In this step, we consider the customer’s experience with the product. If the experience doesn’t meet the customer’s expectations that have been set in the two earlier steps of the relationship journey, the company isn’t being accountable. With reduced accountability comes reduced trust, which leads to lost loyalty, fractured engagement, a misaligned brand, and ultimately, a damaged relationship.
Additionally, a lack or decrease in accountability and trust is also connected to other departures from the lifecycle or being stuck in a specific step along the way. This happens when a customer finds that a solution isn’t right for him or her for any reason. But this also happens when there are mismatched expectations between what the company claims a solution does and the actual solution, or the customer uncovers a new understanding about their problem and what he or she needs the solution to do. This is why elements of the solution experience needs to be integrated with the rest of the customer relationship lifecycle. Consistently stating and setting expectations throughout the process is key.
In this step, customers transition from knowing your company at a distance to becoming members of the company community. This can happen through two paths:
For this video, we will be discussing the product experience and the relationship built from meeting or exceeding expectations to solve a problem and developing community through shared experiences and successes.
A video about accountability is available to give you some background on that along with explicit and implicit agreements. Further, the previous video about purchasing includes information about baselines, best practices and parity that is useful here as well. Rather than reiterate what is in that video, I’m going to jump in and discuss the explicit and implicit expectations that were set during the pre-purchase and purchase steps of the customer relationship lifecycle. During those steps of the lifecycle, the company made promises about benefits, provided a vision, described the solution experience through customer stories, and set other types of explicit expectations and agreements that needed to be delivered during the product experience. There were also implicit agreements made in the industry at-large through competitor products, by companies that provide a comparable solution, and various approaches to payment methods that may shift how people view a problem. When you are defining product experiences, keep these implicit and explicit agreements and expectations in mind. You may want to list them out to inform which type of issues you’ll need to address in your product and in supporting content and conversations to complement the product experience.
Before we discuss details around conversations for the product experience, let’s discuss a customer conversation that may impact the product experience—and that is around how a product is made. Sometimes, customers want to understand if certain ideas or approaches were used in a product’s creation, specifically if a company is treating employees or vendors ethically or fairly, or if they have humane work conditions or sourcing options. They may choose not to spend their money with companies that don’t support that. Choices regarding how a product is made may also impact a product experience if there is a bug or defect. The speed to fix the issue may not meet customer expectations if processes are slow or challenged. There is a lot more to this point that deserves an entire video. Operations matter in a company’s extended community that includes customers. More to come in the future.
There are two main types of product experiences and conversations you’ll need to develop in addition to your solution, a product or service:
Let’s start with setup and instructions.
Originally, I had "setup” separate from “instructions,” but I realized that they were in fact related. Setting up a product and getting a user oriented to use it and be engaged with it can be considered as a very different process than accessing instructions for how to use a feature. You could argue that the process to get a customer to use a new feature is similar to setting up a new product. Customers need to discover this feature and then understand how this feature could help them, how it works, how it benefits them, and why they need it—just as they would a product. In some ways, you could consider this process to build a relationship with a feature as being similar to building a relationship with a product or company. It’s just a deeper, more involved process and builds a stronger relationship with a product and company. That’s why they are together here.
During Setup & Instructions, the customer is going to be determining if the marketing and sales explicit agreements made in the earlier lifecycle steps are met. This includes product features, benefits, brand promises, and more. The setup and instructions experiences help the customer determine how the product meets or exceeds expectations.
For someone to see results quickly, the product or service needs to be straightforward to setup and use. This means that the solution needs to have “intuitive” or rather, familiar usability patterns. For more information, I’d suggest you watch my video on Jef Raskin and what it means to be familiar. The need for instructions should be limited because first, most people don’t read them; second, a well-designed product or service experience shouldn’t need instructions because it is made to map to how that user solves the problem; and third, it’s a pre-step for a customer that may not be necessary. Instructions involve learning and education before being able to use the product and see results. It’s not bad, but it’s discouraging a customer from experiencing immediate product benefits. Yes, instant gratification. Instructions included in a product’s process or a product providing quick wins during use allow a customer to feel that they are achieving a win, which provides a positive experience and allows them to see progress. It’s instant gratification, but it works.
