You may be searching for a solution to your problem. Or you may stumble upon something that you didn’t realize that you always needed, making you feel as if your discovery was meant to be. Either way, discovering a solution to one of your biggest problems is a great feeling.
That’s what the pre-purchase step of the customer relationship lifecycle is all about: customers discovering a way to solve a problem that they have today or resolve a problem that they didn’t even know they had.
Now this problem that your customers have could be something very specific to them or something specific to society or an industry. They may need to be part of a bigger movement to solve their problem and ultimately, drive change.
And as we know, change happens when you solve a problem. But a crucial element to help make a change more easily and be more open to it is having vision of what your new life could possibly be after the change is made. And to do that, you need to understand the impact of the change and have expectations of what will happen if you adopt this vision. Now, expectations aren’t inherently bad; but if they are not filled, they can cause disappointment. And that’s where customer relationships often fail.
Now, you may assume that customers develop a vision of what their life could be with your product or service on their own, but that’s not true. That’s your company’s story to share. You can curate the narrative to share the vision of a life you believe the customer should have after using the product or service. Ideally this should be based on the customer stories you hear and how they recount how their lives changed. And this ties back with a company’s accountability. Accountability can become a type of measurement to determine the success of a customer relationship based on how a company delivers on the promises it makes, which we will discuss in a separate video.
Related to accountability are explicit and implicit agreements and expectations. These start when building a relationship with others or with a company. We all enter a relationship with assumptions about how a relationship should work based on past experiences and our experiences with competitors. That’s an implicit agreement. Companies need to offer baseline support based on what competitors are doing. By leveraging that information and using their own approaches, they will build a relationship with customers in the traditional way: find a way to build trust, identify a need, and show how that need can be filled.
Now explicit agreements are established by the value statements and benefits that a company claims as well as the emotions and feelings that are a result of customer experiences. They guide a customer in defining how to hold a company accountable in that relationship, starting in its early stages. So, the messages you share with customers on social media and such travel with them throughout the relationship lifecycle and journeys; customers base their understanding of your company and its offerings on what you say during that process.
There are two main types of targets in this step of the customer relationship lifecycle:
Those who are generally aware what their problem is but aren’t sure how to solve it. They will use search tools, reviews, third-party sites, and word-of-mouth, or conversations with friends, companies, and experts, to find a solution. Because they are aware that they have a problem, they place a high priority on fixing it. Only if the problem is too complex to solve on their own or too costly to acquire a solution will it fall in priority. They enter the process knowing that solving the problem would improve their life, but they need facts and details to support this assertion.
Those who don’t yet know that they have a problem. They will stumble upon solutions through discovery tools like social media, wandering into a local store, or experimenting with a demo, trial, or sample. Sometimes, it is only after trying a product or service that a customer realizes how it could help them. These people then need to consider where they place the priority of solving this problem in their lives. And they determine this priority based on their perception of how the solution would improve their lives in some way.
Let’s examine in greater detail how to communicate with those who know what their problem is. These people typically know the topics to search to find a solution. They know the leading companies and industry leaders in the field. As previously stated, they have an idea of how their lives could improve by solving their problem. Now it’s your job as the company to help customers more fully understand the details around the anticipated changes to their lives physically and emotionally and create a more specific vision of how their future, will in fact, be improved.
The best way to help them discover your solution is through conversations: in-person, with customers, influencers, and partners, automated through search engines and bots and through hybrid approaches like social media. In-person experiences like demos, storefronts, and automated experiences like websites, and collateral are important for someone to research your product or service. Remember, this audience is fairly focused and will need more directed ways to discover your solution to the problem they identified. They will need automated experiences to research detailed information about your solution and in-person experiences to give your solution a whirl. But discovery of your company’s solution mainly happens through conversations – in person and automated.
Now, let’s consider those who don’t know they have a problem. Most of the time, that’s your target audience if you are selling a new product or solution. They don’t know you exist; they aren’t sure of the value you provide and need to discover you. So, you need to make yourself discoverable.
And this can happen through social media in a digital experience or through in-person experiences like a conference, a tradeshow, an event like a meetup, a party, or a storefront. These people may want to experience the product firsthand to see how it works and discover for themselves how it could help them. They want to hear stories about how your company helped real customers change their lives or achieve their goals. They want to know why people buy from you. They want to learn more about the problem you solve.
