn’t accurately portray a product, you may have a disappointed customer post-sales—or may lose a sale because it’s not appealing or informative enough.
Before you begin your audit, you need to inventory all your content across all your channels. Tools like the Content Analysis Tool are ideal for creating the inventory of your web content. Supplement that with an accounting of your other sources to get the full view.
Your inventory will provide you with a lot of data and for the purposes of an audit based on customer experience, you may need to narrow your focus to the content that has the greatest impact. To do that, you need to understand your customers and what they need to do.
Begin with gathering all the information you can about who your customers are and what they need to do. Look too, at what do you intend for them to do and what they actually do. This is how you begin to identify the gaps in your customer experience and where content can help.
Typical inputs into understanding users:
The more you know about your customers and what their needs and motivations are, the better you’ll be able to assess whether or not your current content is meeting those needs.
These types of customer research inputs are often referred to as “soft metrics.”
“Hard metrics,” on the other hand, are another way to measure your customers’ engagement with your content. These are the more quantifiable metrics, such as
As mentioned earlier, you may have an idea or plan for how customers are going to move through your content and interact with it. The analytics will help you see whether what you want or think they’re doing is what they’re actually doing.
Just as you need to focus your content analysis on the content most important for customer experience, focus your data gathering and analysis efforts on the data that you believe will best measure experience. Gather it regularly and incorporate into ongoing inventory and audit processes for best results over time.
Once you have completed the tasks of inventorying your content and gathering the data about your customers, you can begin to map the content against the customer journey. A journey map describes each step a customer takes along the pathway from awareness to conversion to loyalty.
To create your customer journey map
What this looks like in practice is something like this. Place the customer journey steps along the top, then identify the particular information needs that are associated with that step. Typically, you would do this for each of your personas, given that the different user types will often have different needs depending on their role or their preferences for how to consume content.
When you’ve done your journey maps and figured out what you think is the ideal path through your content, from awareness to conversion, now you have to look at the reality of the difference between the path you want your customers to take and the path they actually take (and keep in mind this may not be 100% linear—people might circle back to learn more at any point, for example)—or the places they’re dropping off altogether. So maybe you have them up through conversion—they’ve purchased, but then they never come back. It may be a problem with your product, but if your product is content or the problem is content-related, you need to address that. Your analytics data and sales may be a good measure to look at here.
Similarly, there’s the experience you want people to have and the experience they’re actually having. Your customer feedback, support calls, and what people are saying about you on their social channels may tell you that there’s a disconnect here.
When you know what your customers’ journeys are and you’ve identified the content needed to support those journeys, you can audit your content against them. Begin by mapping your actual content assets into that journey framework. In your CAT dashboard or your audit spreadsheet, add columns for journey step and persona so you can identify which content supports each step. This allows you to find the areas where there are content gaps—areas where you may need to create additional content. For the personas and steps that do have content associated, you can then do a qualitative audit to assess its effectiveness.
Again, the inventory needs to include all the content along all customer touchpoints, so it’s not always limited to the web site. As mentioned above, you will want to look at offline sources like catalogs or store signage, other digital communications like email, social media presence, and any place content is syndicated.
What to audit for
When you evaluate your content, put yourself in the shoes of one of your personas and go through the content as though you were that person, trying to complete those tasks.
When you’ve completed your audit, document your findings and recommendations and share them in a way that allows you to make immediate changes and create an environment of continuous improvement. You now know a lot about your customers and your content, but you need to broadcast that information as widely as necessary to effect change and put long-term governance in place. You’ll want to share your findings in the most palatable form for your audience—and you might have more than one audience, since you may be presenting findings to executives to ask for resources and you may be presenting to content creators to ask them to change their processes. You want to select what to focus on for each of those audiences—think about it like the content journey: what are their information needs and what are their calls to action? And what’s the right format to present all that in so that it’s as effective as possible?
And finally, a note about how to keep this effort going. You don’t want to have done all the work of doing a big content inventory and audit project, come up with a set of recommendations, and then make it just a one-time fix. You want to create a loop where you are constantly monitoring and improving—both your content and your guidelines and processes—so you’re in an ongoing state of improvement and setting yourself up for a great, consistent customer experience.
The payoff over time of investing in your customer experience by providing great content is loyal customers and a strong brand.
Note: This article is based on the session "The Role of Content in Customer Experience," Information Development World 2015. Slides from that talk are available on Slideshare.