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Content First, Service Second: The New Way to Think About Customer Experience

Content First, Service Second: The New Way to Think About Customer Experience

Marketing content has come a long way. And I mean, a long way. Brands are well and truly neck-deep in the stuff when, perhaps just 10 years ago, the idea of ‘doing content’ in marketing seemed like a fluffy concept that would be about as exciting to marketers as a cold bath would be to a cat.

The true irony, however, is that we’ve been ‘doing content’ (and, tbh, I think that term really undersells it) for as long as we’ve been ‘doing marketing’. The famous example of John Deere’s The Furrow from the 1800s was likely the first example of ‘content marketing’. There are many similar ones through the early stages of last century that show even though the discipline of content marketing was not a thing, the act of content marketing was very much a thing for many marketers.

So, with that in mind, can we agree that content transcends this so-called discipline of itself and actually is the crux of all meaningful marketing? Yes? Great, thanks, that’ll save us both a bunch of words! If you’re not convinced yet, let Seth Godin, one of the world’s most articulate marketing thinkers, convince you with his statements about content.

The reason why content is the fundamental fabric of marketing is because it can impact its target audience, human beings, in a deeper way than more transactional marketing can. Content can become the platform through which people remain engaged, loyal, psyched about your brand. It is the very reason why a person can fall in (or out) of love with a brand or product, because it is an experience that, when well executed, creates an emotional affinity that transactional or offer-based marketing cannot.

It is for this simple and face-meltingly pure truth that content is more valuable to your customers than service can ever be and that’s why you should be putting content first in your customer experience.

The act of content and the discipline of content

The act of content (where organisations produce content across the board as part of their daily business activities) is something that’s been happening for centuries. The Furrow was John Deere’s attempt to provide useful information to their customers (farmers) in a style and tone they could relate to.

The idea was you bought a John Deere mower, and then you started receiving these regular magazines. The business wanted to retain customers and build advocacy based on the fact they were creating content that was genuinely useful to them and improved a customer’s experience of the brand.

Compare the John Deere approach with the discipline of content (where organisations have a structured silo that produces content in service of marketing activities) and you can see enormous differences. The discipline of content is the modern, perhaps even post-modern, marketing approach to content where an organisation places an over-emphasised value of content in acquiring and selling to new customers.

This approach is useful and certainly important for brands, but it shouldn’t be the end game. In fact, the discipline approach should only be a precursor to the act of content because content should be tied to all stages of your customer experience and that’s what customers expect. And, perhaps more importantly, it can have a greater impact than customer service.

Customer service = bad, customer-experience content = good

Customer service immediately connotes a bad experience.

If your product or service is working as it should in this day and age, why should a customer need to visit a store or branch, write you an email or chat message or hold on the phone to speak with the next available operator? Customer service by definition is aligned with friction-filled experiences. Even if you can streamline as much as humanly possible, great customer service will seldom leave a pleasant taste in the customer’s mouth, unless you’re giving away a bunch of free stuff at the cost of your bottom line.

Customer-experience content (I just made that up, let’s see if it sticks), on the other hand, has the potential to create great experiences. It goes beyond transactions that are nested in unpleasant emotional states and it consolidates a customer’s belief that your brand is consistent and superior to competitors. If you can deliver content that is valuable, engaging and timely, and make that the central reason for being in your customer experience, you’re likely to experience positive growth in retention and loyalty.

Don’t get me wrong; great customer service is critical for any kind of business. If you have customers, or even stakeholders, your process to engage with them and turn their frowns upside down is a business priority. However, it should never be the definition of your customer experience because, if it is, that means you’re enabling negative scenarios to define the way people think of your brand.

The power of customer-experience content, when well executed and matched to needs or triggers across the customer lifecycle, lies in the fact you can drive affinity and brand loyalty more efficiently and in a sustained way that is much cheaper than having to pay for new customers all the time.

Content that rewards positive interactions with the brand, content that simplifies the process of improving your skill in using a product or service, content that creates a reason to share knowledge and appear an expert; these are all the kinds of customer-experience content that make it easier to love your brand and harder to rail against it and, most importantly, leave it in favour of another. Check out this article for some more great ways to think about and categorise this type of content.

Aside from the obvious cost benefits of being able to use and re-use your content across business functions and the customer lifecycle, customer-experience content deepens and distinguishes your brand’s experience for your customers. The place that your brand holds in their minds can be elevated by delivering more and deeper value than they would get from your competitors. And that’s a competitive advantage worth investing in.

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