I can’t remember ever struggling so hard to come up with a title for an article. My working title, “Give Your Customers a Voice,” comes from pointer #11 in the eBook “21 Pointers to Sharpen Your Website.” It served its purpose there, but here I really wanted to go beyond the cliché and make some omnipotent statement about the power of, of, er, um…
Social media? Referrals? Listening? Word of mouth? Reviews? Aw, hell. No wonder I can’t title this beast. I’m not even sure what it’s about.
I do know this: I want to write about the voice of the customer in this age where new media gives the customer the power to be much more than just a customer. I know, I continue to babble here. This guy makes good sense:
“A brand is no longer what we tell consumers it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.”
~ Scott D. Cook, Founder, Intuit & Board of Directors, P&G
(Thank you kind sir. I believe I’m ready to say something useful too.)
The age of the marketer’s monologue is dead and gone.
In an effort to deliver some value now, I’m going to surrender to the cliché, get on with the basic idea, and then, toss forth some nifty lists I scribbled into a notebook on Amtrak two days ago.
Basically, only foolish old marketing die-hards will stand firm and tell you advertisers talk and consumers listen. It did indeed work that way for decades, but the mighty Amazon has risen and washed that dynamic away forever more.* And as Mr. Cook suggested above, consumers no longer listen to companies. They listen to each other.
The consumer speaks words of wisdom. Us marketers need to let it be.
*For great insights into Amazon, America’s most trusted brand, check out: “Secrets of the 10 Most-Trusted Brands,” from Entrepreneur online.
Who do you trust now?
Perhaps you never really trusted ad pros and company spokespersons. And sure, you always trusted your friends and family far more. Still, much has changed. For one, you are the empowered customer with infinite access to information and no need to trust big brother and the holding company. Plus, you have WAY more friends and family now. Your social circle is a thing called the worldwide web.
In this Internet-dominated age, you’ve heard inbound marketers talk fervently about the company’s need to earn media. Understand here and now, your company must also earn trust. Forbes tells this story great with “Influencing Your Buyer” by Christine Crandell.
The customer would like to chime in.
As citizens of the net, we’ve earned the right to voice our opinion. In fact, it’s become our responsibility. You depend on what others think and they depend on you. We have problems. We have questions. We’re clicking around fast and furiously because we want the solutions and the answers from those in the know, those brave enough to have gone before us. It’s a beautiful thing really.
We want consumer reports. Perspective. The voice of experience. We want objectivity. We want to base our trust on real authorities. We can handle the truth.
Nothing but good can come of this.
Are you allowing this dialogue to happen? I’m going to tell you the many ways you can, but first, let’s look at the many reasons why you should, the benefits of giving your customers a voice.
Transparency—Trust your customers to have their say and prospects are far more likely to trust you. You have nothing to hide. It’s a system of checks and balances. Authenticity shines through.
Content creation—Customer feedback published online is content, free content. Your need to continuously create content becomes partially self-fulfilling.
Onsite SEO—Your customers help optimize your site. They sprinkle keywords around for you. They create the long tail phrases that bring in business.
Offsite SEO—The cycle continues across social media, sharing sites, blogs and more. The more opportunity you give customers to talk, the more backlinks you’re bound to earn.
Learning—Various forms of customer commentary amount to a low-cost feedback center. Market research switches to auto-pilot. The people who buy your product tell you how to improve it.
Responsiveness—This “listen and learn” system allows you to be a more responsive company. News travels far faster.
Improved support—A continuation of the “responsiveness” theme… More immediate feedback allows you all kinds of advantages for improving—and lowering the costs of—customer support.
Trouble-shooting—“Reputation management” is the more commonly used term. Instant access to online dialogue provides a fast track for managing potentially dangerous developments.
From Ernan Roman’s heralded “Voice of the Customer Marketing” (5-star) book: 95% of complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint instantly.
Value-add services—An abundance of customer-created content can translate into additional services to make your site stickier and your brand more attractive. For instance, those that use your product might answer prospects’ questions for you. They might provide free tips for optimizing the product’s value. They might share their photos.
Fun—Inviting customers to engage online might simply make your site more fun thereby giving customers more reasons to keep coming back (and tell their friends).
Free advertising—All together now: there’s no form of advertising more powerful than word of mouth.
Making it happen.
Let’s look at some of the effective ways to give your customers a voice.
- Onsite polls—The onsite poll instantly shows you’re listening and its short and sweet style makes it inviting.
- Surveys—You can put surveys into play via email, social media, and even build them into landing page forms.
- Blog comments—Encourage readers to add commentary to your articles and videos and join the conversation.
- Forums—Forums are chat rooms and then some. Information exchanges are archived for posterity.
- Reviews—Ecommerce has made reviews a fabric of the interactive age.
- Social media—Make it fun and easy for your audience to interact with you and each other on the online services you deem relevant. Also, keep your eyes open for new developments in the ever-dynamic social media world.
- Chat—Being prepared to answer questions via chat can be very appealing to prospects. And here’s a novel idea: encourage people to call you (and answer the call).
- Make records—You know how radio stations record and broadcast calls they receive? Why not make this happen online?
How are you engaging buyers?
In the Forbes article I cited earlier, Christine Crandell reports on a Forrester study, which found that 70 percent of B2B buyers rated how vendors engaged with them is more impactful than what the vendor was selling. That’s precious.
Think about it. Act on it.
Remember, how I told you the frustration I felt when trying to name this article? I wish you could have been here to help. I want you to “buy” what I’m saying, so I want you to help me figure out what to say.
There’s an interesting irony in all this too. I’m a veteran marketing copywriter. I’ve been paid to persuade for 25 years. But now I have to concede what I say about my client’s product isn’t nearly as meaningful about what their customers say.
I spend a big chunk of my time online. I search for answers. I buy products and services online. The brands I’m loyal to invite me to speak up on their site and social networks. So, copywriter or not, I’m a journalist that wields power.
You are too.
[If you enjoyed my long-winded explanation of the benefits of giving your customer a voice, you may like “21 Pointers to Sharpen Your Website” where I get to the point fast.]
Now, if you’d be so kind. Please join the conversation. Everyone here values what you have to say.
All good but getting internal buy-in from management is the primary challenge. Then, removing intramural obstacles. Finally, getting everything in alignment — acquisition, retention, online and offline marketing and messaging, customer support et al — then you’ve got something.
Until you can achieve all of these things…. good luck!
I’ve had the same problem trying to explain my perception of the whole concept of Social Media which I believe to be the greatest thing since sliced bread and have concluded there are two sides to the whole Social Media thing a Offensive side i.e. Social Media Marketing and the defensive side I believe being referred to here. As a consumer this is the side I appreciate, believe in and trust the most. In any event you’ve said it better than I would have–my sense is, my instincts are you have hit the nail on the head!