By: Jennifer Hice
on Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Given today’s challenging economic climate and highly competitive business environment, it is becoming increasingly important for small business owners to differentiate themselves. They must work hard to pull away from the pack and shine more brightly than those offering similar products or services. In an effort to market and promote their businesses, owners can easily exhaust a marketing budget of any size by implementing a laundry list of advertising strategies, such as making media buys for local television and radio spots, printing the most eye-catching direct mail pieces or hiring talent to run a booth at an industry conference. While all of these strategies are great ways to market a business, at the end of the day, reputation and brand loyalty are the most powerful selling tools. In fact, consumers have become extremely vocal when it comes to sharing their tales of trauma or stories of success regarding their personal experiences with small businesses. The rise of social media has given consumers a free and prolific platform from which they can boisterously express their most recent interactions with your company. These “social consumers,” as they are often called, are happily voicing their opinions regarding your product, your store, your service and much more. Moreover, they are doing so in a blunt and honest way. If they loved their experience, they will sing your praises and gush with glee. Conversely, if they endured a negative experience, look out! Savvy consumers with a bone to pick are your worst enemy, and rightly so!
Understanding that your customers are your company’s most valuable asset, take a moment and ask yourself an important question: Are you paying close enough attention to what your customers are saying about your business, your product or your service? We’ve all heard the phrase, The Customer is Always Right, and as much as it pains many business owners to utter in certain circumstances, it is a statement that still rings true with regard to productive, positive and powerful customer service practices. It is important for business owners to take the steps necessary to ensure their customers see and understand that they are truly appreciated. A customer’s comprehension of his or her own value can go a long way when business owners are working to establish the emotional connection necessary to build long-lasting relationships, or brand loyalty. In the world of sales and marketing, creating this type of brand loyalty is undoubtedly the ‘gift that keeps on giving.’ It is also a never-ending process, one that requires hard and continuous work on the part of business owners.
So, how do you find out what your customers really think of you? First, get online! Visit consumer websites like ChamberofCommerce.com
, Yelp, YellowPages.com, Angie’s List and the like. In fact, visit any consumer site that may be industry-specific to your business. For example, if you own a small, authentic Italian Restaurant, check out sites like Open Table, City Search or Zagat
and find out what your past patrons are saying about your food, your service and the atmosphere at your restaurant. Read every review. Keep Reading. Keep researching. Read some more. Read until you feel you have some sort of baseline understanding of how your customers view you, your business, your staff, your service, your product, your storefront, your price points and much more. Their feedback is vast a pool of powerful feedback, which you cannot ignore.
It is also important to remember that given today’s technological advances, almost anything can become an instant sound bite. For this reason, business owners need to work hard to get ahead of any negative critiques. Videos posted to sites like YouTube, Hulu and Facebook have the capacity to go viral even without promotion, if the content is strong enough. That said, be a pioneer and take advantage of these social media channels to create your own buzz. Be proactive! Reach out to your customers with newsletters, surveys, the Facebook questionnaire features and the like. Stir the pot of popularity and create a two-way conversation with your consumers.
Consider a global company like AT&T. The customer demographic of such an industry-leading telecommunications
corporation is hugely diverse, which poses an interesting marketing challenge. Regardless of its size, a company must work to expand their marketing efforts into new areas and accurately dial-in to the needs of the entire target market. For example, a 62 year old, retired school teacher and mother of four may not be a regular on Twitter or Facebook, and as such, any marketing messages delivered to her via those channels would be ineffective. However, when she receives a direct mail piece from AT&T offering free HBO service for a month upon signing a one year U-verse contract, she may be inclined to pick up the phone and call a representative to learn more about the offer. Conversely, if AT&T sent that same direct mail piece to a college student who moves from apartment to apartment, every year, on the year, they can pretty much guarantee the piece will either be immediately recycled or never even seen. However, should AT&T write a wall post on Facebook using the questionnaire feature, asking fans if they want free HBO for a month, that same college student could be the first to visit att.com for more information!
Business owners must view relationships and interactions with their customers as the most significant in their professional lives. Just as you’d open the door for your mom or your wife, out of respect and appreciation, so too would you open the door and welcome a customer into your store, greet them with a smile, make eye-contact, and engage in positive communication. Take great care when communicating with your customers. Small business owners are busy, often overly-stressed and are frequently forced to wear several hats in order to keep things running smoothly. The most important hat, however, is the one marked: Customer Service Associate