Customer acquisition: a customer-centric guide

Your guide for what customer acquisition is, tips for building an effective customer acquisition strategy, and how customer service can help.

By Hannah Wren, Senior associate, content marketing

Published March 5, 2020
Last updated November 9, 2021

Businesses tend to associate customer acquisition with marketing and sales. They often leave customer service out of the equation. But, customer service is essential to help turn potential customers (also known as prospects) into loyal, repeat customers.

Why? Because a helpful customer service rep can play an important role in your company’s customer acquisition strategy, tipping the scales in your favor.

Read on for a complete guide to customer acquisition that leverages your entire team.

What is customer acquisition?

Customer acquisition is the process of gaining new and prospective customers for your business. This ensures that your company grows at a healthy rate and reduces the impact of customer churn.

How do you acquire customers?

To acquire new customers, businesses need to connect with prospects in a compelling way while meeting their needs at the right time. Marketers sometimes call this process a customer acquisition funnel.

  • Awareness (top of funnel or TOFU):
  • At the start of the buyer’s journey, your goal is to engage a variety of prospects. They may not be ready to purchase yet. But they should still fall within your target audience and align with your customer personas. For example, a brand might hire influencers to post Instagram content to gain exposure to new, relevant groups of consumers.

  • Consideration (middle of funnel or MOFU):
  • At the middle of the funnel, customers start showing signs that they are more serious about making a purchase. This might include subscribing to your emails, filling out a demo request, or reaching out to your business with questions.

  • Conversion (bottom of funnel or BOFU):
  • A potential customers at the late stage of the acquisition process have already engaged with your brand. They just need to take the final steps to become paying customers. They might have added something to their cart or signed up for a free first-month subscription.

customer acquisition

To grow a sustainable business, companies will need to be strategic. They’ll need to bring their marketing, sales, and customer service teams together to create a rock-solid customer acquisition process. An effective acquisition strategy is a measurable process that helps ensure your acquisition methods are customer-centric—doing what’s right for the customer and building trust—as well as budget-smart.

Some acquisition methods are free, such as when an existing customer tells a friend about your brand. Others come with a cost, such as Facebook ads, marketing campaigns, or influencer marketing. You can measure customer acquisition and ensure you’re getting a return on your investment by calculating your cost to acquire a new customer or customer acquisition cost (CAC). CAC refers to the costs of your customer acquisition methods divided by the number of new customers acquired.

Leveraging customer service in your customer acquisition strategy

89 percent of companies compete primarily on the basis of customer experience. To stand out, businesses must integrate service into every interaction point of the customer experience, including the buyer’s journey.

Customer service has become a critical function for any business to perform and grow. But the level of support and engagement that customers receive often falls short of expectations in the current marketplace. In fact, 74 percent of consumers say they will switch brands if the purchase experience is too difficult.

Implement these six tips to help keep service top of mind when building a customer acquisition strategy.

  1. Turn existing customers into brand advocates

    Customer acquisition cost is at an all-time high, increasing nearly 50 percent in the past five years. Reducing this metric starts by leveraging a resource you already have: your existing customers or existing clients.

    The data is clear: Customers trust their friends and family more than they do information that comes directly from businesses. Word-of-mouth marketing ranks high on the trust scale. Referral programs can be a great way to inspire your customers to refer their network. They enable a business to extend its reach while improving customer retention. Rothy’s “Refer-a-friend” program gives existing customers $20 off their next pair of shoes and $20 to a friend, for every friend that becomes a new customer.

    Encouraging reviews is another way to acquire a potential customer with the help of your current ones. In fact, 90 percent of people claimed that positive online reviews influence their buying decisions in a survey by Dimensional Research. And reviews score you search engine optimization brownie points, too.

    90 percent of people claimed that positive online reviews influence their buying decisionsDimensional Research

    Agents have a direct line to your customers. They can help find opportunities to turn your most passionate customers into brand advocates and an ad-hoc marketing department. When a customer says something nice about your brand during a support interaction, an agent can thank them. And, if it feels natural, let them know that writing a review would be greatly appreciated. Agents can also use positive service interactions as opportunities to encourage customers to participate in your referral program.

