We’ve looked at various ways that SMEs can grow their business this year, and this post is less about growing a business in the traditional sense, and more about increasing and leveraging your engagement and interaction with your customer communities.
Whether you find it sad, or exciting, gone are the days of only liaising with customers in person or over the phone; gone are the days of being able to hide a mistake your company made by offering a mediocre apology; gone are the days where your customers remained loyal because they simply didn’t know where else to purchase.
Welcome to the new generation of consumers who share their purchasing preferences with their social network, go to their favourite social media platform to vent about poor customer service and research everything online to ensure they are getting the absolute best deal.
As scary as these times might seem for some organisations, for those who are embracing these new innovations, they can open up opportunities for greater communication and engagement with consumers as well as provide platforms for transparency and brand loyalty. But how do you listen to your customers and what do you need to know to manage your online brand?
What do customers actually want?
Recent Forrester research highlights these key customer trends for 2014;
- Customers want a variety of ways to engage with brands including phone, self-service, chat and email.
- Customers will turn to their mobile devices before a traditional PC to connect with companies.
- Customers are happy to receive outbound communication from companies if it is timely and useful to them in their purchasing cycle.
- Customers expect proactive advice relevant to their purchasing needs.
Does your company know how to listen?
Listening to the ‘noise’ of social media can be overwhelming and it’s easy to understand why many organisations can’t see the benefit of monitoring what consumers are saying about their brand online. But, this could be letting a golden opportunity for increased engagement slip through their hands. Here’s why;
- 37% of millenials (GenY) do not trust big business – leaving a big gap for the SME market to bridge
- 64% of millennials feel that companies should offer more ways to share their opinions online – is your company meeting this demand?
- 49% of millenials listen to product recommendations from family and friends (compared to 66% of baby boomers)
- 51% of millenials will listen to product recommendations from strangers on a website or forum (compared to 34% of baby boomers) – do you know what’s being said about your company online?
Whilst it’s easy to think your organisation might not need to worry about these statistics yet, bear in mind that GenY, who are currently in their mid-teens to mid-30’s, will soon be the generation with the biggest buying power of any generation in the next few years. They want to interact with companies differently and, waiting for the problem to come along, will be too late for many organisations.
- Does your organisation have an active social media presence?
- Are you effectively monitoring your social media streams?
- What is your engagement model?
- Are you using the information, opinions and input from customers to adapt your offerings to their needs?
- What is the perception of your organisation in your customer’s eyes?
Top tips for listening to your customers (and what to do with all that information):
- Focus on an area you want to target and use hashtags and keywords to capture this information – e.g. #cheapflights, #productrecall, #redroses
- Ask your social media followers relevant questions. This will be different depending on your business, – e.g. What’s your favourite travel destination? Which night of the week do you prefer to eat out?
- Join in conversations that your target market is having – suggest information sources for them, support them, answer questions if you can. This is not about selling your product; it’s about getting to know your audience!
- Take criticism (as well as compliments) with humility; you’ll experience both and it will be important to your audience how you react to it. Follow up on complaints received and publicly show that you are acknowledging and responding to constructive sentiment; never get into a battle with your customers online.
- Be there when and where your customers need you; be it Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram etc. Experiment with the platforms and figure out where is best to focus your time and energy based on your business and customer preferences.
- Close the loop; it’s no good dedicating time and effort in engaging your market if you don’t put into practice what they are telling you. Use their feedback and conversations as vital (and free) market research – keep relevant teams in the loop (marketing, product development etc.) and show your customers that their input was pivotal in the improvement of your product or service – this, in turn, will further help to create brand loyalty.
There’s no agreed return on your investment in social media so don’t expect sales to come in after a few tweets; social media is a lot more subtle than that. Use it within your organisation to your advantage and, most of all; enjoy the new wave of customer interaction you will experience!
Blue Ocean Systems can help organisations to implement end-to-end business management solutions to streamline their financial, sales, human resources, manufacturing and operations.
Speak to the team today about how your business could benefit from an industry-leading enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.
Note: This story has also been adapted for publication in Steemit.