Post-Purchase: Where Loyalty and Community Is Built

As we discussed in the product experience video, after a customer purchases a product, technically his or her experience branches into two areas: the post-purchase experience and the product experience. In the diagram we keep it linear for simplicity, but they are both related, yet different, parallel experiences. The product experience builds community by allowing customers to share their successes with each other regarding how the product or service improved their life in some way. The post-purchase experience builds a relationship between your customers and your company. This relationship evolves in a few ways:

  • First, it starts to address day-to-day explicit and implicit agreements that include logistics, payments, promotions, or collaborations
  • Second, it provides information to customers, so they know what’s happening with the company and the product, and
  • Third, it provides customers information to know how the company is changing the lives of people, an industry, or the world and bringing everyone benefit.

 

With that said, a broad range of activities happen in the post-purchase experience.

A company may introduce complementary products and services or VIP programs or other methods to help solve a customer’s problem, introducing a new layer to the customer relationship lifecycle to deepen connections and build relationships. This ushers a customer into the pre-purchase step for that product or service. This makes the post-purchase step a type of transition step, taking a customer from his existing customer relationship to something more involved, engaged, and significant.

There are also transitions for someone to move to the pre-purchase step to order a refill, a replacement, or a repair. Assistance is needed for a customer to make the decision to purchase. The post-purchase step springboards customers into those processes.

Customers may want to receive regular updates about products or services: new features, account or service changes, changes to warranties or guarantees and other explicit or implicit agreements. They may want to adjust their existing service contracts or subscriptions. Somehow, those transactions would need to be supported in this step. And there’s no need here to develop a new or deeper customer relationship; these customers only want to adjust the existing relationship to something that works for them.

A company may to share information about itself to build a connection, as a friend would. Customers may want to learn about what’s happening in the company itself, about acquisitions and partnerships, key new hires, customer wins, product releases, events, or corporate social responsibility programs. This may happen through various experience or conversations. Sharing information and discovering shared goals and connections is the goal. Experiencing the company’s culture more directly and better understanding who it is, is a result.

A company may offer customers a way to participate in customer councils or user groups to connect, learn about how they use the product, and what features or services they would like to see added in the offering. Here they build community with each other and the company.

And we can’t forget the opportunity for existing customers to share their story with others to inspire them to use the product in creative ways and achieve better results.

 

As you can see, in this step, there is a need to share information, complete transactions, make decisions, be an influencer or be influenced, develop a relationship, and collaborate to find new solutions. All of these conversations are necessary for someone to have a deeper relationship with a company, building upon that initial product experience to understand and realize the company’s true mission. And that experience may be something that the customer may want to share, repeat, or encourage others to have as well. The product was one experience of the company’s vision and mission; now in this post-purchase step, the customer experiences the company’s vision from a broader perspective, understanding the company and its culture first-hand.

This is why when making this video, I struggled to find the right model to describe the conversations and experiences for this step. And as we see, unlike other steps of the journey, the post-purchase step combines elements from all previous stepspre-purchase, purchase, and product use. All types of conversations can apply here and are used interchangeably and together. The purchase agreements could be changed or extended through a product license renewal or the addition of a support contract for good measure. Persuasion for someone to buy or use a product is less important than demonstrations and influencing customers to use a product better or show them how to work with the company to achieve a larger goal. This is why I decided that I would use the model that I included in the epilogue of my book to outline the types of conversations that could be automated conversations for AI’s. These are all of the types of conversations that someone could have with a company that need to be automated over time. I figured this model may be useful to help describe the diverse conversations and experiences customers can have with your company.

In a separate video, I describe each of these conversations in greater detail to give that background. Today, I’ll show how this model applies to the post-purchase step.

 

Let’s start with informational conversations. As we know, informational conversations build awareness of a company, product, solution or issue so someone understands what it is, what it does, and the value it brings. We are used to seeing these conversations in the pre-purchase and purchase steps of the customer relationship lifecycle and during the product step to help with instructional content. But what does it represent in the post-purchase step?

Well, these conversations complement transactions and decision-making and can be urgent or time-sensitive in nature. They are also describing complex or simple changes to explicit or implicit agreements. These factors — urgency and complexity — impact tone, format, and delivery of the communication.

