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A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience

In this detailed UX guide, learn about the perfect online customer experience as we break the user journey into these five major stages. Let’s take a look.

It used to be incredibly easy to sell things online. Creating a website and telling people about it was pretty much all you needed to do. As the trend toward online has become ever more rapid, and with the pandemic pushing more and more retailers online in an effort to continue to reach their customers, how do you make a name for yourself and ensure that you stand out?

In the early days of e-commerce, nobody really worried too much about the how of selling. Instead, it was very much about the what you were selling. As younger generations have joined the workforce, this has shifted. And, as an online retailer, the widget you sell is no longer the most important part of your job. Now, it’s about experience. As much as it’s a cliché to talk about generations — especially millennials — focusing on experience rather than product, it doesn’t stop it from being true.

The one constant right now in e-commerce is this: The experience is the product.

What Do We Mean by “Experience?”

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — Customer Satisfaction
Consider the attributes about a business that keeps you coming back. Image via Jacob Lund.

The best analogy is to think about a brick and mortar store or restaurant that you visit regularly. What is it about that store that satisfies you? It’s different for every person, but generally it boils down to a few key points:

  • Convenience of purchasing
  • Ease of information
  • Helpfulness of staff
  • Association with environment
  • Feeling that your values are met

If three or four of these above areas are ticked when you visit a store, chances are you’ll make a purchase either then and there, or in the future. We call this affiliation or affinity, which is when you, as a customer, feel confident to buy from a retailer because of the way you were treated. In other words: If you have a good experience, you’re more likely to buy.

Online, staff and customers never meet, and buyers can easily shop around and compare prices with other stores selling similar products. That’s why it’s even more important to get the experience right.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t concentrate on product quality. You absolutely should, because ultimately, if the product is bad then you’ll never get any repeat sales. However, the experience is the first thing that customers will see and feel, usually well before they ever see the thing you’re selling. And, for that reason, the experience has to be second-to-none from beginning to end.

How Do I Create a Good Experience?

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — Grab the Customer's Attention
The customer journey involves grabbing the customer’s attention at first glance. Image via gpointstudio.

With brick and mortar stores, the way you find out about them is pretty straightforward:

  • Looking through the shop window
  • Word of mouth
  • Advertisements

However, with e-commerce, those same channels aren’t going to work, at least not in the same way. So, how does a customer get to know you exist, visit you, make a purchase, and then return again for further purchases in the future — if they can’t physically visit you? Enter: The customer journey.

Potentially, there are a number of different journeys that customers could take with you. That’s why it’s important to curate that journey so that the customer gets what they need from the experience and isn’t taken down a path that won’t help them. Remember, the experience is there to support the customer, not you as a retailer. Done well, customers will convert from casual passersby to returning customers, and maybe even full-fledged ambassadors of your brand.

The Journey

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — Customer Journey Map
The stages of the customer journey and the contact points that apply to each stage. Image via RoseRodionova.

We’ll break the journey into five major stages:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Conversion/Purchase
  4. Retention/Service
  5. Advocacy/Loyalty Expansion

1. Awareness

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — Building Trust
Getting to know your customer and building trust with them is an integral first part of the customer journey. Image via fizkes.

At this stage, the customer knows nothing about you. This is the first impression they have with your business, so you need this part of the journey to be as positive as possible. We say don’t judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what’s happening at this stage!

The following can all be starting points for a customer’s experience with you:

  • Word of mouth
  • PR
  • Media coverage
  • Organic search
  • Inbound marketing
  • Search ads
  • Social media
A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — Create a Positive Experience
Create a positive first impression for your customer. Image via GaudiLab.

At this stage, you’re not trying to sell anything. That may sound crazy, but think about it. How many times have you received an email with somebody trying to sell you something and you’ve never even spoken to them? How many times have you been walking down the street and somebody has tried to thrust a leaflet into your hand? These encounters are never usually positive. When selling online, the same rules apply.

Creating an incredible experience, at this stage, is all about providing the right information, answering any customer questions, showcasing your experience in the field, and gaining trust. This could be in the form of an interesting PR angle, developing media coverage that allows you to talk about your field or industry, or creating social media campaigns that showcase testimonials and customer feedback. All of these develop a great starting point that shows you are trustworthy and that customers should find out more.

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — Include Accolades
Share what other customers are saying about your products to start building that trust. Image via granthodnettnutrition.

2. Consideration

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — Pique the Customer's Interest
Your customer will now start to decided whether you, or one of your competitors, are the right choice for them. Image via Protasov AN.

Now you’ve piqued their interest, it’s time to think about how you develop that interest into consideration for your product or service.

The following places are great contact points to start making that change:

  • Social media
  • Retargeting ads
  • Direct site and blog visits
  • Review sites

At this stage, creating an incredible experience is all about presenting your product or service as a solution to the issue you believe your customers have. Focus on explaining the advantages of your widget over the competition’s, justifying the price you’re asking them to pay, and winning this potential customer’s favor.

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — Provide Social Media Options
Pique your customer’s attention through social media options. Image via franz12.

For example, if somebody has discovered you via social media, follow up with a social campaign that talks about the solutions you can provide. Next, link them to a blog post that further explains those solutions in more detail.

This seamlessly moves the customer from your social media to your website, all the while providing them with the information they need to understand your product or service more clearly. At this point, they’re in touching distance of seeing the product or service itself, and they got there because you provided an incredible experience.

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — Link Pertinent Information
Use social media to give insight into the solution you’re providing, then link that to a blog post that provides more detailed information. Image via ugmonk.

