Large companies are very concerned about their reputations, their brand images, the "word on the street," and ten other hackneyed phrases that all add up to the same thing: they are listening to what people say about them. But when I talk to small businesses, I often find that they don't pay as much attention. If you work in a small business, I want you to know that attitude is a mistake.
There are many reasons that small businesses don't take the time to listen:
- No one is talking about us. In many cases, it's not true. There are Yellow Pages reviews and other chatter about your company. But even if it is true, why aren't you listening to what they say about your competitors? You can get an early warning when someone complains about your competitor when you are doing the same thing yourself. If you can change your approach is some area that annoys customers, it gives you a chance to differentiate. I mean, is it really so hard to give customers a two-hour delivery window instead of "all day"? Complaints like these show up online (often about your competitors) when customers would never say them to your face.
- We don't have time to listen. We all have the same amount of time in a day, so when you say that you "don't have time," you're really saying that listening is less important than what you are already doing with that time. But, if a customer calls you with a complaint, you do take the time to listen, even when you didn't schedule it into your day. If you think that phone complaint is important, you should think that online feedback is important, too.
- It's too much work to listen. It's actually not too much work to listen if you know how to do it. Large companies use listening services to help them [full disclosure: I serve as Chief Strategist for Converseon, which markets such a service], but small companies can start cheaply and simply with Google Alerts about their industry, their brand names (and competitor brand names), and other words that help them hear what customers are saying. You can get an e-mail every day, or an RSS feed that tells you something about what is being said about you. And besides, when did a little work ever stop a small business owner? They work harder than anyone I know--they just need to know what they should be working on.
If you've been making excuses for why you're not paying attention to what your customers are saying, it's time to stop. Think of it as free market research--the kind that big companies pay a lot for. If you change your attitude and make listening a priority, perhaps you'll start to get fewer complaints on the phone because you've improved what you do to better fit what customers want.
October 6, 2009
Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.
Mike's previous appearances include ClickZ Live, RKG Summit, Ticket Summit, Webdagene, the CiTE conference, and the Forrester Marketing Conference.
Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc., and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.