As we discussed in the purchase video about value and worth, a complex product that requires intensive setup time and instructions won’t be used and product adoption will be low because people will perceive it as being difficult to use. If you offer a service to help setup the product, customers may adopt it, but then again, you are offering services and training as a way to reset expectations about the product and workaround its flaws. Enterprise products sometimes offers this—setup and training with product purchase. This combination is meant to set the perception that the company is attentive to customer needs, but it actually achieves the opposite. With this approach, customers perceive the product to be difficult to use and maintain. Experts are needed to support the product. Although the company may avoid some support calls during setup and get customers using the product quickly, the customers may assume that a manual will be required for reference later and that may be a deterrent for daily and more advanced use. I mean, who wants to constantly reference a manual to use a product? Or hours of training to avoid the manual? Features need to be easily discoverable. What’s really needed is that the product is redesigned so setup and training isn’t necessary at all. That establishes the perception that a product is easy to use and doesn’t require more than experience with other digital products to figure it out.
For a service to be straightforward, the person providing it needs to guide the customer through the process that will occur to help set, and later meet, expectations. The relationship and communications between the company, employees, and customers is vital to the success of the service and to ensure accountability.
After a customer experiences a product, your company will want them to share their experience. This is why customers go from being conversation participants, or content readers and viewers, to conversation and content creators. Their role elevates to become an advisor to customers and prospects in earlier stages of the lifecycle, sharing their story and providing insights and advice to better use products.
Most companies aren’t able to achieve this because they don’t provide a way for customers to be part of a larger company community. They offer forums to better use a product or solution or social media channels for discussion, but often such communities aren’t really integrated with the company beyond that. Some companies will offer in-person experiences like user groups or meetups for customers to share their experiences, thoughts, and feedback with each other. That’s a preferable solution. Some companies have customer councils. That’s preferable. Existing customers sharing their experiences with prospects is golden.
I see three conversation personas, if you will, during the product experience for setup and instructions and later for optimizing results: those who are open to self-service, those who contact the company for assistance, and those who reach out to the company’s community. There could be more, but I’m going to work with these regarding conversations.
Let’s start by discussing conversations for those who solve their challenges through self-service for setup and instructions. These types of experiences and conversations happen because the customer’s product experiences align with their expectations. The product seems to be generally familiar to use, but there may be a block to find or use a feature. The customer may need to shift his or her behavior and actions to get the product or service to work as intended or the customer may be missing information to achieve that. Education and some investigation may be needed to overcome it. Content to support this kind of conversation could include automated experiences like tutorials, forums, FAQs, and online help or automated conversations like search and bots to guide the customer to the right help resource.
When a customer contacts a company for help or has an in-person conversation, the customer may be indirectly communicating to the company that the experience is not meeting his or her expectations, and the agreements made with the company don’t map to what he or she is experiencing now. If, after some research, a customer doesn’t find what he wants or needs, he’ll need to call. He may come to the conclusion that the experience doesn’t meet expectations, or the agreements made, so the company should resolve this. There will always be 10-20% of the users with unique challenges outside of the happy path that require in-person conversations or experiences of some sort. But these conversations aren’t bad.
The silver lining here is that these conversations provide your company information to improve the product and understand customer needs. No customer will ever be 100% happy with your product or service and that is okay. The friction from such calls will keep your team inspired to create a better product.
Not all calls that come in will be from customers who are lost using your product and need help. Some issues that come from these conversations will require your company to fix the product. They could be a software bug, or an issue that’s a result of faulty manufacturing, a missing feature, or a broken part. In-person approaches that include conversations and experiences are ideal to address this. A great example is Apple’s Genius Bar. Those who can’t complete certain computing tasks on their own can go to a place for someone to teach them how to do it or fix the issue. The same could be said for a car dealer’s repair shop. As a second resort, in-person conversations through virtual means, like live chat or phone, are effective. With screensharing software today, someone could fix your computer issue remotely. Alternatively, with video someone could give you guidance remotely to fix an object.
Automated conversations may direct someone to the right digital or off-line resource. It’s useful, but not if someone is contacting a company for help at a store or through a phone call due to unmet expectations. You could assume that such a person probably exhausted their digital options. At that point, they believe that the company should fix the issue, even if it means one-on-one training through the phone. In such a case, a company should be accountable and take the call. It will improve the relationship, even if an employee believes that the solution is online and trains the customer to access that existing solution.
When a customer reaches out to a company’s community during the product experience, the motivation and experience is different than when it reaches out to the company. Often, the customer is communicating that his or her experience does align with expectations, but they are curious about the results others are getting. This customer is motivated to get advice to improve their behaviors and activities.
