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A strategy for using support data to create marketing content that works

The terms content and marketing go hand-in-hand, which is why, for many businesses, content can feel exclusively like a marketing tool, not always in service of the customer. Holly Rollins, president of 10x Digital and former “Content Maven” for the Content Marketing Institute, believes the potential disconnect experienced between content and customer service is simply a symptom of the maturity of the tactic:

“Content marketing as both a term and practice is relatively youthful. While there is an abundance of recent information centering on content marketing, we see a lack of best practices focused on how content can help the customer.”

However, with the customer at the center of your universe, it’s critical that you cater to them. Creating targeted content and serving it to customers at the right moment allows your business to do that. It’s a form of micromarketing, which is defined as “the activity of marketing products or services directly to particular groups of people based on information that has been collected about them.”

The difference from the kind of micromarketing that typically describes small, targeted ad campaigns is that this becomes “customer care” content that can be used to nurture customers long after the point of sale.

However, with the customer at the center of your universe, it's critical that you cater to them. Creating targeted content and serving it to customers at the right moment allows your business to do that.

Begin by targeting the most high-value areas of opportunity or improvement for your business. For example, if you consistently see a loss in retention at X touchpoint or for Y reason, consider what helpful, high-value content might influence customers to stay or come back. Consider whether your “customer care” content can be used as more of a proactive retention tool than a passive resource on your company’s help center.

Before diving into content creation, there are a few things to work out. Take a look at how targeted content used at a specific moment in a customer’s journey will differ from FAQs or help center articles that are already available to customers.

Customer care marketing content vs. help center articles

Your first inclination may be that you already have customer care content: there are help center articles or FAQs available to customers when they need support. This content is important to the business’ overall strategy, but consider whether some of this content might also be useful for customers earlier in their journey.

Help centers are valuable repositories for hundreds, potentially thousands, of customer questions and by applying content strategy, you can leverage this information to create marketing content that addresses specific customer problem areas that are leading to bigger organizational challenges.

The overlap between these two content areas is in the planning realm. Because this highly targeted customer care content may take longer to create or require more resources, it’s important that you use data to determine which content will address the top challenges faced by your customers—as opposed to guessing, assuming, or trying to cover everything.

Your help center metrics are the best place to start. Which articles are visited most? Take a holistic view by looking at data for six months to one year. Depending on the resources available, like a team of writers, you can start by developing content that addresses the topics of your top 5, 10, or 20 most commonly visited help pages.

[Read also: The 3 types of customer service metrics that matter]

Remove the guesswork

Bringing customer-focused content into your marketing plan requires a foundation—a content strategy, which Rollins says is crucial to your success. This strategy starts with choosing the topics that will allow you to have the most impact.

Help centers are valuable repositories for hundreds, potentially thousands, of customer questions and by applying content strategy, you can leverage this information to create marketing content that addresses specific customer problem areas.

In addition to the most-visited help center pages, ask yourself: Is there a point in the customer journey where retention drops to zero? Conversely, many SaaS companies have challenges with customer engagement post-sign up, making this another potential area of focus.

From there, it’s time to do a little more digging. Here are a few ways to excavate some extra data:

1. Customer service team insight: Interview your customer service team to collect anecdotal data or more context around the insights you gleaned from the help center metrics. What do they think is missing? Are there new topics customers are asking about? The idea is to hone in on the problem areas so you can develop a plan to address them with high-value content pieces.

2. Customer insight: Insight from customer-facing teams is critical, but so is the insight that comes directly from your customers. Selz, an ecommerce website builder, relies on customer feedback to create content. Michelle Del Rio, director of sales and marketing, explains: "Our merchants’ success matters to us, so we are constantly developing content that helps them thrive and grow with our platform. From compelling, insightful content on our blog to educational webinars, we give everything we can to our users.”

3. Look for patterns: As you uncover areas of focus, look for patterns in your top-viewed help content. For example, perhaps two or three of the top help articles are related to setting up a particular product feature. This could indicate that there’s an issue with onboarding. Cross-reference this with what you’ve learned from your customer service team. Have there been a higher number of tickets created during early onboarding stages, related to this topic? These are the patterns that will allow you to be most effective with your time and resources.

It’s also important to consider seasonality. For example, perhaps a video explaining how to archive last year’s data to clear space for new data is most applicable in December and January, as customers are preparing for the new year. In this case, that content would fall on your content calendar in late fall—and if this content already exists, use the time to make any necessary updates. Plan one quarter at a time to allow for time to gather resources, conduct interviews, and develop design assets.

Format in service of content

Customer content is an extension of your brand. Like other marketing assets, this “customer care”-focused content is meant to make a significant impact, which is why the format may vary.

This content can come in many forms, depending on what the topic calls for and what your brand style guidelines might dictate. For example, if you already produce a lot of video, that may be the best format for new content pieces. You may also consider branded PDFs, downloadable guides or webinars.

Also consider whether there’s a home for customer content on your company blog. Having an entire section of the blog dedicated to customer support resources may reduce the number of support emails received. The blog allows you to “catalog” your highly-targeted customer care content in the same way you do with your help center articles.

Having an entire section of the blog dedicated to customer support resources may reduce the number of support emails received.

Conversely, you can package much of this content into blog posts. Not only is this easier, in terms of production resources needed, but dedicating a section of the blog to customer resources may help reduce the number of support emails received down the road. Consider reframing a Q&A or steps-based help article into a “How to” that can be proactively sent out during onboarding or as part of a nurture campaign.

Ultimately, the format depends on your brand, what your customers will find most valuable, and your budget. A blog post may be the most budget-friendly option while a webinar may be better for customers that need more hand-holding.

Note that if you lack of writers, be sure that those you bring on are completely aligned. Rollins suggests: “This team needs to be in lockstep with the entire process and have a clear understanding of your brand and customer needs. Without this, you run the risk of your content falling short or missing the mark.”

Finally, consider placement. Should this customer-focused content live within the product itself, as a helpful resource? Can various pieces be added to your onboarding email templates? In many cases, this content can serve as another resource for your support team to send to customers. The more you can get this content in front of customers, the more valuable it will be.

[Read also: Is it time for your startup to form a customer advisory board?]

Be a customer-first marketing team

The use of customer-focused content can allow you to target the most time-consuming and common customer challenges to increase retention, help reduce support ticket volume, and mitigate other revenue-impacting issues. Start by creating and testing a few pieces of content and measuring the impact. Once you know what works, you can optimize and improve, developing a blueprint for content that shows the customer you care.

Jessica Thiefels is founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting, a content marketing agency in San Diego. She’s been writing for more than 10 years and has been featured in top publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur and Fast Company. She also regularly contributes to Virgin, Business Insider, Score.org and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.