The concept of postpurchase dissonance — the unease buyers sometimes feel after they make a purchase — is familiar to every one of us who has ever bought goods or services. We’ve all experienced a feeling of uncertainty or anxiety after we’ve made a purchase.
The likelihood that postpurchase dissonance will arise is undoubtedly higher when you’re selling intangible services rather than nice, safe physical products. It also increases with the price of the services you sell.
As freelancers, it’s important that we’re aware of the concept and practicalities of postpurchase dissonance and that we know how to handle it when it does occur.
Why so blue?
Clients may feel uneasy after a purchase — whether they’ve merely signed you up to work on a project, or the job’s been completed and delivered — for any number of reasons, many of which may not relate to you or your work.
They may overhear a comment from a peer or superior about the project. They may simply feel nervous after a large expenditure of company funds. They may see a similar project that they believe is better in some way, even though they were perfectly happy with the output you produced at the time. Or they may feel for political or personal reasons that they should focus on the things the project didn’t achieve.
So postpurchase dissonance isn’t necessarily engendered by factors within the project, or factors that you can control. However, if you want to keep the client and work with them in future, you’ll want to minimize postpurchase dissonance whenever it rears its ugly head. These are the typical tactics I use to keep it at bay.
1. Listen to your client.
Pay attention not just to what your client is saying, but to the way they’re behaving. If they seem less gung-ho than usual, slightly nervous, uneasy or questioning, don’t gloss it over. Ask them if there are any problems. Try to find out what’s bothering them — once you have this information, you can act to reduce its impact on your relationship and your reputation.
Clients won’t always express their concerns to you up-front, so you’ll probably need to do a bit of mind- and body-langauge-reading. Every time I speak to a client, I try to make sure they’re comfortable and happy with the project, the process and our progress, and if I sense there’s a problem, I ask them about it on the spot. This helps to prevent situations in which small issues compound and escalate into serious client dissatisfaction.
2. Remain open.
Don’t take the client’s unease as a criticism or indication that your performance isn’t up to scratch. Postpurchase dissonance is about the buyer, and about their feelings. And you’ve asked to hear them!
Accept what they say with grace, and instead of trying to defend your actions or your work, start to consider the steps you can take that might reduce the tension. Discuss these openly with your client, to see if the options you’re considering will put them at ease. If the opinions of your client’s colleagues, managers, or others are required, you may find it best to speak with them directly.
Your negotiation skills may come into play, as will your professionalism, but it’s important to remain open through any discussions about client unease. If you can’t manage to do this, you’re almost guaranteed to lose the client.
3. Deliver what you’ve promised.
If you and your client have agreed on a course of action that will put them at ease again, deliver on those promises. Exceed the client’s expectations. And when you’ve done that, speak again to your client to ensure they’re happy. If they’re not, repeat the process we’ve discussed here. Only once the client’s sense of unease has been ameliorated should you let the issue drop.
Most of the postpurchase dissonance I see in my clients is subtle — often they may not be entirely conscious of it themselves. But since I want to deliver great service to every client, I seek it out.
This week, a new client was bamboozled by the features of a common software program we were using. I spoke with her after I delivered the completed phase 1 of the project, and I could hear that she was uncomfortable. She wanted to make alterations to the project as we’d discussed, but the software wouldn’t let her do so. During the day, I researched known bugs with the software, sent her the content in different formats, and so on. In the end, none of the solutions had worked and, understandably, her unease was growing, so I sat down and walked her through the software’s functions over the phone.
At the end of this exercise, she was obviously very relieved and pleased. The day before, it seemed, she’d been worried that she would have to pay me for the work I’d done, even though it seemed she’d be unable to use it. Instead of leaving her to work out her own tech support issues, I spent maybe half an hour all up to solve the problem, which returned full control over the project to her, and made me a hero in her eyes.
Her postpurchase dissonance was replaced by a sense of understanding and respect. And as I left her to review the work I’d delivered, I encouraged her to call me with any queries throughout the day. By now I’ve realized that she needs support with this project. And since I want to work with her further, I’m happy to deliver that.
Do your clients tell you if they’re feeling uneasy after committing to a project? How do you respond to reassure them and minimize their fears?