Helping others, according to an ancient Chinese proverb, is the key to a happy life.
Offering a helping hand to those in need makes us feel good. Those who are helped are generally grateful and want to reciprocate. It’s a virtuous circle.
Wherever you stand on the legitimacy of the proverb overall, in the context of retail and e-commerce the evidence is mounting that companies implementing a philosophy of helping first, looking for the sale second are developing stronger, time-tested relationships with their customers.
Trying to differentiate on price or choice is becoming less of an option as they are becoming increasingly commoditised.
Telling a customer that you have the best price may capture their attention for a second.
More choice? “Great, another list of options.”
These are the norm. They’re expected. They won’t delight your customer or keep them loyal if used as standalone benefits.
Seeking to understand consumers by asking them what they want, personalising their experience and offering to help and guide with no strings attached demonstrably will.
Say, for example, two separate customers log on to the website of two separate telcos looking for smartphone and tariff information.
The first company connects by immediately presenting a generic phone and a generic offer with the expectation of making a sale.
The second skillfully and subtly garners information from the customer by asking needs-based questions, responding with some super-targeted helpful information with no expectation.
Which interaction do you think would elicit a positive response? Which customer would be more likely to continue and deepen that relationship? Which company would be viewed by the customer as a trusted and helpful advisor?
It’s obvious, right?
And if those little interactions inspire your customer, or help them solve their problem, the odds are they will stay for life and add huge value to your business.
In fact, a Help Scout study found that loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase, while 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.
It also takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience, so dropping those helpful little nuggets on a regular basis could go a long way towards helping you retain a happy customer base, reduce churn and increase referrals.
What helpful strategies can you use to transform consumers into raving fans? Start by adopting these four characteristics to become a truly helpful and trusted advisor:
1. Aim for a long-term relationship, not a quick win
It may seem pretty obvious to say that retaining customers for long periods is great for the bottom line, but to develop that sort of deep relationship requires an element of foundation building.
There has to be some give before take.
Initially, you must have the patience to understand your potential customer, then demonstrate the knowledge to recommend the correct product or service. And that level of support needs to continue throughout the life-cycle of the relationship, or that customer may feel undervalued and leave.
According to research firm McKinsey & Company: “Retailers will need to offer deep product expertise (that is, they must help consumers decide what to buy and explain why it makes sense for them) and a unique product education (that is, they should help consumers learn how to use the product better and do this over time, not just at the moment of purchase).”
Nurturing that relationship through help and support generates some serious results. Around nine in 10 American consumers are willing to spend more with a company they believe provides excellent customer service, while retaining a customer is five to 25 times less costly than attempting to gain a new one.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
2. Put the customer’s interests in front of your own
No customer experience blog is complete without mentioning Zappos. The now-iconic online clothes retailer goes well beyond the extra mile to help its customers.
Out of stock on the product you want? Zappos will direct you straight to a competitor website.
A regular customer? You may well get a surprise shipping upgrade free of charge.
Oh yeah, and there’s a 24-hour customer service telephone line.
Well, 75% of Zappos business comes from repeat customers, which tells its own story about where helpfulness can get you.
Research by Fidelum partners showed that customers rated Zappos very highly for loyalty-inspiring distinctions, such as its ability to resolve problems fairly and acting in its customers best interests. Those same Zappos customers ranked the company’s “value” and “lowest prices” as only 8th and 14th in importance, respectively.
3. Work really hard to understand the customer’s underlying interest and not just surface ‘wants’
Buyer’s remorse is real, and if your customers regularly experience this feeling then there’s a good chance that they haven’t been supported correctly – and an even bigger chance that they won’t do business with you again!
When the customer made the purchase – which may have cost a significant amount of money – was there a thorough investigation of their needs, or was it a quick sale?
Did the customer divulge enough information about what they would use the product or service for to make a suitable recommendation? Was there enough done to understand them?
If not, why not?
Ok, I know what you’re saying. Giving the consumer that sort of attention in-store is a piece of cake for the modern customer-centric retailer. But offering the same service online is impossible, right?
Take Canon as an example. The iconic camera manufacturer uses intuitive digital advisors to walk potential and existing customers through the process of choosing their perfect camera based on their needs, not arbitrary features.
The customer acquires a product they actually need. They don’t experience buyer’s remorse. They come back. Again. And Again. And Again.
4. Connect emotionally
Purchasing a product or service is often an emotional transaction. Think about how you feel when a new Apple product is placed in your hand. Or when you breathe in that new car smell when you first place your hands on the wheel.
The emotional response elicited in the choosing stage also has a massive bearing on whether the customer decides to part with their money or not.
A study conducted by experiential commerce agency SMITH revealed that consumers can transition through eight emotional mindsets when making buying decisions, so trying to make as many of those positive as possible is crucial.
Allowing your customer to feel unsupported or isolated, before, during or after the transaction stage is a sure fire way of losing the sale, or a potential long-term, high-value customer.
Making them happy that you’ve understood their needs, empowered that they’ve made the right choice with helpful guidance (not sales tactics) and secure in the knowledge that you have their back thereafter will make them feel like a superstar when they leave your website.
Oh, and they will come back.