Many post-purchase conversations regarding account changes and agreement adjustments require clarity so expectations in changed agreements can be reset and met. That’s why I’d recommend using a more formal tone to reduce confusion. Colloquial phrases and casual tone can result in ambiguity and cause confusion. If both sides aren’t clear about shifted expectations that result from changed agreements, then distrust can appear, resulting in a customer relationship that crumbles.

The complexity of conversations determines the format and delivery mechanism of the experience. Let’s say the change being communicated is complex, meaning that there are multiple factors in the customer’s life being impacted or changed. It may require more than one conversation to communicate all of the impacts. Further, such a change may prompt a customer to ask questions about its implications to their life. Someone may need notifications to discover this change. Social media or email may be great methods to kick-off this conversation experience and help discovery. But this complex, multi-faceted conversation may prompt the company to communicate it through an in-person experience, like a meeting or in-store presentation, an in-person conversation with salespeople, or hybrid experience like a webinar. An automated experience like a web page or video could be used as well, although it doesn’t allow for the customer to ask questions for their own clarifications.

Now a less complex message, where there are only 1 or 2 customer implications, could be simply communicated through an automated experience like an email or website or in-person or hybrid conversations. Some examples include a date change for delivery, an update to a product feature, a notice about support hour changes during a holiday, store hours changing, and similar communications. Such temporal communications should be clearly stated, obvious to find, and consistently present until it’s no longer necessary.

 

Now for transactions…. I consider a transaction to be a type of conversation to exchange information to achieve a specific goal and, consequently, build a relationship.

Transactional conversations typically address the terms of an exchange for something of value. Types of transactions in this step include calling support for help, accessing information about product usage or a warrantee or guarantee, inquiring about payment status or transaction history, or initiating repairs or replacements.

Automated conversations by their nature are transactional—you exchange information with a system to achieve a goal. For the post-purchase step, these conversations can be direct and straightforward. The customer knows what to expect and is essentially adjusting their agreements with the company.

But in-person conversations may be more appropriate depending on the adjustment of the agreement at-hand, the level of impact to the customers, and the urgency of the message. This is true for purchase or support and customer service. If there is a complex issue that is urgent to fix, an in-person conversation would be preferable to an automated conversation or experience. The in-person conversation allows for greater discussion than an automated experience that is pre-defined and limited. And complex conversations that are situation-dependent and highly unique to one’s circumstances require that flexibility.

Note that a combination of delivery methods may be used as wellone for discovery of the information, one for the experience or communication itself.

Decision-making conversations are often considered to be a precursor to transactional conversations during the purchase lifecycle step, but decision making occurs during all steps of the customer relationship lifecycle. You can’t get to a next step in the lifecycle or in a journey without it. In this type of conversation, a customer or prospect is rating their options according to their own value and priority system and developing a sense of their perceived value and worth for the solution. They consider price, perceived need, time to setup and use, and benefits or saved time and efficiency. In the post-purchase step, a customer may decide to deepen their relationship with a company by:

  • using the product to solve another problem,
  • upgrading their product or service,
  • renewing,
  • getting a replacement item or repair their item,
  • purchasing a warranty or guarantee,
  • sharing their story and contribute to your customer group.

 

Conversations to help a customer decide to take these actions are decision making conversations. They include informational conversations and may require a supporting transaction. This step offers awareness of the decisions to make and if a new customer relationship lifecycle iteration is required or if the transaction can happen at this step because it is a change to the existing relationship, not a new relationship tier. Related aspects of pre-purchase awareness, purchase information, comparisons, and transactions, and product use can be included here too.

Now one alternative not included in the list: the customer may decide not to use the product again and make a change like dropping out of the customer relationship lifecycle. That’s also a valid option and needs to be considered in the lifecycle and journey design to mitigate that risk in conversations. And that will be covered in a separate video in the future.

  

We usually associate influential conversations with thought leadership conversations that happen during the pre-purchase and purchase steps of the customer relationship lifecycle. But we can’t forget that these conversations are also important during the product and post-purchase steps. Influential conversations inspire customers to see a problem differently, help them better understand how else a solution can help them, and help customers better understand your company’s vision for change in the world. If your company has a corporate social responsibility program and projects, you could invite your customers to participate and contribute to your efforts or ask them for their feedback. This is also a type of influence.

