Post-Purchase Customer Support is Essential for Brands in 2016

For the first time ever, more people shopped online than in stores this past holiday season, marking a major turning point in consumer shopping habits. Not only did more people shop online for the holidays, they also did a lot of their shopping on mobile devices instead of desktop or laptop computers. Smartphones accounted for 44 percent of all online traffic and drove 19 percent of online sales, according to IBM Watson Trend. Year over year, that's a 65 percent increase of inbound demand through mobile devices. Holiday e-commerce increased 13 percent to $69 billion from November 1 to December 31, with mobile sales growing 60 percent compared to last year.

Considering people now spend more time on mobile devices than ever before, the surge in mobile e-commerce sales means that more consumers will also turn to mobile for post-purchase support now that the gift-giving season is over. This is especially the case for connected consumers buying technology products and services. As shoppers become increasingly comfortable shopping online, technology brands need to consider the opportunities and vulnerabilities associated with today's connected consumers and integrate diverse post-purchase support strategies—from embedded support for self-service to assisted support via chat—to maintain brand loyalty and customer satisfaction.

As consumers begin to unpack their new tech products after the holidays, they can encounter many obstacles to actually enjoying their new purchases. To avoid an onslaught of unhappy customers, consider the following customer insights and strategies:

Brand awareness, perception, and loyalty are determined by the post-purchase experience. The holidays offer a unique opportunity to influence revenue growth and brand loyalty because the purchaser and the user might not be the same person. The individual who bought the product or service as a gift might already have a positive perception of your brand, but that doesn't mean the person installing, using, or having to fix it also has the same attachment. He might not have made the purchase or have an existing allegiance for the brand, but rest assured, a judgment call will be made when it comes to customer service.

Data from a recent survey shows that 79 percent of connected consumers think it is important to have a positive perception of a brand (both the manufacturer and its products) after the purchase. For some, the post-purchase experience is the first interaction with the brand. How the company handles customer experiences can make or break brand loyalty and future revenue. Integrated—or connected support—strategies create the opportunity for brands to convert new customers considering future purchases or looking to upgrade or replace existing products.

We live in an era of self-service. Today's always-on consumer is driving the do-it-yourself (DIY) demand, making self-service support a critical component of the customer experience. With e-commerce on track to surpass brick-and-mortar sales revenue, it is now more important than ever for brands to keep up with the emerging DIY generation.

Data shows that half of connected consumers actually prefer a self-service approach, and even more millennials—your future customer base—are DIY.

Consumers are becoming increasingly tech-savvy, and their busy schedules demand convenience, making them more comfortable troubleshooting and fixing issues on their own. Brands should embrace this consumer independence and explore self-service integration with their products, while keeping in mind that the flexibility of connecting with live representatives is an important component of the customer experience.

One size does not fit all. Regardless of the consumer's age or technical capabilities, or whether the transaction occurs online or in store, the personal interaction with a brand is the most important and memorable part of the overall brand experience.

If your teenage sister and your grandmother both receive new smartphones as gifts, they're probably not going to take the same approach to setting them up, and they're not likely to use them the same way either. While your grandmother calls the customer service department with her questions, your sister would rather search the Web or browse an app to resolve her issues. Either way, brands need to understand the importance of creating a personalized experience that meets the needs of each consumer. By understanding when and where consumers tune in the most throughout the brand experience, and which interactions resonate with them—positively or negatively—companies can develop the right strategies to manage every product interaction and customer touch point.

The bottom line is that for brands, the continued proliferation of technology in the everyday lives of consumers creates the possibility of more product ideas, revenue streams, and customer interactions. With more consumers relying on their connected devices, the inherent complexity of technology and how a company addresses this complexity can drive a wedge between a brand and its customers. Companies need to understand that every customer touch point is an opportunity or a vulnerability, and the post-purchase experience should be considered as important as the pre-purchase experience, especially after the holidays. With the emerging millennial customer base seeking more self-service, brands have an opportunity to create efficient customer service tools that both cost less and improve the customer experience. Not to mention, allowing customers to address some of their own issues frees up marketing, technology, and operations to develop more proactive strategies for growth.

Alex Poulos is vice president of marketing at