Do you ever read reviews of companies you do business with? Do you read product reviews before buying a new camera, vacuum cleaner, or computer? If so, you are not alone! According to Lynn Terry on Clicknewz.com, 90% of consumers use reviews at least some of the time when planning purchases. That being said, as owner of a SMB, you want to help your customers recognize the merits of your business and the products you offer. And beware the unhappy customer. An unhappy customer may post reviews that can damage your company’s reputation and persuade potential customers to shop elsewhere. Do not let this happen to you!
This column addresses the customer feedback process. Part 2 (in a future issue) will discuss loyalty programs and their benefits to your business.
Unhappy customers: they’re everywhere!
The immediacy of the online environment requires you to monitor blogs and other forums for criticisms of your business or services you sell. Damaging postings can be blasted across the blogosphere with blinding speed. Before you know it, your company can be trashed in dozens of locations. Repairing the damage is very difficult. Restoring your company’s reputation is time-consuming, and the financial setback from negative reviews may be long-lasting. As Pete Blackshaw pointed out in 2008, awareness of customer satisfaction is essential to long-term profitability. Instead of waiting to fix the wrongs, take pre-emptive measures to assure your customers are happy and anything written about your business is positive.
Tell us how we’re doing
I think of customer relations as a two-track system consisting of the following:
- Managing customer feedback
- Rewarding loyal customers
If you do a great job with customer support and satisfaction, the feedback process ought to be fairly painless. You should be able to count on positive feedback from your customers, which is always nice! The logistics of setting up and monitoring a feedback mechanism would be the only pain point, depending on your resources.
Feedback can be as simple as sending out emails asking for customer responses, ranging from a survey of questions with multiple choice answers to an open-ended “tell us how we’re doing” sort of email. If you want, you can even provide a perk to the respondents, similar to Borders.com, which offers a discount coupon if the online survey is completed within a set time frame. Offers such as these encourage customers to submit their assessment of a business and its services or products.
If you’re not sure where to start with a survey, look online. There are numerous online providers of surveys, many of which gather your results in a user-friendly format. There are online providers of guidelines for surveys which recognize the importance of how your questions and reply choices are phrased. After replies arrive, what do you do with the information?
All the feedback in the world is of no use if you do not take the comments under advisement, examine criticism, and determine solutions for any frequently noted complaints. The point of customer surveys is to determine weaknesses your company may have and make repairs that ensure your customers are happy with the products, services, and treatment they receive. If you find repeated topics of complaint, you have a problem that you must tend to.
While negative responses are never pleasant to read, remember that “knowledge is power!” Use this knowledge to fix the sore spots. Nip the problem before it becomes insurmountable. By doing so, you may forestall these types of complaints in the future. And that will help retain customers you did not know you might lose. Remember, keeping existing customers is easier than gaining new customers!
A simpler approach
If you are not prepared to create and conduct surveys for your company, you still can tap into customer sentiment by seeking out posts on industry blogs, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) site, Yelp, or Finding Dulcinea, which has a section providing a clearing house for rating sites, including online rating and reviews of stores, online stores, and product reviews. It also has links to Bizrate and MySimon, Reseller Ratings, and online stores like eBay.
Chances are that among all the options, you may find reviews or ratings of your store or business. Unfortunately, people are more inclined to post when they’re unhappy, rather than when they’re satisfied with a product or service. So it’s up to you to cultivate happy customers and encourage them to offer positive feedback for your business.
How to make happy customers
Among the ways to do this is by establishing a loyalty or rewards program. There are many methods available for a rewards program, and I intend to discuss some of those in a future column. In the meantime, the way you handle customer comments, complaints, and criticism can do much to enhance your reputation; it’s important to note that reputation management is gaining a lot of buzz! By ensuring that your customers know they’re being heard, you gain credibility and support from them. Doing so bolsters your reputation as a caring company – one that cares about satisfying customer needs.
Taken collectively, listening, attending to customer requests and responding to their concerns all contribute to improving the positive image that all businesses want. For those customers who are especially loyal and effusive in their support, a rewards or loyalty program can provide a forum for publicizing their positive experiences with your business.