Again, you’re still not selling anything directly. This stage is all about justification and trust by providing a solid solution to your customer’s problem.

3. Conversion

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — Demonstrate Your Expertise
With enough trust and expertise built up, chances of a purchase become much greater. Image via PR Image Factory.

Converting that trust and solution into a purchase is the next step. At this stage, we start to get a little more technical, as it’s the functionality of your e-commerce website itself that needs to do the heavy lifting.

Although the e-commerce site is the most likely place for conversion to happen, there are a couple of others:

  • Social media, if you’re selling there too
  • Telephone
  • Email

Irrespective of where, creating an incredible experience means ensuring the transaction process is user-friendly and simple. Make information about fees, returns, and policies available at the right moment, and leave the door open for further communication with this customer (by acquiring their email address or other contact details).

A good rule of thumb is to never allow your sale to take more than three clicks for the customer. If they’re reading a blog about your product, you need to be able to get them to the sale in just three clicks. If they land on your homepage, they need to be able to get to a sale in just three clicks. If it can be fewer, fantastic! If it’s more, then customers are going to start to fall away, no matter how much trust you’ve built.

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — Utilize the Three-Click Process
Adidas ensures that purchase is only three clicks away from any part of their website. In this example, the customer chooses the product they’d like to buy, their size, then they pay — 1, 2, 3. Image via Adidas.

If you manage to nail the experience on your website, the benefits are huge for both you and your customer. After all, you both get something you want in a mutually beneficial way. If it goes wrong, then this customer will bounce and the chances of winning them back will be incredibly difficult. That leads us on to the next stage retention.

4. Retention

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — Growing Customer Retention
If the experience is top-notch, customers will keep coming back. Image via VectorMine.

Your customer has made their first purchase  congratulations! The experience was successful and the customer is happy. So, you’re done, right?

Oh no. You see, providing the right product or service to your customer is only half an experience. The next step is about nurturing that customer so they feel confident to purchase again.

The main contact points at this stage of the journey are:

  • Social media and your online community
  • Your website and blog
  • Help pages and product guides/usage suggestions
  • Email
  • Retargeting ads
  • Review sites

Creating an incredible followup experience is about nurturing your new customer and giving them the confidence to purchase again. It’s also about getting feedback and acting on it, making them feel part of your community, informing them about new things, and providing pertinent offers. Doing this well will stimulate more purchases.

This stage of the experience could be created through well-informed knowledge bases and FAQs, so the customer can find information to their most frequently asked questions easily. You can also try providing promotions and further reading on new and exciting products that complement what they’ve purchased already, and/or delivering e-newsletters that serve to educate and provide interest, humor, or further expertise.

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — Well-Informed Knowledge Bases
Here, DigitalOcean (top) provides a comprehensive knowledge base so customers can get answers to their questions quickly. You could also offer a loyalty scheme (bottom) for those customers who regularly purchase, providing further reasons for customers to revisit. Image via DigitalOcean and GHN (respectively).

5. Advocacy

A Complete Guide to Creating the Perfect Online Customer Experience — An Exemplary Experience
Giving customers an exemplary experience means they’ll give you their support when talking to friends and family. Image via Graphic farm.

You see, creating a fantastic customer retention experience isn’t just about delivering additional sales. The magic of retention is that should you do it well, a number of those retained customers will convert again, this time into ambassadors for your company. Once that happens, you have third parties willing to speak loud and clear about how fantastic your company is. As soon as this happens, the job of attracting new customers becomes much easier. As we all know, people tend to trust the opinions of their friends and family more than a company.

At this stage, the main contact points are:

  • Social media and your online community
  • Your website and blog
  • A referral program or VIP scheme
  • Email
  • Live chat

Customers who feel like they’re involved in the evolution of the company and its product or services tend to stick around and say nice things. Developing a referral program, sending out customer surveys, and asking trusted customers to curate your online community are all great ways of developing a positive customer experience that they’ll then speak positively about to others.

What Have We Learned?

Prepare your website with the customer’s journey in mind. Image via Alissa Kumarova.

Building the perfect customer journey that delivers an incredible experience at every stage is the way that modern online retail works these days. It can feel like a lot of effort, but given the continued move to online purchasing, it cannot be ignored.

Preparing this journey can be daunting, so here’s my top tips for starting strong:

  1. Experience
    Ensure the experience that you’re providing your customers is second-to-none. Consider all the sections of the customer journey and ensure you have a way to interact with your customers at every stage. If you’re doing this solo, then consider the most important aspects first conversion and retention then address the other stages afterwards.
  2. Design
    That old adage of not judging a book by its cover doesn’t apply here. Experiences are built on aesthetics and how they make customers feel. If you’re not a designer, then hiring one to help you will really supercharge your customer experience.
  3. Steps
    Or a lack thereof. The fewer steps it takes for a customer to work through your journey, the better the experience will be. That doesn’t mean skipping stages, as all of them are important. However, be mindful that if somebody has to click or tap twenty-five times to purchase an item versus the three taps or clicks it takes on a competitor’s website, chances are customers will eventually hear about that and bounce.
  4. Solutions
    Every stage of your customer journey needs to provide a solution for the customer at that moment in time. Not every stage is about selling. In fact, most of them aren’t. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and try to think about the problems they want solved before purchasing, during purchasing, and after purchasing. Your solution in every case is going to be different, so be prepared to be dynamic and adapt to your customers’ needs.

Cover image via Jacob Lund.

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