Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, ...

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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.

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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.






Comments(7)

I was in Texas two months ago looking for a mechanic to troubleshoot my diesel-powered pickup. A couple of folks warmly recommended one mechanic and gave me rave reviews of his service. I couldn't find a phone number, so I searched for his business on my Google Maps application on my BlackBerry. The map found him, gave me the phone number and under Reviews, I found a couple of alarming customer comments. It was funny how what they had put in writing was negating everything my friends had told me about their experience with this mechanic. The reviews were older, but they were spot-on and very damaging to this business. I took a chance on my friends and the work was done on time and under budget. He also fixed the problem.

This is a good example of how a small business needs to be aware of what is being said about them. How many people have just avoided this mechanic because of those negative reviews on Google? Probably quite a few. Word of mouth extends beyond just the neighborhood; it extends to the world. And yes, I may be a bit too connected with my social media tools and toys, but those tools are providing me with an abundance of insight and caution about those small businesses that I chose to do business with.

Great story, Michael. A few months ago, one of my friends called me, nearly in a panic, because of a scathing (and false) review posted about his business on an Internet Yellow Pages site. I coached him through how to respond and how to contact the IYP site with proof that the review was false and it was removed. If he hadn't been paying attention, who knows how much business he would have lost? In a one-man business, like his, it might be difficult to find the time to monitor what's being said about you, but it's extremely important.

Spot on, Mike! Keeping track of one's online reputation is vital these days and, depending upon the size of the business, time consuming if one isn't using the right tools. Still, taking a half-hour at night or on the weekend may prove to be a business-saver. It's a matter of priorities and scheduling time to do it.

This is what small business owners should do, listen. There are millions of people using the web and definitely there are certain people who either say good and bad things about your business. Considering that social media is a great way to promote a business, this could also be a reason for a drop of your metrics. Monitoring your business reputation in the web should be definitely included within small business owner's priorities.

An excellent post Mike! My work includes helping small businesses with local search and with customer feedback as part of building word of mouth. I think small business owners often have no clue about how much customer traffic flows through Web search engines -- they're still in a print Yellow Pages world. I recently talked to the general manager of a local car dealer and showed him 11 harsh reviews of his new car sales and his service. His response to me was, "I didn't think it was that bad -- we're just trying to sell cars." He hasn't mentally transitioned to a Web 2.0 world where customers can plant a "do not shop here" sign right on top of his dealership, and he hasn't modified his business practices to win in that new world. A small law firm I know received a single negative client review on Google. Instead of responding to the disgruntled client or asking satisfied clients for reviews, the firm removed its local listing from Google, thereby ceding local search clients to its competitors. I've found that the most effective way to educate small business owners is to actually show them how local search works and how reviews appear in those searches. It's a starting point for discussing topics like soliciting reviews and responding to them. Again, thanks for discussing this important topic.

Good points, Paul. The sad thing is that if 11 customers had called him with the same feedback, he would have been asking himself what to do differently. But, as you say, too many businesses aren't listening online.

How many people have just avoided this mechanic because of those negative reviews on Google? Probably quite a few. Word of mouth extends beyond just the neighborhood; it extends to the world. And yes, I may be a bit too connected with my social media tools and toys, but those tools are providing me with an abundance of insight and caution about those small businesses that I chose to do business with.Instead of responding to the disgruntled client or asking satisfied clients for reviews, the firm removed its local listing from Google, thereby ceding local search clients to its movie competitors. I've found that the most effective way to educate small business owners is to actually show them how local search works and how reviews appear in those searches.

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