The Eight Phases of Customer Experience [Book Excerpt]

Joey Coleman
Joey Coleman



Buyer's remorse. We've all been, there right?


After you initially make a purchase, you go through a series of emotions. Joy, excitement, and eventually ... regret. But why?

My theory is, it's because you had a poor customer experience.

In my forthcoming book, "Never Lose a Customer Again: Turn Any Sale into Lifelong Loyalty in 100 Days," I write about how to build steadfast customer loyalty during the first three months after a customer purchases your product or service by creating an exceptional customer experience. Read an excerpt from it in this blog post below.

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The Eight Phases of Customer Experience

The eight phase model takes customers from the first interaction to the point where they are raving fans. Every customer has the potential to travel through all eight phases, yet most businesses fail to guide the customer all the way through to the end. In fact, most stall out some -- where between phases four and six, missing out entirely on the benefit of loyal customers and raving fans.

Each subsequent chapter of this book will dive deep into each individual phase, showcasing companies that are creating remarkable customer experiences and outlining a series of steps you can take to make your customer interactions incredible in each potential phase of the customer journey. Before that, allow me to offer an overview of the eight phases.

1. Assess

In the Assess phase, the customer is deciding if they want to do business with you. They are learning what to expect from your organization and sharing (explicitly and implicitly) their expectations for the relationship. The customer is hopeful that you'll be able to help them, but it's cautious optimism at best. If you don't position yourself as fulfilling their needs while wrapping them in a great customer experience, they won't choose to work with you. If you can convince them that you are the best choice, they will move forward with the purchase. This dance between the customer and the organization is what most people would refer to as "sales and marketing." The potential customer is assessing their options.

2. Admit

The Admit phase begins when the customer admits they have a problem or a need and believe you -- the company or organization -- can solve it. As a result, they buy your product or sign up for your service. This is often referred to as "the sale," and sadly, in most businesses, this is where any customer-focused initiatives end. At this point, the customer is feeling joy, euphoria, and excitement that the search is over. If you fail to acknowledge this, you miss the chance to strongly associate this emotional high with your product or service. If you meet the customer's emotional state in this moment, you can prolong these positive feelings. This person transitions from prospect to customer when they admit that they need your product or service.

3. Affirm

The Affirm phase is more commonly known as "buyer's remorse." The customer begins to doubt the decision they just made to work with you. Almost every businessperson has heard of the buyer's remorse concept, yet few businesses do anything to counter their customer's feelings of fear, doubt, and uncertainty. If you don't address these feelings, you will need to work overtime to get back to the state of joy, euphoria, and excitement the customer felt in the Admit phase. If you focus on these temporary feelings (before they become permanent) you can quickly shift the customer back to positive feelings. You must quickly affirm the new customer's decision to do business with you.

4. Activate

The Activate phase begins with the first major post-sale interaction, when the relationship between customer and organization first materializes in a meaningful way and the business begins to deliver on the promises made during the Assess phase. The Activate phase can be marked by the receipt of a purchased product, the start of a service, or an initial kickoff meeting to get things rolling. The customer is excited to get started but somewhat anxious about whether everything will go as promised. If you don't start things off on the right foot, it will be hard to overcome that first impression. If you do start things off strongly, you can build momentum to carry you deep into the relationship. This phase's title and associated icon should prompt you to energize the relationship and propel it forward. You need to activate the new relationship in a significant and meaningful way.

5. Acclimate

In the Acclimate phase, the customer learns about (and hopefully grows comfortable with) an organization's way of doing business. Too many businesses that have delivered their product or service dozens, hundreds, thousands, or millions of times assume that everyone in the world knows their particular process. For the customer, this is most likely the first time they've ever experienced this particular way of doing things. They are at best unsure and at worst frustrated by the lack of familiarity. If you don't properly onboard the customer and get them bought in to your approach, they will never become a long-standing, loyal customer. If you do hold their hand along the way, you can ensure a smooth transition as they embrace your approach. You must acclimate customers to your way of doing business.

