If you are trying to run a small business, there is no way to avoid the Internet. No matter what kind of business you operate, you will need to have an online presence. Having an online presence does not include just having a website and posting your most recent innovations to Twitter and Facebook. Consumers expect more. They expect companies to actively seek out complaints on social networks and address them.
Any business that isn’t taking to the social networks to address their customers is missing out on an opportunity to increase customer satisfaction, and thus, gain more income. After all, without happy customers, there is no small business.
In the past, there was no easy way to reach out to customers. If someone had a complaint, they would tell a friend, who would then tell a friend, and negative word of mouth would spread like wildfire. Now, with customers taking to the Internet to voice their complaints, business owners actually have a way to fix problems, and stop the negativity from spreading.
Any smart business move is going to take a little planning. You never want to jump right in and go crazy. If you just start responding to arbitrary tweets about your company without having an idea of what the plan of attack is, you will be in for a problem.
You also need to do some research. Take a look at what other companies in your field are doing as far as protecting their reputation. Look for things they are doing wrong. Find ways to improve upon their basic strategy and expand upon their ideas. Also take a look at how mega corporations like AT&T and Google handle their online customer service and reputation management.
Make sure you are prepared to deal with negative posts about your company. Be prepared to handle criticism in a professional manner, and do not take it personally. People will be upset if they feel they have been given a poor product or treated unfairly, and it’s not always an attack against you or your company.
Plan for how much time you will need to invest to handle this endeavor properly. Do not spend spend so much time that it takes away from your normal business practices, but be prepared to invest enough time to address complaints and improve the happiness of your customers.
2. Monitoring Customers
Once you have a plan, your next step will be to actually listen to what customers are saying about your company. You want to try to get a general feel for the overall public opinion of your company. Before you go responding to individual messages and problems, you need to understand how the public perceives your company, so you can act accordingly and take steps to improve.
If the public has a largely negative view of your company, than addressing small individual problems will help, but realistically, you may need to rethink your overall customer service strategy, because something isn’t clicking.
There are several ways to monitor what people are saying about your company.
One of the best ways is through Google Alerts. With Google Alerts you can monitor the Internet for the name of your company, or anything else for that matter. This way, you can quickly and easily check to see what kind of things are being said about your company.
Twitter is another great way to keep up with what is going on. Of course, you can run Twitter searches for your company name, but that would be cumbersome to do all the time. A better solution is a tool like Hoot Suit, which allows you to more easily monitor Twitter for certain terms.
3. Responding To Customers
Now that you know what people are saying about you on the Internet, it is time to start reaching out and trying to make your customers happy, and improve the way they perceive you as a company.
One of the most important things to remember is that you speaking on behalf of your business, not yourself, so you need to act accordingly. Just because you are speaking to your customers on or Facebook does not mean that you should speak to them the same way you speak to your friends.
When users see you answering questions, they will expect you to answer theirs too, so you need commit to the cause. Do not get on Twitter and respond to one person and then disappear. This will do nothing to help your standing, and it may even make things worse. Make sure to dedicate a fair amount of time to answering questions, and addressing concerns.
The most important thing is be honest and transparent. DO NOT go online posing as a regular person trying to defend your company. This is not only unethical, but it is also a great way to lose all respect if you get caught. Be honest and let everyone know you represent the company, and that you here to help. This will work out better for you, and for your customers.
4. Dealing With Negative Feedback
As I mentioned before, you will run across angry customers online, and some of them will be very vocal about their discontent. Fortunately, you have prepared and you expect this.
The first, and most important thing when dealing with a negative customer is respond quickly. You want to address their concerns and do everything in your power to appease them before things get out of hand. You also need to be honest and upfront, within reason. Obviously, you don’t need to go spilling all of your trade secrets to make a customer happy. You do need to make sure you don’t try to sugar coat their problem. Customers are the most valuable resource, and being upfront and honest is a great way to make sure you keep them as a customer and gain new ones.
The last thing you need to be wary of is deleting negative comments. This looks like you are trying to cover up a problem, and is basically an admission of guilt. Instead of deleting a negative comment, respond to it and fix it. This will show the public that you care, and that you aren’t trying to make negative feedback disappear.
With this tips you should be able to keep the reputation of your business strong. By having a strong, caring web presence you will build happy customers, who will in turn refer more happy customers to your business.
This guest post is written by Lior Levin, a marketing advisor for a neon sign store that sells a variety of led and neon business signs such as pizza neon signs. Lior also advises for the department of ma in security at the Tel Aviv University.