theStartups

What does your support system look like?

As we grow up, we are told we need to learn to take care of ourselves. Gradually, our hand is let go of, our two feet become our responsibility alone, and if we want a warm meal we have to learn how to prepare one. By the time we are fully grown, there’s no one there to wash or watch our back anymore.

And despite this being the natural track of life, even as adults we can still use some guidance every now and then. We still need a functional support system, so we constantly look for people, things, and places that can give us back some of that comfort.

Business and the human kind

We’re pretty sure that the term “business” was invented by the first two men who ever lived on this planet. It was probably spelled like this:

“Business” according to the hieroglyphic typewriter

, but the main idea is the same today as it was back then: I can build spears, you know how to skin a polar bear, we can make each other’s lives better.

So what changed from then to now?

Not much, apparently. Meanwhile, men learned how to shave their beards and women their legs, plus Armani gave birth to standards as it replaced polar bear skin with organic cotton suits. We ended up trusting labels more than we do people, our social status is defined by the number of zeros in our accounts, and we crafted marketing as a way to make our little lies look and sound prettier. Superficiality took the place of common sense, and we seem to have lost the fight of personal interest vs. the greater good.

Apart from that, deep down inside we stay the same Neanderthals looking to trade one piece of shiny glass for one wooden spoon.

What’s really missing?

To practice what we preach, we would say.

We pretend to exist for the sole purpose of making our customers’ lives a bliss. We invest an outrageous amount of money into building fancy marketing strategies that trick people into believing we are the answer to all of their problems when we know for sure that our business is not prepared to assist them all the way. Because the truth is, we’re not really interested in what happens with our customers as soon as the transaction is done.

But here’s the thing: people need to feel looked after, just like we said at the beginning of the article. They created their own version of doing business, and so they started trading brands that offer them things for brands that offer them a good experience. And companies who understood that had become world leaders in their domain. And companies who didn’t understand that are soon to be history, only because they failed to ask that one specific, down-to-the-point question:

What does my customer’s entire shopping experience look like?

One mistake most people do is to believe that the purpose of their business is to make money, and money can be made if people buy from you. They focus on attracting as many potential customers as possible, thinking that as soon as that customer hits the “order now” button all is well in the Universe again.

We’ll just break it to you: the purpose of your business is to offer good quality products and services that truly improve people’s lives. If that happens, money will follow.

And you can achieve that by building your entire business around your customer’s experience. First, you need to know what led them to knock on your door. And as soon as you have that figured out, you need to build the rest of the system that would guarantee them you are a trustworthy brand that will stand by their side every step of the way.

Buyer’s experience cycle

The picture below shows the ten stages that online shoppers go through, from the moment they decide they need a product and until they decide they can no longer use it. You’ll notice that some of them are highlighted in red – those are the steps that most competitors strive to cover, and others are highlighted in blue – those are the areas almost no one explores.

If your support system (which is mostly made from your products and services) can be there for the customer all throughout their lifecycle, you will build yourself one consistent and loyal database.

Buyer’s experience cycle – How to e-Commerce workshop, theStartups.eu

1. The motivation.

Customer’s question: why should I order online?

There’s a number of reasons why people choose to shop online, but at a closer look, you’ll notice that the product itself is rarely their main one.

In a world overcrowded with products, people will choose to stay faithful to brands that offer them a good experience. If the products you sell are not much different from the next competitor, you can stand out by offering high-quality services that can cover all of your customers’ needs.

2. The search.

Customer’s question: where can I buy my product from?

Invest in your brand’s visibility, relevance, and awareness, so that people can find you easily, regardless of the keywords they use in their search.

3. The selection.

Customer’s question: how can you help me find the product I’m looking for?

First, make enough supplies so that your best sellers are always available on stock. Second, turn to integrated solutions such as personalization tools, which analyses your users’ behavior and targets them with relevant content (this will also improve your up-sell/ cross-sell tactics, too). Last, but not least, set up a skilled support team that can assist your customers before, during and long after they’ve made the purchase.

4. The ordering & payment processes.

Customer’s question: how can you ease my ordering and payment processes?

A clean design, intuitive functionalities, a performant platform, and integrated processes, they all translate into an excellent shopping experience. A while ago we wrote an article on what a 21st century-worthy user experience should look like, we trust that you’ll find some inspiration there.

