It seems like shopping has turned into a research project. Although there will always be impulse buys, almost every product, service and company can now be made transparent in just seconds. Personally, this makes shopping more of an emotional investment than it has ever been in the past. Now, not only am I shopping for a reputable product and company, but I feel it necessary to tell others — even strangers on the Internet — about what I’ve learned from my experiences.
This makes the challenge for marketers twofold.
First, marketers must be more transparent about their products and culture than ever before. Second, companies can no longer scoff at customer service requests or bad reviews — the Internet has made marketing a two-way street.
These days, almost any claim can be verified by a basic Google search.
You can compare product prices, features, and reviews in just seconds. For the marketer, it’s important to list every detail, feature and expectation. For the customer, it means that they can look for hyper-specific products and make an informed decision.
Let’s take a look at backpacks, for example, from a simple Amazon search.
On the first page of the search results, Amazon gives the shopper a variety of backpacks to choose from — ranging in size, shape and function.
On the product-level, customers can decipher between style and color choices among more general categories such as brand.
If we look at a section of this infographic from the Business2Community blog, we can see the specific brand attributes that come into play in customer decision-making.
Customers are not only choosing to buy a product from you; they are choosing to buy into your company’s overall mission and value proposition.
Take a company like Toms. There are a lot of companies trying to replicate its products — for example, Sketcher’s replica called Bobs.
It’s important to note, however, that customers are not necessarily purchasing Toms for the style, but rather for the mission that the company represents. For each pair of shoes purchased, Toms will send a pair to someone in need.
Although the products might be fundamentally the same, customers buy into and support the overall mission of Toms and become product advocates.
Marketing as a two-way street
Marketers pour time, energy and resources into delivering customers a valuable digital experience online, whether it be through content marketing, PPC, banner ads, etc.
However, for as much time marketers put into marketing their products and services, real customers have the same ability to post reviews, critiques and complaints on the Web.
The informed customer searches for reviews, rankings and model numbers, looking for the ideal product and company to purchase from. Shopping is more than a simple one-step decision.
Customers continually search for reasons to purchase one product over another. When it comes to trusting the company’s product marketing versus real customer reviews, they often are more likely to trust a stranger’s recommendation than blindly believe the company’s product description.
This brings me to my final point: Customer service is no longer just between your customer and your company — it’s now a marketing tool.
Customer service as a marketing tool
Customer service is not limited to a 1-800 number or an email address. Customers are now Tweeting, blogging and sharing their experiences on sites like Yelp and Google Reviews, which means that customer service is now on a public forum.
How you handle customer service related issues can transform a site visitor who is on the fence about purchasing a certain product or service into a loyal customer.
Take, for example, a company like L.L.Bean. L.L.Bean prides itself on its flexible return policy and going out of its way to make sure that customers have a positive experience.
Lisa Chow, former NPR reporter, returns her L.L.Bean backpack every twenty or so years when the zipper breaks and receives a new one.
“If she believes her zippers should last a longer time, we’ll respect that and we’ll refund her money or give her a new product until she’s happy,” Steve Fuller, Chief Marketing Officer, L.L.Bean, said.
Although this policy is far more lenient than most, the principle speaks volumes about how a customer should be treated — as if in a long-term relationship, not a one-off exchange.
Any experience with customer service from your company builds an expectation in the informed customer’s mind about what to anticipate from an exchange with you, for better or for worse. Whereas one positive experience can turn skeptics into advocates, a negative interaction can not only lose you any future business; it could also earn the distrust of that customer’s social networks as well.
Key takeaways (TL;DR)
- Be upfront with your customer with what he or she can expect from your product.
- Market your company values as a part of why customers should purchase from you.
- Interact with customers on social media and respond quickly to requests and inquiries.
- Handle customer service related issues with a long-term customer relationship in mind.
You can follow Jessica Lorenz, Event Content Manager, MECLABS Institute, on Twitter @JessicaPLorenz.
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~ Thomas Jefferson