Growth Marketing

The Customer Journey in Consumer Services


When consumers realize they need to purchase a service for themselves or their home, they move along what’s known as a customer journey — a series of events that result in selecting a provider to work with.

There are endless combinations of paths a customer can take on their journey. To simplify, we have distilled the customer journey into five stages based on behavior:

  1. Realization — the moment when customers realize they have a problem to solve.
  2. Education — how customers gather the information they need to make a decision.
  3. Evaluation — the criteria customers use to see if a service provider is a good fit.
  4. Decision — how customers decide on who to work with.
  5. Advocacy — when customers feel compelled to leave a rating or review online.

About the Research

There is a shortage of resources geared towards consumer services companies. This research study intends to help marketers in consumer service industries like residential construction, landscaping, and bug & pest understand buyer behavior so they can make more strategic marketing investments. We are giving it away for free so these businesses have a resource they can turn to for market insights about the modern buyer.

In August of 2020, Silverback Strategies surveyed 1,066 U.S. adults who had recently purchased a service for themselves or their home. Questions were focused on their most recent purchase experience — starting when they first realized they had a problem, all the way through making a purchase and leaving an online review. We analyzed the data and have made the full report available to you.

If you’re a marketer in a consumer service industry, I recommend you bookmark this page or future reference. Below, you will find an executive summary of the research highlighting five key findings and what they mean for marketers.

When buyers first realized they needed help solving a problem, 57% went online.

 

The customer journey begins when buyers realize they need help to solve a problem.

Sometimes buyers realize it gradually. Homeowners who plan to construct an addition to their house may research and evaluate architects, engineers or construction contractors over months or years.

Other times, a need may happen in an instant. A tree might fall on a homeowner’s house and they need a roofing company to fix the problem as soon as possible.

In any case, this realization creates demand for a service.

We wanted to know the very first thing buyers did after they realized they needed service. A full 57% of respondents identified going online in some shape or form, while only 19% contacted a past provider.

Marketers must capture the attention of buyers online and be there when they need help. This can be done with content and core marketing messages focused on solving customer problems relevant to your services. Then, the content and marketing messages must be visible to customers on the channels they use to begin their customer journey.

 

Nearly 97% of buyers use at least one social media platform weekly or more frequently.

 

Outside of search engines, social media was the next most common online channel buyers used to begin their customer journey.

Service providers with an active social media presence have an advantage in the education stage of the buyer’s journey, as customers who are active on certain platforms may already be exposed to service provider brands already.

According to the survey results, nearly 97% of respondents reported using at least one social media platform weekly or more frequently. Facebook, YouTube and Instagram were the most-used platforms

There are both organic and paid approaches to maintaining brand awareness on social media. But both require a mix of three key ingredients:

  • Content — value-rich, educational content aimed at solving specific problems helps customers in the education stage of their journey.
  • Customer Profiles — knowing who your content and message is for will focus your organic efforts and targeting criteria for paid campaigns.
  • Consistency — social media content has a short lifespan.  Service providers must maintain a consistent presence on social media to use it as a viable lead generation channel.

For marketers, visibility is a big challenge at the education stage of the customer journey. A consistently active presence on social media can make companies top-of-mind when customers do their research.

Price, customer reviews, and past performance were among the top criteria buyers use to evaluate consumer service providers.

Buyers use various criteria to pick a service provider. Price was the most common factor used, but it was often combined with others. On average, respondents identified 2.7 of the eight different criteria listed in Figure 11.

Customer ratings and reviews continued to show relevance further along the customer journey, identified by 45% of respondents. At this stage, customers can live vicariously through their peers and draw from collective experience to help evaluate service providers.

Notably, ‘examples of past performance’ was identified by more than one-third of respondents. Seeing examples of past work can reduce anxiety and build trust.

At this stage of the customer journey, marketers should highlight successful past work through customer testimonials and case stories. Make it clear your people understand customer problems and can empathize, or perhaps offer advice. This could be done at scale on platforms like YouTube.

For example, plumbers can record simple fixes like toilet or faucet repair as a ‘how-to’ video series. Not only does this help search visibility, but it builds trust by demonstrating experience and expertise.

 

Nearly 30% of buyers only talked to one service provider, creating an advantage for companies with high marketplace visibility.

 

At the decision stage of the customer journey, buyers have done their research and feel confident in their evaluation. It’s now time to make a decision and select a service provider.

Companies proactive enough to get in front of buyers early in their journey have an advantage over competitors. Nearly 30% of respondents said they only talked to one service provider before making a decision

 

A combined 55% of respondents talked to two or three service providers. Only 9% of buyers talked to four or more.

Building brand awareness in the early stages of the customer journey can pay dividends in the decision stage. For marketers, the initial conversation is important in giving a good first impression. That conversation can happen on social media DMs, over email, on a phone call and on other channels. Marketers must work with sales representatives to keep messages consistent and highlight key differentiators and relevant past performance. .

 

Less than 49% of buyers left ratings or reviews for their most recent service provider.

 

After customers solve their problem, they are able to reflect and assign a value to their purchase decision. If that value does not meet the expectations set along their journey, marketers risk a customer who feels buyer’s remorse. This can be avoided with proper expectations.

On the other hand, when customers experience an overwhelming positive emotion from an experience, they tend to share it with peers. When your customers reach this state, they can become a valuable marketing asset. Ratings and reviews play a role at each stage of the customer journey.

While powerful, receiving customer ratings and reviews can be a challenge for marketers. Less than half of respondents left a rating of a review for their most recent service provider.

Marketers may consider working with peers on the front lines — technicians, installers, and other customer points of contact — to ask customers to leave a rating or review. Marketers can also leverage digital channels like email follow-ups to solicit ratings and reviews from recent customers.

Conclusion

Buyer behavior has shifted dramatically in recent years as more transactions happen online, and as consumers become accustomed to searching for information on mobile and voice search. This presents an opportunity for marketers to shift away from traditional media marketing activities like TV and radio to more practical and measurable digital marketing activities.

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