5. The delivery.

Customer’s question: how can you help me with the delivery?

Here’s where your e-fulfillment and support systems kick in. The customers should have two crucial pieces of information: delivery time and date, and current order status. If possible, grant them self-service options such as displaying the order status in their account or emailing them the parcel number so they can track it themselves. If not, at least use the basic integrations that most courier companies have to inform customers when their order leaves your warehouse and to let them know the ETA.

6. Utilization.

Customer’s question: how will you help me use the product I bought?

The best way to do that is to display all useful information on the product page. If you’re willing to go one step further, you should know that product video is the new black so you can set up some tutorials with clear instructions on how the product should be used. In any case, your support team must be able to handle all questions, shall the customers reach out for help.

7. Required supplements.

Customer’s question: what else do I need so I can use the product?

This is an interesting topic. Let’s say you bought a TV. Now imagine that the company who sold you that TV failed to let you know that, in order for you to use it properly, you’ll also need cable cords, a TV adapter and a remote control that also needs batteries to work.

Whatever you sell, think what else can be sold along with it so that the end user can really enjoy that product. If it’s clothes, try including spare zippers or buttons in your offer. If it’s shoes, throw in an extra pair of laces. If it’s TVs, don’t let that poor client find out they also needed a remote control only after they’ve unpacked the product. You get the point.

8. Evaluation.

Customer’s question: how will you know how my shopping experience went?

Most retailers consider their job is done once the purchase is made. They don’t show the smallest interest in wanting to know how things went for their customers. And even the ones who do, don’t really bother to try and make things right if the customer is dissatisfied. Just by reading this you can tell that this is a no-go, can’t you?

Your support system should include a procedure to collect and process feedback. Ask your customers if they’re happy with the products they’ve purchased and how they perceived the whole shopping process. Then think of ways to make it up for any irregularities you might discover.

9. Maintenance.

Customer’s question: how can you help me maintain my product?

We’ve now touched a pain point. As soon as the excitement of buying a new product vanishes, customers are left with this question: now how do I keep the product in good condition for as long as possible?

Most products come with instructions by default, but this is where you can act as an extra layer of information. Slipping content back into the discussion, you can create a special place somewhere on your website (e.g. a category in the footer) where you insert maintenance instructions for all product types. This can become a key benefit for your customers, as they’ll have quick access to all important information and they won’t have to keep all the tags and documents that come with the product. Plus it shows your interest in enhancing their interaction with your brand.

10. Product disposal.

Customer’s question: how will you help me get rid of this product once I can no longer use it?

No one really knows what to do with their old things once they reach their end of life, and the solutions to this topical problem are little-to-none. Very few people turn to refurbish or recycling centers, some people choose to donate, but most of us just toss the old stuff in the trash, although this is often a very bad idea, environmentally-wise.

So imagine that if you manage to cover this need you’ll really ease people’s lives, you’ll build a solid community of life-long customers and you’ll create a large gap between you and your competitors.

Create environmentally-friendly programs such as discount systems for product recycling, buy-back programs or any other incentive-based product replacement solutions you can think of. Some fashion retailers will sell you discounted products in exchange for old clothing. Some electronics retailers will replace your old phone with a newer version for a smaller price. You can only go up from here.

For example, a friend of ours recently told us that his mother’s refrigerator broke. A refrigerator is not exactly an easy thing to remove (especially when you are 80 and you live outside the city), so he chose to buy a new refrigerator from a specific company, only because they offered to pick up the old one from his mother’s apartment when they delivered the new one. He also said that the price of the new fridge was completely irrelevant to him since that company managed to solve a more urging problem than what those few extra bucks would’ve meant. True story.

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Now, as you’ve probably noticed, the support is present in almost all the steps from the buyer’s experience cycle. Which means it plays the biggest role in people’s decision to shop from you (ever, or ever again).

In the next article, we’ll talk about the support funnel: what is it, how it works and who is part of the whole support ecosystem?

Until next time, take a step back, look at the big picture and start thinking of ways to develop additional services that would promise to meet all of your customer’s needs.

Authors: Vlad Diaconu, Andreea Mares

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