These types of conversations can also encourage customers to be influential themselves. This transition happens during product and post-purchase steps. If customers have a great experience, they can’t help but share it with others. And if they achieve interesting results, your company may want to offer them a platform to share their knowledge and help increase product use. The customers then become part of the company’s community and influence others in their decisions. But keep in mindinfluential conversations are complex. They exist at end of the conversation spectrum because the conversation style is complicated and there is a lot of judgement required to determine if a conversation is informational or influential, depending on someone’s role and call to action in the conversation.

The participants of a conversation determine if it is influential or informational. Some questions that help this discovery this include:

Is this person sharing information an expert?

  • If this person is considered to be an expert by the listener, then this expert can help the other party decide or have an insight.
  • If this person is not perceived to be an expert, then he or she is simply providing information.

Is it someone intimately familiar with your situation? Can they speak to your experience directly? Or do they use general cases?

  • If yes, this person can get to specifics, then this is an influential conversation.
  • If not, then it is simply and informational conversation.

Do they have your best interests in mind? Or their own interests?

  • If they have your interests in mind, it is an influential conversation; otherwise, it is an informational conversation.

 

Is there a connection or relationship between you and the person providing the advice? Is this person close to you?

  • The closer the relationship, the more likely it is an influential conversation due to the trust formed.

   

What’s the level of trust between you and the source? (high or low)

  • If there is a lot of trust, then this is an influential conversation.

 

Influential conversations occur with individuals who are considered to be experts, understand your situation, have no interest in either final decision, can be trusted, and often have a great relationship with you. It is through these conversations that trust is built. If a customer feels that a company is working towards his best interest, then trust can grow. 

Mostly influential conversations happen through automated and in-person experiences, their associated hybrid experiences, or through in-person conversations. Discovery of influential conversations can happen through automated conversations as well as hybrid and automated experiences. The greater the opportunity to connect emotionally, the better the experience, which is why in-person conversations and experiences are most effective here.

Relationship building conversations also occur throughout the customer lifecycle. Actually, that’s the purpose of conversations and business—exchanging information, building trust, but most of all, creating an emotional connection.

This is why I define a customer relationship as being a valuable feedback loop to improve a company’s solution, making customers an active part of the company ecosystem, or community. This conversation is necessary throughout the process for connection and building trust to improve business.

Employees need to share with customers and customers need to share with each other.  Providing areas for sharing advice and stories for how to use the product or service, what’s happening with the company, and how to interact better is key for a company to build to accommodate these types of conversations. There needs to be space for discourse and interaction. It’s not enough for a company to make an announcement through a newsletter. That’s just informational conversation. A company needs to hear people’s perspectives and thoughts on decisions made. That’s where the relationship is built. That’s the emotional connection. That’s the dialogue. From such a conversation, new strategies could be developed to better meet customer needs, and trust is built from customers knowing that the company is hearing them and responding with their best interests in mind.

This is why social media is an ideal vehicle for receiving input and feedback. Webinars and customer events are also great ways to receive feedback from customers through conversations and online chatting. Sharing builds community, which builds trust and loyalty. And by encouraging such sharing, your customers see your company as a go-to for solutions. Either your company or its customers can help them. And that’s a powerful relationship.

Companies can encourage such conversations through automated experiences like forums, in-person experiences like advisory boards or events, or conversation hybrids like social media. In-person conversations like calls are also effective, but not the same as having the experience of seeing someone else in person. In-person events are most effective to get the relationships established and keep inspiration alive. It’s easier to understand someone else’s emotion if you experience it directly. It’s this ease of emotional expression and feeling that keeps you engaged and motivated to continue a relationship. This is why how someone makes you feel matters. I’m reminded of the work of Dr. Antonio Damasio and somatic markers, based on memories of past experiences. They help us filter options and provide a shortcut for decision-making. So, if you have had a lot of life experiences, you’ll get a lot of feelings about people, situations, and circumstances and this will help you make a better decision. The physical memories will guide you so that you “feel good” about what you choose. An aspect of the experience—anything from a smell or similar action or experiencing a person with a similar personality—could spark such a memory. This is more easily done in person, although achievable elsewhere.

