For many organizations, this is the key transaction step of any journey—the sale. During this step in building a relationship with customers, most are actively considering making a change and may be intrigued by the problem your company solves, the value your company offers, or the promise of how your company’s solution, a product or service, could improve their lives somehow. But these customers have yet to make the decision to purchase. Your job is to figure out what will help them do that.
There are at least two ways a company can help customers feel good or comfortable about their decision to purchase:
Help them understand the details and logistics around what this change will mean for them and set expectations for how this will impact their lives
Help them understand the value that you are providing and how they can perceive its worth
As we know, a change is always great in theory, but the devil is in the details whether or not it is a truly great idea. That is what this step in the customer relationship lifecycle resolves. What are the details involved in making this change? What does someone need to consider before making that decision? What is this solution really worth to them in their lives? What is the value? Sure, he or she needs to see how his life may be different post-purchase and needs to feel the emotional benefit of the change, but there may be unique circumstances why someone would choose for this to happen. What is in it for them on a physical and emotional level?
80-90% of the customers who purchase your product will have the same purchase and product usage experience. Any issues during these processes can be resolved through automated experiences, allowing customers to discover facts about the product, and understand what it does and how it works. In product development, we’d refer to this as the “happy path.” The remaining 10-20% of your customers will have an experience unique to them due to special circumstances as corner cases. Most customers or users won’t experience these, but for the ones who do, not having a solution ready for use can mean the difference between a purchase and finding another solution.
And because unique circumstances require unique answers, you need to have a way to provide them quickly. Such cases require an in-person conversation with an employee of the company complemented by an automated experience like a website for a customer to access information later. Automated conversations like chat and search may be effective to answer 80-90% of the questions that are related to the main experience, but for 10-20% of experiences, this may not be an effective method for customers to provide feedback to your company unless your company is more a mature company to afford modifying such technology and accommodating that need. In this case, a phone call may just be cheaper because of the number of variations.
Another characteristic of this phase is prospects and customers want to feel good about their decision and that they made the right decision. One way to achieve this is to actively compare your company’s solution with other solutions and clearly understand how your solution is different—or not—and understand why your solution is right for your target customers. But as a company, you need to understand what about your offer makes it the right choice for a specific audience?
Besides comparing the features and benefits of your product, or the explicit agreements your company makes with customers that you are accountable to deliver, there are implicit agreements that are defined by your competitors through baselines, best practices, and parity.
Baselines are the minimum customer expectations for a product. For example, customers expect most businesses to have a website that minimally describes their business and provides contact information. Customers may expect a company to have a legitimate phone number and email address. Customers of a restaurant, for example, may expect that the restaurant is properly licensed and inspected. Generally, a great business baseline for customer experiences is expecting a company to be honest about what it sells, its product quality, how it distributes products, and to provide a straightforward way to contact them with questions.
Best practices are business approaches that have produced superior results. For example, salons that offer a way to schedule appointments online may save money by not needing to hire a receptionist and save customers time by enabling them to schedule their own appointments. Many, but not all, salons offer this feature. As another example, most users expect to go to a large corporate site and search for content that has the topics they are interested in reading about. Again, many, but not all, sites offer this. Amazon introduced as a best practice the ability to return items for free. It’s easy to get a label and send the product back. Now Amazon offers customers the ability to drop off an item at UPS by giving your name, and UPS is able to generate the label. Many, but not all, companies now offer this digitally or provide a return shipping label in the package so the customer can drop off the item and ticket to the UPS store and leave, getting the credit once the item is in transit to be returned.
Parity is what everyone offers, whether they are a new or existing competitor. For example, Target, Kohl’s, and Walmart all sell goods online. You can expect a type of online return policy from them. You also know that they have an in-store experience. That’s parity: everyone offers the same general features in an industry space.
