By Kyle Michaud, best-selling author & owner of Carolina Dozer.
Love them or hate them, online customer reviews can make or break your business’s reputation. Review forums such as Yelp, Angi or Google Reviews are the first stops in the decision-making process for modern consumers. Taking pains to cultivate good reviews and assuage dissatisfied customers on these websites is one of the business realities of the internet age.
But the business-customer relationship goes beyond the digital satisfaction secured on review sites. Your customers are a valuable resource not just in terms of business revenue, but they also serve as arbiters of your business’s strengths and weaknesses. A bad online review requires close and careful attention to repair or at least ameliorate the business/customer relationship, but good reviews should not be the end point of your business relationship with satisfied customers either. Here are some simple ways to extend and strengthen your relationship with your customers.
Stay in touch.
Even if your business offers a product or service that people patronize only occasionally—such as a roofing business—staying in touch with your customers is a good way to gain endorsements and referrals. In my opinion, the age of the postcard is behind us—people are more likely to be annoyed by paper junk mail than to tell their friends or family members about your upcoming sales or specials. But a well-written monthly e-newsletter sent to your customer email list is a great way to keep your business front of mind for your past customers and gain their referrals for new ones. If communication isn’t your strength or a core ability of anyone on your staff, it’s worth investing in the services of a public relations or media company to compose this for you.
The newsletter should highlight your business’s strengths or advantages in a subtle fashion, without seeming pushy or overtly self-congratulatory. For this reason, it’s often a good idea to write about business trends and how your business is on top of the latest practices or technologies. Customer profiles of your repeat or particularly pleased customers are also a great way to personalize the business/customer relationship: Everyone likes to read about themselves, and new potential customers can often relate to the problems your satisfied customer faced before your business offered its products or services to solve them.
Respond to all reviews.
A negative review every now and again is not always a bad thing: You can discover more about your business’s weaknesses by letting down your defenses and talking to your dissatisfied customer in a dispassionate manner. Many online review sites publish the business’s responses to reviews, and potential customers can see the steps you took to turn a dissatisfied customer into a satisfied—or at least not an angry—one. Nobody expects people or businesses to be perfect all of the time, but they do expect them to be responsive to their customer’s unique needs or situations. Admitting your faults and profusely apologizing—“getting in front of the problem” in public relations parlance—instead of being overly defensive is always a good thing, and it shows that your business cares about its customers.
But beyond repairing the relationship with a customer who leaves a bad review, your business should also respond to all positive reviews as well. The first thing you should do is thank the customer for their positive review directly and clearly, without patting yourself on the back too much—stay humble and earnest. Then, you can “ask” for the referral, saying something to the effect of, “we’re delighted that you were pleased with us! Will you please tell your friends and family about us?” Just as asking for the sale usually works, asking for the referral is also remarkably effective.
Use surveys to gather data.
A well-designed survey is a great way to gain valuable information about your customers—from their basic demographic information to more specific (but very valuable) information such as their brand preferences, buying habits and plans for upcoming investments or purchases. You can also ask about any problems that your customers are currently facing that your business might be able to solve. A good survey will allow your business to be predictive as well as reactive to your customers’ needs.
As valuable as the customer survey can be for your business, getting your customer to fill them out can be something of a challenge at times. Offering a “carrot” such as a discount coupon or entry into a prize drawing for anyone who completes and submits the survey can be a helpful incentive. But sometimes even a large incentive won’t turn out responses. This doesn’t mean that the survey isn’t worth pursuing, but it is a numbers game—you may have to keep at it for a while before you assemble a critical mass of responses.
Celebrate milestones with your customers.
If you have captured your customers’ birthdays through surveys or intake forms, you can use a service like Constant Contact or Mailchimp to automatically send them birthday greetings. The importance of this small gesture can’t be underestimated. Other universally celebrated holidays like Memorial Day or Labor Day can be occasions for communications, discounts or sales, but stay away from religious holiday messaging—go with “Holiday Season” instead of Christmas or Hanukkah, and “Spring Season” instead of Easter. Likewise, if your business is celebrating a milestone—be it one year or two decades of existence—this is a great opportunity to reach out to your customers.
Invest in your customers.
Keep your customer relationships as personal as possible and show that you care about them. The relationship that a business has with its customers is similar to a parent/child relationship: Mistakes can and will happen, but a loving parent will have a lasting, healthy and permanent relationship with their children. In the same way, showing that your business cares about its customers’ lives, needs and problems can turn satisfied customers into adoring fans.