Now, social media helps with information discovery but doesn’t capture emotions in quite the same way as an in-person experience. It encourages conversations but it is difficult to communicate emotions through emojis and words. The emotional experience isn’t the same. Just like automated experiences. It’s easier to experience emotions first-hand than digitally.

Collaboration and brainstorming are the nirvana of conversations and experiences because both parties involved need to have a strong relationship before they can feel comfortable collaborating to solve a problem. There needs to be high trust between the company and the customer for this to happen. However, keep in mind that collaborative conversations and brainstorming aren’t always fun and cozy. Sometimes great conflict is required to birth a new idea. And conflict can come out of neglect, fear, anger, frustration, and more. You need to trust in the strength of a relationship to be able to have such conversations without walking away at first disagreement. They aren’t always nice. On either side!  

These conversations typically address how the products and services, or the company works towards its vision and mission statements. Customer councils and user groups, or in-person experiences, help in this effort. Community is built through this conversationpeople come together to support a common cause, which is resolving individual challenges while working towards a larger goal to change an industry or the world. This is why this is the community building step. These are the most complex conversations because conversation success is dependent on many implication, impacts, effects, and emotions. It’s both good and bad experiences that build a stronger relationship. Many factors are involved at any time.

Now, you may be thinking: how does building such a relationship help my business? Well, if the customer has a problem, and they have a strong relationship with your company, who will they call first for a solution? They will call younot your competitor. If you build trust with your customer and a strong relationship with them, you have now created customer loyalty, so customers feel connected and tied to your success and want to see you succeed. If this relationship isn’t there, these customers will go find someone to help them solve their problem and not call you. And that is a lost sale. Further, if your customer’s friend has a problem and they don’t think to call your company—that’s a problem too. Word-of-mouth should be strong if you have strong customer relationships. It’s not if relationship building is challenging for you. And you can have all of the lead generation funnels in the world, if you can’t build a relationship with your customers so they love you, trust you, and rely on you, they just won’t commit to buy from you and support your company.

So, what are some activities done during the post-purchase step as an in-person experience or conversation or an automated experience?

  • Brainstorm about new features with the company—new ideas,
  • Talk about new thought leadership directions and ideas,
  • Work on a new program,
  • Come together to support a corporate social responsibility program to create amazing results.

 

Automated conversations can gather information for this step, but they can’t facilitate brainstorming. It’s too complex to address with if/then statements. There are elements of influential and relationship building conversations included in collaborative conversations. However, to gather information and complete simple transactions, yes, automated conversations are a great approach to gather this information for this step.

Note that the end result of this conversation is loyalty. Once your community is bought into your company’s vision and the relationship exists to have these types of conversations, loyalty to a company is inevitable. They are part of your company—they want to see you win.

Hopefully, this discussion provided insights into the range of conversations that can occur during the post-sales step of the customer relationship lifecycle. And yes, over time these conversations could be automated to build customer relationships—from information sharing to transactions to decision making to influence to relationship building and then collaboration. But conversation complexity, its time sensitive nature, and the people involved in the discussion may impact its automation, as well as an approach to build awareness to make a next step decision. The post-purchase step really is about building a relationship with a company to create community, shifting expectations and agreement or getting ready for a new customer relationship lifecycle tier to expand the connection. It’s a step where both parties get to know each other better and a community is truly built with customers. The group then can focus on achieving the company’s vision and mission to change a process, an industry, or the world. 

Also note that this model could also be used in each of the steps in the lifecyclepre-purchase, purchase, and productto illustrate types of conversations. I included a chart below the transcript of this video to illustrate how this scale to the other areas.

Lots of information today. I hope this was helpful and informative. Thanks so much and have a great day! 

Developed after extensive research about conversations, including work by Judy Apps in The Art of Conversation.

Goals of Six Conversation Types Mapped to the

Four Customer Relationship Lifecycle Steps

Pre-Purchase

Purchase

Product Experience

Post-Purchase

Informational

Informational conversations build awareness of a company, product, solution or issue so someone understands what it is, what it does, and the value it brings.

Customers define their problem and discover a solution.

The company helps customers understand the problem that it solves, how it can help them, and the value it provides.

Customers learn how the company's solution changed people's lives through the its customers.

Customers discover the company's larger vision for an industry or the world.

Customers compare competitive information about a solution using best practices, parity, and baselines (apples-to-apples comparison).