  2. Connect conversations across touchpoints

    The customer acquisition effort spans a variety of digital marketing channels, whether that's email marketing, a Facebook ad or Google ad, or a landing page. Businesses should expect potential leads to reach out through all of those touchpoints. 89 percent of customers say a quick response to an initial inquiry is important when deciding which company to buy from. And it's essential to close gaps between those channels.

    customer acquisition
    For example, potential customers often subscribe to your emails to learn more about your brand. But campaigns and content marketing aren't the only teams who have to think about marketing emails. Potential customers will often respond. They might follow up on an abandoned cart email with a question. Customer service agents are likely the first to answer them.

    Social media is another important acquisition touchpoint, particularly for brand awareness. In fact, 44.8 percent of internet users use social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, when researching things to buy, according to Hootsuite. And increasingly, consumers want to reach out to brands on social messaging channels. Businesses today can use messaging as both a customer service channel and an acquisition channel.

    Or, a website that is well optimized for search engines will likely lead potential customers to your website. This means they might reach out for help from anywhere on the website.

    It’s important to be prepared to have conversations with potential customers no matter what channel they used to reach out. Whether they’re responding to an outbound email, sliding into your Twitter DMs, or live chatting you on your website, it’s not a great experience to be ghosted by a love interest or a brand.

    But siloed systems and software often prevent conversations across channels from going to one place. This makes it difficult for agents to even respond, let alone in a way that is fast and personal. To do so, they’ll need a connective layer of tissue that connects conversations so they’re easy to track and manage.

    This arms agents with relevant context and conversation history for personalized responses. For example, knowing that a prospect asked that same question before, even if it was through a different channel.

  3. Use data to provide greater value

    Companies today don’t have to guess what customers want. Now, they can use trends in customer data and analytics as an essential element of the feedback loop.

    Customer data can be a great starting point for improving the quality of your products and services. And 53 percent of customers rate quality as the most important factor when making purchases, even over price.

    Taking a look at the most common customer complaints your service team sees can be eye-opening. Customer-focused businesses take those pain points and use them to grow and attract new customers. After Zappos learned that current customers were frustrated with having to pay for returns, they made returns free. This further encouraged new customers to try their shoes for the first time.

  4. Use AI to proactively acquire customers

    Innovative companies are taking a proactive approach to acquisition. And with the help of AI, it doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. Some companies deploy a chatbot on their website or in-app experience to help with lead generation and boost conversion rates. A chatbot can proactively welcome customers and connect them to support if they have any questions. This helps to ensure they don’t abandon a free trial signup form or their entire cart due to lingering concerns and in doing so, increases website conversion rate.

  5. Encourage collaboration between sales and support

    According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2020, sales and support teams that collaborate are at an advantage when it comes to acquiring customers. They have more qualified leads, create more deals, and close more business. But successful collaboration is next to impossible with siloed software and systems that make it hard to share insights across teams and departments.

    To encourage collaboration between sales and support, teams will need that same connective layer of tissue that connects customer data across departments. This ensures they can easily share insights without disrupting their workflow or exposing a lead to what happens behind the scenes.

  6. Invest in the customer experience

    Research is clear: Customer experience influences purchase decision and impacts customer lifetime value. In fact, a Zendesk survey revealed that 62 percent of B2B and 42 percent of B2C customers purchased more after a good customer service experience. And 66 percent of B2B and 52 percent of B2C customers stopped buying after a bad customer service interaction.

    The same goes for potential customers. Their experience with your customer service is often their first direct interaction with your brand. As such, you’ll want to ensure that it’s an experience that will leave them wanting more.

    Research also shows that people often make purchase decisions based on emotional factors. Since customer support is on the front lines, they play a large role in the emotional aspect of your brand. Customer service skills are key to establishing real, human relationships with potential customers early on.

    Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is one brand that continues to invest in the customer experience. Its white-glove customer service experience attracts new customers with free perks and personalization. It created a service where guests can reach out to the business like they would a friend. They can use Twitter, Facebook Messenger, or SMS to arrange spa reservations, get restaurant recommendations, and access special services.

Your customer acquisition plan will depend on your type of business, customer base, resources, and overall marketing strategy. Your customer acquisition framework will evolve as trends change and your company grows. But great customer service team will help businesses at any stage think with the long game in mind. After all, those that interact with your customers directly often know how to serve them the best.

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