As an example, let’s consider the best practice of free shipping. Amazon introduced us to that ecommerce idea through its well-received Amazon Prime fee-based program. We now associate a good shopping experience with free two-day shipping and often expect that from other online stores, whether we are a “member” of that store or not. This is now a best practice. Now that more stores are adopting it, it’s becoming a baseline expectation. Free two-day shipping will reach parity when all companies offer this experience and it’s perceived to be a status quo customer expectation and requirement to exist as a store. Many companies are now striving to achieve this goal, so it’s not at parity yet.
Same-day delivery is the next best practice step after free two-day shipping reaches parity. Same-day or two-hour delivery is already emerging as a best practice. Companies like Postmates have started supporting stores with this feature on ecommerce sites to provide almost immediate delivery time. This may accelerate adoption, which would make same-day delivery a baseline for a site to offer in the future.
Parity, baselines, and best practices can help your company determine where their innovation lies in the mind of the customers based on their experiences and expectations. This is why it’s important to understand what your competition is doing. What may be an innovation or best practice for your business could be considered to be parity to your customers. Your competitors are defining your industry and product categories, providing opportunities for innovation based on these customer expectations.
Further, baselines, best practices, and parity will be used by customers as a tool, either consciously or subconsciously, to help them determine if your solution is right for them. It’s a way to level a playing field and make apples to apples comparisons to understand if a customer is getting value. Usually this occurs on websites and through automated experiences like videos or hybrid experiences like webinars. Companies, customers, and influencers could provide this analysis.
When customers are trying to understand the value that your solution can provide them, they wonder what it is worth. And that doesn’t mean that they only consider the cost and the economic impact to them but the impact of the time and effort to setup, install and use the solution.
Customers purchase products because they have a high-priority problem that they need to solve. They place value on a solution by determining how strongly they feel they need that problem solved in relation to how much the product or service costs.
Customers don’t determine value through your marketing messages telling them how much you tell them they need it (although that helps). They want to know what value the solution will add to their lives.
Customers perceive the worth of a solution based on what they can gain in their life from it (time or energy saved) minus how much time and energy it will take to regularly use it—from acquisition to installation to training to use. There isn’t really a mathematical formula for it, just a ballpark perception. Customers don’t care how much a product or service costs the company to create, produce, support, or sell. The value and worth of a product are based on what that means to the customer: how it will solve their problems and ultimately improve their life.
This is why free products that are difficult to use don’t always succeed. The purchase decision for a customer isn’t based purely on product cost; it’s based on the problem it solves (or job to be done) and the time to learn how to use it. A customer determines the priority of this problem, and solution, in their lives. Then, the customer determines at a high level how much time and energy (including costs) it will take to learn how to use and implement the product. Those two factors will lead to a yes or no decision.
If a product is easy to use and solves a priority problem in the customer’s life, the product will be used—free or paid.
If a product is difficult to use, and therefore will take time to learn, and solves a low-priority problem for the customer, then the free product isn’t worth it.
If a product is simple to use and a low-priority problem for the customer to solve, it may be worthwhile for the customer to use it.
And if the product is difficult to use but the problem is a high priority for the customer to solve, there’s a 50/50 chance they will use it.
Usage depends on the product usability and the priority of the problem in the customer’s life.
It’s challenging for a customer to discover the value and worth of a solution, but demos, trials, test-drives, and in-person experiences can help a customer discover this, as well as listening to customer stories, directly through conversations or recorded experiences. And customer stories are a great tool that you can use to build a strong connection with your customers, and we’ll discuss that next.
Customer stories can:
Help customers understand the details and logistics around what this change will mean for them and set expectations for how this will impact their lives, and
Help customers understand the value that you are providing and how they can perceive its worth.
By sharing your company’s customer stories and their version of what it means to solve their problem, you provide prospects with a first-hand account of how your company helps customers. And if you include the customer’s emotional journey in it, you can create an emotional attachment with the brand with the readers and viewers.
