Who Doesn’t Want to Hear from Their Customers?

23 Sep 2017
Carl Ottersen
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Everyone wants to hear from their customers, I hear you say. Well, it depends, is the answer most companies will tell you. Why is that? Mostly it’s culture: corporate and social. The rest is fear.  Let me tell you how to make the most of what customers want to say.

Four Ways to Say Something

It’s an old saying that you only hear from customers when they have a complaint; they never write in to say “thanks”.  Like all old sayings, this one has a big slice of truth in it.

Consumers mostly want to tell brands something that, right or wrong, isn’t right for them, in other words a complaint. Or they want to make comments, which can be anything from pleasant to punishing.  A very important few take a different approach: they make a suggestion about something brands can do to meet their needs – in a positive way. What brands mostly want is an endorsement, which is feel-good they normally garner from reviews.

Controlling the Content

It is perfectly normal for brands to put, and to want to put, a positive spin on anything said about them. Even if they don’t like it, they know can’t sensor public opinion, so they decide to manage it.  Deep down, most brands understand that they must maintain a dialog with customers that goes beyond advertizing then sticking their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.

The danger of ‘not wanting to know’ is that competitors can steal a march on the brand.  Put yourself in the shoes of a consumer (you are one too, you know): who would you prefer to buy from, a company that listens and talks to you, or one that, once you have paid your money, is a blank brick wall to you?  I know which one I would go for.

The Big Bad Wolf

Bet your bottom dollar many brands have a love-hate relationship with the Internet.  They want it so they can push out their word in their way, but they don’t ever want to see others talk about them unless it’s a five-star approval.  For these companies, social media, comparison sites and big data are all big bad wolves. Worse, these wolves hunt in a pack, thanks to all those likes and shares.

Get over it. The Internet isn’t going to be un-invented. Unless the brand is a monopoly so what consumers say doesn’t matter, there will always be a way for consumers to get their opinions published.  One word gets my point across: Twitter.

Managing Customer Engagement

Unless a brand’s business is limited to the same way we did business in the 1970s – local offices staffed by people, known through local advertizing and approved of by local word-of-mouth, then brands have no option but to leverage the opportunities the Internet gives them to do the same thing, written large.

You receive complaints? Welcome them, resolve them, satisfy the customer and move on to the next case.  You receive comments? Keep the good ones, can the trashy ones, resolve the ones in between.  You receive suggestions? Be grateful, weigh them, adopt the ones that positively fit and can change your business for the better.  You receive accolades? Publish them far and wide.

Choosing the Right Tools for the Right Jobs

If you want your brand to be better known in the digital world, which is now so meshed with the physical world that sometimes it becomes a blur, then you have to keep customers engaged.  That means communicating with them on a fairly regular basis.  True, you may be short of things to say: just look at the stuff we get in our mailboxes and on our smartphones every day. But it’s an arms race – your competitors are trying to keep conversations alive; if you don’t then digitally you are seriously wounded, if not dead. Choose your weapons, and the people who wield them, wisely.

Promote and Advertise. Go with the flow. Place advertizing material where needed, put useful, informative customer focused material on the brand’s website, share it through the social media channels the brand’s audience uses. And keep doing it. If you don’t you will drop down search rankings. Anything after the third page of search results is a zombie.

Complaints.  Use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Engagement (CEM) system to log, track, respond and manage them.  Take one extra step and ‘employ’ a digital assistant (that’s the window that you see popping up on some websites) as that can often resolve complaints and questions.

Comments. They come at you from everywhere. The more advanced CRM/CEM systems have an architecture that channels messages from multiple sources into a single dashboard for each person communicating with you. The brand’s own moderator can decide how to classify them and what to do with them.

Suggestions. Simple digital suggestion boxes work the same way as comments. More advanced ones have both a policy of publishing only suggestions (which by definition are positive in nature) and a ‘traffic cop’ moderator who ‘parks’ posts received that do not meet that standard. That’s not censorship, that’s simply being true to the purpose of the service. Really good suggestion providers do two more things. They filter out ‘noise’, but keep and send ‘non-suggestion’ posts to the brand if requested, as the content could be useful for other purposes within customer management, like handling complaints. The other thing they do is message authors of negative posts to propose they suggest how to make a situation better. Now that’s a true game-changer, as the provider positively influences the author’s behavior to help the brand know what customers want to buy next.

Endorsements. There are several ways to do this. Normally brands get these from reviews, from the comment box in surveys that it runs, and by actively going to customers and asking them.

How do I keep the Flow of Communication between consumers, customers and the brand Private, so that the Risk of ‘negative press’ is Minimized and Competitors can’t pick up on Good Ideas?

Unless the law changes, what brands can’t do is sensor what consumers in general can write about you – unless it is confidential information, defamatory, discriminatory or publicly offensive.  That’s the big problem about social media, right?

The short answer? Improve the game. Brands that deliver good quality products and services for the right price, at the right time, at the right location – and keep doing that – are not going to get negative publicity.  Frivolous and opinionated comments yes, but consumers are good judges of what’s real and what’s not.

The slightly longer answer?  Good CRMs and CEMs have ways to handle complaints and comments, for example responding to a negative tweet with a ‘thank you for being concerned, let me answer you like this…’.  Digital suggestion box services normally come with an option to limit the creation and viewing of suggestions to a closed group of people the brand selects. That’s really good for suggestions between members of an association, or indeed for private business purposes. It doesn’t stop other people making their own suggestions outside that circle, of course.  Handling endorsements is the only place where brands can freely decide which ones to publish, and which not.

Who doesn’t want to hear from customers? Only those brands who like living dangerously.

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