How can you reduce risk and build trust through the process so customers feel confident in their decisions? Let’s look at the customer lifecycle.
Journeys have a start and finish, more like a process, but I see anything related to the customer experience as being a lifecycle and circular. If a customer purchases again (I believe the claim is 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers), he'll experience a similar journey as he did the first time. He'll be making similar decisions, probably be more informed about his problem and potential solutions the second time around, but he would experience a similar process.
Additional benefits of a lifecycle:
- There is no real start or end to a relationship (often endings are less endings and more "until another time" unless something disastrous happens)
- And if you do decide to end it, you can exit at any time (sure, you can do this in a journey, but that's not the expectation and there are roadblocks setup)
- You can always jump into the cycle in the middle (not optimal, but possible - and definitely not the expectation of the journey)
Sometimes marketers and businesses forget that most customers "live" in the product and post-purchase experiences. People don't just buy things, use them once, and walk away. They buy something, use it, have questions, want improvements, a refill or replacement part, repairs, etc. There is more to a sale than leading to purchase. If anything, the purchase is the shortest part of the journey.
A customer or prospect isn't buying a product - he is buying a life change. He is making something in his life easier for himself.
When we create and market products, we often forget that frustration with a product or service can happen at any time. If someone is frustrated with a company, he will exit the relationship - even if he owns the product. He will return the product or stop using it. Or if it is a refillable product, he may start the process again with competitors because they may have a cheaper refillable.
Owning a product isn't a win for a company and it isn't a guarantee that the person will like it and recommend it to others. They could say the product wasn't helpful, didn't fill a need or solved the wrong problem. This needs to be considered throughout the customer relationship. Building a relationship with customers is about building trust. One way to build trust is to help customers feel secure and confident during the lifecycle about every action they take.
So how do we help customers feel secure and confident during the journey? There are 4 steps based on the journey. This post will cover Step 1; subsequent posts will cover Steps 2-4.
Step1 - Pre-purchase: Customers Determine What They Want and Need / Companies Sell Their Vision of the Product
(note - I'm using customer here rather than prospect, which is technically accurate. I'm using it to support the concept of the customer lifecycle. Hope that helps!)
What are customers doing in this part of the cycle?
- Defining their problem and formulate needs
- Understanding what a solution is and how it works
Customers may come to you with a defined problem. More often customers aren't aware that they have a problem. You may need to point out to them that they need what you are selling to solve that problem. Or, more commonly, you are making a customer aware of a problem that they didn't know they had.
Either way, in this scenario, customers are doing 3 tasks:
- understanding what their problem is
- understanding what your solution is
- understanding how your solution helps them
What are companies looking to do during this phase?
The goal of this step of the process is to start a real conversation with the buyer.
- Sell an idea - convince prospects that they have a problem and the company offers a way to solve it
Sure, these customers may have a legitimate problem that needs to be solved. But if this problem already exists, either they:
- already work around it and make a solution work
- aren't aware that the problem even exists and haven't thought of it yet
- or don't have a need to fix it.
They need to see why they need to fix it with your product.
How do you help your users/prospects feel comfortable here?
At this stage, customers are looking to explore the product and information by themselves and have minimum interaction with anyone. It’s about self-learning, and at this point someone prefers to read content, use tools and selectors. And if people do have interaction, it’s through chat and/or phone and the conversation isn't about a sale; the conversation is about learning and exploring.
They are exploring new ideas, how this new approach (product) could change their lives, and discovering if this new way of doing something suits them. They want to understand it better. No commitments. Not ready to be serious. It’s about thoughts, ideas. If the person likes what he hears, he may need some insight as to what to do next.
I think most people who work in product forget that most people don’t sit down and make a requirements list for what they need and go buy that. That’s something that people who create products do.
How do most people buy products - even those in business?
- Most people hear about a new product that has a great solution and decide to investigate
- They have a problem that they know could be handled a better way and search for a solution - improve cost or reduce time
- They have a homemade solution that they want an improved solution for - something that costs less to maintain
- They stumble upon a product at a store or on TV or a publication
It's a fairly organic process. Lists and the like happen after someone identifies a need for a product - and then the investigation and comparison begins.
What you can include in your experience to make someone feel comfortable at this phase of the lifecycle?
It's about building trust - and to build trust, you need to build rapport and understanding. You have to speak truth and show authenticity to help your customer.
Help your customer identify what he needs - and clarify the problems you are solving:
Because customers don't think about requirements; they think about how the process is feeling. They want to stop feeling frustrated. They want to have an easier solution to what they are doing today. Alternatively, they may not even know they are having a problem - they may need someone to define it for them.