Alternatively, you could use a demo or trial in an automated experience to allow a customer to have their own first-hand experience or provide customers a hybrid experience like a webinar to allow them to experience third-hand the product and what it can do, but either way, you won’t achieve the same result as a customer story. Why? Because of the hero journey.
"The Hero's Journey is a classic plot structure that appears in many speculative fiction books, films, television shows, and other forms of media. It operates as a circular story structure, meaning that the hero's physical journey will end where it began, though their internal journey as a character will leave them forever changed.
This physical journey, in particular, will take your hero from a known world into an unknown one, often introducing them to new powers or skills or encouraging them to utilize known abilities like never before."
In the case of a customer story, the new powers or skills acquired during the journey would include a company’s solution.
The site continues to explain that “...one of the core themes of any Hero's Journey story is transformation. Rarely do such stories feature a flat character arc, in which the protagonist fights to stay true to their beliefs rather than undergoing change as a result of new experiences.
In order to give depth and meaning to your hero's journey as a whole, you must begin by establishing the hero's known world. Readers need to see who the hero is before their journey begins, how they live, and why it is they're unsatisfied with their life as is.”
The hero journey officially has 10-12 steps, depending on which version you reference. For this video, we’ll use a simplified version. The steps are: You get a call to adventure and you accept the call or realize you have a problem, there is rising action or conflict, defeat/death/rebirth, atonement, journey home, and finally, a new normal.
So how does this map to the purchase journey for a product?
The rising action or conflict is the customer realizing that he or she has a problem and there is a solution for it.
The defeat/death/rebirth step is experiencing the problem firsthand—the moment where the problem is no longer bearable.
Atonement is finding the solution and purchasing it.
The journey home occurs when the customer regularly uses the product and experiences results and success.
And the new normal comes after using the product regularly for a changed life.
If your customer stories follow that format and customers express the emotions that they experienced along the journey, the stories will be impactful and successful.
A customer story gives your readers or listeners the right inspiration to have hope that they too can achieve what others did someday. This inspiration and desire to change can drive them to not want to give up. A prospect may give up on a demo or trial product. Someone may give up after watching a webinar. What drives someone to make a solution work? Knowing that it is possible. Knowing a peer did it and succeeded. Knowing what’s possible changes everything.
So, what’s the best way to communicate stories? Videos, audio and then text. In-person stories work great too – especially at an event like a tradeshow, conference, or presentation! People need to feel the emotions expressed in the journey for it to be successful. Making someone feel inspired to be part of the company community is key. A trial or a webinar for how to use your product would complement the customer story. The story helps someone get inspired to make a change and the demo lets them try it themselves. People need a vision for how something can help them succeed. This is why video demos and instructions are so compelling. Don’t just describe how something works—show it.
I can’t forget to mention, customers do place importance not just on what is being made by the company, but how it is made. That means that there are two conversation topics that may happen during this step: corporate social responsibility and the processes used to make a product. Is your company contributing to the community? And are you working with your team in an effective way? Although this may sound intrusive for a company to provide such information to customers, customers want to know if you are using the modern methods to encourage an ethical workplace and employee engagement. Being a B Corp or having a similar certification can help you here. Some customers want to make meaningful purchase choices that support their own value system. If they have to choose between two companies that offer products of equal value and one is socially responsible and the other is not, the one that is socially responsible and respects their employees may get the business. That may be worth considering.
This is the step of the relationship lifecycle where expectations are solidified for the customer. In the previous step, pre-purchase, the customer was able to identify their problem and some expectations were established to determine if your solution is appropriate to solve the customer’s problem. In this step, the customer resolves their questions and confirms assumptions to determine which solution will resolve their problem, setting up the next step of the relationship lifecycle for delivering on these agreements.
If the customer feels a connection with your company community at this step, then it will make the purchase process easier and the customer will feel that he is doing the right thing and making the right decision. Customers should feel confident to take that next step to purchase, knowing that everything will work as expected. If they don’t, there will be challenges later.
Hope this was helpful! Thanks and have a great day!