December 07 2017
Earlier this year, PostFunnel’s own Rebecca Wojno debunked a number of myths surrounding customer retention and loyalty.
While each of the entries on this list certainly warrant their own fully fleshed-out article, one, in particular, stood out above the others: the idea that fostering loyalty begins way before an individual actually becomes a paying customer.
Typically, when we hear the phrase “loyal customer,” we tend to think of a customer who has happily done business with a company for an extended period of time.
But, when you get down to the semantics of things, “loyalty” isn’t just about the length of a relationship – it’s about the strength of it, as well.
This isn’t a “chicken or egg” situation, either. While fostering long-term relationships with your customers certainly is important, your focus should be on creating a strong bond with them before you even begin to start thinking about longevity.
A customer can be considered “loyal” once they’ve shown faith in your company’s ability to help them. The very fact that they’ve spent even a single moment engaging with your brand is proof that they have at least an iota of faith in your services. It’s up to you to nurture that iota into full-blown, long-term loyalty from the get-go.
In this article, we’re going to explain exactly what you need to do to foster customer loyalty in individuals before they even purchase anything from your company.
We’ll start by discussing some of the things consumers do before making an initial purchase, and what they expect from companies during this initial stage.
Pre-Purchase Consumer Actions and Expectations
As you probably know, the modern consumer typically doesn’t just walk into (or click over to) a store for the very first time and immediately make a purchase.
In lieu of making impulse purchases (and in erring on the side of not making the wrong purchase), consumers typically do a good amount of research on the product they’re thinking of buying, as well as on the company they’re thinking of buying it from.
According to data collected by MineWhat, before making a purchase:
- 81% of consumers conduct at least some type of online research
- 61% of consumers consult online product reviews
- The average consumer visits three online stores, comparing information such as pricing/payment options, shipping/delivery options, and warranty/return policies
Naturally, then, potential customers expect this information to be presented clearly on a company’s website. But the modern consumer also has a number of other expectations, as well.
When visiting an online store, product photographs and videos are huge. According to BigCommerce, 78% of consumers expect high-quality images of the product in question, while 30% expect videos of such. Going along with this, nearly 50% of consumers say not being able to physically interact with products is a major downside to shopping online.
Consistency also plays a big role in whether or not an individual becomes a paying customer. According to VisionCritical, 87% of consumers report that brands need to provide a consistent experience throughout multiple touchpoints and between their online and brick-and-mortar stores. To add to this, one in five US consumers say that a difficult-to-navigate website detracts from their overall experience as customers.
Lastly, in a world in which information is merely a click away at all times, 75% of consumers expect a response from a company representative within five minutes of reaching out (as reported by VisionCritical).
So, now that you have a general idea of what your customers do before making a purchase and what they expect from you even before they’ve given you any money, let’s dive into how you can provide for them in order to begin fostering loyalty among your new customers.
Fostering Pre-Purchase Loyalty In Your Future Customers
In this section, we’ll discuss the main tenets for ensuring that those who come across your company for the very first time will instantly fall in love with your brand and quickly become long-term, loyal customers. We’ll also provide examples of how majorly successful brands have implemented these tenets – and grown their following almost exponentially in the process.
Let’s get started.
As we said earlier, the modern consumer conducts a ton of research before actually making a purchase.
And, while they won’t necessarily end up going with the company that provides the most information, they certainly won’t go with the one that provides the least.
So, it’s up to you to ensure you provide your potential customers with as much information as possible about your products, your company and the industry you operate within.
As for your products, you want to provide information such as:
- Physical description
- Usage Instructions
Take a look at the following example from Innocent Drinks:
Aside from the price per unit, Innocent explains pretty much everything you’d need to know about the company’s orange juice. Any consumer looking specifically for a healthy, vitamin-filled juice would appreciate the level of detail provided in this product description.
In contrast, we have this rather generic product description:
(Source / Note: This is a made-up product and description, so we’re not throwing anyone under the bus here!)
A ton of information is left unsaid here:
- How tall is the heel?
- What’s the length of the top/shaft?
- What type of leather is used?
Because the company obviously didn’t feel the need to include these details, it’s safe to say most customers would be completely turned off – and would quickly move on to a competitor.
(For a touched-up version of this product page, check out Create’s post on improving product descriptions.)
In addition to providing text-based product information on your website, you should also be sure to include multimedia on your product pages, as well.
Take a look at how Innocent Juices set up its main product page:
On a single page, customers see product photos taken in a studio, as well as “lifestyle shots” of the product in the “real world.”
You can also take this a step further and include videos of your product in action, or interactive photographs that enable consumers to view your product from multiple angles.
Remember: one of the major drawbacks of shopping online is that consumers can’t truly touch or feel the product they’re thinking of buying. By providing them with multiple ways of simulating real life interaction, you’ll be a step ahead of your competition.
In terms of generating loyalty within individuals who have yet to make a purchase, content is key
No matter the format – blog posts, instructional videos, podcast interviews, etc. – this content needs to provide top-quality value to your prospective customers. Not only can this help inform these prospects as to why your product is the best in the industry, but presenting it to your fans free of charge shows that you want them to succeed regardless of whether or not you profit off of the matter.
