In the Internet age, old ways of doing business will no longer cut the mustard. There is a new power in customer’s hands, and if you don’t deliver the service that they expect, they want to tell the world. There are very few barriers to expressing strong opinions about companies online, and these opinions, positive or negative, can receive top search engine rankings, and pop up when people search for your brand.
At the same time, customers can help each other and also broadcast how great you are. Understanding some of the dynamics of this world is important for success. Four ways that you can engage with your customers using these new technologies are forums, blogs, with customer feedback systems and with Social networks.
A blog is a series of small articles that you post regularly on your site. They tend to be very informal and could cover your products, company, experiences in business or even your hobby and social life. They will provide the most benefit if they relate to your business. A forum is a discussion board where customers can interact together and with your staff, discussing popular concerns and helping each other to solve problems. It’s only worth running a forum if you have a large and engaged customer base running into the thousands, or traffic will be so low that it will give a negative message. A forum also requires a reasonable commitment of staff time in order to manage the forum and prevent it turning into a spammers paradise. Remember also the section on how to get more from Social Networks.
If you decide to publish a blog, host a forum or publish customer feedback, make sure there is a reasonable flow of new posts or information. If there isn’t, it will actually detract from the business. Almost the worst mistake is to start a blog with great fanfare, then not post for months. If you haven’t posted for two weeks, delete all mention of the blog from your site. Similarly, don’t start a forum unless you have thousands of customers. The traffic won’t be sufficient to sustain a conversation.
Don’t make your blogs straight sales pitches. No-one wants to be pitched to, and the results will be the opposite of what you intend. Instead, talk around the subjects and demonstrate your expertise with interesting anecdotes and advice. The halo effect will inevitably increase your sales.
It’s hard to get a forum started and the minimum that you need is thousands of customers and a substantial number that are passionate about the area that you operate in. If you have a forum, you must be involved in managing it. In particular, any forum with a reasonable amount of traffic will attract spammers who paste all sorts of inappropriate content across the face of the screen. In short order the value of your forum will be destroyed and your customers will flee, never to return. To actively prevent this you must use the inbuilt forum protection measures and ruthlessly delete any violators. You also need to help with questions when answers are not forthcoming from other customers, and ban anyone who launches a campaign against you. Valid criticism is not and reasonable disagreements are not included in this.
The advantage of soliciting your customers for feedback on your products and service is that this is something that pretty much every business can do, while forums are only applicable to large businesses and blogs require a talent for provocative writing. There are several benefits that come from displaying feedback from customers, and these are even better if the feedback is managed by a third party service. If feedback is held on a third party site with links to your site, this will provide search engine optimization benefits.
Independent feedback is more trusted and will glean a higher proportion of buyers giving feedback and will lead to a diverse range of opinions which come across as very credible. This will lead to a higher conversion rate, typically 10% or more than the same site without feedback. There is also an objective view of the company, which can be very helpful for the person managing things as they can get to hear how the land really lies.
While there are some negative people around who always see problems with everything, there is also rarely a disaster where somebody wasn’t pointing out the problem in advance. The Bernie Maddoff fraud? The Securities and Exchange Commission in the US was tipped off years ago. Financial Crisis? It was all predicted by many people. For an example try searching for “Peter Schiff was right” on YouTube. He foresaw the whole pack of cards coming down and was laughed out of court for his pains.
None of us like to be criticised, but the critics frequently hold the truth that we lack. It’s a sad fact that there are some constant naysayers around, and they may have to be ignored. However, we dismiss all criticism on that basis at our peril. If that’s us, our egos are probably getting in the way. If we want to be really successful in business, we need to be open to criticism, especially from our customers. As well as exposing specific problems that need to be fixed, customer complaints are a great opportunity to learn and improve. They should not be buried away and forgotten, but analyzed. That way the negative becomes constructive, and we will improve performance as a result