6. Accomplish

The Accomplish phase of the customer experience occurs when the customer achieves the result they were seeking when they decided to do business with you in the first place. This may be the time they use the product and achieve the desired impact, or the time when your service delivers on the hopes they had at the beginning of the relationship. If you don't deliver, the customer's emotions can range from unsatisfied to angry. If you do deliver (and the customer agrees), they will vacillate between happy and ecstatic that everything went as planned. In order for the relationship to advance, the customer must accomplish their original goal.

7. Adopt

In the Adopt phase, the customer takes ownership of the relationship, leading the charge on deepening and strengthening the bond. In this phase they proudly show their support and affinity for your brand and are thrilled to be associated with your reputation. If you don't make them feel like they're part of an exclusive tribe, receiving unique rewards and participating in a special, shared language, you will never have their complete loyalty. If they do feel compelled to embrace you, you will have a customer for life. You want the customer to adopt your way of operating and take an ownership stake in the relationship.

8. Advocate

In the Advocate phase, the customer becomes a raving fan, zealous promoter, and eager referral engine all in one. In this phase, they develop into a built-in, unpaid, un-commissioned marketing representative, singing your praises far and wide to other potential customers who might benefit from your product or service. If you don't persuade them to promote you by making it worth their while, they will likely continue as a customer but will never help you grow the business. If they are motivated to promote you, your business will grow in unimaginable ways. The ultimate customer is one who becomes an advocate for your business or brand.

All eight of these phases are the same for every business. They show up in the same order, regardless of the type of customer you serve, the industry you operate within, or your product or service offerings.

All customers go through the initial phases. If you help them along the way, they will continue through the process, eventually arriving at the final phase where they become advocates for you and your business.

If you don't guide them along the way, customers can get stuck in a phase, revert backward, or in the worst case, exit the journey altogether.

Depending on the type of business, the amount of time a customer stays in each specific phase differs. But the goal is always the same -- keep moving your customer through the phases to stop losing customers and make every customer a customer for life.

The Six Ways to Communicate in Each Phase

When interacting with your customers, there are six key mediums of communication that, when used together, create a comprehensive and remarkable experience: in-person, email, mail, phone, video, and presents. Each medium creates a different emotional experience. The impact on customer engagement depends on which phase the customer is in and how the medium is applied. I am not suggesting you must use each medium in each phase -- only that it's possible. At the end of each subsequent chapter, I'll share suggestions and examples for incorporating each medium into that specific phase.

1. In-Person

In-person interactions are the oldest medium of human communication. Sitting across the table from a customer, speaking to them directly, and looking them in the eyes is the most effective way to create and build rapport in a relationship. In-person interactions allow you to show your level of commitment to the customer and their importance to your business. These interactions also eliminate any of the misunderstandings that can arise in other forms of communication.

In addition, the ability to read the customer's body language in the moment lets you know whether the points you make are heard and understood. It also gives the customer the opportunity to read your body language and see your sincerity.

2. Email

In a world where communication is 24/7, email has become the primary medium businesses use to interact with customers. Email is in- expensive and easy to track. With current technology tools, you can see when the customers read the email, how many times they read it, and at some point in the hopefully not-too-distant future, whether they understood the content and intention behind the email.

Because email is so inexpensive as a medium, nearly every business uses it as their primary method of customer communication. Because it's so prevalent in business communications, email overwhelm is increasingly common.

Very few people are sitting in front of their computers or their phones right now, saying, "I wish I were receiving more email!" But email can still be a valuable way to interact with your customers, provided it feels personalized and purposeful.

3. Mail

With the proliferation of email, physical or direct mail (sometimes referred to as "snail mail") has almost disappeared from the scene.

As a result, the empty mailbox is now an even better place for reaching customers. Because there isn't nearly as much competition in the physical mailbox as there is in the electronic inbox, interacting with customers using this medium cuts through the noise quickly.

In an increasingly digital world, physical communication is more valuable today than ever before. We've all experienced the emotional difference between receiving a handwritten thank-you note in our mailbox versus a form-filled thank-you note delivered to our inbox (or more likely, captured by a spam filter).

