Buyer personas empower companies to create more meaningful blog posts, webinars, white papers, events and other marketing materials. They describe what your hypothetical customer wants, as well as your fears and values so you can more effectively personalize your pitch.
These customer profiles have proven a productive means for maximizing promotional spend. But only if your personas align with your actual customer base. Otherwise, you risk selling the wrong message to the wrong audience at the wrong time.
Companies have used myriad methods for devising buyer personas, including surveys and test groups. But why not leverage frontline employees who talk to real customers every day?
Here's five tips you can use to harness the power of your customer service team to refine buyer personas.
Uncover Preferred Communication Channel
One of the first things customer service can reveal about a buyer persona is the communication channel of choice. The customer usually reveals his or her persona just in the nature of the support request. For example, Goodbye Crutches (a crutch alternative manufacturer) has a persona called "Andy the Athlete" and another called "Gerry the Great Grandparent."
If a customer called and said the crutch alternative broke when he tried to take it down a skateboard ramp, he's obviously the athlete. If the caller said he was having trouble putting the product together, the agent knows that's probably Gerry because his persona says he's most concerned with how to assemble the product.
So at the opening of every service ticket, your reps should record both the persona and whether the connection was first made through email, phone, live chat or self service.This allows management to later pull a report by persona and identify whether the customer prefers one communication channel over the other.
Knowing this trait helps the marketing team decide how it should interact with a persona during the pre-purchase buyer phase. Going back to the Goodbye Crutches example, when Gerry reaches out to support, he almost exclusively calls. So when selling agents followup with that persona, they know calling is more effective than email drip campaigns or social media offers.
Understanding your customer's level of technical savvy is also important as you craft your blogs and other marketing materials. To do this, start by meeting with your customer service team to identify the most common questions they receive about your product or service.
Then, for each question, discuss what technical bucket they would fall into—whether that's "highly technical," "general" or "basic." You could choose more macro tiers that are specific to your company, too.
Here's an example, a software advice company helps other companies figure out which software products best fit for their needs. We've learned that small businesses generally have broader questions (general) about what business problems various software types solve. On the other hand, larger buyers ask more pointed questions about specific functionalities and features (technical).
Fears, Wants and Values
Your marketing team should also work with customer service to identify other possible support behaviors that reveal buyer intent for your product or realized fears from the pre-purchase stage. Let's use Goodbye Crutches as an example again. The compmany has a persona, "Mary the Motivated Mom," who would perhaps call customer service wanting to know if the scooter she purchased could be disassembled because it wouldn't fit in the trunk of her car.
That's a good question—probably a question a ton of other potential buyers have. It also reveals a concern she and many others have with your product that would be handy to clear up during the pre-purchase stage, eh? Marketing might, knowing this information, include a diagram in marketing materials that shows how the scooter folds up and fits the dimensions of most standard vehicle trunks.
To record and track this data, allow space either in your customer service software or CRM to track these "fears," "wants" or "values." Ideally, you can export the information into Excel to sort and look for patterns that will help you refine your buyer personas as you gather more and more information.
Test Up-sell Potential
Customer service can prove a productive venue for testing a persona's response to up-sell attempts. Use the service call as an opportunity to “evaluate their current plan” or “see if the product is meeting their current needs.”
Ask your agents to rate the customer's response to these up-sell triggers. For example, did the customer immediately stop the agent and jump off the call? Or were they inquisitive about the offer? Did they buy in?
Also be sure to track the success rate of these attempts. Your team should be able to pull a report that identifies the success rate by persona in the customer service setting. This will show selling agents which personas have the biggest up-sell opportunity.
Customer service can also enable your marketing team to prioritize spend better. What's the support volume required for each persona? How often does each persona call? How long does each call last? How often do they refund?
Depending on what percent of sales that persona contributes, you might choose to decrease marketing investments for that particular persona if the cost to acquire them as a customer exceeds the cost to keep them on board.
It Takes Dedication
In order for this checklist to work, you need to make sure your customer service team understands the persona traits and the value of refining them. Keep a poster in the service department that provides a visual representation of your personas so they are always top of mind.
Equally important, you need to enable process and procedures for recording and tracking these buyer persona traits through customer service. This could be as simple as a physical checklist they keep at their desk with lines for “communications channel” or “use case.” Or you could go one step further and integrate this into your issue tracking software with custom fields and reports.
Have you used customer service to create or refine buyer personas? How? Let us know by commenting below.
Ashley Furness is a CRM Analyst for research firm Software Advice. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising.