For all products and services, from the lunch you buy at a favorite restaurant to the purchase of a luxury automobile, the experience of the buying process matters more than ever, it seems. “Service with a smile” barely scratches the surface today. Buying a product or service has officially become a journey, a series of experiences that Freelancers and business owners must create and perfect. There are three phases:
- The pre-purchase experience, when prospective customers browse advertisements, search company websites and scrutinize social media feeds and online reviews to obtain information about product/ service choices and prices to confirm or modify their expectations.
- The purchase itself, when product or service choices are finalized, size and color are selected and payment is made. All aspects of the purchase process must be convenient and seamless.
- The post-purchase experience, as needed, where typical customer service matters such as the (on-time) delivery date will take place and resolution of questions or problems must be quickly and expertly resolved.
As you and your team take steps to design a website that keeps browsers visiting pages and has a good (sales) conversion rate, present across social media channels a story-telling narrative that engages visitors and builds credibility and has excellent and reliable customer service protocols, below are a few things to keep in mind:
Customers want information The pre-purchase phase continues to grow in importance. Prospective customers want to know about you and also your competitors, so that comparisons can be made and the product or service that appears to offer the best value will be purchased.
The buying process may begin with an advertisement that you placed. If your product or service piques interest, the pre-purchase phase will progress to a visit to your company website. While on the website, social media icons will be clicked and the story you tell on those platforms will be read with interest. Pre-purchase research often concludes with a visit to online reviewing sites, such as Trip Advisor and Yelp, to confirm the value of your organization, product, or service.
Customers want convenience. It is imperative that doing business with your organization will be no-stress and easy. If you don’t have the best turkey sandwich in the neighborhood, you can make up for it by being very convenient for customers to buy from you, online or in person (even as they complain about your product or prices).
Master logistics. Especially if yours is an e-commerce business, your website must be fully operational as well as easy to navigate, with an intuitive flow. Last week while shopping for client holiday gifts, I found a lovely little shop that sells very nice air plants, housed in interesting containers and in the right price range. But the website was down and I didn’t have time to visit the store. Sadly, I could not buy from my small business colleague. Why the owner felt it would be a good idea to re-do a website in mid-December is beyond me.
Once an order is placed, there is the (outsourced) delivery system on which you depend. Your delivery service will be compared to Amazon, so it’s advisable to take every step to ensure that merchandise deliveries meet customer expectations. If items are out of stock, make sure that you are able to give a very good approximation of when the item(s) will be available. Finally, packing must be expert to eliminate the chance of damage during transport.
Technology. There’s no need to splurge on every technology product that’s available, but do invest in those tools that will make a noticeable difference in the ease of doing business with you, in the pre-purchase, purchase, or post-purchase phases of the buying process. Make it easy to browse, make it easy to get questions answered, make it easy to buy, make it easy to arrange and receive delivery, make it easy to resolve problems.
Timely communication. The trick is to communicate with customers only when they will perceive the contact as beneficial. Depending on your business, that could be once a month or once a quarter. Signing customers up for a monthly or quarterly newsletter is an excellent way to keep customers up-to-date about new products or discounts on your products or services. Remember to give an opt-out choice.
Information that you’ve included in your newsletter can be recycled through your social media platforms and website. During the December holiday season, send cards to customers, including lapsed customers with whom you’ve not received an order in five years.
If there’s been a problem with your product or service, or if a product is out of stock, quickly contact the customer and if the problem is serious, or the customer is upset, a telephone call is recommended.
Building and sustaining a profitable business takes planning and careful execution. Providing a superior buying experience that carries through the three buying process phases will bring customers to your organization and promote referrals, which continue to be the most effective form of advertising.
Thanks for reading,
Photograph: Chefs at Sushi Sho Saito in the Akazaka district of Minato, Tokyo