- Tools and questionnaires help the customer define the problems he has. Ask him a few questions and provide him with a recommended solution. Include guides and questions to help him determine what he is ultimately looking to buy and help him define his problem.
- Provide customer and 3rd party reviews. Describe other people’s problems are and how they were solved. Highlight others' experiences with the product - how did they interact with it, what did they learn about it and themselves, how did they realize that they really needed the product?
- Find ways to show how the product will help - be concrete. Examples of how the product provides value in a video would work best. Show customer emotional reaction.
- Create collateral that will help someone understand the problem that they may have - and how they may solve it. If you are defining a new problem, describe to the user what it is and what will happen if it is not addressed. Provide diagrams. Provide explanations. Show long-term benefits of using the product.
Help your prospect think differently about his problem and solution:
- Be aspirational - spark a need for change through blog posts, videos, and infographics by showing him the possibility of a different life. You'll need to paint a picture of what this future could be. Describe how life could be simpler, easier, more efficient if the problem were solved. And when describing what life could be like, make sure to address how the person feels with the problem solved - relieved, relaxed, rejuvenated. What could someone do with the saved time and money? Help someone imagine how the experience of that problem being solved would be.
- Focus collateral (brochures, videos, podcasts) on achievable benefits and demonstrate how the benefits contribute to a better life - long term. Sometimes people need to see a vision of what their life can be before they choose to change. Show them the business benefits, the social benefits, the emotional benefits. They see to see and feel a vision of what could be their own life.
- Encourage customers to share their before and after stories - including how they felt before with their problem and after the product solved their problem. Often, customer stories and case studies are used later in the lifecycle, but customer stories are so successful because they help paint an aspirational picture of what life could be like. What was the customer's experience before the product? How did they feel? How did customers feel after getting your product/service? What was their life like? Was it easier? Was it simpler? Let them share the story. People love stories. It helps them see another way of looking at the world.
Additionally, there is the relationship with the customer to build to get their confidence and trust. You need to get to know your prospect.
Build rapport. The goal is to start a conversation with a prospect, but to get there, you need to develop a relationship - a type of acquaintance or friendship. Before you do this online, think about how you do this today, offline. How do you start a conversation? What types of topics resonate with people? What topics do they want to talk about? What do you say that gets them excited, wanting to talk more? How do you get more information about what they need from them?
Getting to know your prospect and customer is more than determining their problem and selling a product to them. You can communicate with them through gifts, gestures, words. Some ideas:
- Promotional offers. Offer this person something you think they would like. Get away from stereotypes based on personas and customer profiles and select something your prospect or customer would like to have. Ask some customers who are friendly to you what they would like. Think about your customer's values and needs. How do they see the world?
- Reach out with social media. Engage and interact with your audience from informative posts to fun posts. Be human! People aren't on social media for education only. They are there to connect to other people in some way. The more social, fun posts will tend to do better than the informative posts - but don't think they don't look at them. They do. Use social media to influence thinking.
- Light connection in forums and online chat. Engage in anonymous conversation. I think anonymous conversation can be underrated and if often misunderstood. We focus too much sometimes in the early stages of getting someone's name and number. Does that information really matter? Or does it matter that someone talks to you regularly in some way?
- In-person events. Meet your customers where they go at a store, in a mall, door-to-door, through independent sales people. Go where your customers and prospects are and spend time with them. Show them you care to find them and start a conversation with them.
Become a resource for knowledge in your area - show value you provide
Sure, your company offers value in the product it sells. However, is there other value it offers in what it's making and selling? Is there advice you could offer for free?
Trust is a huge factor when people decide to purchase. And for people to trust you, you have to prove you are reliable, helpful, have something to offer. Become a resource that they can count on for good advice.
How do you do that?
- Provide tips to help the customer today. Show that you are available for advice and consultation. This builds trust - why would this person steer me wrong? And giving it away for free shows that you want to help them and you care enough to help.
- Publish in journals for credibility. Blogs are great, but they don't have the credibility as a publication. Publications force you to research your topic, include references, validate your thoughts and ideas. A blog is purely an opinion piece unless there is material to back it up. It doesn't hold the same cache. Publications are pushing out your piece as part of their brand. You are helping them look credible as well as they help you look good.
- Speaking engagements. When you are invited to be a speaker at an event, you are representing not just yourself, but them. Being invited to be a speaker gives you credibility like a publication does - someone else likes your ideas and finds you to be credible.
- Provide knowledge freely to others. I'm not suggesting to give away trade secrets, but share your knowledge. Today, knowledge is like currency. Share it with others and they will share with you. This sharing builds trust and allows you to demonstrate what you have to offer someone. Sharing knoweledge freely demonstrates your credibility (although it may feel like you are giving something away for free).