Last updated: Keeping the flame alive: 5 strategies for the post-purchase relationship

Keeping the flame alive: 5 strategies for the post-purchase relationship


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Most e-commerce companies are thrilled when they get their first order from a new customer. However, getting and fulfilling that order is only the first step in your relationship with the customer. What happens in the post-purchase relationship is just as, if not more important than that first sale.

In fact, there is a 60 percent – 70 percent chance of converting an existing customer vs. a 5 percent – 20 percent chance of converting a new customer. Knowing that it’s easier and cheaper to sell existing customers than acquiring new customers, you’ll need to put careful thought in how you treat your relationship with existing customers, event after their purchase is complete.

Post-purchase relationship: 5 strategies to consider

1. Customer Support

It’s a fact that not all orders will go 100 percent according to plan. Orders might arrive late, might be missing parts or include products that are broken entirely. These are the woes of an e-commerce entrepreneur. How you handle these issues, however, can often be the difference between an unhappy customers heading straight for Yelp with a 1-star in mind or engaging a life-long advocate who trusts you’ll always have their best interests at heart. Likely one of the most-cited examples of an e-commerce company who paves the way in customer support is Zappos. Within just one second of viewing their website, you can see three or four different messages related to their unbelievable customer service.

The key to successful customer support has more to do with policies, communication and documentation than any one particular piece of technology. That being said, having a centralized “support ticketing” system (such as one of those listed below) can really make managing this communication a lot easier. A few specific tactics to keep in mind when planning out your customer-support strategy include:

  • Setting up integration between customer profiles within your e-commerce platform and those within your support system. This will ensure your customer support reps have a complete picture of the customer their aiding.
  • Making your company’s contact information highly accessible and offering as many support channels as possible including phone, email, live chat and ticketing.
  • Using customer FAQs and tickets as fodder for content development. Writing a case study on how a customer issue was addressed or creating educational content on how to best use your products can aid future customer service needs and marketing as a whole.

2.Loyalty Programs

Companies have been using loyalty programs as a means of encouraging repeat customer purchases for decades. VIP membership clubs, branded credit cards, punch cards where you get your 10th cup of coffee for free—these are all different versions of a loyalty program. In the e-commerce space, the same opportunities exist (excluding perhaps the punch card).

As an example, Nordstrom offers the Nordstrom Rewards program which works across all of their different stores (retail, Nordstrom Rack or online). They offer a tiered membership system which offers different benefits depending on the amount customers spend. Their program happens to also tie into their credit card, but many other retailers, such as Best Buy, offer reward programs that don’t require customers to use the brand’s credit card.

The key to a successful loyalty program comes down to simplicity. You want to make the process of joining and benefitting from a loyalty program as simple as possible for your customers. Companies who manage their Loyalty Programs well will setup a dedicated landing page or section of their website to educate customers on all aspects of the program. They’ll also make earning points, or jumping ‘tiers’, straight-forward and offer as many ‘redemption methods’ as possible (such as product discounts, free products, exclusive products, etc.). A few specific tactics to keep in mind when planning out your loyalty program strategy include:

  • Creating promotional campaigns focused on earning points rather than traditional discounts. Instead of offering discount codes in future social media campaigns, consider experimenting with ‘double point’ campaigns that offer customers the chance to earn additional points on their order.
  • Branding your loyalty program to fit the ‘voice’ of your company. You have an opportunity to make your loyalty program as unique as your brand and standout in the minds of your customers.
  • If your company sells through channels in addition to your e-commerce website (such as brick-and-mortar retail, native mobile applications, third-party marketplaces, etc.), consider how you might be able to integrate your loyalty program into these external points of purchase

3. Referral Marketing

Referral Marketing is focused on getting those customers to recruit new customers to purchase your products. Referral Marketing largely uses incentives to drive this recruitment / word-of-mouth. In the example here from SOL Republic, customers are offered a $20 discount when they refer SOL via email, Facebook or Twitter.

With a referral marketing strategy, you’ll want to make the process of providing a referral as easy as possible for customers. Encourage them to use a variety of social media channels as well as email – and even referral cards stuffed in packages and orders. What’s most effective about referral marketing is the built-in social proof that comes with it. Customers are more likely to purchase a product when a friend/colleague has endorsed it than if it’s a brand they’ve never heard of before. A few specific tactics to keep in mind when planning out your referral marketing strategy include:

  • Consider tying in your referral marketing strategy with your loyalty program. Offer incentives that tie back to your established loyalty program to provide existing customers additional opportunities to gain points.
  • Provide ‘sharing tools’ within your website to make sharing products and content as easy as possible. At the very basic level, this involves the ubiquitous social media sharing buttons you see on most blog posts and product pages.
  • Ask for a referral upon checkout confirmation. At the moment right after checkout, your customer has your brand top-of-mind and could be highly motivated to refer if offered additional incentives such as free shipping on their order.

4. Advocate Marketing

Advocate marketing captures the organic recommendations that are already occurring around your brand. Whether you like it or not, customers will share their experience with your product both in-person and online. Although the offline sharing is harder to tap into, the content created by your customers in their online sharing can be turned into a major asset for your company.

Although there are other types of content as well, it’s best to think of advocate marketing in three buckets: in-use, review and testimonial. These three buckets blend a bit, but they help segment the different types of content created by your customers that you can utilize. In-use content refers to any photos or videos, typically posted on social media, of your customer using your product.

Review content refers to the traditional, quantitative multi-star review system that you see on Yelp or Amazon. Testimonial content refers to more qualitative, in-depth accounts of a customer’s experience with your product. Your goal is to capture this content that exists off-site and utilize it within your site to help add additional social proof to your brand. A few specific tactics to keep in mind when planning out your advocate marketing strategy include:

  • Send an automated review request after certain period of time post-purchase. Setup an automated email requesting customers leave a review after one or two weeks of receiving their order.
  • Create branded social media hashtag campaigns to source customer content. As in the Johnny Cupcakes example, encourage customers to contribute their In-Use Content to specific campaigns.
  • Humanize your reviews as much as possible with photos, video or social media profiles. Show more than just a text excerpt to help add more trust to your on-site review.

5. Marketing Automation

The world of marketing automation can be quite extensive, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll examine the email marketing aspect specifically. Think of marketing automation as email marketing on steroids. Gone are the days of a single, monthly newsletter promoting the same product to the same audience. Marketing Automation allows you to personalize your customer communications based on their behavior and profile.

At its core, your marketing automation strategy revolves around creating different customer segments (groups of customers that share similar characteristics) each with their own series of content tailored to that segment. A few common segments might include customers who abandoned orders, customers who haven’t purchased within the last year or customers that have purchased more than a certain amount. Each of these segments requires different messaging, offers and incentives in your email communication with them.

A few specific tactics to keep in mind when planning out your marketing automation strategy include:

  • Segmenting your list by demographics, buying behaviors and/or product interest groups. As mentioned above, it’s crucial to think about what segments of customers would respond to what messaging.
  • Using well-branded, responsive email templates. Mobile usage, especially as it pertains to email, is on the rise. Ensure your communications are compatible across all devices and screen sizes.
  • Sending content other than promotions. As demonstrated in the example from Everlane, explore email content other than traditional sale announcements such as product history, trend reports, etc.

In this world of the post-purchase relationship or retention marketing, your No. 1 goal is to find ways to continue delivering value to your customers after their initial purchase. Knowing that existing customers are easier to sell than new customers, consider retention marketing your first-stop in exploring how to increase overall sales. You might be surprised by how easy and effective it can be.

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