Sometimes, the customer reaches out to the company’s community because he or she is dissatisfied with the product and company’s response. They need more help. However, this case is related to the other case in that there is an assumption that the community includes members who have been successful using the product, has knowledge, and can provide hope to find the right solution. More on this shortly.
In the case of open source products, the community emerges as the main resource to resolve issues—not the company unless they are receiving payment for support as a service. However, that is expected due to agreements made before the sale. The community will help the customer if the company isn’t able to solve the problem. What’s interesting in this case is that although the product may be meeting expectations, help by the company is not offered as an option, unless it is a paid service. And customers participate and provide advice because their experience is so awesome with the product or service that they become a surrogate employee or influencer, helping your company and advocating for your product.
A community demonstrates through its existence that they have used the product successfully, so what they are suggesting as a solution or resolution is possible. They provide help if the company is difficult to contact. Sadly, some companies will make communities the default help center. But that is an abuse of this channel. The community helping each other isn’t just a way to get free support, it’s a way to build a relationship among employees and your customers so customers become "super customers." It’s never a substitute for company support. It allows these "super customers" to inspire customers to keep using the product to achieve results. They should make what may seem as impossible to be possible and keep customers motivated to stay in the company community and use the product.
What are effective methods to connect customers in your community? In-person experiences like user groups or meetups. Automated experiences like forums. In-person conversations and word-of-mouth can also help. Hybrid experiences with in-person methods like social media and webinars are also excellent. Mainly, when a person can be physically present in the conversation, community has a chance to build.
Let’s consider the other type of experience and conversations: optimizing results. Optimizing results takes your customer from being a user to a "super user." A challenge with getting customers to engage as a "super user" is helping them realize that it is possible to use the product in a better way, a more powerful way. You don’t know what you don’t know, and this is true for customers—they don’t know what it means to use the product in a better way. This is why expecting a customer to discover this type of information on his or her own through self-help may not be most effective. You have to almost show your customer that they again have a problem and you have a solution. Your company will almost need to do another round in the customer relationship lifecycle to engage customers at a deeper level as you would to introduce them to a new feature. And to get deeper engagement with a customer you have to have a way for them to discover new ideas and features and encourage them to use them regularly. So, you have to have a pre-purchase, purchase, and product experience step that uses automated and in-person experiences and conversations, and provide moments of discovery.
So, what’s the best way to allow discovery for optimize product use? Encourage your "super user" customers to inspire other customers. Allow these super customers to become leaders for customers to see a new way to be successful with the product.
The most effective way to do this is through in-person conversations and experiences and related hybrid experiences, such as presentations and demos by existing customers at user group meetings, conferences and tradeshows, or webinars, conversations with sales, and social media posts tend to engage people to achieve this goal. But this can only happen once the customer sees initial results from the product. Otherwise, you can present these more advanced methods, and although they may be inspiring, the customer may not perceive it that way.
Customers sharing advance use of a product or service with other customers definitely helps build community and a shared knowledge or understanding. But support from the company to achieve this can help too. The company can then offer tutorials and other guided educational experiences as self-help options and provide those insights if customers contact the company.
What can also help during this step is to outline to customers what others managed to achieve so they can gauge what they should expect as a result. Yes, this is setting another type of expectation for the customer as guidance so they can check how they are doing. Some statistics a company could provide a check-in for a customer to measure progress:
When you are trying to get customers to optimize their results, you are inspiring and encouraging them to think bigger about their lives. This is a key factor in building a great customer relationship. There is more information about this idea in the video about vision and mission statements, but this is ultimately what will build the customer relationship: the connections form when the product solves a problem and when the customer is working towards something bigger than him or herself.
To wrap up, product is only one element of the product experience. There are so many other aspects to consider regarding the product experience when working on building a relationship with customers. There is the quality and usability of the product itself, the conversations to get someone to use the product and use its features, and the community sharing information to improve and broaden the product experience. The process of building product engagement never ends. If anything, what I think we learn from the product experience is that discovery of new ideas and deepening the customer relationship is ongoing, and meeting agreements and expectations drive the success of this lifecycle step. The more people understand what to expect from your product and the more familiar the experience, your will notice the higher adoption rates, better the customer relationships, and together that will develop a stronger customer community because people are happy to be there and use your solution. Customers, employees, and the company become an ecosystem that inspires each other to be and do better.
I hope this was helpful! Thanks, and have a great day!
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