Other supplemental content that can help improve prospective customers’ understanding and perspective of your brand include:
- Customer reviews
- Success stories/Case studies
- Press releases including awards won, product releases, or service improvements
Again, the more information you can provide to those just beginning to learn about your company, the better your chances of gaining them as a fan.
Be Available and Proactive
You also want to invest time and energy into engaging with them before an initial monetary transaction occurs.
The first step is simply to make yourself (or your team) available where your customers prefer you to be. This might mean replying to public comments on your blog or social media posts, or it might mean engaging with your followers in private, such as in the example below:
In this example, Audiense took the time to individually invite a single follower to a webinar sponsored by the company. Instead of simply blasting an invitation to the company’s entire Twitter fan base and hoping each of them actually saw the tweet, they reached out to them individually (albeit likely through automation) to ensure each of them received an invitation.
(Keep in mind that, as we mentioned earlier, it’s likely that not all of Audiense’s 207,000 followers have actually paid for the company’s services. For some, though, this offer might be the start of something more!)
You want prospective customers to know you’re available – and that you have the information they need before they even ask for it.
Let’s look at a couple examples.
Here, we see that truck rental company Budget has hopped on the virtual agent bandwagon (not a bad thing!) providing a means for new visitors to immediately find answers to their major questions regarding Budget’s services.
Another example is AT&T’s use of personalized video to help first-time customers understand the exact breakdown of their first monthly bill. This not only alleviates thoughts of a potential surprise come the first of the month on the customer’s part, but it also alleviates instances of support tickets being opened by new customers looking for an explanation of their potential fees.
Simply put: the more you do for individuals before they pay you to do anything at all, the more likely they are to trust you with their hard-earned cash for your services that do cost money. Pay it forward, and they’ll likely pay you back in dividends.
Streamline and Align Pre-Customer Experience
In addition to being where your potential customers are, you also need to ensure they receive a streamlined experience from your brand no matter how they engage with your company.
Firstly, on an aesthetic level, your branding should be uniform throughout your website, your social media pages, your physical stores, and any other areas in which your company is present.
For example, take a look at how Shutterfly’s main page appears on desktop:
Now check out the mobile version of the same page:
Regardless of how an individual chooses to check out the site, Shutterfly’s branding shines through clearly.
Additionally – and perhaps more importantly – all the same information is available through either versions. On both desktop and mobile versions of Shutterfly’s website, visitors are presented with the exact same Halloween special. Furthermore, visitors can navigate to other areas of the site just as easily on mobile as they can on a desktop or laptop.
Beyond branding, you also want to ensure your teams are completely aligned in order to streamline the process of nurturing leads and turning them into customers.
All members of your marketing and sales team should have access to the same information regarding leads and prospects (such as previous engagements with other team members, inquiries made, etc.) so potential customers don’t have to repeat themselves ad nauseam to multiple parties within your company.
Think of it this way:
The more disjointed a prospect’s experience, the more time they’ll have to second-guess doing business with your company. The less friction they experience throughout these initial moments, the quicker they’ll move through their own personal buyer’s journey on their way to becoming a loyal customer.
When you’ve done everything else right, and gotten your prospective customers this close to converting for the very first time, you can further your chances of sealing the deal by providing them with options regarding:
(Note: We’ve talked at length about these factors before, so we’ll just quickly go through how to optimize these processes to encourage first-time buyers to convert.)
There used to be a time when “paper” or “plastic” were a consumer’s only options for making a payment.
Now, there’s paper, plastic, and at least twenty digital options, as well.
While it might not be possible to accept all of these methods of payment, you should definitely do what you can to cover as many of these bases as possible. You put a ton of work into getting a prospect to the point of sale – you don’t want to lose them over a lack of ability to pay.
Shipping can be another cause for concern when trying to clinch a first-time sale, as a number of factors come into play regarding whether it’s worth it for a customer to order from your company:
- Shipping is too expensive, or you don’t offer free shipping in exchange for a longer delivery period
- The minimum shipping period is too long
- It’s not possible to ship to a given customer (e.g., they live in a different country, or they only have a PO box that can’t receive packages)
While in some cases (such as the third example above) the onus is on the customer and there’s little you can do to alleviate the situation, you certainly do want to do everything you can to ensure the majority of individuals who want to order your products can receive them with relative ease.
Similar to delivery and shipping, you also want to guarantee to your first-time customers that, should they not be happy with the product they receive, they will be able to return it to you without much of a hassle.
In terms of company policy, you might consider offering a time-based money-back guarantee, or even free product replacement regardless of elapsed time. In terms of actually enabling returns, you can provide free packaging and return shipping postage should your customers need to use it.
By taking the risk of purchase off your prospective customer’s shoulders – and taking a potential loss on yourself – you’ll hopefully gain the trust of your new customer for some time to come.
Wrapping It All Up
Individuals become loyal to specific brands long before they even make their first purchase.
Of course, it can be easy for a company to overlook these potentially long-term customers while focusing on those who have already been doing business with the organization for a long period of time.
While it’s certainly beneficial to strengthen the bond between your company and your current customers, it also pays to facilitate loyalty among those who are on the cusp of converting. Though it may take a little more investment up front to do so, once you get these new customers onboard they’ll quickly begin generating revenue for your business at a fraction of the cost.