With powerful search capability, mobile apps, and ubiquitous social media, people have unprecedented access to product reviews written by fellow consumers. And more and more they’re turning to other people—including complete strangers—rather than companies or the mainstream media for product information and buying advice. In fact, 92 percent of consumers say they trust recommendations from friends and family most, while 70 percent trust online consumer reviews, according to a recent international Nielsen survey.
No matter how much a customer likes your product, though, if that same person has a bad personal experience with your company, the likelihood of a good review is slim. According to Forrester Research, nearly a third of consumers have complained about poor service using social networking sites or third-party review sites, like Yelp.
To encourage your customers write positive reviews, proactively interact with potential and current customers online and make quality customer service part of your corporate culture. (For a case study on how to do this successfully, read Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh.) Here are five key tips:
1) Monitor Online Buzz
If you’re not already tracking mentions of your brand online, start immediately! Start by setting up Google Alerts and then explore other monitoring tools such as Hyperalerts, which notifies you whenever someone comments on one of your Facebook pages, and HootSuite, which monitors Twitter discussions and mentions. And don’t make monitoring solely a computer task. Schedule staff time to follow relevant online discussions, and give the person on duty the authority to respond to a mention of your brand.
2) Be Accessible to Customers
Make it easy for your customers to contact you by having a presence on all major social media channels. However, concentrate your resources on the ones that are most relevant to your business; for example, do you have more corporate clients on LinkedIn or a younger customer base that largely uses Twitter? To go even deeper, set up private Facebook groups or Google+ Hangouts. Cross-promote your social media profiles in all of your communication channels: links from the home page of your website, in your e-mail signature, e-mail newsletters, direct mail campaigns, and paid advertising outlets. And don’t forget the seemingly old-fashioned, but still critical element: Also include a phone number where customers can reach a live person who can help them.
3) Participate in Communities
Popular sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest highlight their users’ opinions. It’s important for your company to have a presence on these sites. A good way to do that is to have your company’s experts participate in relevant online discussions. For example, if you create custom lighting, have your staff answer questions about lighting design on home decorating websites. Here, the goal is to influence and build relationships, to become part of the community, not to advertise per se. Provide compelling editorial content, and don’t be afraid to reference and link to other sources—it’s all part of being a good online citizen.
4) Respond Quickly to Feedback
Today’s consumers have come to expect nearly instant and round-the-clock responses. Even if you can’t address a request immediately, set up a system to acknowledge that you have received it or have heard about it through social media. Again, allocate customer-support staff to focus on addressing online issues and empower the individuals to customize solutions to the needs of the customers. No one likes receiving a form letter that never answers your question or being placed on hold waiting for a supervisor’s approval! A caveat: Take care not to ever let speed overshadow the need to be mindful and apply best practices whether off- or online.
5) Show your company’s personality
Just like with any marketing or sales piece, the tone and choice of words online should reflect your brand. However, online communication tends to be more casual. A good rule of thumb is to talk to your customers feel like they are your friends. You can also more readily experiment with different promotions online—you can always tweak or even stop them as you go along. Highlight your customer successes and have them be your advocates.
Customer testimonials carry more credibility than your marketing message ever can, according to Gail Goodman, author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins in a Socially Connected World. Today anyone can voice opinions via social media. Use this opportunity to your advantage by actively engaging online users and providing note-worthy customer service.
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