The guest author of this feature is Gina Westbrook.
In 2017, shoppers will be paying more attention to their post-purchase experience, increasingly an important part of the value offer of a product or service. Post-purchase contact with the company’s representatives, the medium and the tone of the response are also critical parts of the customer journey, shaping their view of the business.
With consumer customer service expectations raised, brand willingness to address post-purchase queries and complaints will influence whether a consumer recommends or criticises it to fellow consumers and considers a repeat purchase. To satisfy and retain customers, more products and services come with a type of built-in offer of post-purchase assistance. This is linked to an emerging definition of convenience going beyond fulfilling customer needs to actually predict them — including the post-transaction period. The extended life of products, with the greater consumer openness to buying “pre-loved” items, is also part of the post-purchase picture. Durability is a more common consumer goal.
Support with purchase
Standout customer service is a savvy business route to a hoped-for consumer / brand relationship when consumer loyalty is not assured. Post-purchase tech support is something customers have come to expect and is set to grow with smart devices, as more products for smart homes are expected to have their own “digital profile” that helps sustain the consumer / brand connection. More businesses are offering personalised advice and support with purchase. Fashion-led brands, for instance, offer personal styling services, or some tech brands will consider the maximisation of tech devices in the home. This is often facilitated in physical shops, with a trend to offer emailed receipts to customers to extend the relationship in the digital realm.
Tech support for customers, particularly from services in less competitive markets, is often a miserable experience. Waiting on hold, interacting with automated systems and talking to people reading from unhelpful scripts, only to be sent back on hold, does not create customer delight. Companies with best-rated customer care, such as Amazon Prime and AppleCare, often charge more for their products or a subscription fee for enhanced services, so the cost of helping the customer is baked in. Contacting a company via social media by tweeting or sending a Facebook message is often seen as a faster route to attaining a response from businesses, fearful of the potential power of mass consumer frustration.
Superhuman customer service is likely in the near future. Researchers are developing artificial intelligence to be more human, as well as making it useful; robots could even bring a more human touch back to customer service. Research is focussing on developing social robots that can assist people in their daily environments: homes, hotels, shops, banks, etc.
Customers’ own role in the post-purchase experience
A recent American Airlines ad suggests an interesting post-purchase tactic: putting the onus of a good consumption experience on the customer. It urges customers to show consideration to fellow passengers to best enjoy the product. “Always upbeat, great fliers make the best of their situation no matter where they are sitting”, one print ad says. “We really wanted to take the tone of … It is you the travellers … who kind of elevates the entire mood. Let’s move that conversation from us and turn it onto them and how they really move us forward in creating a much better experience”, Fernand Fernandez, American’s vice president of global marketing told US journalist Martha C. White.
Online reviews, of course, are where consumers discuss their new purchases. They share how they found the style and comfort of a handbag or rank hotel rooms for cleanliness. The sharing of buying experiences online is a recognised source of consumer power. What is thought to be Nigeria’s first consumer-review website, Have-your-say.ng, for instance, urges consumers to participate in the conversation so they can be taken more seriously by service providers.
Longer post-purchase stories
One side effect of the reduced emphasis on materialism and the green consciousness of consumers is the greater willingness to buy used items. Tired of throwaway culture in 2016, sustainability-minded Londoner Tara Button launched website Buy Me Once. It offers her curated selection of goods that come with a lifetime guarantee or offer of free repair. Recommended brands include Dr Martens, Patagonia and Tweezerman. This is a theme also core to new brand Permanent Collection which seeks out elemental and classic features in objects like porcelain teacups and leather sandals. Founders Fanny Singer and Mariah Nielsen are inspired by things they have owned longest and which still feel relevant. An ad campaign picking up on this consumer interest in lasting rather than fast fashion is one from storets.com, “LOVE. WEAR. REPEAT”.
Openness to recycling, repairing and reusing — to mend, not end — sees movement against “planned obsolescence”, the criticised practice of designing products with restricted life spans to ensure consumers will buy more, formalised in policy. Brands stand to gain from an extended relationship with customers, knowing far more about them too.
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