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Small businesses are very good at customer service—a consistent theme that we’ve seen in the Small Business Success Index (SBSI) Survey results since 2009. What has changed, however, is the way customers communicate in today’s hyperconnected world. Customer feedback has moved from face-to-face feedback, letters, phone calls, or suggestion boxes to online discussions on websites that host public discussions. Yelp, Yahoo! Groups, Google Groups, online forums, and other review sites are just some of the many places where users discuss the experiences they’ve had with businesses.ReputationAlert for Small Business

Astonishingly, even if you don’t have a website or don’t use the Internet to conduct business, your customers may be creating a Web presence for you. A favorite example of mine is Carmi’s Crown Barber Shop in downtown Chicago. Carmine gives his customers excellent service. In fact, reviewers discuss that it’s worth paying for his jokes in addition to the haircut. But Carmine doesn’t use the Internet, and he’s never used a computer.

As a savvy business person, you want to be ahead of the game by making sure that you hear and act upon all customer feedback. A good business practice is to put processes in place that make customers feel comfortable enough to give you feedback before leaving your business or to communicate the feedback directly to you by email or phone. The next step is to make sure that you’re really “listening” to your customers if they choose to talk about you via other channels.

Let’s look at a few examples of why it’s important to know what your customers are saying online:

  • Listening: Monitoring alerts about your brand names and products will help you find the conversations about your business, which in turn gives you the opportunity to address a concern or correct an issue at your business. Taking such a step can help you turn a potentially adverse situation into a positive and proactive one, one that can help you satisfy and retain customers.
  • Responding: Recently, I was demonstrating the use of Twitter to a friend who’s a restaurant owner, and as we searched for his restaurant name on Twitter, my friend was shocked to find an article with a negative review about the restaurant. He immediately reached out to the reviewer by commenting on the article and asking for another chance for the business to get things right with the customer. This scenario turned out to be a saved customer. And in many such cases, customers of businesses that listen become ardent fans of those businesses.
  • Expressing gratitude: Not every customer review reflects a negative experience. Very often, people with positive experiences will review a business and express their thanks. That’s why it’s important that your business is alerted when positive comments and goodwill are being generated online. Plus, identifying and nurturing those online ambassadors is one of the best forms of free PR.
  • Building loyalty: A few years ago I had written a review about my eye doctor. I liked the service that his business provided, and I felt it was my duty to post a review about it. I was utterly amazed and thrilled that my eye doctor had read the review and called me to thank me for it. No surprise that I remain a loyal customer, and have recommended his business to others.

When I speak at small business conferences, I appeal to the audience that if there’s one takeaway from my talk, they should go home and immediately set up a system to monitor their brand presence online. I have usually recommended Google Alerts, which is a free tool that sends you an alert every time your business is mentioned. This type of tool, however, can sometimes be difficult to manage, because you have to carefully select keywords and then sort through all the results that appear, some of which may not be related to your business. Moreover, you’ll need to go through several results over time before you get a sense of the general sentiment of the posts.

To go beyond the basic alert functionality and make monitoring and sentiment analysis easier for businesses, our product team recently launched ReputationAlert. This tool automatically pulls business information from sources across the Web, and it provides a dashboard view of your mentions as well as the ability to respond to those posts.

So . . . check out ReputationAlert today, and get the first month free when you use code SMEDIA0812. This special offer is available to the first 100 customers. You’ll be able to start listening to what your customers are saying online, and take the necessary steps to keep them happy!

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    • http://www.facebook.com/michael.cosentino.165 Michael Cosentino

      If customers regularly bring an issue to your attention and you don’t make changes, they will feel ignored—and take their business elsewhere. If you can’t make the changes they suggest, explain why. Asking for feedback is only half the game. You’ve also got to do something about it.

    • Andrew

      When I first started out I under estimated customer comments and boy did I regret it! Now I take the time to respond to comments and make sure that all my customers are satisfied with the service I provide, good advice.