One of the most important strategies a small business can have in growing and maintaining a loyal clientele is to pay attention to their critics, especially the ones who take the time to give voice to their concerns.
A 2010 Customer Experience Report by RightNow Technologies found that the number one reason customers leave a company or brand has nothing to do with the product, and everything to do with the quality (or lack thereof) of customer service.
Customer service is the bread and butter of small business. It’s also your first line of defense when it comes to dealing with pleased or unsatisfied consumers.
Social media has dramatically changed the way customers interact with their favourite brands, levelling the playing field. This availability can work in your favour – brands now have on-the-ground, real-time access to what their clientele really want and can address their needs immediately. But it also means consumers have access to companies, and transparency and excellent customer service are more important now than ever in maintaining your reputation.
Unfortunately, the people who are most likely to reach out are the people who feel they have been wronged by your brand: a bad dinner service, poor interaction with a staff member, ordered product never showed up. The “word of mouth” nature of social media is very powerful, and the Internet abounds with unhappy reviews. Negative content has a tendency to rise to the top, meaning more people are going to see that review bashing your establishment rather than a glowing synopsis of a wonderful interaction. Moreover, services like Yelp have been seen to go a few steps farther and actually suppress positive reviews in a bid to force brands to pay for premium memberships and packages.
There is good news. Often, an unhappy customer wants to simply be acknowledged, and to know that their continued loyalty to your brand, product or service is appreciated. In fact, many customers will go so far as to remove a negative review if the problem is addressed or management issues an apology.
In addition, when a customer complains it gives you the opportunity to learn and grow – if you don’t know you’re doing something wrong, how are you going to make it right? Think of a complaint as rich feedback, highlighting the areas where your business is lacking, and take the time to set the situation right before further problems arise.
Most small businesses aren’t blessed with budgets that can compete with industry leaders in the advertising department, so it’s important for small business owners to get creative with their strategies, and really take advantage of social media and savvy SEO to stay at the top of the search engine results page.
Ask your customers to talk about their experience with your brand or company on Facebook or other platforms, like TrustPilot, a platform where users can offer product and seller reviews. You can also solicit reviews by adding feedback widgets to your website. GetSatisfaction allows you to create a community for your customers on their own terms where they can offer invaluable feedback for both yourself and other existing or potential customers.
Not every customer is going to leave a comment on your Facebook page or website, however. Register for or claim your business on Google, Yelp, Yellow Pages, and other listing sites relative to your product or service and check your profiles regularly, or set up email notifications to let you know whenever you receive a new comment.
Dealing with a customer complaint (or compliment) as soon as it crops up, especially in a digital capacity, can turn a potential loss in to positive ROI, and that’s something you can take to the bank!