4. Phone

The phrase "Reach out and touch someone" was coined in reference to the use of a phone as a medium of communication that was as close to "in person" as possible.

Today, not only is the average customer personally accessible via a phone, but most likely you can reach them at any given time of the day, in any location. Morning, noon, or night, 91 percent of people keep their phone less than three feet away from their body (within arm's reach) at all times.

Picking up the phone and having a conversation with your customer, or sending a personalized text message, allows you to communicate in a tailored way that almost guarantees you will reach the customer immediately. Consider the impact of Dr. McCann's phone call to me the day after I had my new crown installed (discussed in chapter 2). The communication reached me immediately and allowed for a meaningful and thoughtful connection. In terms of speed of response, text messages are replied to faster than email. According to the trade association CTIA (which represents the wireless communications industry in the United States), it takes ninety minutes for the average person to respond to an email -- but only ninety seconds for the average person to respond to a text message.

5. Video

Attached to your cellphone is a video camera that is more powerful and capable than the best video cameras on the market just twenty years ago. Customers are increasingly consuming information via video on YouTube, Facebook Live, and other online video platforms. Most businesses haven't even begun to take advantage of using video as a medium to communicate with their customers, despite the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes "[w]e're entering this new golden age of video. I wouldn't be surprised if you fast-forward five years and most of the content that people see on Facebook and are sharing on a day-to-day basis is video."

Creating personalized, customized messages for customers is an opportunity most businesses overlook. The average business or business owner assumes they must first set up a video studio in the office, prepare a green screen, get the lighting just right, write a script, film the video, have it edited, add in sound and animations, and then send or post the video to a specific customer. This belief around the use of video couldn't be further from the truth.

Research shows that a handheld video, shot using the video camera on your mobile phone, with little to no script, and without much concern for the background or the setting, has a higher likelihood of not only getting through to your customer, but converting them to take the action you desire. In short, the informal video often works better than the more polished version.

6. Presents

The final communication medium, sending or giving your customer a present or gift, seems obvious, and yet it is one of the most overlooked ways to trigger positive customer emotions.

While some companies worry about rules and regulations, and considerations around gifting (which, depending on your industry and compliance rules, may be legitimate concerns), those that find creative ways to acknowledge their customers with presents build relationships and emotional connections with their customers that the other mediums don't allow.

The best presents are meaningful and personalized. They exhibit a level of care and consideration commensurate with the relationship. In fact, it's better not to send a gift if you're planning to give a standardized, "bulk" gift that feels sterile and common.

Worse yet, sometimes companies give "gifts" that really aren't gifts at all. Giving a customer a coupon for 20 percent off a future purchase is not a present for the customer; it's a present for your company that you hope will be used to increase your overall sales numbers. Giving a customer a mug with the logo of your business on the side of it is not a present for the customer; it's a free marketing tool you're hoping other people will see.

You don't have to put on a cape and become "Super Creative" to come up with gift ideas, nor do you need to break the bank. Just ask yourself what you'd get your favorite sibling or your best friend if they were your customer. If you like to call your customers "family" in your marketing materials, you should give gifts that treat them like family, instead of like cogs in your marketing machine.

Sending a personalized gift isn't nearly as hard as most people believe. For example, if you know a customer is a regular reader of business books, getting a book signed and personalized by a top author is a great way to give a thoughtful and meaningful gift that (1) costs less than $30 and (2) fosters the customer's growth and learning.

Phases, Tools, and Customers, Oh My!

At this point, considering the various phases your customers go through and the tools you can use to enhance their experience might feel a bit daunting.

Instead, consider being open to the fact that you may not have considered these phases in the past -- and now you can. You may only be using two or three of the communication tools available to you (this is the average number in use whenever I poll my audiences about their current customer experience journey) and now you have more options for interacting with your customers.

You can enjoy the rest of my book, "Never Lose a Customer Again: Turn Any Sale Into Lifelong Loyalty in 100 Days," by picking up a copy at your favorite bookstore or online bookseller.

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