In addition to sharing your product story experience, you need to construct that initial discovery experience. That ah-ha moment. How someone stumbles upon you—a store in a part of town where your target market lives or shops, posting on social media in places where people can access your solution and provide content to outline the problem you solve, describe the value you provide, and outline how you can transform someone’s life. This post could feature an article, video, audio—it doesn’t matter. What matters about the content is that it paints a picture in someone’s mind showing how this change can benefit them emotionally and physically. And by sharing customer stories, you can show how the change that your product provides is strong enough and beneficial enough to change behavior.
This needs to occur through in-person experiences at stores, events, or tradeshows or automated or in-person conversations, or hybrid conversation experiences. The automated experiences or in-person conversations or events can help paint a picture in someone’s mind about the benefits of change.
The key to doing this successfully is making sure that your company is solving a clear problem. And this is a challenge for many companies. They may solve a problem, but not in the context of how a customer values the solution and why they should choose it. There is a great article at Harvard Business Review about this regarding the “jobs to be done.” This is the customer perspective of the problems you solve and its meaning in their lives.
In the article, the authors share a story about a developer trying to sell condos. The developer heard specific requests for room features to include in these homes, like a breakfast bar and other nifty nooks. But what kept coming up as to why people said no to purchase is that they wanted a place to put their dining room table or a large, meaningful piece of furniture. That meaningful piece of furniture had memories associated with it—birthdays, holidays, homework. But this need was never openly discussed by customers, even when they said no. As a response to this discovery, the developer then created a place to put the dining room table, that meaningful piece of furniture, and they quickly sold all the units.
The learning here is that companies need to understand the true need for the customer, the job to be done, the unique problem you are really solving versus the problem your company wants to solve and its perceived value proposition. In this case, the problem was really where to put this meaningful furniture that had memories. So, when you consider the problem you really solve for customers, consider what they value and how you really help them. This is why customer stories and testimonials serve multiple purposes. These stories help customers see a vision of the future with their problem solved and understand what that will feel like and these stories serve as research for you to better understand the true value your solutions bring people and customers.
In the next video, we will review the customer story in more detail using the hero’s journey, but to start the discussion at least three elements need to be included in a customer story:
Explain the problem the customer believes he or she had
Describe the solution the customer selected and why
Illustrate the new life the customer is living with this change
To provide the emotional connection needed to help customers understand how your solution will help them, make sure that the stories can answer some questions.
When the customer is explaining the problem that he or she believes that they had, make sure they answer:
How they felt about the problem. Be mindful about how the customer describes the problem.
Was it challenging? A nuisance? Did their life or livelihood depend on a resolution?
When describing the solution, they answer questions like:
Why did you choose the solution you did?
What feelings drove you to select that specific solution?
How did you feel when the solution was implemented? Be mindful about how the customer describes the solution.
Was it the answer to prayers?
Was the customer doubtful?
Did the customer feel information was missing from the story?
When illustrating the new life customers are living after this change, make sure they describe their new life and answer questions like:
What are the new feelings and emotions around the solution?
Was there a change?
When did you realize it?
So how can you use this information? It can inform:
The product teams. Help them understand how users feel when they use the product, so they create the right experience.
Support. Tell them how the product is relieving customer challenges—and how they should continue helping that effort.
Finance. Help them understand that to relieve more customer challenges we may want to offer more payment options and flexibility.
HR. Share the changes so they can hire employees who want to help customers solve their problems.
Create content to help describe the problem in the industry and highlight the frustration the customer must feel.
Create solution content that supports feeling relief.
Customer stories do more than support our company’s story; they are further creating and reinforcing it, making it better and stronger as an endless feedback loop or cycle. Again, there will be more about customer stories in the next session about purchasing.
To sum this section up….
If you clearly solve a priority problem that the customer values, then you can more easily create discovery moments and share how your product and service can change people’s lives for the better. In-person experiences can allow people to experience the product firsthand; in-person conversations can allow people to share their views and needs; automated experiences support research for customers to understand your company’s product; automated conversations guide customers to the right resource for more information.
Creating a vision with a customer about a better future that meets their expectations would encourage customers to share their stories with others and so on and so on, so the customer relationship lifecycle can continue on its own and inspire others to make similar choices.
I hope this video was helpful. Thanks so much and have a great day!