In the course of a business relationship, a customer goes through different phases of interest, decision, purchase, possession, use and uncoupling of a product/service, which of course has implications on the relationship with the vendor.

Thus, nature, extent and intensity of the encounter between the customer and the company can be actually so different that even perceptions and effects of potential service offerings diverge.

The demands on the service are still unspecified at the stage of for instance getting to know more about a product and offers are perceived rather emotionally than functional, while in the course of the provider selection, the preparation of the business contract, the utility testing and comparing of the service, the individuality of service and the personal touch are estimated as the most special value.

Indeed, there are often the “little things” that strengthen the connection between the company and customer. Thus, organizations should take into consideration even the different phases a customer is going through to improve their service level.

Interests phase

The client is looking for a suitable product/service, according to his wishes and needs, whereas attractive, advantageous and beneficial features of the product/service in particular catch the eye and provide for a preferred perception.

Comparison phase

The customer examines and explores the range of products/services and takes into account first factual differences. In this phase, the retrieval of information capable of making decisions plays a major role: data and facts accessible by suppliers, dealers, platforms and other customers are wanted. The customer wants here an appropriate service that brings out support for his activities and appears at the same time to be unique in its function.

Intermediate phase

The customer is still undecided or certain circumstances provide for a deferral of the purchase decision. He starts a critical analysis of the decision and its impact: rational reasons (investment, usage, advantages) and emotional considerations (experience, emotion, satisfaction) are consulted. In this phase, the customer is open for services, which are useful beyond the actual product benefits.

Evaluation phase

In this stage, the customer seriously evaluates a few alternatives of the product/service and investigates exactly where there are differences - including additional features of the product/service such as price, availability, delivery terms, as well as accompanying services such as the use of agency and utilization facilities, financing, maintenance, and warranties. The focus is solely on making the "right choice", therefore the customer prefers tailor-made services according to his specific requests as this makes a decision easier. The more individual the services here, the greater the impact and it’s imperative that this is always borne in mind.

Purchase phase

Once a customer intends to purchase a product/service, he demands services which make the process easy, comfortable and secure, and expects simultaneously getting a great experience out of the transaction.

Product phase

The customer gains experience with the product/service and at the same time with the vendor who is directly or indirectly involved in the utilization. Especially in situations of product usage/application of the service, where the customer needs sometimes more, sometimes less support or advice, services are in demand, which are flexibly responding to needs. Further, services are beneficial that can cope with the variable information, communication, and interaction needs of the customer. With customized, individualized and personalized services, vendors have top chances to present themselves in the best light.

Shifting phase

The client disassociates from a product/service or is looking for alternatives, from which arise benefits - regard among others for instance innovation, value, price. There is still a relationship to the current provider, positive and less positive incidents, however, it is clear that the experiences of the past business performance is clearly determining the degree of emotional bonding. Services, which facilitate the (re)orientation with coordinated "knowledge-of-the-customer”, are now the customers’ favorites.

Conclusion: Expectations in services change

Criteria, which have been used by companies as evidence for market segmentation according to product interest, buying preferences, willingness to invest, brand loyalty or supplier loyalty are losing more and more of their reliability. A systematic classification of customers into "communities of like-minded" could be useful. Or in other words: a segmentation of customers according to their information, communication and interaction behavior could be a good solution, as dependent on lifestyle, culture or education these customers create different expectations of personal and business relationships.

In markets that are already saturated for a long time, customers are increasingly looking for added value that can be less and less technically-functional, but more psychological and emotionally satisfying. So, the goal is to build a service brand which focuses on the customer's perceived special experience. For that purpose, the customer must be precisely decoded and understood, including all his emotions and preferences. A tough task companies that want to succeed in the future have to approach. Electronic CRM can for sure grant some relief!

By Daniela La Marca