Heather Sharpe, Business Consultant, UGA SBDC in Albany
It seems that customers have an endless way to interact with businesses these days – and an equally endless number of ways to share their experience, good or bad. What is the best way to manage this interaction? And how do you stay on top of online comments, feedback, and reviews? Here are some things to know about delivering great customer service in our increasingly digital world.
Excellent customer service online begins at the customer’s first interaction. Your customer’s first touch with your business may on your website, Facebook page or other social media site, map listing, or even a third-party review site. Think of these as your digital storefronts. Just as you would not neglect your physical storefront, be sure to keep your digital storefront tidy and attractive. Be sure these are updated regularly, the information is accurate, and content is easy to find. Review your online info frequently to understand what kind of information your customers are seeking. What are the most popular pages on your website and how long are customers staying on the page? What are your most commonly asked questions via web feedback or social media? How many customers saw your map listing and asked for directions? These are clues for the kind of info your customers need to be able to easily access online. Nurture this digital first impression so you do not lose out on a transaction before you even got them to the store.
Provide a way for customers to interact with you. Does your website offer a welcoming Contact Us page? Do you respond to social media messages in a timely manner? Is your customer service phone number easy to find online? Be sure to offer customers a way – preferably more than one way – to communicate with you if they have an issue or suggestion. The chances are good they will make the suggestion somewhere, so give them a convenient way to share it with you first before they take to social media and online reviews. Make sure you monitor these communication lines and respond timely and appropriately.
You cannot respond to conversations you do not see. Many businesses seem concerned that if they provide a place for customers to provide reviews and feedback, they will subject their brand to negative feedback. The reality is that customers are free to talk about your businesses whether you provide these platforms or not. Research demonstrates that “Word of Mouse” or online feedback from customers is a highly trusted source of information for consumers, and they typically seek it out prior to their purchase – both online and offline. Provide customers with a platform for providing feedback and reviews, and be sure to stay aware of what customers are saying. Determine what sort of feedback merits a response and provide it quickly. Set alerts for reviews and other online mentions so that you are aware of conversations about your brand.
Use fans to tell your story and provide feedback. Since customers value feedback from other customers, use your loyal fans to promote your brand. How do you get them to share? Ask them! Regularly ask customers for feedback and make it easy for them to provide online reviews and comments. Do not be combative or argue with feedback; respond as a human and offer a way to continue the conversation offline if needed. The occasional negative review is inevitable, so make sure you are working to generate positive reviews to outweigh the negative.