Customers understand the problem the company solves and the value it provides.

Customers learn how a company's solution changed people's lives.

The customer accesses setup and instruction information and discovers product optimization conversations to use the solution in a better way.

These conversations complement transactions and decision-making and can be urgent or time-sensitive in nature. They describe complex or simple changes to explicit or implicit agreements already made.

Transactional

Conversations that allow participants to exchange information to achieve a specific goal and, consequently, build a relationship.

Companies provide to customers information about what their solution (product or service) is, what it does, its value, and how it can change their lives. The customers provide some of their contact information as a type of "payment."

Customer purchases the solution and builds consensus with the company regarding agreements for use.

Customer accesses support and finds solutions to their issues either through self-help methods, by calling the company, or through the customer community.

Additionally, the customer may get inspired by other existing customers in the community to use the product in new and exciting ways.

Types of transactions in this step include calling support for account help, accessing information about product usage or a warrantee or guarantee, inquiring about payment status or transaction history, or initiating repairs or replacements.

Information is exchanged to build a stronger relationship, or a transaction changes the existing relationship or initiates building a new relationship layer.

Decision-Making

These conversations include informational conversations and may require a supporting transaction.

Companies help customers discover if they do or do not have a problem. Then they help them determine if solving this problem is a priority in their life.

Customer determines if the company's solution will solve their problem and if they want to commit to solve the problem by purchasing the solution.

Customer determines his or here own standards of value and worth and priorities to purchase this solution. The customer decides if he or she should solve the problem now or later.

Customer determines who should ideally be responsible to fix an issue.

The customer determines if the solution may have other uses and benefits to explore.

This step offers customers awareness of all possible decisions to make, and if a new customer relationship lifecycle iteration is required or if the transaction can happen at this step because it is a change to the existing relationship, not a new relationship tier.

Influential

Inspire customers to see a problem differently, help them better understand how else a solution can help them, and help them better understand your company’s vision for change in the world.

The company and its experts earn customer trust to become influential to them.

The company and its customers generate thought leadership content to share with customers so they can discover new ideas.

The copmany influences customers to solve their prioritized problem with their solution.

Customers begin to influence each other to see the company's solution as a way to solve more problems.

Customers influence other customers.

These conversations encourage customers to be influential themselves.

The company helps customers connect to their larger corporate vision to change an industry or the world. Customers influence each other and others to learn more about that.

Relationship-Building

These conversations occur throughout the customer lifecycle. Actually, that’s the purpose of conversations and business—exchanging information, building trust, but most of all, creating an emotional connection.

The company makes its solution easily discoverable for customers who know they have a problem to solve and helps those who need to discover that they have a problem.

The company connects with customers by finding shared interests with the company and its existing customers.

The customer and company gets to know each other to see if there is a "fit" for the company's solution to truly solve the customer's problem.

There needs to be alignment across values, priorities, defintion of worth, and emotional connection to build a solid relationship. Existing customers share their stories to help with that here.

The product needs to solve the customer's problem.

The explicit and implicit agreements made in the previous steps need to be met. If they are met, then relationships are built.

Customers start to connect with other customers more actively to see how the solution can more broadly apply to other situations.

Community is established in this conversation.

A company needs to hear people’s perspectives and thoughts on decisions made. From such a conversation, new strategies could be developed to better meet customer needs, and trust is built from customers knowing that the company is hearing them and responding with their best interests in mind.

Collaboration/ Brainstorming

Both parties involved need to have a strong relationship before they can feel comfortable collaborating to solve a problem.

The company invites the customer into conversation on social media to read written content, watch videos/webinars, or attend events.

Ads, press, and other methods aid customer discovery of the company and solution.

Collaboration and brainstorming between company and customer determine how the company's solution will solves the customer's problem.

The company and customer build consensus regarding agreements for the purchase transaction.

These conversations between customers and the company or each other solve issues encountered with the product or service.

Customers inspire each other to use the product in new ways.

Loyalty and community is built in this conversation.

These conversations typically address how the products and services or the company works towards its vision and mission statements. Customer councils and user groups, or in-person experiences, help in this effort. Community is built. People come together to support a common cause, which is resolving individual challenges while working towards a larger goal to change an industry or the world.