For many businesses, managing customer relations has long been fairly straight-forward. You put out what you thought was a pretty decent product or service, and if the customer didn’t like it, you could tell them- as they say in France– “sucks for you” (ok well they probably don’t say that in France but it sounded good). We’ve also all been there as a customer– the toy you bought your kid that stopped working 5 minutes after he opened it and the store says “lost your receipt? Guess you’re out of luck, store policy”. For centuries there has not been a whole lot you could do about it. But now, it would appear, that time is rapidly ending. Now that person formerly known to you as your compliant, “herd ‘em into the barn for milking time” customer is now armed. That customer can very much make it suck for your business too. As Jay Baer writes about in his book the “Now Revolution“– in this new world “every customer is a potential reporter, and every employee is a potential spokesperson”.
When you add on top of that the fact that a recent survey found that 70% of local customers use reviews as a factor when making a decision about a business, and 69% trust the reviews of strangers as much as recommendations from people they know, it begins to send a clear signal that this is an area you want to pay attention to.
Social Media strategist Jennifer Kane warned about the danger to businesses of ignoring the social media customer revolution that we’re experiencing right now:
More than half of Internet users ages 45 to 64 will be regular social network users in 2011. And behind those canaries is a flock of millenials — millions of them who will be your clients and customers of tomorrow (90% of internet users in that age group will use social networks this year). In short, if your company continues to keep its head in the sand about the social web, your customers or clients will have no other recourse than to kick you in the ass to get you to notice them.
So if you need some guidance on how to deal with those formerly compliant fluffy bunny customers who now have grown sharp teeth, there are a few good sources you can go to. One menioned above is the Now Revolution book by Ambur Naslund and Jay Baer. Another is a free guide by Buddy Media written specifically for Facebook Page customer management called “How Do I Respond To That? the Definitive Guide To Facebook Publishing And Moderation“, but that has concepts that can be applied to any online customer management situation.
The first thing you need to do is acknowledge that the time when you could ignore what people are saying about you is done. The web functions as a megaphone for anything anyone says, which means managing your online reputation is going to be part of what you do every day. In addition, the reality is that the customer who will use that megaphone is often likely to be the rare one who had a bad experience with you. As local online marketing expert Mike Blumenthal has written:
…most businesses live in a world where the only person that is motivated to write the review is the one in a hundred or the one in five hundred that was just so pissed off about something that they just had to tell the world. The loyal customers that come in to the shop, day in and day out never think to sing your praises as they have just grown accustomed to great service and friendly staff.
So how do you manage this when you have plenty to do all day long just running your business? My advice– boiled down into 2 easy steps– is 1) Set up a simple and automatic strategy to track what is being said about you online; and 2) “go on offense” when it comes to your reputation- organize a basic program in your company to encourage onine reviews from your happy customers. Here is more detail about both these steps.
Tracking What’s Said About You Online
The small business coach John Jantsch recently wrote a great blog post where he talked about a simple, easy and free “social monitoring” tool you can put in place right now. This will allow you to see what is being said about you or your business, and put you in a position to do something about it. The tip is to set up Google Alerts for specific terms related to your business, and then Google can send you a daily digest of every mention of that term. Google alerts don’t always catch everything, so Jantsch also recommends using another free tool called Social Mention.
Set Up a Basic Program To Encourage Customer Reviews
The next step is to create an active plan to generate customer reviews. The reason is you want to be “on offense” when it comes to customer feedback. You don’t want to wait for that one bad customer comment to come in– which is one of only two reviews you have– that will then sit on your Google Places page for the next 2 years since no other reviews are coming in. Going on offense means helping facilitate all those customers who have had positive experiences (which research shows is the bulk of all customers) to translate their happy thoughts to the web. Mike Blumenthal interviewed the head of one company– The President and CEO of UMoveFree Nick Barber- that has had great success with his online review management program to find out how it he did it. As Nick said, ”The trick is to identify your satisfied customers and give them a voice”. Nick describes the process his company set up:
We have changed the culture so that everyone is aware this (getting reviews from customers) is a major goal for the company. When we encounter an extremely happy customer (which happens often if you’re running a good business) we simply take the time to point that customer in the right direction…. (the program ) has to be consistent and sustainable. Every employee has to be aware of the project and empowered to get involved; not just the marketing and management departments who rarely interact with customers on the ground. For instance, if the receptionist has a chance phone call with an overly appreciative customer their immediate response should be “we really appreciate your positive comments…would you mind if I send you an email with a link to our XXXX business review profile…it would mean a lot to us if you take just a moment to share those thoughts with other potential customers”.
An important piece of the strategy is to pick review sites that are easy for customers to leave reviews. They avoid sites that are complicated for customers to log-on to and that require multple steps. And it’s best to steer them to review sites where they are already likely to have an account, so access is easy– sites like Google Places, Yahoo Local, Bing Local, JudysBook, CitySearch, MerchantCircle, and InsiderPages. The other key advantage from an SEO standpoint is that these sites are all trusted by Google- so they serve as citations and signals to the search engine to increase the rank for your local business in the search results.
Nick summarizes the impact that this program has had on his business:
We see this as a major competitive advantage. We have great customer service and by taking an active approach our online review profiles now reflect this…I always tell our sales reps that if your customer is considering using another company, tell them to check the reviews of us and our competitors online …I’ve never lost a customer after they do the research. The reviews are the best marketing pitch we could ever give a customer that is considering using our service.
So if your company is interested in developing a major competitive advantage (and you’d potentially like to avoid having that one in a hundred angry customer take your business down), it just might be worth looking at how you can integrate some of these ideas in how you run your business every day.