Are your customers talking about you behind your back?

It’s no secret that over the last twenty years, the internet has changed the way businesses communicate with their audiences.  Most businesses have a website listing their products or services. Some use social media to send out news to a list of followers and create a closer relationship with them.  A small percentage have tapped into power of targeted advertising with varying rate of success.

Despite the awareness of these common channels to market, it still surprises me how many business see them as a one-way communication tool.  There is a broadcast mentality whereby many businesses are still just talking at their marketplace.  Very few are listening to feedback and acting upon it.  As a result, many businesses are at risk of having their brand and reputation eroded by the conversations they’re either unaware of, or not willing to engage in.  Like it or not, your customers are talking about you behind your back.

I believe that, no matter what business you run, you should be using technology to listen to the feedback your customers are giving you and acting upon it to set a strategy for your business.

Social media is a quick way and obvious way engaging with customers.  Building up a following on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram is something most business owners are now aware of the need to do.  It has never been more important for consumer-focused business to build a strong rapport with potential and existing customers through the right social media channels.  These audiences, which become familiar with your brand and your products, are also much more likely to engage with you, buy whatever you have to offer and, most importantly, then give you feedback on how well you’ve done.

Social media is merely the tip of the iceberg.  Reviews and recommendations are increasingly important to many businesses.  Research by BrightLocal in 2016 showed that 84% of consumers will trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from a friend of family member and more than 50% will go on to look at a website after reading a positive review about it.  A consumer awareness of online reputation is growing significantly and is just as relevant to large brands with huge marketing teams as it is to small, local businesses.  Conversations about your business and word of mouth are now just as likely to be happening online as they are in the local pub or over the counter in your local newsagent.

Harnessing the power of the online conversation about your business (and your competitor’s businesses too), is a huge opportunity for many businesses and those that are embracing it are dominating the markets in which they operate.

Clearly though, the reverse is also true.  If you don’t work hard to build and protect your online reputation, it can harm your business significantly.

Most accommodation or restaurant businesses will be acutely aware of how influential websites like TripAdvisor now are.  In fact, it’s not overstating the issue to say that the quality of reviews obtained on TripAdvisor can now mean the difference between a business in the tourism industry succeeding or failing.  Bookings can fall away quickly if you receive a string of bad reviews.

Those businesses that are unaware of, scared of or unwilling to engage in listening to and engaging with their customers on digital channels are suffering significantly.  Clearly every business would like to always receive good reviews, but it’s a fact of life that mistakes and problems happen and every business will receive the odd bad review.  What really matters is that your business is both aware of the bad reviews and able to respond to them quickly and effectively.  A good response to a bad review can have as positive an effect on public opinion as a positive review does.  There are even opportunities to generate some great publicity if you respond in the right way.

Businesses that frequently receive and ignore bad reviews can see a swift and significant downturn in online enquiries.  Not only do bad reviews deter customers from purchasing, but some search engines (including Google) also now use reviews as a significant measurement when it comes to compiling search results.  Bad reviews can therefore be a double-whammy.

As well as TripAdvisor, there are also numerous other ways of your audiences making a snap judgement about your business without even speaking to you. Google’s mapping, local business and reviews services are now closely linked and allow any business, place or destination to be reviewed. Trustpilot and Bazaarvoice are increasingly influential for retail businesses, both those on the high street and online.  Glassdoor helps prospective employees learn about the culture and working conditions within your business before they even respond to your job advert. Even the UK government is getting in on the act in a roundabout way, with the Food Standards Agency hygiene ratings.  There are many other examples, too.

All of which explains why any business which approaches Plum and says “please can you redesign our website we need more sales” can expect us to take a much more thorough look at your online brand reputation and what your audiences are saying about you.  Your website is merely one way of your customers finding out about your business, so your website might not always be the answer to unlocking the sales floodgates.

To have a truly successful customer engagement strategy, your business needs an understanding of where your customers are talking about you and you should have a strategy, the people and the skills in place to listen, react and engage with your customers.  Because, like it or not, your customers are talking about your business behind your back right now and you need get involved in the conversation.

This blog was written by Plum’s digital consultant Simon Lassam; read more about Simon here