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Post-sale interaction helps to build customer relationships

Companies tend to focus on the events leading up to a sale. But research suggests that post-sale interaction is key for long-term relationships.

Companies want to build customer relationships and craft an experience that keeps customers and prospects coming...

back.

For many organizations, that means not treating customers like simple financial transactions and instead showing them that their interactions are valued. Developing rich online experiences and offering special perks and discounts are key elements of a well-rounded customer experience management (CEM) strategy. But with companies spending time and resources on pre-sale marketing and other activities, it pays to emphasize post-sale engagement to build customer relationships.

Voice of Customer research findings from Ernan Roman Direct Marketing Corp., indicates that customers who have already bought something welcome ongoing communication with brands, but only if those interactions are relevant and reciprocal. When characterizing post-sale relationships with companies, deeper levels of personalization and targeted offers top customers' wish lists. Here are three types of company-customer conversations that research identified as critical:

Reviews as conversations

Customer reviews should always be seen as conversation starters. The customer is proactively communicating with your business. Whether the tone is good or bad, it should not go unnoticed or without at least saying "thank you" or responding with a full reply.

According to the annual Local Consumer Review Survey by BrightLocal, nearly nine in 10 consumers have read online reviews and 88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from friends and family. Research from Bazaarvoice indicates that companies can reverse the negative effects a bad customer experience can have on their brands, as 95% of dissatisfied buyers said they'll buy from a brand again if a complaint is resolved quickly.

Customer reviews should always be seen as conversation starters.

For paint manufacturer Valspar, swiftly responding to online reviews is a top priority and helps it connect with customers and resolve issues before they develop into problems for the brand. The company responds to reviews, comments and questions within 12 hours and trains all customer service representatives on "brand voice guidance," which includes answers to common questions and concerns.

Social media interactions as conversations

Social media interaction is perhaps the most important two-way conversation companies can have with both prospects and existing customers. People go out of their way to find your business on social media and comment on your pages, an action that deserves both respect and a timely response.

Moving equipment and storage rental company U-Haul uses social media to connect with customers and inject itself into conversations to improve the customer experience and resolve issues quickly. "It's extremely important for us to have an open dialogue with our customers and potential customers online," said Toni Jones, U-Haul International's social media director. "When our customers are talking directly to us about our products and services, we find those to be the most important to engage in -- immediately … We have escalation cues … [and] we're going to address those quickly because we're able to track those messages."

The company categorizes common topics of discussion on social media with tags -- or subject codes. During operational hours, U-Haul's marketing team responds to complaints and comments on social media within 30 minutes. The company reports that about 70% of all issues are resolved in that time frame and about 49% get a response in fewer than 15 minutes.

Seamless cross-channel conversations

Consumers rarely use a single channel to exclusively communicate with a company and often mix their interactions across multiple different channels. Companies must be available to converse with customers on multiple media platforms, letting consumers know that they are making the effort to be accessible.

The Accenture report "The Secrets of Seamless Retailing Success" advises that companies need to rethink their approach to CEM if they are struggling to provide a seamless, cross-channel experience. The report indicates that shoppers are both researching products online, then buying in stores, as well as researching in-store before buying online. Consumers value the ability to reserve a product online before trying it in-store and they want the ability to check product availability across channels in real time, according to the report.

Beauty retailer Sephora employs a cross-channel strategy that uses its online experience to enhance the in-store one. With its ColorIQ program, consumers in stores can interact with sales reps using a digital facial wand that provides personalized feedback on the consumer's skin tone to assist in product recommendations. Sephora stores this information online where customers can access it anytime for shopping online or in-store.

Key takeaways

All companies want to serve their constituents and build customer relationships, but this kind of goal needs to be reinforced constantly by organizations paying diligent attention to the timing and quality of their communications with customers.

Companies must monitor online reviews to gain insights about issues that must be addressed to improve brand image and consumer experience. Responding to consumer inquiries, questions, comments and complaints quickly demonstrates a high level of customer service. Being available to consumers online, via mobile devices and in physical stores promotes an easy and seamless customer journey. While there are countless ways to engage in meaningful conversations with your prospects and customers, make sure that you are having these three critical conversations daily and effectively.

Next Steps

Seamless, omnichannel experiences still elude companies

Customers will reveal personal information in exchange for trust in the company

CRM platforms alone are not a cure-all

Some multichannel CRM avenues yet to fully take off

This was last published in April 2015

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Essential Guide

Guide to customer experience management best practices, technologies

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What kinds of policies does your company have about responding to customer reviews
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Two big ones:
1. Be transparent about who you are and who you represent. 
2. Be respectful of others' opinions and find ways to respond respectfully, even if the review/comment doesn't seem to merit it. 
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